I am obsessed with the Mille Miglia, so when I was pondering my next collector car, I set my sights on a ’50s-era Italian sports car. Immediately, I ran into a chicane: The top-tier cars were far north of my $150,000 budget. My search downshifted and I began chasing a few Stanguellinis, Bandinis and other such Etceterini. I found cars that were represented as “authentic,” yet paper trails (if they existed at all) often raised many more questions than they answered.
I was cautious because everybody knows this segment of the market is rife with high-priced fakes. But that raised an interesting idea: What if I could buy one of these imposters, but for an honest price? I happened upon a Ferrari replica being offered by SCM Contributing Editor Thor Thorson that piqued my curiosity. The car had sold by the time we connected, but it showed me that a re-creation might be a viable path to my next car.
The advantage of a high-quality re-creation is that it offers nearly identical looks, sounds and driving dynamics to the real thing — minus the crippling fear of wrecking a museum-grade car. While some may turn up their noses, replicas do let more people see these gorgeous, exhilarating cars outside of museums and elite events like Goodwood or Pebble Beach. Finally — though this may not be to everyone’s taste — having a hand in the car’s creation sounded like an interesting challenge.
On the downside, re-creations and replicas are typically not eligible for many events, they can vary in quality, and their value is difficult to assess. Furthermore, they are controversial within the collector-car community because purists assert that such cars can undermine the value of the genuine article, among other objections.
Still, the re-creation market has grown and become established. At the apex are factory-made continuations, such as those made by Jaguar Classic Works and Aston Martin Works. The next tier are builders using authentic, period-correct techniques and materials to construct tool-room copies. There are a number of smaller boutiques who do this work, but outfits such as Pur Sang in Argentina (building replicas of pre-war Alfas and Bugattis) and Superformance (Cobras and GT40s) have developed strong reputations and now enjoy long waiting lists. There are also firms that provide replicas which look accurate but are built with fiberglass skins over a more modern chassis.
The most important part of owning a collector car for me is the experiences it brings, with investment value and prestige being secondary considerations. With this in mind, I decided that a re-creation was a compromise that would work. My goal was to get a car that was as close as possible to the driving and mechanical experience of the original, but within my $150k budget, admittedly, just a fraction of the cost of the authentic article.
Meeting my maker
I found a Maserati A6GCS replica in Europe that looked promising. The listing touted the builder, so I decided to see what I could learn by contacting him directly. This is how I met Nestor Salerno. Nestor is an old-timer, and back in the ’50s and ’60s, he competed against Fangio, Moss, Gurney and other famous racers. He owned and competed in Ferraris, Maseratis and even a rare Lancia D24. His racing career closed with a stint in European F3, racing for the great man himself, Juan-Manuel Fangio.
He is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where it seems like Modena of the 1950s, with artisans building re-creations using the same designs, materials and techniques as the originals. Nestor used to build Lotuses under license from Colin Chapman, and then got into re-creations of the cars he drove. His works are “museum quality,” including several cars that are actually in the Fangio Museum.
In June 2017, we kicked off the build. The car would be a re-creation of the 1956 Maserati 350S that Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson drove in the Mille Miglia. That particular chassis has a unique place in Maserati history. It was bodied as a 350S and, after Moss crashed it in the Miglia, it became the first 450S prototype when Maserati dropped its new V8 into the repaired chassis. RM Auctions offered that car in Monaco in 2014, but it went unsold with a $4.8m high bid (SCM# 243728).
My car would be completely hand-built using period methods. The drivetrain would be all-Maserati, using a more-modern 4.9-L V8 engine and 5-speed transaxle, but with a lineage and period-correct appearance.
Off to Argentina
By choosing to have the car built in this fashion, I aimed to stay within my budget. Most of my money would be going to the builder, but I agreed to supply an engine from a donor car. Nestor got started on the chassis and body while I acquired a non-running 1982 Maserati Quattroporte and shipped it to Buenos Aires.
Not everyone wants to take on a project like this because, above everything else, it is time-consuming. But the upside is rewarding. In my case, this included a memorable trip to Argentina in April 2019. Seeing the car’s progress was gratifying, and I much enjoyed hanging out with Nestor in his shop, meeting his team and hearing some great stories. That’s not something you’ll get from buying a car online.
By early 2020, we were preparing to ship the car back. This, of course, got delayed due to the pandemic. It made road-testing the car in Argentina impossible and meant I didn’t get the car until a year later.
The end of the beginning
After a three-and-a-half-year gestation, I finally met my shiny, red baby in January 2021. Compared to my best Christmas morning, this was that day times ten.
However, I also knew that the project was far from over, as the car needed additional modifications for comfort and safety. It took until July to make the car roadworthy, and I finally got my chance for a first nervous drive. But the anxiety melted away once I put on my helmet and goggles, fired the engine, and dropped the clutch. Wow!
The first few outings were exploratory. The engine was not yet broken in and this was more car than I had ever driven before, so I was a huge chicken. The driving position was not yet ideal, and the shift linkage was mushy and needed adjustment, but it was undeniably exhilarating.
Well, at least at first. But then the car started to smoke and guzzle oil. Nothing seems catastrophic, but there is clearly blowby. The engine had been completely rebuilt, but something in the top end is not working properly — a problem that likely would have been discovered and addressed with proper road trials.
To be continued…
So where am I? The build has run over budget, with the current tally a shade over $200,000. Another big bill is coming for the engine repair. I still think I’m going to be okay, as a similar Maserati re-creation recently topped $315,000 on Bring a Trailer. Even though I could have bought a 911 or something similar off the showroom floor, I would have missed out on this incredible experience.
So far, my journey has been more up than down, but this story is not yet finished. Will the engine turn into a money pit? Can I convince my insurer to value it at more than the build costs? Will we live happily ever after, or will the car be more than I bargained for? Only time will tell, but I am eager to keep heading down this road. ♦
Chris Bright is the co-founder of Collector Part Exchange and has worked in several successful tech startups. He is the president of the Alfa Romeo Owners of Oregon, and his 1974 Giulia Super is his daily driver.