One of the benefits of owning a kit or replicar is being able to buy, build, drive, and enjoy a car that would normally be out of reach of the common man. When kits started to become popular in the '70s, the NeoClassic look was in full steam, and many of the cars produced in the burgeoning industry copied those found in ritzy neighborhoods: Clenets, Excaliburs, Stutzes, and Zimmers (in fact, some of them were cleverly disguised kits, though the term wasn't used much).
But for as long as fiberglass kits have been made, and that's at least since the '40s, there has always been a buyer who wanted something a bit more elegant than the average car-something more than what the muscle-bound Cobra clones would soon offer. In the '60s there was Auburn and Samco, but the NeoClassic really bloomed in the '70s with companies such as Classic Motor Carriages, Duesenburg II, Gatsby, Phillips, Scepter, and Roaring Twenties Motor Car Company.
By comparison, Heritage Automotive came to the NeoClassic party a bit later, in the mid-'80s, but still in time to influence those who enjoyed the life and times of the Carrington family on TV's Dynasty. Based in Peoria, Illinois, Heritage used a Fiero platform to support three Ferrari kits (a 308, a Testarossa, and an F-40). But Heritage hit pay dirt with its Mercedes 500K and 540K models, which were built upon a "clipped" Chevy chassis and powered by a small-block V-8. So popular were these cars that some Budget Rent-A-Car locations even offered them to drivers who wanted something more "upscale." The company also made a few Cobra and Lambo copies, but then merged with Classic Roadsters in 1991 and moved to Miami Beach, Florida.
According to Harold Pace's The Big Guide to Kit & Specialty Cars (ISBN 0-9701179-2-2), Classic closed in 1994, only to reopen soon thereafter in Frazee, Minnesota, with new manage- ment to continue building their 500Ks. However, recent attempts to locate the company or anybody involved with Heritage have been fruitless. It was in the last throes of the company in the late '80s when the car pictured here was originally built for a customer in Northern California. The chassis, which features a front clip from a '78 Camaro and is set up with a 126-inch wheelbase, had been started, and it featured new brake lines as well as a rebuilt engine and transmission. That owner wasn't able to finish the car due to a divorce, so it went up for sale in 1992. Into the newspaper it went, which is where a Sacramento man saw it and decided he'd finish it. He made an offer, which was accepted, and the car then rolled into his garage. Unfortunately for him, though, health problems arose and his brother-in-law Steve Bales offered to purchase the car from him. Insisting that he'd eventually finish the car, he told Steve the car was not for sale. So with every visit, Steve would ask about the car. After five years, the brother-in-law finally figured out that he probably wouldn't finish it, so he relented and sold the project to Steve.
In 1997, Steve was able to buy the car he'd wanted since he first saw it five years earlier. It had never been finished, so Steve went about building the nearly 10-year-old kit from the ground up. Some of the parts he found looked dated, while others appeared too new for the project. Items such as the door handles, updated items from a contemporary car, were replaced with vintage-looking pieces (actually '34 Ford parts). But rather than using the stock Camaro air-conditioning system, Steve opted for a new unit from Vintage Air, which he says works so well he'll be using one on his next project (a '39 Ford). Another item, the convertible top mechanism, worked fine, but Steve didn't like the way it looked when it was in its up position, so he took everything apart, cut and modified the bows, and reassembled it so it would have a cleaner look about it. To top the work off (literally!), Steve made his own tonneau cover for the car.
Inside the cockpit, Steve had Alex Auto Upholstery (Walnut Creek, California) install new carpet and the leatherette used on the seats. Rare lace wood was used for the dash itself, and VDO gauges were set into the dash's gauge panel, which Steve made from engine-turned stainless steel. A wood-trimmed Lecarra steering wheel was used with a tilt column, and it's topped with a Mercedes three-pointed-star horn button. Under the long hood resides a stock Chevy 350 engine, save for the Edelbrock Pro Flow multi-port electronic fuel-injection system and Flow Master mufflers. The flexline exhaust tubes running away from the motor's hood sides are faux, but are one of the many items found on the exterior of the car that give this NeoClassic its graceful lines. The current trend has been to strip away all perceived bumps on the outside of a car, but Steve's 500K has all of them where they're supposed to be. Split rear bumper, oversized headlights (supplemented by post-mounted spotlights), chrome accent strips running down the doors in a downward arc, and the elegant two-tone paint job (shades of Lexus SUV green courtesy of San Ramon Body and Detail in San Ramon, California) all greet the onlooker with a subtle air of elegance. A set of Dayton wire wheels, highlighted with wide whitewall tires, is the perfect addition to round out the car's sophisticated look. Since its completion a couple of years ago, Steve and his wife Mary Ellen have turned down all offers to buy the car. Though he could use the money to finance future car projects, he's just as enamored with the car's lines as he was the day he first saw it. The couple make as many car shows in and around their San Francisco-area home as they can, even driving up the coast to Oregon and down to the Los Angeles region when the situation calls for it.
It's true that you can't judge a book by its cover, as Steve and Mary Ellen Bales are nothing like those snobby people who drove those fancy cars on Dynasty. They're just regular folks driving their dream car off into another sunset. KC
This is not some smoothie...
This is not some smoothie gumdrop car! Lots of exterior chrome pieces (e.g., big bumpers, oversized headlamps, free-flowing exhaust pipes, and post-mounted spotlights) help give the Benz its character.
The road wheels are from Dayton...
The road wheels are from Dayton Wire Wheels, wrapped in wide white P215/75R15 tires.
A Chevy 350 engine, outfitted...
A Chevy 350 engine, outfitted with an Edelbrock Pro Flow multi-point electronic fuel-injection system and a pair of Flow Master mufflers, powers the long (126-inch wheelbase) ride down the road.
Steve modified the existing...
Steve modified the existing convertible top bows so that they would give a better shape to the top when it was up, and he made his own tonneau cover for the top when it is in its down position.