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Meet the Four California-Based Porsche Restorers Adding Their Own Legacy to the Marque

California is the land of reinvention, after all.

Rob Dickinson is one of the California-based porsche restorers adding a new legacy to the marque Robb Rice

Hear the word California, and images of Tinseltown’s glitterati cruising through the Hollywood Hills in their Porsches pop into your mind. The German car has become as ubiquitous in the Golden State as surfboards up and down the coast. Yet in a place synonymous with imagination and freedom of expression, it’s no surprise that a handful of custom restorers are riffing on the marque with a bit of six- and seven-figure automotive amalgams.

Porsche and California go way back. The story began as a family affair in 1948, when founder Ferdinand Porsche and son “Ferry” opened their factory in Gmünd, Austria, with 200 employees. In 1950, they relocated to Zuffenhausen, Germany, which, almost 70 years later, remains the home of the marque whose reputation for performance, solid engineering, and uncompromised build quality is the envy of every other carmaker.

It wasn’t long before the quirky bathtub-shaped sports cars arrived Stateside and into the hands of amateur racers like James Dean, who bought a feisty 550 Spyder in 1955 from Competition Motors in Hollywood and promptly stacked it up on his way to the races in Salinas. The accident ended the 24-year-old actor’s life but cemented his name and that of Porsche into the broader public consciousness.

James Dean with Silver Porsche

James Dean with Silver Porsche  Bettmann Archive/Getty

That same year, Max Hoffman, a New Yorker who imported numerous European marques to America throughout the 1950s and ’60s, urged Porsche to develop the bare-bones 356 Speedster, which is today among the most collectible Porsche classics. By 1959, Czech-born Vasek Polak, a racing friend of Ferry Porsche who went on to successfully campaign Porsche 917, 934, and 935 competition cars during the 1970s, opened the first exclusive Porsche dealership in the United States. Presciently, he chose Hermosa Beach, a coastal town just outside Los Angeles. California and Porsche were soon inextricably linked.

“California consistently accounts for about 25 percent of all Porsche deliveries in the U.S.,” says Klaus Zellmer, president and chief executive officer of Porsche Cars North America, Inc. “Taken by itself, California is our fifth-largest market in the world, and 26 of our 191 U.S. dealers are in the Golden State.”

Steve McQueen and his Porsche

Steve McQueen and His Porsche  Richard C. Miller/Getty Images

Of course, one Porsche model stands above the rest. By the mid-1960s, Porsche was in full swing with its popular 356 series, then hit one out of the park when 911 production began in 1964. Priced at $5,500 in America, the 356’s successor was an instant win. In 2017, the one-millionth Porsche 911 rolled off the production line, testament to that model’s enduring popularity. “The iconic 911 holds a special place,” Zellmer explains. “America is the largest 911 market in the world, accounting for about 30 percent of annual deliveries for many years now, and California leads U.S. sales by taking more than one-quarter of [911] deliveries.”

Exactly why Porsche captured the collective California imagination is both easy to understand and difficult to fully decipher. There’s the great weather, thousands of miles of scenic roads, and dozens of track venues. But other sports cars enjoy those privileges, too. A vibrant competition scene has developed around the marque, as have club activities and car shows. But perhaps those things are more a result of Californians’ passion than a cause. Maybe the reason is irrelevant. “Porsche and California are a love story and have been since the 1950s,” says Zellmer. “There is something about driving a Porsche on California roads that creates a bond like no other.”

To maintain interest in any relationship, however, requires passion and creativity. The following figures are demonstrating their commitment to Porsche by paying tribute to its legacy with their own heartfelt homages.

Rod Emory in his shop next to one of his creative restorations;

Rod Emory in his shop next to one of his creative restorations.  Robb Rice

Rod Emory: Emory Motorsports Los Angeles, Calif.

Few people outside of Zuffenhausen have a Porsche pedigree as distinctive as Southern California native Rod Emory. His grandfather, a highly respected car builder, owned Valley Custom Shop in Burbank from 1948 through 1962, then worked at a Porsche dealership in Newport Beach, as did Emory’s father. An automotive wunderkind, Emory was only 14 years old when he began restoring his first car, a 1953 Porsche 356.

“I rebuilt it to vintage-racing specs but also made it street legal,” says Emory of his initial example. “I gave it a 1,300 cc engine, a modified gearbox, the biggest drum brakes I could put on it, and then made it as quick as possible. Immediately after I started racing it, people wanted me to do the same thing for them, and so I started building cars for others right after high school.”

