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Is it ever OK to buy a replica?

With classic car prices on the rise, can you really consider a replica?

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Image: Replica 356 by Tygan, taken by Jay Williams

If you’re anything like us, you’ll spend entirely too much time on classic car websites, trying to find the diamond in the rough that is a classic car, in decent nick, that doesn’t also ask for the entire contents of your bank account, your parents’ bank account and the GDP of Ghana in exchange for the keys. And, if you’re anything like us, you’ll know that this has gone from being entirely unlikely to being absolutely impossible. 

This brings us, dejected and utterly miserable, to a tricky question – is it ever okay to buy a replica?

Straight off the bat, it feels somewhat disingenuous. This isn’t the real article. This is a fake. And that’s basically that, until we clap eyes on something like a Porsche 356 Speedster replica. It’s the impossibly beautiful looks of the original article, without the crushing rarity and doubly crushing price tag.

It’s not just the original sum of money needed for a real classic car – which, it seems, you’d recoup with interest when you decide to sell – it’s that when something is hideously expensive, you treat it differently. Take, for instance, the most expensive thing in your wardrobe. You behave differently when you’re wearing it, don’t you? More careful. More wary of tomato sauce and red wine. This is called solicitude. 

It’s the same story with a properly pricey car – you have second thoughts about driving it in the rain, or down an unknown road, or taking it all the way to the redline in each gear. And it’s hard to have fun when you’re fretting over what you’re doing to your car. Or, indeed, your fancy trousers.

Conversely, absolute freedom comes from a lack of solicitude. If you can just be in the car, enjoying its feedback, heading off down a remote, unknown road in search of freedom and adventure, that’s worth more than driving around on eggshells, fearful of every bump and pothole.

Then there’s the fact that you can do whatever you’d like to a replica. If you want to customise it to make it your own, or update it with modern components, you can, without ever feeling like you’re trying to draw eyebrows on the Mona Lisa. The perfect, original, mint-condition examples of the breed are safe – you have all of the looks and all of the performance, but you also have the creative licence to do what you’d like. If you want to make it as close as possible to the original, you’re well within your rights to do it. And if you want to add Honda ‘Earth Dreams’ livery, 450bhp and a gigantic ‘WITNESS ME’ vanity plate, you’re well within your rights to speak to one of the NHS’s helpful counsellors.

And yet, despite this seemingly limitless promise, it’s all somehow hollow – drive a replica and you’re something of a fraud, an impostor, a wearer of counterfeit Rolexes. But it’s here, at the street-corner vendor of ‘authentic Submariners’, that we find the nub of all of this. A counterfeit Rolex is pitiable because it purports to have the same quality and obsessive attention to detail of the Swiss original, and yet it has neither. It’s like expecting someone to write another Dark Side of the Moon, just because his name happens to be Roger Waters.

But if you find a replica or an evocation that matches or even exceeds the original car in both design and performance, are you really willing to be hamstrung by the gnawing feeling of owning a knock-off? It’s not without its mental gymnastics, and you may yearn for the original article, but isn’t it better to experience something that’s 99 per cent the same as it rather than just pine for something you’ll never be able to afford?

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