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New Wheeler Dealers with a Porsche 911

New Wheeler Dealers with a Porsche 911

A few months ago, in what now seems like a privileged previous existence, I spent my regular December fortnight in Lanzarote working on a few projects and wandering the streets of the island’s capital, Arrecife. I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. As a man of simple tastes, that involved coffee and tapas, the occasional pizza, talking to new people in basic Spanish and sitting on the balcony watching Wheeler Dealers.

My February column for BMW Car magazine zoomed in on this idea of Wheeler Dealers as a highlight of the day. I never watch it while at home but, out in the Canaries, it quickly became a lynchpin of daily routine. It was usually broadcast in English with Spanish subtitles, giving me a bit of a car fix while also improving my language skills. (‘Control de las Fronteras’, with dark-haired Spanish ladies in uniform catching Ukrainian tobacco smugglers et al ran Mike a close second, but that’s another story.)

The new season of Wheeler Dealers kicked off on Discovery Channel last month and the first episode seems to have been a show I saw while in Lanzarote: an SMG to manual conversion on an E46 M3. Subsequent episodes include more favourite four-wheelers:

  •  1972 Fiat 124 Spider
  • 1973 Toyota Celica
  • 2002 Mercedes Benz E55 AMG
  • Volvo Amazon 122
  • Toyota Land Cruiser
  • 1982 Porsche 911 SC

Now, I like all of these cars and still own my 1993 Land Cruiser 80-series 4.2 diesel manual. If this pandemic really was some sort of apocalypse, I would be dragging the Land Cruiser back into service right about now, so I’ll definitely be watching that episode, which converts a 60-series Cruiser from auto to manual. Another one for the diary is the 1982 911 SC, which I think has been Herr Brewer’s daily driver for a few years.

Mike is a bona fide Porsche nut. Based in Huntington Beach, California when shooting in America, he is friends with another friend of mine, the artist Nicolas Hunziker, so I often see pics of the craic they enjoy on social media. Nicolas also spends a fair bit of time driving with Chad McQueen: I can definitely see how this lot get on. On a side note, Nicolas has a great offer on his classic Porsche driving shoes at the minute: all shoes are just $50 a pair in the Stay at Home Sale! Check that out and keep him busy.

I don’t know which spanners will be waving in the SC episode, but I see a big old exhaust in the preview photos, so a bit of that at least. In time-honoured Wheeler Dealers tradition, Mike’s SC was sold after the episode was finished and still lives in the USA. Going by his Twitter feed, Mike now runs a 1976 Porsche 912E and has been fettling it while the lockdown continues.

He’s been told that it’s Enamel Blue (it was described as such when sold by Silverstone Auctions) but it looks pretty much the same as my old 912E, which was painted Arrow Blue at the factory in 1976. Maybe it’s had a repaint somewhere down the line. You can follow Mike’s progress with the car on his Twitter feed, @mikebrewer. Worth a follow just to see how he bats off the trolls, not to mention his projects.

The SC episode will be broadcast on Monday April 27th, so stick it in your diary. The Land Cruiser one is the week before!


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The Porsche Brand Ambassador Army

The Porsche Brand Ambassador Army

Eldest daughter is currently away at university and working her way through a marketing module. As much of my work involves marketing, this has led to some interesting chats; one this week was on the Employee Promise, or People Promise.

For those who haven’t been on the job market in a while, a people promise is a relatively recent appearance and may be explained as what brands put together to assure jobseekers that their personal values and the company values align. It usually includes statements on inclusivity, respect and support of diversity, career development and talent retention, environmental responsibility and sustainability goals and aims to provide fun and fulfilling work for all.

Porsche sets out the bones of a people promise in its statement of Porsche corporate culture and values. “Our culture is defined by tradition and innovation. We live in a performance-oriented corporate culture and emphasise strongly the fair treatment of fellow employees. Our employees are driven by their passion for our extraordinary products. They sometimes think in unconventional ways, and this is something Porsche supports, because we value independence and individuality.”

This sort of language is often overused (just take a look at the fashion industry), but my experience across Porsche suggests that the company is pretty effective at driving this mindset down through the ranks. The brand is veined with impressions of inherent discipline and strong moral values, and being finely attuned to this comes with the territory. One downside to teutonic efficiency is the transmission of stiffness or arrogance: something Porsche and its dealers are often accused of.

