How to Build a Replica Car

by Don Kress
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classic car image by Mariusz Blach from

Building a replica car is difficult. The upside, however, is that if you take your time on the project, and savor the journey rather than lusting for the destination, your chances of completing a replica car project are very good. For your first replica car, plan to build a vehicle with a large following, plenty of aftermarket support, and timeless good looks, particularly if you intend to drive the car on a daily basis. Shelby Cobra replicas are available from a number of reputable companies, as are '32 Ford roadsters and coupes. Either of these would be a good beginner's choice.

Select the Replica and Purchase the Donor Car.

Step 1

Select the replica car you wish to build. This will determine not only how intensive the build process will be, but also what type of donor car you will have to purchase. Many replica cars are built from Mustangs, in particular Cobra replicas. Purchasing a running and driving donor car will ensure that you won't have to spend additional money to purchase a drive train.

Step 2

Purchase the donor car. You can select cars with damaged body panels, unusable upholstry, or even without doors, trunk lid, or hood, as these cars will be far more affordable than nice-condition donor cars. Choose a donor car that is free of rust, however, has a solid frame, and which has an engine you will want to power your replica car.

Step 3

Purchase the replica car. Some replicas are delivered in stages, while others arrive all at once. You will receive a series of instruction manuals which will walk you through the build process from start to finish.

Build the Replica Car

Step 1

Remove unnecessary body parts from the donor car according to the included instructions. You will likely be removing all body panels, interior, dashboard, and electrical equipment, as well as the window glass and roof. Try to retain good condition body parts, however, as these can be posted for sale to help to recoup some of the expenses you will incur.

Step 2

Place the donor car chassis on jack stands and assemble the replica car according to the directions included in the manual. You may wish to clean and prepare the bare chassis before you begin, particularly if you intend to take the vehicle to car shows. Clean the dirt and grime completely before spraying with an undercoating. You may also want to update or replace worn suspension parts before continuing.

Step 3

Install body panels and mechanical components in the order specified by the replica car manufacturer. These can often be painted before installation, but then care should be taken when installing parts to avoid scratching painted surfaces.

Step 4

Install the upholstery. The interior will be the final step in building your replica car. Choose a fabric and texture to accent the paint you chose for the finish. Interior parts can often be purchased partly assembled so that they can be more easily installed.

Step 5

Install and check the electrical systems and battery. Follow the replica manufacturer's guidelines to install and check all the electrical components.

Register and Title the Replica

Step 1

Register the replica with your local Department of Motor Vehicles before attempting street driving. The car will be titled as a replica in some states, while in other states, the car will be considered the make and model of the original donor car, and thus, will need to display the VIN tag prominently on the dashboard. Check local regulations concerning home built vehicles for detailed information, as each locality can have different laws concerning titling these cars.

Step 2

Tow the vehicle to a local Highway Patrol testing station to have the replica approved for highway and road use. This involves an in-vehicle driving inspection, as well as a thorough going-over of the car by a highway patrol inspector to certify the presence of safety systems such as seat belts, road worthiness, and overall drivability.

Step 3

Obtain insurance on the replica. The car will be considered a specialty vehicle, and will be insured as such, rather than as the donor vehicle. In some states, this step is necessary before registration and titling.

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