A 1964 Porsche 356 C4S Emory RS AWD Coupe

A 1964 Porsche 356 C4S Emory RS AWD Coupe.  Drew Phillips

Emory Motorsports—located in North Hollywood, about five miles from his grandfather’s old shop—now offers three restoration options, the Emory Outlaw, Special, and RS, all built off the Porsche 356, which was produced until 1965. While the Outlaw remains closest to the original model’s aesthetic, the Special and RS are where the team’s creativity redlines.

“We take off where Porsche left off,” says the 45-year-old Emory. “For the Special, I really start reshaping the car— leaning back the nose and windshield, rolling the rockers—based on the techniques my grandfather taught me. The RS brings in the capabilities of modern Porsches. For that one, we start with two cars, a 964—a 1990s-era 911—and a 356. After a 3D-scan of both, we merge the data digitally to see where we should cut, then mash them together, weld them up, and do all the chassis modifications.”

A 1959 Porsche 356 A Emory Outlaw Sunroof Coupe

A 1959 Porsche 356/A Emory Outlaw Sunroof Coupe.  Drew Phillips

Demand for the renowned restomods keeps accelerating, as evidenced by a waiting list that extends 18 months. Once the process is begun, each vehicle can take another 12 to 18 months, with prices starting at $300,000 for the Outlaw, $400,000 for the Special, and $500,000 for the RS, including the sourced donor cars.

Emory still keeps careful tabs on what’s happening in Zuffenhausen. “We are always evolving our cars,” he says. “As Porsche continues to push the envelope and move into other technologies, and as those parts become accessible, we’ll follow suit.”

Rob Dickinson stands by one of the results of Singer Vehicle Design’s Dynamics and Lightweighting Study (DLS).

Rob Dickinson stands by one of the results of Singer Vehicle Design’s Dynamics and Lightweighting Study (DLS).  Robb Rice

Rob Dickinson: Singer Vehicle Design Sun Valley, Calif.

British expat Rob Dickinson, founder of Singer Vehicle Design, remembers the exact moment that an automobile—more specifically, a Porsche— left him smitten. “I had just had my fifth birthday,” says the 53-year-old entrepreneur, “and we were in the South of France chugging along in a VW Beetle when my father pointed out a 911 driving by us very quickly. I was enraptured.” So much so that he studied automotive design before rock and roll seduced him to become lead vocalist for the 1990s band Catherine Wheel.

Dickinson was introduced to the Los Angeles lifestyle while on the group’s first tour of the U.S. “I remember driving down the Pacific Coast Highway and thinking I’d found home,” shares the former front man. “The car culture, the weather, the girls, the optimism, it struck me immediately. The sense of joy and narcissism that exists here is what Porsche as a brand spotted early. I returned in 2003 to make a solo record and never left. That’s also when I built my own ideal 911, which was the genesis of Singer.”

The Le Mans commission by Singer.

The Le Mans commission by Singer.  Drew Phillips

After 10 years in operation, his restoration house delivered the 100th example of its reimagined Porsche 911 last summer, and there are at least 100 more commissioned. The focus is the 964, an air-cooled variant built from 1989 through 1994. “The 964 is the best starting point to commemorate earlier generations,” he says, “but it still allows us to go forward and imbue the platform with modern elements, take lots of weight off, and optimize the engine and gearbox.” The starting price for services is $475,000, not including the client-supplied donor car.

The 390 hp engine inside Singer’s Porsche Bahrain commission

The 390 hp engine inside Singer’s Bahrain commission.  Drew Phillips

Singer’s greatest hit to date is due to its recent Dynamics and Lightweighting Study (DLS). “Three of our clients asked what we would do if money wasn’t an object,” explains Dickinson. “How good could the 911 be in terms of its true dynamic ability?” The result is a collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering that features customized components from BBS Motorsport, Brembo, Michelin, Momo, Recaro, and other specialists. A DLS commission begins at $1.8 million (sans donor car), and while deliveries have yet to be made, the promise of a coupe carrying 500 hp but only 1,000 kilos (2,204 pounds) is enticing—almost all of the 75 limited allotments have been spoken for. Says Dickinson: “We wanted to take the most evocative era of the most important sports car in the world and celebrate it in a way no one has done before—a wonderful version of a wonderful car.”

Bruce Canepa and his 1988 Porsche 959SC restoration

Bruce Canepa and his 1988 Porsche 959SC restoration.  Photo by Robb Rice.

Bruce Canepa: Canepa Scotts Valley, Calif.