Porsche Brand Ambassadors: Discipline

Discipline is a core value at Stuttgart and that is one driving factor in the appointment of brand ambassadors. Porsche relies on a number of ambassadors: the official ones come from the world of competition, where discipline, stamina and controlled aggression are major components in success. Looking at unofficial ambassadors, Porsche has also pulled in other less disciplined influencers who offer a congenerous narrative and an extensive follower count. This spread of personalities helps Porsche’s messaging to reach many more corners.

The most widely seen Porsche ambassadors are Mark Webber and Maria Sharapova. The handsome high achievers from the world of sport have many things in common, including all-important success, astuteness and a “humble roots” narrative that mirrors the company’s origins. We see the same “humble roots” narrative in the Magnus Walker story: a self-made media sensation, crossing cultures and generations. Porsche has previously hired Walker to draw in the crowds, but stopped short of sending an ambassadorial invitation.

Porsche Brand Ambassadors: Tennis

Tennis is a fertile recruitment arena for the Porsche ambassador army and ambassador press releases in the category of tennis outnumber all other sectors more than two to one. Germany’s Angelique Kerber (below) and Julia Görges both serve as tennis brand ambassadors alongside Sharapova.

As one would expect for a car manufacturer, many ambassadorial roles come from the world of motorsport, with Walter Röhrl, Jörg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard (below) all serving as ambassadors alongside Webber at the recent Cayman GTS launch. While this may seem quite a senior mix, most Porsche buyers are no spring chickens and it is not an easy task to identify a younger ambassador offering similar attractions to Webber and Sharapova, who would also bring cross-demographic appeal and have no pre-existing arrangements with other manufacturers.

Porsche Brand Ambassadors: Youth and YouTube

The Norwegian World Cup champion skiier, Aksel Lund Svindal, was recently appointed as a Porsche brand ambassador and currently feaures on several Porsche YouTube videos. YouTube is the online hub for so much skiing and showboarding content, so this may be one route to a (slightly) younger demographic. The Australian snowboarder, Torah Bright, is another who has enjoyed some exposure as a brand ambassador for Porsche Australia.

Porsche regional centres often bring in figures from the world of sport for local promotion and give them an ambassadorial title. Female racer, Esmee Hawkey, supported the launch of a new British Porsche centre last year and Porsche uses German actor, Richy Müller, as a regional ambassador. Former works drivers including Hans Stuck and Derek Bell often turn up at motorsport gatherings – Stuck was recently seen at the GP Ice Race – but Bell’s close associations with Bentley mean he is a more occasional appearance.

Porsche Brand Ambassadors: Celebrities

“Actors who want to go racing” has been one steady source of mainstream celebrity content and unofficial ambassadors for Porsche, including a Le Mans association with actor, Patrick Dempsey and the recent series of YouTube videos with actor, Michael Fassbender. Building a brand ambassador is a serious marketing investment, so pop stars and celebrities who may go out of fashion, vanish from the hit parade or be embroiled in a drug scandal overnight are notably less attractive for a company with core values of integrity and sustainability.

That said, scandals may not spell the end for Porsche brand ambassadors: Sharapova’s drug issues did not preclude a continued association with Stuttgart. Sharapova’s recent retirement announcement includes her intention to continue as a Porsche ambassador and her popularity in Russian and global high society is an important consideration. When it comes to brand ambassadors, some things rank higher than others (and we all make mistakes).

While its true that Porsche products are the company’s greatest ambassadors, the use of human brand ambassadors extends the reach of its media output. However, it is also worth remembering that everyone who drives a Porsche plays some small part in promoting the brand. Using confident, high achieving brand ambassadors may be one way to override any negative impression left by the guy in a Porsche who cut you up yesterday.


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Norbert Singer turns 80

Norbert Singer turns 80

There are some big family birthdays this month. My eldest sister turns fifty tomorrow and youngest daughter is fifteen in a fortnight. Between the two is a big birthday for Norbert Singer, the most celebrated race engineer in Porsche history.

It’s no coincidence that Singer is a name now known for a certain type of 911s. Singer founder, Rob Dickinson, is one of the many Norbert Singer superfans. Recordings of my first interview with Rob where he talks about the genesis of his company feature a geekish delight in the fact that Rob was both a successful singer and a disciple of Singer the designer.

