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How To Spot A Clone

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by Jerry Heasley  More from Author

Mustang cloning began almost as soon as the first cars rolled off the assembly lines in 1964-1/2.

Rick Parker remembers his first fastback, a 1965 model, when he was 17 years old.

“I went right down to the Ford dealer and bought a pair of 289 High Performance emblems for the front fenders and I was King Tut.”

Of course, the 289 Hi-Po is the 271 horsepower, solid lifter engine with a low restriction open air cleaner and a set of chrome valve covers. The distributor has dual points and no vacuum advance. To “spot” this clone is simple. The fifth digit of the VIN on Mustangs of this era must be a “K” code. Ford Motor Company coded the engines to the chassis and changing a VIN is a federal offense. Only then can the process of cloning turn into a serious issue. Cloning is a fun practice in the hobby.

The next great Mustang to clone in the early years was the GT. Ford offered the GT on coupe, convertible and fastbacks beginning in the spring of 1965. However, they did not code the GT Equipment Group into the VIN. The GT package was an option, same as air conditioning. Enthusiasts looked at the attractive side stripes, the GT gas cap (in 1966), the dual fog lamps in the grille, and went down to their local Ford dealers to clone their Mustangs into their GTs. Clone, in our use of the word in the hobby is a “functional copy” of the original. Substituting “functional copy” for the word clone gets across the message of what a clone is.

Some clones are more functional representations than others. Knowing the factory details of the GT Equipment Group, for example, helps spot clones. One of those details is the steering box with the faster 22:1 steering ratio and fewer turns lock to lock. Changing out this box is not an easy job and not as visible as the showy side stripes. Thus, few clone-builders go to this trouble-ditto for front disc brakes and the larger diameter front stabilizer bar. Another trick is to look for the factory-cut holes in the front radiator support. Non-factory GTs did not come with these factory cookie cutter cutouts.

The plain truth is there is always a way to spot a clone. The most cloned Mustang of all time has to be the 1965-1966 Shelby G.T.350 fastbacks and the 1967 G.T.500 fastbacks. Shelby-American built their G.T.350s and G.T.500s starting with Mustangs. The enthusiast could do the same. They could go to the parts catalog and buy and install the parts.

The huge difference with a Shelby is every car comes with a specific VIN plate stamped with a Shelby number. About 25 years ago I went to look at a 1965 Shelby fastback. I found a beautiful white fastback with blue LeMans stripes. I loved the look, but I wanted a real Shelby, not a clone. The owner had pop-riveted a Shelby-American VIN plate under the hood. The plate said manufactured by Shelby-American. But the space for the Shelby number was blank. I asked the seller if this was a real G.T.350. He just threw up his hands in ignorance of what the car was, but he still wanted Shelby money.

Today, buyers need to know the Shelby VIN in the World Registry documents every Shelby. Every Shelby VIN is cross-referenced to the original Ford VIN on the vehicle in many different “indestructible” locations. In other words, let’s say this Shelby-American plate on the car I looked at was stamped with a Shelby VIN. The buyer can turn in the Ford VIN and Shelby-American will tell them if this number matches the Shelby VIN issued when the car was new. If the numbers don’t match – Shelby VIN to Ford VIN – the car is almost certainly a clone.

Another favorite car to clone is the Shelby Cobra Roadster, in both small block (289 Roadster) and big-block (427 Roadster) body styles. These Cobras are better known as “kit cars.” Today, manufacturers do not attach Cobra badges to these creations, but they are clearly functional copies. Owners quickly slap badges onto these cars and suddenly they are heirs to the legend.

Original Cobras, same as Shelby Mustangs, are listed one by one in the Shelby-American World Registry. The “Shelby-American Automobile Club” has a copy of the original invoice for every car ever built along with a provenance, more or less on each car. So, one can easily (usually) spot a clone Cobra very easily by sourcing the Shelby VIN, known as the “CSX” number. CSX stands for Carroll Shelby Experimental.

Today, Shelby-American builds new Cobras and uses the CSX number designation. The difference from the Cobras built in the ’60s is, Shelby-American is not allowed to sell the cars with engines and transmissions. Thus, new Cobras are “composite” cars. They are not clones. The buyer purchases a rolling chassis from Shelby-American and one of Shelby’s Cobra dealers (or the buyer) installs the drive train.

Another common clone today is the 1969-1970 Mach 1 Mustang. I was in Rick Parker’s shop (Signature Auto Classics) in Columbus, Ohio, last summer and met one of his customers, Dave Schwartz. Dave bought a 1969 Mach 1 and brought the car to Rick’s shop.

“The first thing I noticed was the car didn’t have deluxe interior,” Rick said. Deluxe interior is standard on the 1969-1970 Mach 1 and very noticeable with the high-back bucket seats and Comfortweave seat upholstery. Dave was a newbie and bought the car blindly. The good news is he didn’t pay too much. He got a fastback, which for 1969 is almost as valuable as a Mach 1. Every Mach 1, of course, is a fastback.

