Articles

Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

Building a Replica 250 SWB by the Numbers

You won’t get into the Monterey Historics, but you can show at Concorso Italiano, run in some vintage races and rallies, and enjoy the ride

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—November 2006 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

For those who missed the first round of hiring at Microsoft, a Ferrari replica offers the chance to own a classic Ferrari with the right looks, sounds, and performance, at a fraction of the $2.5m–$3.5m cost of the real thing. You won’t get into the Monterey Historic races, but you can show it on the lawn at Concorso Italiano, run in vintage races and rallies, and enjoy the ride.

At my business we sell many replicas, and with every one we offer, some misguided soul inevitably calls or e-mails and opines that he can build one for less. Dream on. In the mid- to late-1980s a 250 GTE donor car could be found for less than $50,000, and the shops building replicas ran mini-assembly lines with very experienced crews and all the jigs and bucks for every step of work, delivering a finished car at another $150,000 or so beyond the price of the donor car.

Times moves on, and the prices of donor cars, parts, labor, and materials have all risen dramatically. If you want a replica today, you are better off buying one that is ready to go, or you can contract with one of the few shops that can build you one. To prove the point, let’s run some numbers and build a 250 SWB replica.

Main frame and secondary frame done, tertiary frame going into place
Main frame and secondary frame done,
tertiary frame going into place

START WITH $75,000 DONOR

There are at least a dozen shops, worldwide, that could build a 250 SWB replica, but thanks to the run-up in Ferrari prices, all these shops have a multi-year backlog of work on original cars. Only Greg Jones in the U.S., Alwin Hietbrink in Holland, and Giovanni Allegretti in Italy still specialize in replicas. I’ve gone to Greg Jones and his Florida shop for time and price quotes, and Alwin Hietbrink for photos.

Today’s base price for a complete “donor” 250 GTE is about $75,000, but before you can build a replica, the entire interior, dash and wiring, cooling system, engine, transmission, differential, and suspension must be removed, de-greased, and labeled for rebuild or updates. Once disassembled, the body and all redundant superstructure such as the chassis outriggers must be removed, and everything sorted and disassembled. Figure three weeks, or 120 hours at $80 an hour, plus materials—or about $10,000.

Then it’s time to shorten the frame, cut out the old cross members, and build and fit new ones. Suspension mount points, spring mounts, track rod bars, pedal box, and steering box mounts need to be fabricated and fitted. Another 100–120 hours, more materials, so another $10,000.

Want an all new chassis with the correct lighter weight cross members, the correct “sweep” to the rear frame, and all the right dimensions? Assuming one has the jigs, the patterns, and knows exactly what to do, figure another 100–120 hours and lots of expensive metric tubing, at another $10,000.

THINK IN $10,000 INCREMENTS

Next up is a secondary frame to support the outriggers, the radiator, the front firewall and cowl, the door posts, door hinge boxes, and door opening. We also need the framework for the rear bulkhead, the fuel tank sub-framework, ad infinitum. You guessed it, another $10,000.

But wait, there’s more. A third lightweight structure has to be built to be the riveting and support point for the body sheet metal. When done, this framework mimics the body shape, and our project is beginning to look like a car. That’s another $10,000.

DOUBLE IT IF YOU MUST MAKE JIGS

Once the levels of framework are built, the hood frame and hinges, the door frames and hinges, and trunk frame and hinges all have to be built. All need latch plates built and aligned with the sub-frame. The hood frame, door frames, and trunk frame must all align properly, open, swing with a correct arc, and hopefully latch. Add yet another $10,000. (And if you don’t have all the frame, sub-frame and opening panel jigs to do all of this, you can easily double or triple these numbers).

Once built, the frame structure must be sand-blasted and primed for rust-proofing. Sadly, as work progresses, the protective primer will be chipped, scratched, and welded on, but it’s a lot easier to stop rust now rather than later. Figure $2,000.

It’s now time to build a body. Building a body is not that expensive, if the shop has all the bucks, and if the fabricator has already built multiple 250 SWBs. Use an experienced shop, spend about $35,000. If you hire a new shop to go through the learning curve, you can double that number. While we’re at it we will also need a dashboard at $1,000, a fuel tank with cell at $4,000, and a floor, inner panels, and firewalls at $4,000.

Now you have a new body, but all the new alloy body panels have to be painstakingly fitted and the edges folded over the tertiary subframe, hood frame, door frames and trunk frame. The entire body then needs to be metal-finished to perfection. Figure another $30,000, for a grand total—so far—of about $210,000.

More tertiary framework and supports being installed, roof is test-fitted
More tertiary framework and supports being installed,
roof is test-fitted

COMING DOWN TO NUTS AND BOLTS

Meanwhile, back at the engine shop, our 250 GTE engine is being transformed into a 250 SWB engine. Figure $25,000 for a basic rebuild. Want to make it a 6-carb engine? (Yes, 6-;carbs were homologated for racing). Add $10,000 if you are willing to use Daytona carbs, or $15,000–$20,000 if you want period carbs. How about the much-improved SEFAC heads made by Piet Roelofs in Holland? Add another $15,000. Carrillo rods? Another $2,000.

If you rebuild and use the four-speed GTE transmission you’ll spend $5,000, but an SWB-correct alloy ribbed four-speed box is $20,000. Want a correct rear axle assembly with Watts link? Add $10,000. Correct headers and exhaust system will cost another $5,000 and dyno testing and tuning will be $1,000.

Body being added
Body being added

Needless to say the entire suspension needs a rebuild and replating, and of course we’ll rebuild the calipers, brake master system, and fit all new bushings, tie rod ends, wheel and hub bearings, hard lines and soft lines, for another $10,000. New wheels and tires will cost another $6,000. Now your total is between $255,000–$300,000.

You’re still not finished. It’s time to mock-up the entire car to confirm the rebuilt engine fits the opening, the engine mounts line up, the radiator fits, the carbs clear the hood, the new four-speed mates with the engine and mounts, the shifter is in the right place, the rear axle assembly fits the chassis, and tire and wheel clearance works through the suspension motion range. The new exhaust must be fitted, and all welding to the frame must be finalized. Once tested, it must come completely apart before it goes to the paint shop. Cost to pre-assemble? $35,000. Lights would also be nice, and a wiring harness with fuse relay board will add $5,000.

Everything fits, everything works? It’s time for final body work, lots of sanding and blocking, and on to paint the frame, inner structure, and body, at $20,000–$25,000.

And now the step I’ve had to explain, over and over, for years. Once the car is bright and shiny doesn’t mean it’s done. It’s now time to re-install the engine, transmission, suspension, glass, plexiglas, wiring, and interior for the final assembly of the entire car to make sure everything works as it should. Once assembled, hopefully for the last time, multiple test drives, sorting, and systems checks help, at another $25,000–$35,000.

Your final result is a 250 SWB built to order, with your choice of chassis, engine specs, color, etc. It’ll take a year and cost from $340,000 to $400,000.

On the other hand, if you want to buy one ready to go, expect to pay about $250,000 to $300,000. It may not be exactly what you want, but it’s here today. And a bargain. Just so long as you don’t try to get onto the lawn at Cavallino.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN has been a Ferrari dealer for 30 years as well as a race car driver and exotic car broker.