Big ideas in Bohemia

On November 16, 1939, Norbert Singer was born in Eger in the Sudetenland, one year after Hitler had reclaimed the disputed region split from Germany as part of the creation of Czechoslovakia in the Treaty of Versailles.

Having annexed neighbouring Austria in March 1938, Hitler called for a plebiscite across the Sudeten Mountains of northern Czechoslovakia, to allow the millions of German-speaking Sudeten Germans who had been “trapped” by the creation of Czechoslovakia to decide their own fate, threatening invasion if the request was ignored and building a force of some 750,000 soldiers along the Czech border.

To avoid war, England and France acquiesced to the demands as part of the appeasement set out in the Munich Agreement and convinced the Czech government to cede the territory. Hitler sent the Wehrmacht into the Sudetenland the day after the agreement was signed, on October 1st, 1938. Six months later, he invaded the rest of the country.

German expansionism (known as Lebensraum or ‘space to live’) was the climate that welcomed young Singer in November 1939. Eger (now Cheb in the Czech Republic) was again part of Germany and feeling good about life: it was time to think big and plan for the future.

Norbert was all about the future: he grew up fascinated with space travel and dreamed of a career as a rocket engineer. He watched a lot of racing through his university years studying aerospace and automotive engineering in Munich and saw Jim Clark race at the Monaco Grand Prix. A professor convinced him on the idea that “rocket engineering is for Americans: in Germany we are all about cars”.

No letter from Porsche

Singer learned that Porsche was looking for engineers, but his father was not convinced that the small sports car firm would be Norbert’s best option. Other small firms were all going under: what hope could Porsche have of being any different? Singer’s fascination almost came to nothing as, after interviewing with Porsche, he heard no more until a phone call in early March 1970, asking why he hadn’t turned up for his first day at work. Stuttgart had neglected to send the letter confirming his appointment.

He turned up for his second day and was immediately set to work on simplifying the 917’s fuel system, under the leadership of Ferdinand Piëch. After that it was gearbox cooling, then aerodynamics. The 917 won its first Le Mans later that year and Singer began to build a reputation. His work on the 911 RSR took the car to victory, as it did with the RSR Turbo, the 935 and the famous 936. But it was the 956 that really put Norbert on the map.

Following the introduction of the Group C regulations in 1982, Singer proved his tremendous ability as an aerodynamicist, providing Porsche’s new Group C car with exceptional ground effect. The car’s winning sure-footedness came from a special underbody design with air ducts and the legendary “Singer dent”, but Norbert notes that success was not guaranteed.

Norbert Singer: “You can trip up over your own feet”

“I was cautious going into the race,” recalls the chief engineer. “The 956 was a completely new car. You can’t go into every race saying, Hurray, we’re going for the win! You have to see how things go – getting through 24 hours is no easy task. This win was perfect and actually somewhat surprising. We had taken our job very seriously. A few years before that we had made a mistake.

“In 1979, Ernst Fuhrmann was still with Porsche and he said to us engineers, ‘What do you say if we drive Le Mans this year? There’s practically no competition.’ Basically, we just had to show up and walk off with the victory. And what happened? We didn’t reach the finish line with either car – we lost even without competition. You can trip over your own feet as well. Having experienced that, I really enjoyed the win in 1982. The 956 went straight into the museum. It’s the car that hangs from the ceiling.”

The 956 and its successor, the 962C, won five driver titles, three manufacturer titles and two team world championships between 1982 and 1986, also clocking up seven overall victories at Le Mans. From 1970 to 1998, Singer played significant roles in all of Porsche’s race wins at Le Mans with the 917, 935, 936, 965, 962C, WSC Spyder and 911 GT1 98.

Until his retirement in 2004, Norbert Singer was the project manager for most of Porsche’s racing cars. After leaving Porsche, he continued to consult with customer race teams, also serving as an advisor to ACO: the Le Mans race organisers. Singer’s knowledge of Porsche racing history has also proved invaluable to the factory when restoring original race cars, such as 917 chassis number 001 or 965 number 005.