The most obvious way to spot a Mach 1 clone is the body style. A coupe or convertible cannot be a Mach 1. In fact, cloning a coupe or a convertible into a Mach 1 would be an exercise in “what if.” What if the factory had built a Mach 1 convertible? People apply cloning techniques to these cars and come up with some very interesting car show entries for enthusiasts.

The Mach 1 was more than an option in 1969. Ford issued every Mach 1 the unique body code of “63C” reverse stamped to a metal warranty plate pop-riveted to the back edge of the inside of the driver’s side door. For 1970, Ford replaced this metal tag with a plastic Vehicle Certification Label. Collectors can order these trim plates and labels brand new and stamp them how they want. This practice is not illegal. Many cars have had their driver’s side door changed without saving the old trim tags.

The Mach 1 of 1969-1970 has so many features that spotting a clone is usually fairly easy. Rick looked over Dave’s faux Mach 1 and came up with more inconsistencies. The car did have the Mach 1 side stripes and the correct “trumpet” style exhausts out the back, but a big breaking curve ball was the Mustang medallion on the front fenders. Mustang fender badges alongside the Mach 1 logo made the fenders too cluttered and is not stock.

In addition to early Mustang GTs, Shelbys, and Mach 1s, Ford built many other popular specialty models. Jeff Krueger at the Lubbock Mustang Club restored one of the “Color Of The Month” 1968 Mustangs. His car was “Passionate Pink,” not a regular production paint choice. Any other 1968 Mustang painted this color in a clone would have the same appearance. However, to spot this clone Jeff points out the blank paint code along with paperwork to document the color and the original color in hidden areas inside the trunk and under the rear seats.

Ford Motor Company has supplied access to paperwork for 1967 and later models. They have their “999” reports listing the original equipment and make-up of each car. For more detailed production figures, enthusiasts can pay Kevin Marti for a Marti Report. So, anybody, no matter their level of expertise, should be able to read copies of original paperwork and determine the exact make-up of 1967-up model Fords when new.

M&F

     

A favorite for decades to clone is the 1965-1966 Shelby Mustang. Enthusiasts use stripes and different performance parts of Carroll’s original G.T.350 as a guide for their personal build.

 

A Shelby clone will not have an original Shelby VIN plate under the hood. This Shelby tag is pop-riveted over the Ford VIN on the fender apron under the hood. This one is real. Still, buyers need to document the car by number in the Shelby World Registry.

 

One of the most popular cars to clone is the 1967 Shelby G.T.500 fastback. The car is clearly a clone, but looks great and is a rocket with the big-block 428 CJ (or perhaps a 427 side-oiler) for power.

 

The builder of this 1967 G.T.500 clone made no attempt to replicate the engine compartment of a stock Shelby. He went with his own modern interpretation of a big-block.

 

Hi-Po badges do not make a Hi-Po. Unless the hood is opened, nobody is the wiser. This could be a Hi-Po clone or an original Hi-Po.

 

The most visual and popular part of the GT Equipment Group is the factory side stripes. Adding them has been very popular since Day One.

 

Shelby did not make coupes in the G.T.350. This red 1965 coupe wears the G.T.350 logo. Building a clone on a body style never offered is a creative way to make a clone.

 

The deck lid tape stripe on this 1969 fastback reads “MACH 1.” But, is it a Mach 1? Look at the aftermarket wheels. Actually, this car is a Mach 1. The owner modified an original Mach 1. This fastback is not a clone.

 

Notice “63C” for the body code on the door trim label on this 1970 Mustang. The “63C” documents the body as Mach 1 – as long as the label is original.

 

The patina on this Shelby VIN plate under the hood of this 1966 G.T.350H is indicative of wear and looks original.

 

This 1970 Mustang has a body code of “63A” so it could not be a Mach 1. It is a fastback with standard bucket seats.

 

Owners should hunt for the passenger car “build sheet” inside their Mustangs and Fords. Often, they are under the rear seats in the springs. Build sheets list details on what parts assembly line workers installed as the car went down the line.

 

This 1969 Mustang is a Mach 1 clone, but fairly close in looks to an original.

 

The interior of this Mach 1 is not authentic. The interior is missing the deluxe Mach 1 interior featuring high back bucket seats – indicative of a clone.

 

There's no such thing as a 1970 Boss 351, as seen on this 1970 Mustang. The “G” code in the fifth digit of the VIN on a 1969-1970 Boss 302 documents the Boss 302 heritage. Only Boss 302 Mustangs got the Boss 302 engine, which was a G-code.

 

In general, enthusiasts don’t clone Boss 429s. But, there are a few out there. This one is original.

 

Boss 302 graphics are easy to copy. Clones are rare because building a fake but complete and correct Boss 302 is as difficult as restoring an original.

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