Lamborghini, Bugatti knock-offs populate the internet. Are they legal?

Lamborghini, Bugatti knock-offs populate the internet. Are they legal?

Randy Morrow, a retired police officer in Tennessee, is selling what appears to be a sleek 2010 Lamborghini Murcielago for a “reasonable” price: $40,000.

It’s a great deal for a car that typically costs over $200,000 and has all the exotic details you’d expect from a luxury automaker. It’s aggressive-looking, with sharp angles and dramatic scissor doors. The coupe sits low and wide, and it has a candy-colored paint job. 

Only the car is not a real “Lambo.”

It’s what’s referred to as a “replica” or “kit car” among a niche community of auto enthusiasts who cobble together parts from various sources to construct imitations of head-turning sports cars and luxury vehicles. Building these faux cars is legal too, as long as you aren’t passing them off as the real thing or selling them in large numbers. 

Morrow opted to list the carbon copy on LamborghiniReplicas.com, one of many websites where unique replicas and luxury car parts await eager buyers who want the prestige of owning an exclusive ride without shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars. Replicas sell for as low as $20,000 and run up to six figures.

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These DIY vehicles are nothing new. In the early ’60s, companies like Fiberfab and other small-time operations would create Ford GT40 replicas using a Volkswagen Beetle’s chassis and sell the cars under a different name. By the ’70s, motorists could buy component parts to convert older models into unique classics. Today, many replicas are made using old Pontiac Fieros as a base.

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But as the kit cars crop up in online resale websites, the cottage industry of builders seems to be drawing more attention from the public, selective pushback from the automakers whose cars they imitate and criticism from car purists who just don’t seem to get that it’s all about fun.

“There are some people who feel that kit cars devalue the original cars,” and social media may be a magnet for them, according to Robert Ross, an automotive consultant for Robb Report magazine. “However, I don’t see too many legitimate owners of the real cars bad-mouthing or berating people who create the copies. It’s people whose comments are only generated to stir up animosity.”

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A physicist in Colorado and his son made waves when they spent $20,000 on materials and used a set of 3D printers to build a fully functional Lambo Aventador replica in October.

Sterling Brackus and his son are building a Lamborghini Aventador lookalike using a 3D printer.

The father, Sterling Backus, told USA TODAY that since going viral, “there’ve been trolls on social media making flippant comments and saying things like, ‘This is stupid. What a waste of money.'”

He has no intention of selling the car once it’s done, but people have asked, Backus said.

These car hobbyists say that realistic knock-offs have become more valuable over the past several years as luxury car companies hunt down replica factories and pull body molds from auto shops.

Eric Bonnette, an entrepreneur who buys, builds and flips kit cars, posted a Craigslist ad in September advertising a 2012 Bugatti Veyron “replica” built on top of a 2002 Mercury Cougar V6 chassis. The listing included close-ups of the copycat car, a few details and a $125,000 price tag along with the owner’s contact info. 

Soon after listing the vehicle, Bonnette received dozens of text messages and emails from strangers saying “such heinous things like ‘man, you’re a loser. You’re a moron,” Bonnet said. He also received emails from angry purists saying, “Bugatti should sue you!”

Are replica cars legal?

Mark McKenna, a Chicago-based patent lawyer, said individuals who create personal clones of dream cars are less likely to face trademark lawsuits than people selling replicas in large numbers.

However, legacy car companies could still argue that the design, or a part of the design, is “substantially similar” to a design that’s patented, though these types of cases are rare and hard to prove.

Eric Bonnette is looking for a buyer for his 2012 Bugatti Veyron that’s selling for $125,000. Only, it’s not really a luxury sports car, it’s a 2002 Mercury Cruiser that has been disguised as one.

“Doing it just for yourself on a one-off basis is probably not going to get detected and be pursued,” McKenna said. “The risk level is low because making one of them and not selling it is probably not very costly for designers.”

A 2015 bill gave “low volume manufactures” the legal authority to produce a limited number of replica vehicles so long as the inspiration car is at least 25-years-old.

Imitation vehicles become more troubling when creators or sellers try to pass off fakes as the real thing, or when they operate larger scale factories offering exotic car copies that cost little more than a Ford Focus.

Over the summer, police in Brazil shut down a factory that was producing fake Ferraris and what’s been dubbed “Shamborghinis.” The replicas were being sold for about $45,000 to $60,000 each. The company’s Instagram page remains active. 

An abundance of fake…

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