Porsche says that Singer has been lecturing at Esslingen University since 2006 and continues to do so. Whatever he is up to these days, his place at the top table of Porsche history is without question and it is a delight to see him reach the grand age of eighty. Happy birthday Norbert!

How Singer turned the Porsche world upside down

How Singer turned the Porsche world upside down

Ten years ago today, photographer Jamie Lipman and I drove 60 miles from Ventura in California to Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. It was my first trip to LA and I was driving my own 911: an SC Coupe that I had bought on Craigslist a few months before.

Our destination was the Bel Air Presbyterian Church: a vast structure built in the mid-fifties on a ridge overlooking Burbank Airport, the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood. The view was entirely appropriate, as we were en route to meet a new star.

RGruppe hot rodder and owner of what was then the world’s coolest early 911, Rob Dickinson, had emailed a few weeks previously, asking if Jamie and I would do the first story on his brand new creation, presenting it to Porsche enthusiasts before it was launched to a wider audience. I was well up for that and arranged a magazine cover. I found some space in the schedule for a run to LA and waited for the day to arrive.

We spent a few days shooting various Porsches in and around San Francisco before driving to Ventura for the Porsche show there. The hotel and showground was packed out with RGruppe friends and family, and everyone wanted to talk about our date with Singer. Most people had an opinion and it was not all complimentary. But they all loved Rob.

The Zuffenhaus boys (who had supplied the wheels) and Harvey Weidman (master wheel refinisher) were also in town showing their RSR brakes and steering wheels. They shared great insight on the attention to detail that went in to getting the stance just right.

The designer had put a lot of thought into his creation and I was looking forward to seeing it. I was also excited that we’d been given the first proper feature: many big-name journos have covered it since, but we had been covering the underground in an interesting way and Rob was one of the taste makers. So getting this story was cool.

How to shift a culture

If you want to shift a cultural mindset, the best place to start is where people are open to shifts. I’m Irish, Jamie’s English and we expressed our ideas in an anglocentric way. We did sell our work overseas, but the primary outlets were British titles. Rob is obviously British and was steeped in the culture. The country that had birthed Monty Python and Punk was likely to click with where he was coming from.

Selling my output across the world, I’ve found that there’s a big difference in how ‘British’ car writers are regarded: look at Chris Harris and Henry Catchpole’s subscriber counts and read the feedback on their work to see the evidence of this. A lot of the people around Singer are British or some way Anglophile and the latest cars have had a lot of engineering in Britain. We will revisit this another time, but, to me, there is a clear public perception of a link between British creatives and a taste for new things.

From 2008-2012, our work covered (mainly RGruppe) modified cars in what up to then had been a sea of conservative content. RGruppe was widely regarded as mould breaking and this marked us out as a fit for Rob’s work. We didn’t have the reach of the big boys – it took me very little time to reject that path – but we were exploring and reporting the fringes of Porsche culture in an authentic way, had an idea of market tastes at a certain level and were likely to provide a warm welcome for the mould-breaking 911.

Three Types of People

In a Seth Godin podcasts called “Anthems, Pledges and Change”, the marketing thought leader explores how there has been substantial pushback over the years in response to certain interpretations of the American national anthem. Seth cites the examples of Aretha Franklin and Jose Feliciano: popular stars of their day who were vilified when they took the national anthem off piste. His podcast gets right to the heart of it.

“There are three kinds of people in every community: three kinds of people in every area of interest: at every event. One kind of person doesn’t want things to change. They’ve been sitting in the same seat at Yankee Stadium since it was built. They go to the baseball game because baseball doesn’t change.

“The second kind of person – the masses – they want to do what everybody else is doing. And the third kind of person is the early adopter: the neophyte, the neophiliac. They’re looking for something that’s new. One way we can define a cultural touchstone – a place, an event – is by the percentage of the three that are in the room.

“So, if you go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it is filled to the top with people who want to know what’s new. But if you listen to America’s Top 40 on the radio, or watch CBS, you’re probably going to see a programme director who is obsessed with the masses. The reason you are listening or watching is to see what everybody else is seeing.

“And then you’ve got events and organisations and moments where most of the people there are laggards: they want it to stay the same. And it turns out that anthems and pledges are a really good place to find this sort of person.”

