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The New Classics

How a breed of obsessive mechanics and craftsmen are turning out vintage-inspired modern automobiles

by Ryan McManus in Design on 22 February 2012

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The resurgence of handcrafted objects has spread from fashion to electronics to spirits—you can listen to vinyl LPs while wearing reissued Levi's 1947 501s and sipping small-batch local bourbon in almost any city in America—but bespoke craft has largely eluded the auto industry. Sure, you can't throw a rock in a mall parking lot without hitting a retro-inspired muscle car, and some manufacturers have made bolt-on aftermarket "customization" as easy as assembling an IKEA bookshelf, but theoretically, something can only be so unique when it's being mass-produced for global distribution. On the other hand, vintage models give rise to safety concerns and lack the power of modern technology.

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Thankfully, there is an emerging middle ground between the unique excitement of a vintage machine and the reliability of a modern one. More commonly seen in motorcycles that automobiles, a few small companies have emerged in the last few years to fill the gap. These 21st-century coachbuilders offer a product that is custom-built for each owner, a one-of-a-kind piece of drivable art for those who appreciate obsessive craftsmanship.

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You've probably heard of the DeLorean Motor Company, maker of the legendary DMC-12. The original DMC folded in 1982, but a new DeLorean Motor Company was started in Texas in 1995 to support the 6,000 or so owners of the original cars. The new DeLorean has reached beyond just a parts clearinghouse—for around $60,000 they will build you a brand new deadstock DMC-12. You can keep it stock of course, but DeLorean will happily install satellite radio, iPod interfaces, GPS and Bluetooth for an additional cost. They also offer upgrades to the performance of the engine and suspension, which we'd recommend—the original DMC-12 managed a 0-60 time of about 10.5 seconds, just a bit slower than the 1991 Toyota Corolla. For those of you eager to drive the true car of the future, starting in 2013, customers will be able to order an all-electric version of the DMC-12. A perfect match for your Nike Mags.

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If your tastes are more performance-based, and you already own a Porsche 911 in need of some modification, Singer Vehicle Design (SVD) has a proposition for you. Using Cosworth engines and new composite bodies from Aria, Singer re-imagines a customer's existing 911 into a machine that looks iconic and actually outperforms its modern brethren. SVD collaborates directly with artisans, craftsmen and small manufacturers in Southern California to custom-build each car to the owner's specifications and intended use.

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The classic air-cooled engines can run from a sprightly 300hp touring model all the way up to a 4.0L, 400HP track monster. The interiors are refinished in new leather upholstery and beautifully minimal dashes that match the mechanical excellence under the hood. Bespoke quality comes at a cost, of course—SVD's recreations will run from $190,000 to more than $300,000, and you still need to supply the original 964-body 911. And while Porsche purists might raise an eyebrow at a modern 911 that looks like it was built in 1971, you'll be looking at them in your (hand-crafted) rear-view mirror.

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By far the most intense of this new breed of bespoke auto craftsmen, ICON began as a Toyota LandCruiser restoration company that quickly shifted into an obsession with building more perfect versions of classic 4 x 4s like the Jeep CJ and Toyota FJ. In fact, ICON's FJ44 is high on Cool Hunting's list of vehicles we'd want during the Apocalypse.

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The most exciting truck to come from ICON is their newest, the ICON Bronco, a faithful, if burly, reinterpretation of the cult-favorite 1966-77 Ford Broncos. ICON owner Jonathan Ward worked directly with Ford's rockstar designer Camilo Pardo and Nike and Frog Design to re-imagine one of Ford's most classic sport utility vehicles.

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Utilizing an all-new reproduction Bronco bodyshell from Ford supplier Dynacorn, the ICON Bronco has the handsome good looks of the original, without being cloyingly retro. Under the hood, the Bronco is powered by Ford's new 5.0L V8 that is currently in the 2012 Mustang GT, doubling the original's 205HP. Other modern upgrades include a Parrot in-dash stereo running Android, military-grade LED lighting throughout, and a heavy-duty winch hidden in the front bumper. Everywhere you look you find obsessively rebuilt parts, like door lock knobs machined from solid aluminum instead of cheap plastic. About the only complaint we have is the loss of the original gauge design, but we're nostalgic that way. For an exhaustive look at the making of the ICON Bronco, head over to Car Domain.

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These newly reengineered vintage vehicles from DeLorean, Singer Vehicle Design and ICON are an obsessive, loving homage to the halcyon days of automobile production, and offer today's independent driver exciting alternatives to the status quo of another all-wheel-drive supercar or mass-produced rockhopper. While none of these options come cheap, the amount of skill and labor that goes into making each one can justify the cost as buying more than just another car. Now that Ford is licensing full-body reproductions of their 1960s and '70s Mustangs, we can only hope that this trend will continue to thrive.

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