“If you can drive a 935, you can drive anything,” says Bruce Canepa, who still owns his Porsche race car provided by the factory for the 1979 season, so impressed was the marque with his team’s third-place finish overall that year at the 24 Hours of Daytona behind the wheel of a 934 1/2 (only 10 of these were made in 1977).

Indeed, there are very few Porsche owners with the technical acumen to engineer race cars or restore concours classics—let alone those who also have the track credentials—of Canepa. Yet, this Renaissance car man began just like most other young car enthusiasts. For Canepa, the Porsche infatuation started in 1969, when the 19-year-old kid from Santa Cruz, Calif., would sneak out of his dad’s car lot with a 1968 911 L late at night. “I was hooked,” he admits. “It went around the corners twice as fast as anything else. It was lightweight and had a great balance of power. That Porsche was really a driver’s car.” Canepa, whose Scotts Valley, Calif., companies Canepa Design and Concept Transporters are known for everything from concours classic car restorations to race-engineered tandem-axle big rigs, is perhaps most renowned for perfecting the Porsche 959, generally acknowledged as the first-ever supercar. “In 1987, that car was so far ahead of its time,” Canepa explains. “The all-wheel-drive system, the twin-turbo-charged engine—it was an incredible piece of technology. That car was built to prove that the 911 had a future—a long future—as a production car.” Today, a Canepa-restored 959 is a $2 million–plus proposition and represents the pinnacle of 959 development.

The Can-Am-winning 1972 Porsche 917/10- 003

The Can-Am-winning 1972 Porsche 917/10- 003.  Zach James Todd

Canepa appreciates recent Porsche models, too, like his 918, 911 R, GT2 RS, and the forthcoming 935 that he hopes to acquire to complement his original 935. But ultimately, Canepa admits, “I’m an air-cooled Porsche guy. If someone said, ‘You only get one car, and it’s not a 959,’ then it’s going to be an air-cooled 911.”


A 967 Porsche 911R, R4.  Zach James Todd

Despite having the focused intensity of a racer and a penchant for perfection, Canepa appreciates the pure pleasure of driving, especially in California. “California has a huge car culture, with Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren. They’re all great cars,” he acknowledges. “But if you go out and you drive each one, and then you get in a Porsche, the Porsche is the one you want to drive all the time.” The year-round beautiful weather and the coastal, mountain, and desert roads, he adds, somehow favor the German marque. “Together, all of those things add up to Porsche. They really do.”

Magnus Walker with his prized 1971 Porsche 911 T

Magnus Walker with his prized 1971 Porsche 911 T.  Robb Rice

Magnus Walker: Collector Los Angeles, Calif.

Magnus Walker, a British fashion designer and founder of the Serious Clothing brand, emigrated from the UK to the U.S. in 1986 and quickly made a name in the rock fashion scene. But long before then, his Porsche love affair started when he was a 10-year-old kid in England.

“My dad took me to the 1977 London Motor Show, where I saw the white Martini Turbo on display,” Walker says. “It just looked awesome, even standing still. I grew up in a working-class environment, and Porsches were not a common sight in Sheffield. So essentially, it was just that dream that I never gave up on.”

By 1992, he was living in Los Angeles and was finally able to buy his first Porsche at the Pomona Swap Meet for $7,500. “That represented the dream come true, a sense of personal accomplishment,” Walker says. “And I’ve been a Porsche owner ever since.”

Walker, nicknamed Urban Outlaw, has a large collection of important Porsches, which he customizes with the help of a small team—but strictly for his own enjoyment, never for another collector. “Then it’s no longer a hobby, it’s a job,” he says. Naturally, he has a couple of favorites. “Without the 1964 911, of which Porsche made just 232, the iconic 911—which has evolved over eight generations—wouldn’t be what it is today,” he says. “Without a doubt, the ’64 is the pearl of the 911s. There’s also the iconic 930 Turbo. Right now I have two ’75s, two ’76s, and a ’77. But perhaps the most memorable thing I did last year was drive the very same Martini Turbo that I saw as a 10-year-old, back in 1977.”

Musing about the future, Walker says, “My new goal is one of everything Porsche has ever made in a sports car, including the unsung heroes like the 924, 928, 944, and 968. And of course, the VW Porsche 914. For me, it’s all about variety.”

Walker lives in a great place to explore that variety. “Today, I took a drive in my 1979 928, up my favorite road, Angeles Crest Highway, which I would say is one of the top 10 roads in the world. The first thing I do after I’ve been out of town is get in the car and go drive. And nothing beats California roads for that. For me,” Walker says, “Ultimately, Porsche just represents, if you sum it up in one word—freedom.”

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