Anthems and pledges play a big part in American society, and in mainstream Porsche culture. The fear that what one is doing will be regarded by so-called peers as freakish or culturally unacceptable is what paralyses so many potential cultural shifts. Things that are initially mould breaking are often later paralysed by rampant conservatism as the masses move in.

Control of the Narrative

When Aretha Franklin was scorned for her rendition of the American national anthem, it was laggard-linked masses dictating the narrative. Those people did not want change. A fearful percentage wanted the status quo to prevail, their noise via letters and phone calls was interpreted as a majority and fear of destruction within media platforms dictated the coverage.

The same thing playa out on a grand scale in mass media coverage of social upheavals. Fearful masses swing towards the way it has always been and the mass media coverage follows accordingly. Defence against all discourse that might force social change begins with control of the narrative: look at 1930s Germany, what is happening in Turkey or the tone of mainstream British media in recent years. Look at how racism or oppression in parts of a country can be perpetuated by parents and grandparents: control of the narrative is key.

The interesting thing I see in Singer ten years ago – and I think a large part of how it turned the Porsche world on its head – was not its philosophy or styling, but the founder’s awareness of narrative. This was before he ever had media professionals involved. Nowadays, Singer feels carefully manicured, but this was just Rob on his own.

An early career in creativity – writing and recording music – and an understanding of how his work had been reported and reviewed gave Rob a valuable media consciousness. He placed his first product where he felt the change would be received impartially and given a chance. Starting at the fringes, it worked towards the centre. Building support amongst neophytes first, it infiltrated modified consciousness and became the masses’ gold standard.

At the core of the “we do it like this – we have always done it like this” Porsche sensibility, the arrival of Singer was controversial. Ten years later, it’s still a bit thorny. A lengthy disclaimer at the foot of the Singer home page testifies to some of the grief it went through at launch. But, as with anything that fights to exist for a decade, the brand has become a default.

For some, it is the default aesthetic for a hot rod Porsche: not amongst diehard enthusiasts, but without doubt for swathes of the masses. The cultural energy unleashed by Singer proved more than enough to power a movement and turned a culture on its head, shifting the way people looked at air-cooled 911s.

Singer: the catalyst

In 2009, the idea that Porsche would wrap its arms around a backstreet hot rodder like Magnus was highly unlikely. Thoughts that an £8k 911 SC would one day be worth five or six times that would have been ludicrous. When the 4-litre RS was launched in 2009, a tripling in price after launch was something that no one could imagine. Certainly I couldn’t see it and I was up to my neck in this stuff.

An awful lot changed in a short space of time. The bank crash put asset investment back on the map and classic Porsches were interesting. They were increasingly marketed as hand-built, time-warp artefacts. Now part of Volkswagen, Porsche was selling mostly SUVs, but the marketing value of the origin story and passion amongst grassroots enthusiasts began to materialise. If you had an interesting origin story, the media wanted to hear it and masses began to lean into it. Porsche began to lever grassroots passions to remind SUV buyers of sports car traditions and associated characters reinforcing that story became more important.

If one looks back at how this trend developed, it is impossible to discount Singer as a significant part of the catalyst. As the cultural shift began to take hold, partly centred on what Singer was doing, people who came to the brand with some media experience took over its origin story, designers amped up the style, the builders eventually sorted the dynamics. All these combined to deliver a compelling narrative. The confluence of its ingredients told a unique story and so it remains.

If you want to own a Singer (or, as legals prefer to call it, a Porsche 911 reimagined by Singer), you can’t build one in your shed: either you buy one or have something else. Only Aretha could sing the anthem like that and only Singer can build you a Singer. Today, that sounds obvious, but it took ten years to get here. Where will we be in another ten years?


Here’s a great interview with Rob from a few years ago, discussing his early design inspirations. Read my original Singer feature from Mulholland Drive and subsequent drive along California Pacific Cost Highway 1 in Malibu here.


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Scattering Ashes with a GT3 Pilgrim

Scattering Ashes with a GT3 Pilgrim

I got into a conversation with a friend today about scattering ashes. I’ve written about what led up to the chat and what’s happened since, but it may be too deep for a Thursday. I’ll share it another time.

It was a fun conversation. He was talking about how they scattered his dad’s ashes in a river: a strange will request, as his dad hated water and couldn’t swim. When they shook the ashes over the surface of the water, they did not float off on the current but sank straight to the bottom. “That’s aquaphobia at DNA level,” I said. “Even as ashes, he still couldn’t swim.”

