Classic Recreations: Our Look Inside this Renowned Shelby Mustang Builder
In a non-descript shop in small town Yukon, Oklahoma, craftsmen build works of art that are sold the world over. Classic Recreations occupies a few drab buildings that give little clue to the world class boutique automaker inside, and the overpowered Mustangs inside.
Started around a decade ago by muscle car fan Jason Engel, Classic Recreations focuses on building to-order officially licensed Shelby Mustangs. These are cars with the classic ‘60s look, but modern amenities and performance, all with immaculate craftsmanship, making these Mustangs stunners in every measurable way. Shop manager Preston Lindsey recently gave Zeroto60Times a tour, and we came away impressed.
“The sky’s the limit on our cars,” said Lindsey. “We can do Coyote, stroker, 427, 351, supercharged. It really depends on what they [customers] want. We don’t want to limit ourselves. Why wouldn’t we do it if they want it?”
We started in the “boneyard,” where Mustangs from 1964 to 1969 sat waiting their turn to become high quality supercars. These are the “before” transformation pictures, that show the deplorable condition CR buys their classic Mustangs.
“All of these cars have VIN numbers and verified titles,” Lindsey said, as that’s the only real thing of value, since all the rest of the car would need so much hands-on work, or outright replacement. The shop used to buy nicer versions, thinking they would be less work, but it didn’t turn out that way.
“We’ll take it, have it media blasted, and when it comes back, it will be in absolutely terrible shape. [Rust holes] like a screen door. These cars weren’t known for durability. Two or three years after they’re brand new, they’re rusting apart.”
There were about 25 cars in the boneyard, some with floorboards completely missing, or rough, flakey rust on every conceivable panel. Lindsey said they could all be saved, due to the sheer amount of work that goes into rebuilding every car.
“After media blasting, we’ll put in on a jig to get everything perfectly square, and at that point we’ll start cutting every piece of rotten metal out of it, and replace them with brand new. It’s better to start in this condition [waving at the junk cars], because we know where we’re at.”
From there we slipped into the body shop next door, where a couple of guys are going to town on a Mustang chassis that been blasted and refitted with body panels. Like a mid-century Bentley factory, the tools are noticeably low tech. I interrupted his work to ask about body fitment.
“These are better panel gaps than even the current mustang,” he said. “Worlds better than the old cars. No comparison.”
“You can’t just slap a panel on and call it good,” Lindsey said. “You have to work to make it flow. This stage is extremely important. This is the foundation of the car, and structurally it’s important as well. Carroll Shelby back in the ‘60s used to build cars with maybe 300 horsepower. Today, they’re triple that. You’ve gotta have a way to handle that. It’s gotta be rigid to handle all that torque.”
In the paint facility, another odd few workers are adding stripes to a GT500. Lindsey points out that there is no compromising on the paint. Rather than quickly laying out a graphic, CR paints the strips on their cars.
“We’re not a huge facility. We’re trying to build something by hand that is absolutely killer. That’s the difference. We don’t have a stencil for the stripes. We lay them out and paint them on.”
While watching the painters painstakingly removing tape, Lindsey shared a story about Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and his experience at CR. Apparently Hamilton loved small town Oklahoma, as no-one knew who he was, so he was free from paparazzi and fans. His GT500 CR is a gorgeous shade of crimson/ruby red that he was so enamored with, he ended up having his private jet painted the same color.
“These guys literally sand everything by hand, so they can feel everything. You can’t get that with a DA [dual action sander]. We’re known for having mirror finishes on our cars,” Lindsey said, adding to the idea that these are not sloppy factory cars, but hand-crafted works created by techs that are borderline artists. Lindsey had us run a finger over the paint, where it transitioned from body color to stripe. It was perfect. You could not feel the difference in paint, and the car felt like it was smoother than glass.
Moving into the main shop, we see painted cars in various states of completion. A handful of techs are slowly assembling suspension components on a sinister black GT500, while next to it sits a convertible GT350 looking completed and ready to roll.
“We are just as proud of the bottom as we are of the top,” Lindsey said, showing us the impressive polished steel and Rhino-lined underside of the GT500. “Coil-over suspension all the way around. Housing made by Strange. We get them back in raw metal form, and we have them powder coated. We use only stainless steel lines and stainless rivets. We could go cheaper than that, but we are proud of the underside. It’s never gonna rust and it’ll be easy to clean.”
Lindsey said the front suspension is a modified Mustang II unit, with their special touches and high-end parts. He pointed out the massive brakes.
“This car has 6 piston brakes. That’s NASCAR level braking.”
Moving to the interior, the quality becomes apparent, as no factory Mustang has ever had this level of build quality. The gorgeous steering wheel, and touches of stainless steel add a huge amount of class. One prominent feature that catches the eye is a large Carroll Shelby signature on the passenger side dash panel. Since he passed in 2012, and the CR cars are brand new, we had to ask.
“Not a lot of people know this,” Lindsey starts. “Shelby was one of the oldest living double transplant recipients. Lindsey said that Shelby wanted to give back, and started the Carroll Shelby Foundation which helps children battle life-threatening illnesses, supports organizations that provide medical assistance, and even funds scholarships in automotive education.
“When he was living, you could not get an autograph from him without paying through his foundation.” Lindsey said Shelby knew he was old and frail before he passed, so he entered his signature into an autopen. The signature on the CR Mustangs is Shelby’s real signature, as made by a machine, with a donation for each one still going to his foundation.
Under the hood, the GT350 is just as impressive. Carbon fiber and polished steel stand out against the smoothed and sprayed fenders and firewall.
“Every bit of exposed metal has been shot with bedliner,” Lindsey points out the immaculate engine bay. “We like the texture, and it’s never gonna rust again.”
The GT350 is a gorgeous classic looking machine, but the modern EFI V8 states its ability to be a reliable driver.
“That’s one of the neat things about this, [CR’s cars] are constantly evolving. We can add four-wheel disc brakes, massive horsepower, and air conditioning [without destroying an original Shelby]. You’re basically getting all the technology of today’s supercars in a classic format.”
It seems to be a universal combination, as there is no shortage of orders. Classic Recreations might be fulfilling the dreams of customers as long as there are classic Mustangs available to turn into modern supercars.
“As far as I know, we’re the only people that offer something like that in a production vehicle.”