I came into this gig the old school journalism way, the newspaper route, the one that teaches you to believe in the myth of objectivity and not to desire any particular outcome with a story you write. But when a religious nutjob and accused con artist fleeces your fellow car enthusiasts out of thousands of dollars with a lie about perfect supercar replicas for Camry prices, well, you’d want to see them go down too.
One of my favorite stories I ever did for Jalopnik was one of my first big projects. Unfortunately, the scammers who call themselves Super Replicas—among other things—are still around, three years later.
Do you have any clue how much that burns my ass?
Here’s the backstory. I’ll try to keep it brief. After breaking away from mainstream Mormonism in his native Australia to declare himself a living prophet, and then getting booted out of America, a fellow named Daniel John Seppings went on down to Panama and apparently spearheaded an internet scam where his company purports to sell perfect replicas of supercars with any engine you want—any engine you want!—for about $20,000 to $50,000, depending on options.
They back this up with stolen photos of cars they pass off as their “replicas” and with these horribly amateurish, laughably edited YouTube videos. How do they build them so cheaply, you ask? NAFTA, or some shit. I can’t remember.
And yet, as unbelievable as it all is, it works. It has worked repeatedly. Over the years I’ve talked to dozens of people who have lost tens of thousands of dollars to Super Replicas. Naturally, when prospective buyers send down deposits or payments for the “replicas,” they get nothing. And if buyers want to sue or press charges, well... good luck in Panama.
For a time I was getting three or four emails a month from people who lost $5,000, $10,000, even $30,000 or more to Super Replicas. Typically they were non-native English speakers, people who wanted to live the supercar dream but had even less cash to burn than the rest of us.
(But not always. I’m not at liberty to disclose his name, but one of their victims was a very wealthy collector of rare cars. Why he didn’t send a hired team of ex-Special Forces dudes down to Panama to sort this out, I do not know.)
Anyway, the point is people fell for the scam. A lot. And they kept falling for it because Super Replicas, like a particularly nasty viral infection, mutates all the time. Other names they’ve used include “Top Gear Carbon Copies,” “Audi USA Motors,” “Mansory Cars,” and most recently, “Chick Magnet Cars.” The last one really gets on my nerves.
What I do know is Jalopnik has saved at least a few poor fools from getting screwed. A few people have emailed and called to tell me as much. Our stories are right below their homepage on a Google search.
But they’re still around. And I still get emails asking “if it’s really a scam” (yes) or “is there any way to get my money back” (sorry, no). It wasn’t for lack of trying. Thanks to a friend of the site, we even got video of their Panama workshop, a garage so questionable that even David Tracy wouldn’t wrench in there—yet supposedly makes 100 percent perfect carbon copies of Audi R8s and Ferraris.
I’d like to be able to say that our reporting shut them down for good, that they can’t take advantage of anyone else now. But some viruses are just too tough to kill.
And that’s never going to not piss me off.
This has been a post from Senior Week, a celebration of Gawker Media as a purveyor of independent journalism. Thank you for your continued support.