Just as it’s impossible for us to sidestep our genetic building blocks, a new and interesting video on the GT3 Touring shows how closely the latest 911s remain tied to the old. The Touring is a spoilerless GT3 with a manual gearbox and all who have driven it have raved about its engine and its energy. A 9,000 redline gives it aural appeal, while the unspoilered tail brings us back in time to the first of the flared-arch, flat-tailed impact bumper cars. How it behaves under duress on track could not be more impact bumper.

Driving the Porsche is Andy Pilgrim. Born in Britain, Andy studied computer programming in the UK and then moved off to Michigan for a job with GM in Detroit. Arriving in the US with just one hundred bucks in his pocket (sounds pretty familiar), he programmed software for $12,000 a year before moving down south for better money and racing.

Working hard, he eventually saved enough cash to do a bit of racing and ended up making a name for himself. His career developed through Formula Renault into GT cars. He has raced many Porsches: at Le Mans alongside Stephane Ortelli and Sebring and Pikes Peak with Alan McNish, amongst others. He now runs a road safety school to make up for the below-par American driving test and teach kids how to drive safely, has driven with Patrick Long and Tim Pappas at Black Swan Racing and also instructs at NCM Motorsport Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky: not too far from my family in Lexington.

Andy also works with Automobile Magazine, and his latest video for their Youtube channel takes a GT3 Touring in beautiful Sapphire Blue Metallic on track in Kentucky. The run down the half-mile straight perfectly illustrates the Touring’s main selling point – the 4-litre engine – but the hot laps show how a Touring can bite. Scroll down for the video.

Physics: Modern v Classic

“It’s a very cold day here at NCM Motorsport Park and I’m trying to warm the tyres up as I wanted to give it a shot at a hot lap.” As the Pilgrim ploughs down the main straight and turns right into turn one, the rear of the car drifts left and Andy corrects, catches it, corrects again and catches that before the third swing kicks in. The behaviour will be familiar to anyone who has ever experienced an old 911 on track: it’s the laws of physics at work. The age of the thing trying to wrap up the physics doesn’t matter so much.

Porsche let Andy keep the car for a few more days until the weather warmed up and he did set a hot lap. Deciding not to change up ahead of some corners to hold on to the gear for the exit, he hits rev range one several times on the lap, but that Florida-registered demo has seen some action on Youtube and in print. No doubt the next owner will get a full warranty.

“Have to use all the road on this one. You’re going to see quite a lot of oversteer correction,” says Andy on his lap. “The Touring does not have all the downforce of the regular GT3: the regular GT3 has 150 lbs of downforce at 124 mph and the Touring has about 50 lbs of downforce.” The car sets a 2:11.8 in the cold: seven-tenths slower than a PDK GT3 over a fairly long lap, which I think is pretty good going.

“The GT3 Touring is kind of a split personality,” concludes Andy. “On track, it took all of my skill to get a really good laptime out of the car and it actually reminded me in a throwback way to the Porsche 911s I drove on track twenty years ago. They let you know there was a lot of weight back there and you used to not have a lot of downforce to help you.

“Well, welcome to the Touring: it doesn’t have a whole lot of downforce. But, on the street? I tell ya, it’s just such a joy to drive any GT3, but this one without the wing is a little more understated. If it’s not the best 911 you can buy today, it’s gotta be one of the top three.

None of my first 911s had spoilers and I can vividly remember my first high-speed drive in a friend’s ’86 3.2 Carrera with rear spoiler down the A43 near Silverstone. Hitting 130 mph in that car was completely different to my no spoiler SC Cabriolet at the same speed. I changed to a Carrera 3.0 Coupe soon after, fitted an early Turbo rear tail and have never taken it off.

Days of 120-130 mph as a regular thing on UK roads are well behind us now so spoilers may be once again irrelevant. A no-spoiler GT3 Touring would be on my list if I had the money to spend. From roughly £200k in their honeymoon period after launch, the cars are now showing somewhere around the £165k mark as used sales versus a base cost new of about £115k.

