By Tom Beaman
Iconic vehicles conceived by Carroll Shelby, the Texas chicken farmer-turned racing/performance icon, are being reborn in an Orlando industrial park. Revology Cars, Inc., a three-year-old company with 14 employees, has begun hand-built production of replica 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500’s. The GT 500 joins the turnkey 1966 Mustang K-GT convertible, K-GT 2+2 fastback, and 1966 Shelby Mustang GT 350 replicas that the company also builds. The original GT 350 and GT 500, powered by V8 mills making 306 and 355 SAE gross horsepower, respectively, represented the consummation of an off-and-on marriage between Shelby and Ford president Lee Iacocca, who desperately needed a sports car in the mid-1960’s to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette.
“Shelby added high performance legitimacy,” says Terry McGean, editor of Hemmings Muscle Machines. “He took the fastback [Mustang] and turned it into the GT350, which in its first year was a pretty credible, racetrack-capable car. The first GT 500 came out in 1967, and instead of making a high-strung small block road racer, now they’re making a big block street car that makes it more of a grand tourer.” The GT 500’s mystique was reinforced by the heroic performance of “Eleanor,” the Shelby Mustang driven by Nicolas Cage in the 2000 film, “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
Powered by Ford’s 5.0-liter DOHC “Coyote” V8, Revology’s GT 500 makes 435 horsepower. Base prices range from $160,000 for the K-GT convertible to $225,000 for the supercharged GT 500 that boasts a 600-horsepower Ford-Roush “Coyote” V8, Ford’s 4R70W four-speed automatic transmission, and a beefed-up driveshaft and rear end. GM’s 430-horsepower E-ROD LS3 6.2-liter crate engine is also available, though time will tell what Mustang purists will think of a Chevy engine in their pony car. Standard 21st century creature comforts include air conditioning, power four-wheel disc brakes with 330-mm slotted and ventilated rotors, power rack and pinion steering, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth, run-flat tires, and a rolling code encrypted push-button ignition.
“Our cars feature modern technology to improve performance, reliability, durability, fuel economy, safety, and comfort,” says Tom Scarpello, founder and president of Revology Cars, “while retaining the essential character and style of the original design.” Scarpello is a veteran of Ford’s SVT performance team where he worked with Shelby on what was to become the 2007 Mustang GT 500.
Scarpello says Revology’s 12,000-square foot facility emulates an auto assembly plant where vehicles move from station to station. The company buys components directly from 74 suppliers, including complete licensed reproduction unibodies that it modifies to accommodate the double wishbone front suspension and greater cooling requirements. “We test fit a lot of the components before we send the body through to paint so we can make any modifications that might be required to make sure all the gaps are perfect,” Scarpello says.
Revology has taken 21 orders since it opened its doors in 2014 – seven cars have been delivered, eight are in process, and six are waiting to be built. The company’s current capacity is one vehicle per month, but Scarpello says his intention is to ramp up production over the next 18 to 24 months to take advantage of scale.
Scarpello says his customers – most men in their 50’s and 60’s – range from serious collectors to those who want to reward themselves after years of paying for their kids’ college tuition. Customers prefer original paint schemes, but Scarpello doesn’t duplicate the colors exactly because formulations from the mid-1960’s lacked vibrancy. Instead, he says, “We take the basic theme and amp it up a bit with BASF’s premium Glasurit paint.”
Revology is one of many companies that are following the replica, or “RestoMod” car trend. ICON 4×4 builds reproduction vintage Ford Broncos, FJ Cruisers, and Chevy pickups. Superperformance offers the legendary GT40 and the rare 1962 C2 Corvette Grand Sport.
It’s clearly a dynamic market, but do replica makers run the risk of offending purists? For some observers and enthusiasts, apparently not.
“I think it’s great,” says Rich Carlsen, who edits the Mustang and Shelby Club of Long Island newsletter. “You have a car that looks very much like a Mustang but has all the modern conveniences. At first, I was against things like that – why the #### are you ruining your car? But if the hood is closed, who cares? It looks like what the car is, but you have all the modern conveniences.”
“The RestoMod movement continues to gain incredible strength with vintage looks but modern powertrains, transmissions, rear ends, and braking,” says John Kraman, consignment director and TV commentator/analyst for Mecum Auctions. “The trend now on run-of-the-mill, standard engine donor Corvettes is to RestoMod them, not restore them back to original. Twenty years ago, that was horrible and the Corvette community wouldn’t embrace it. Now the RestoMod treatment of these vintage cars is viable and accepted in the community.”
“[Buyers] want the look and feel of an older car but they want everything from air conditioning to Bluetooth,” says Mike Spagnola, vice president, OEM and product development programs at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). “They’re not as concerned with matching serial numbers. They don’t have to worry about carburetors and timing.”
Replica car manufacturers expect to benefit from the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015, which establishes a separate regulatory structure within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the industry. The new federal law permits low volume (less than 5,000 units per year) automakers to sell up to 325 replicas – vehicles that resemble one produced at least 25 years in the past – per year in the U.S.
“The original NHTSA regulations from the 1960’s focused on big companies making millions of cars,” says Stuart Gosswein, senior director, federal government affairs, at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). “A company making just one car was regulated in the same fashion as Ford, GM, or Chrysler. Under the new law, replicas will be treated as ‘automotive equipment’ rather than motor vehicles, recognizing the design differences between a car produced decades ago and a new car. Engine packages will be certified to current model year EPA or California standards.”
Gosswein says the law is currently in a holding pattern as the industry waits for rulemakings from NHTSA and the EPA. “Companies and consumers are frustrated,” he says. “We are seeking to work with agency officials to speed implementation and are cautiously optimistic that that will be accomplished by the second half of 2017.”
*** Mr. Beaman is a widely read automotive writer and the head of Tom Beaman Communications Services, LLC.