Jason Engel, owner and “the guy in the T-shirt and jeans” babysitting his award-winning restoration and build projects at Classic Recreations in Yukon, Okla., has been studying his craft since he was a young boy.
“My father has been in the car business since before I was born,” he says. “He wasn’t home much, so I tinkered in our shop in our barn. It had a concrete floor and when I was 7 years old, I would go work out there. When I was 12, my father bought me a 1978 Camaro for $500. I took it to the barn and sanded it down and painted stripes on it and he let me have old stereo stuff from his car lot. I drove that thing across 10 acres at 70 mph. I learned a lot about cars.”
But the real genesis for Classic Recreations came after Engel won shows in his low-rider/truck phase-in the form of a ’98 Tahoe he also built.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but I got that Tahoe and lowered it, added custom-made wheels, and fabricated a tilted forward hood,” says Engel. “We got first place and sold it for $119,000.”
Today, Classic Recreations is known for taking 1960s muscle cars and making them better than original.
“We restore classic cars and add modern amenities to make them drive and feel like a new car using new-car technology,” says Engel. “Fuel injection, wishbone-style suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, air conditioning, flip-out TVs, iPod interfaces-”we give the guy the feel of a new car. It’s still a ’60s muscle car, but one that is far more reliable.”
Classic Recreations may have “launched” in 2000, but that’s using the term loosely. It was that year that Engel began doing restorations and builds at his father’s business.
“I started working from my father’s car lot doing muscle cars,” says Engel. “I had a dozen Mustangs, and I did Saleen ‘Stangs because I loved them.”
And soon he was hooked.
“In 2001, I took a chance and built an Eleanor car,” he adds. “I maxed out credit cards-you name it. I had $70,000 in that car. It was all black, just gorgeous. I’m known for paint work. I painted that car in the barn, with no paint booth and rubbed it out. I rubbed and blocked that car for a week.”
The talent and perseverance showed through.
“We took it to Barrett-Jackson in West Palm Beach and sold it for $141,000,” says Engel. “I handed out my phone number and I had to write it down because I didn’t even have business cards. I had an office the size of a little bathroom in back of my Dad’s shop and when I returned, I had six voice mails and sold four cars. Today that car is in the DuPont Registry Museum.”
Today, Classic Recreations still spends a lot of time and resources on Mustangs, a vehicle Engel has a special affinity for.
“We love the Mustang car here,” he says. “In today’s society, a lot of restoration places won’t do a Mustang because the parts are expensive and hard to find. It’s not like a Camaro. The Mustang is truly on its own. It’s very strange, but the parts don’t interchange.
“I began doing Mustangs in earnest in 2001,” he adds. “But we also began getting Chevelles and Camaros. Today we’re in a 31,000-square-foot facility with 15 employees.”
That includes his wife, Polly Engel, who Jason calls “my true partner-and the paperwork queen!”
Classic Restorations and Engel especially are devoted fans of Carroll Shelby.
“We’re licensed by Carroll Shelby, and as a passionate person toward cars, I can honestly say that I know that Shelby’s a real legend. It’s a wonderful name in this industry and he’s a wonderful man. I am a diehard fan. We’ve had several new Shelbys and rebuilt old ones.”
Most recently, Engel realized a dream when, after several casual encounters over the years, he actually got to not just meet Shelby, but to do a project with him.
“I met him when he complimented me on a few cars I’d done,” says Engel. “Then we ran into each other six months ago and had a real conversation. I told him that I’d love to design my own car for him and, amazingly, he said, ‘Let’s do this.’ We drew up a deal within a week.”
The deal resulted in the creation of the G.T.500CR, and it’s Engel’s pride and joy.
“We based this off the looks of the old 1960s G.T.500 built by Carroll Shelby in ’67 and ’68,” says Engel. “But we’ve taken it to a whole new level.”
From the www.classicrecreations.com website: “The Shelby G.T.500CR is sure to raise your pulse with its incredible horsepower and the reliability of a fuel-injected car. Each Shelby G.T.500CR is handcrafted at our facility located in Oklahoma. Modern amenities include authentic Shelby Performance Parts, rack-and-pinion steering, race-inspired suspension, oversized disc brakes and more. Each authentic Shelby G.T.500CR will be included in the Shelby Worldwide Registry.”
But the Shelby G.T.500CR is hardly the only Classic Recreations success story. When it comes to fabrication and chassis work, Engel and his team are known throughout the country.
“There are a lot of blue-collar workers here and a tremendous amount of fabricators,” Engel says of Oklahoma. “Through the years I’ve become known as the guy to do metal work and fabricate chassis and suspensions, and that’s because my guys are great-they’re fabulous.
“We’ve been known and established because no one’s really doing it,” he adds. “For fabrication and chassis we take a ’67 fastback, strip it to bare bones and completely fabricate and build everything under the car new. There are not a lot of guys that’ll take that on. We’ve built jigs into the ground that line that up perfectly.”
This all serves as a testament to how well Engel knows his customers-customers who come from a wider demographic than one might initially think.
“Everyone always talks about baby boomers being the customer for this kind of product, but that’s not true,” he says. “Clients buying these vehicles in this price range, from about $120,000 to $200,000, are 35- to 40-year-old men who are successful. That’s who buys my cars. You would assume it is the baby boomers or the retired guys who are the bulk of our customer base, but the fact is that they just want a restoration.”
Retired, boomer, young businessman or otherwise, Engel finds particular pleasure in some of the seemingly unusual clientele that come through Classic Restorations doors.
“We’ve built cars for athletes and ambassadors of foreign countries alike,” he says. “We built a $214,000 (project) for a prince who’s 17 years old.
“I am so proud of my clientele,” he adds. “They are very respectful and they participate in the process. We push that during the build. We try to make it fun. I’ve built homes in my life and that’s a nightmare. I don’t want them to feel that way.”
Steel Coops & Camaros
The Classic Recreations facility is a compound of buildings that Engel bought five years ago.
“We have four buildings on one facility,” he says, “which enable us to keep each part of the build process separate. There’s the metal fabrication room, the body shop, then the paint shop and then assembly. It enables us to not have to have the welder next to the paint guy.”
The availability of space is a product of being located in the Sooner state.
“Yukon was a driven farming community in the 1970s and ’80s,” he says, “and we bought an old coop-steel buildings-and they’ll be here forever. We bought them on this property and fenced around it and created a compound. People come up here and they can’t believe it. Everyone says that they’ve yet to see a facility separated like ours.”
That uniqueness promises to continue into the near future, at least, if Engel has his way.
“We would really like to start building Camaros as well, and have been in discussions with a few different big names in the Camaro world,” he says. “It’s exciting stuff, but I’m holding out hope for Yenko. After Shelby, that to me is one of the best names to come out of the muscle car wars of the 1960s.”
Just another step for a guy who’s loved cars since the beginning.
“I want to build Shelbys forever,” he adds, “but it’ll be good to expand our lineup.”