Expect to see them getting cheaper still. 991 GT3s with a few miles now start around £100k or so and, while Tourings won’t get quite that cheap anytime soon, there are always more cars for buyers to chase. Tourings will keep coming back to the market and get a little cheaper as new models supersede them. Nevertheless, they are emotional. I envy anyone who gets to drive one of these cars every day.


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Fassbender, Porsche and the Luck of the Irish

Fassbender, Porsche and the Luck of the Irish

“I suppose the German side wants to keep everything in control, and the Irish side wants to wreak havoc,” claims Michael Fassbender. I’m not so sure about that. When I am with Germans, I’m generally the one keeping things under control, while the rest run amok. I guess it depends on the Germans you know.

Weg mit ihren Köpfen

The Irish missionary Kilian went to Germany in 689 AD. It was a big mistake. When Kilian suggested that a local lady was not the most suitable bride for a newly-baptised duke, on the basis that she had once been married to the duke’s now-dead brother, the Germans chopped off Kilian’s head, and those of both his companions.

But times have changed. When Fassbender smashes his GT3 Cup nose-first into the Hockenheim pit wall right in front of the Porsche crew, they run through what went wrong and roll out a spare car. A few weeks later, he has another sizeable accident and another spare car is wheeled out. German-Irish relations have definitely evolved.

Anyway, this story is all about an actor en route to Le Mans. Yes, that old chestnut is back, except this time it is rather more interesting (for us Irish, at least). After a two-year learning curve racing Ferraris, Michael Fassbender is training with Porsche for a shot at the 24-Heures. His teacher, Felipe Fernandez Laser, is a VLN winner with Frikadelli Racing and should be capable of helping a decent amateur find their way up to the level of a quick GTE-AM driver.

So far, Fassbender appears to show decent potential. A ninth place finish in a Porsche Sports Cup race is no mean feat for a rookie and there are flashes of speed all the way through Porsche’s latest Youtube series, following Fassbender’s Road to Le Mans. The biggest test will be whether he can put it all together, but this is man knows what it’s like to do 10,000 hours.

Heidelberg to Aghadoe

Fassbender arrived into the world just 100 kms north of Stuttgart in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemburg on April 2, 1977. His German father, Josef, was a chef and his Irish mother, Adele, raised the kids. The pair had met while working in London but ended up moving to Germany. Adamant that the Republic would be a better environment for their kids to grow up in, Adele convinced Josef to move the family to Ireland. So, when Michael was two, they settled just outside Killarney, in County Kerry.

Killarney was rally central in the 1980s, so young Michael got into Group B. Then followed the age of Michael Schumacher and, as a young German who spoke the mother tongue fluently, Fassy followed Schumi: he’s often now found on F1 grids with Crazy Liam Cunningham and the pair met Schumi at one such weekend.

 

The youngster struggled to find some direction until he discovered drama in school. He immersed himself in acting and staged Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ over two nights for the craic. He eventually moved to London to study the craft. Things were tough in the smoke and Fassbender was living on a few quid a week, working two minimum wage jobs and battling exhaustion to do as many auditions as possible. It all took its toll and Michael quit drama school to go it alone. It would not be the smoothest path to success.

When he quit his bar job after landing a part in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’, the boss advised him to keep in touch, as the work might come in handy again. Fassbender laughed it off, feeling he had hit the big time, but, after a spell in LA trying to crack Hollywood, he ended up back in the bar.

Bit parts on British TV followed, leading to more and more screen time and the emergence of a fan base amongst critics. Eventually, things took off: he delivered an exceptional performance as IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands, in the film Hunger and then Tarantino came back into his life, casting the German speaker as a British spy in Inglourious Basterds.

While the actor-turned-racer premise may initially feel like Fassbender is buying his way into racing and walking in footsteps we’ve all seen before (not that there’s owt wrong with that), there is more to this story than the same old thing and Porsche has scored big with Youtube viewers. Part 1 alone has 700k views and Porsche’s channel has 800k subscribers, so that should tell you all about the reach of this.

I am also a fan of the documentary: the way this is shot is just perfect. Fassbender is given the full expression of his Irish upbringing with no bleeps or edits and we see things exactly as his driver coach sees them. “I’m so bummed about the fuckin’ smash there behind the safety car,” is Fassbender’s first line in part 1. It’s hard to resist parts two and three after that.


Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can: