I was blasé about driving the Classic Recreations Ford Mustang GT500 because of its name. “Recreation” sounds like “copy”, and why bother with a knockoff when you’re spending six figures on a car? But between the look, sound, and good lord that shifter, this is easily one of the most exciting cars I’ve ever driven.
If you’re looking for a shop that does to classic Mustangs kind of what Singer does to older Porsche 911s, this just might be your ticket. Classic Recreations does artful takes on iconic designs with a modest dose of modernization. And not surprisingly, it rules. Hard.
(Full disclosure: Classic Recreations’ PR agency contacted me and offered me a chance to drive this vehicle for several hours, but the catch was I had to also drive a VW Golf R with APR mods. The valley hadn’t caught fire yet, so driving up to Kahn Media’s office to play with these monsters was a pretty easy sell.)
The O.G. fastback Ford Mustang never went out of style, but it did go out of production about 50 years ago.
While they’re fairly common today, owing to their massive success when they were new, the really special cars are far from cheap. The ones with Carroll Shelby’s name on them can land in the $200,000 neighborhood, according to the beancounters at Hagerty. That’s if you can find somebody willing to part with theirs, and then you pretty much have to take what you can get as far as color and configuration goes.
Alternatively, you could take your tens of thousands of dollars to Classic Recreations. The Yukon, Oklahoma-based outfit takes original ’65 to ’68 Mustang fastback bodies, strips them bare, and basically fabricates an entirely new car below the classic shell.
Classic Recreations’ site says each car takes about four months, nearly 2,500 labor hours, to execute. The result is a completely custom-made car that looks like the quintessential Hollywood badass-mobile and feels as delightfully dramatic as every gear-shift cut from a Fast & Furious movie.
The full spec sheet puts the starting price of the GT500CR “Classic Shelby” I drove here at $169,000. As you can see, the idea is to keep the car as aesthetically and spiritually as close to the 1960s original as possible. The GT500CR is also available in a more modern build; a more aggressive car for a little more money. Jalopnik Editor Emeritus Matt Hardigree actually drove one of those in 2010 and loved it, but I think I’ll keep the extra 20 grand and stick with the old school style myself.
Technically it can’t be a real Shelby Mustang, and it’s not a Ford factory product. But Carroll Shelby’s endorsement of this recreation—they’ve been at this a while—is official. So while the car might not appreciate as much as a true oldie, but at least you can feel validation when you see Shelby’s name stitched into the center console.
This GT500 feels vintage. The steering wheel is smooth and thin, kind of lithe but stately like mid-century modern furniture which also happens to be hot again now. All the switches are metal, so even turning on the headlights feels important.
From the moment you push the door button, which has the perfect CLICK, to the mildly intimidating key-turning and the hellacious rumble that comes after, the car seems legendary in all the right ways.
But of course, unlike a car that’s actually been on the road or in a barn for 50 years, everything here is tight. The engine starts without a special dance of fuel priming and prayer. Behind every wonderfully archaic physical control is a computer-powered electronic system or a brand-new engineered mechanism.
Stepping on the gas takes it to a whole other level, and just wait until you meet the shifter.
Classic Recreations offers a few options for power. The car we’re talking about here has a 427 cubic inch engine rated to 545 horsepower, fuel injected, and fierce as a hungry gorilla in a grocery store.
Despite its scary-high horsepower figure, the car’s clutch felt fairly forgiving and you can get underway without embarrassing yourself easily enough.
Palming the spherical shift knob was a treat in of itself- the ergonomics of wrapping your mitt around a cue ball just feels correct. But even a ginger pull of the shifter from first to second gear is enough to convince you that you’ve just found the best part of the car.
This Mustang’s Tremec manual transmission lever is almost long enough to look like it was lifted out of a tractor, and robust as an I-beam. Using it makes you feel invincible, as every [CLANG] single [CHUNK] shift [CLACK] has the drama and weight of knights locked in combat.
Does Tremec make a manual transmission for your car? You should find out, and if they do, start saving up because operating this thing was far and away the coolest part of this very neat car. Imagine the snappy decisiveness of one of Honda’s legendary six-speeds with the weight of the throttle lever on a 747.
The car is fast, to be sure, but its theatrics are what make it so much fun. The thing spits and crackles as it rolls to a stop. A gentle squeeze of the gas is all it takes to step the tail out off a stop sign. Suspension on the soft side makes the car comfortable in regular driving, and true to its old school nature when you start to push it.
We’ve seen plenty of takes on the idea of “old-meets-new” in custom cars, and I’m not here to say Classic Recreation’s approach with this build is the only correct one. But even though this ’60s Mustang isn’t really entirely old, there’s no whiff of “knockoff” anywhere near it.
The car’s palpable power, rambunctious personality and shoulder-swinging swagger just make it a freaking ball to drive and reactions it gets from everybody in its wake make the experience unforgettable.
If you have an old Mustang and a big pile of cash, I can think of far less rewarding things to do than this.