How counterfeit car makers are scamming enthusiasts

Mike Craig’s 1967 Corvette 427 was impressive. Pearly white on the outside, with a Caribbean-blue interior, it cost him $97,000 to buy and another $20,000 to detail.

In 2013, the retired restaurateur took his collectible car to the prestigious National Corvette Restorers Society’s Midwest meet in Joplin, Mo., a first step toward exhibiting it at a national show.

As Craig, 76, recalled to The Post, he had a smile of pride plastered across his face — until the event’s top judge rendered a devastating verdict.

“It felt like 1,000 pounds had been dropped on top of me,” Craig said.

He was told his beloved automobile was a counterfeit. (A bogus data plate inside gave it away.)

“They told me to take the car off the show floor,” he recalled. “I had to load it onto the trailer and leave like a thief in the night. It was embarrassing.”

He’s not alone. In February, comedian Jerry Seinfeld was sued by Fica Frio Limited over the 2016 sale of a 1958 Porsche Carrera GT — for $1.54 million — which court papers call “not authentic.”

(Last Monday, Seinfeld filed a third-party complaint against California dealer European Collectibles, which sold him the Porsche.)

While it’s impossible to know how many counterfeit cars are on the collectibles market — “We only hear about the ones that get publicized,” said Mike Gulett, who publishes — the problem is big enough that lawyers specialize in these cases.

“If there is enough value in it, you have people willing to make cars out of thin air,” said Bryan W. Shook, a Pennsylvania attorney with a practice called Vintage Car Law.

“We had one client with a very rare [1960s] Chevelle Super Sport. He paid $100,000 … He was so thrilled that he wanted to find out how rare it was. He hired an expert who [said], ‘The paperwork is real. The car is fake.’ ”

In that case, Shook alleged, someone spent $25,000 for the paperwork from a Super Sport that had likely been totaled. Then a car was made to match the paperwork, complete with a forged identification or VIN tag.

The jig was up when the body panels were found to have been made before the car in question was produced. (Shook’s client reached a settlement with the seller.)

According to Kevin Mackay, a Corvette expert who runs Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, LI, it’s not that difficult to get the parts to build counterfeit cars, typically cobbled together by rogue mechanics with access to body shops.

“This is big business,” Mackay said. “You start with, say, a low-end 1967 Corvette and buy it for $30,000. Put in a big-block motor that was built a couple of months before the car’s body and restamp the serial number on the engine [so it matches the car]. You put the hood-stripe on, change some of the suspension pieces, the rear end, the tachometer, the oil-pressure gauge.”

A car that cost $80,000 to rebuild is then worth $200,000.

In Craig’s case, it was found that the Corvette’s interior and exterior colors were changed and the engine and rear axle were replacements — all to make the car look factory authentic.

It was a fakery that left Craig some $100,000 in the hole, including the costs of a failed lawsuit, after he sold it for $55,000. (The buyer knew what he was getting.)

Sometimes, the good guys win. Todd Morici, of Morici Motorsports in Clifton, NJ, saved a client $3 million on a vintage Maserati by doing a metallurgy test on the chassis.

“It should have been built with 10 percent chromium and molybdenum, along with the steel, in order to make it lighter. The test told us that the car had a fake chassis because neither material was present,” Morici said.

“[The alleged counterfeiter] bought the car for next to nothing, spent maybe $200,000 on building the fake car and tried selling it to my client as the real thing for $3 million. My client thought he was getting a bargain.”

Making it more believable was a compelling back story that was true for the car that some of the parts came from — it had crashed on a race track, hence the alterations to the chassis.

“Cars that have stories, stay away from them,” Morici said. “Unless the story is a positive one.”

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