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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.


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

Porsche cars to watch at Sothebys London

Porsche cars to watch at Sothebys London

RM Sotheby’s end-of-year London sale takes place this Thursday at Olympia in Kensington. Fifteen Porsche cars are amongst the lots on offer and half of those cars are being sold without reserve. Here’s a look at three of the no-reserve Porsches that caught my eye.

1965 Porsche 356C LHD Coupe – estimate £50-60k

Chassis number 221132 is a Porsche 356 C 1600 Coupe. Finished in Light Ivory, Sotheby’s website doesn’t offer too many clues, but the car had previously sold at Goodwood Revival in 2008, so I dug out those details.

This ‘65 C Coupe began its life in California, where it was sold to a policeman from El Cerrito. In 1971, it passed from one policeman to another and stayed with him until it sold to the third owner in 1996. The third owner brought the car to the UK and kept it until 2008. It is offered for sale by the fourth owner.

The history includes an engine rebuild with 1700cc barrel and piston set at 112k miles, a transmission overhaul at 114k miles and a bare metal respray in its original colour, which was carried out in the UK. MOT history shows that the car has not been MOT’d since 2008, when it passed with a list of advisories including oil leaks and split CV boots. Interested parties should therefore proceed with caution, but a potentially solid 356C with sensible ownership since new and sold no reserve is worth a second look.

Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet – estimate £80-130k

Chassis number WP0ZZZ93ZJS020221 is a 1988 Porsche 930 Cabriolet with two owners from new. Presented in Diamond Blue Metallic with Cashmere Beige leather trim, the odometer shows 26k miles but, as Sotheby’s description doesn’t mention the mileage, assume it’s unwarranted.

I put this four-speed Turbo Cab on my watch list, not because it is a great example of the breed, but because 930 prices are an important benchmark for air-cooled 911s and the market has been a bit shaky.

The 930 had the highest cost new in period and open sale prices for these cars highlight real-time premiums for turbocharged vs normally aspirated 911s. The 930 market has been under pressure since the high water line of 2015, so this unrestored car in an elegant colour mix offered with no reserve will lay down a useful data point.

1992 LHD Porsche 968 Club Sport ex-factory press car – estimate £35-50k

The car I am most keen to follow is chassis number WP0ZZZ96ZPS815075: a left-hand drive 1992 Porsche 986 Club Sport in Speed Yellow. This 968 has a super interesting history that was recently shared in 911 & Porsche World magazine. The auction entry may have been encouraged by enthusiasm around the piece and that enthusiasm could be rewarded on Thursday.

Detective work by the current owner with assistance from the Porsche archive revealed that this 968 Club Sport was the factory press car used in several notable articles on the model. Walter Röhrl drove the car in a four-way road test printed in Auto Zeitung and called it ‘the best handling car that Porsche makes’. The history is very well documented and includes several Porsche factory service stamps, a top-end rebuild, clutch and flywheel at Parr and a huge list of work carried out by its current custodian over almost two decades.

I have a side interest in cars like this one that passed through the hands of well known racer and dealer, Nick Faure, as my early 944 Lux is one of those cars. Faure is a true devotee of the transaxle Porsches and those who love these cars tend to love them for life. I adore the 924, 944 and 968 models and there can’t be too many 968 Club Sports with such enjoyable provenance.

The light blue 930 has a fairly bullish estimate at £80-130k given the condition seen in the photos, while this apparently perfect 968 Club Sport at £35-50k feels relatively conservative in comparison. I suspect it may do slightly better: everything depends on who’s in the room when the cars come over the block in Kensington and whether there’s any hangover from the Type 64 debacle in Monterey. I would love to be there in person, but the dentist is calling…

Pics by Tom Gidden, Dirk de Jager and Adam Warner for RM Sotheby’s

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

More Porsche lessons from Monterey

More Porsche lessons from Monterey

Away from the dramatic sale of the ex-Otto Mathe Type 64 Volkswagen at Monterey, the RM Sotheby’s auction gave us a good insight into how Porsche prices are doing, with several record prices for collectable Porsches offered for sale.

Record auction price for Carrera GT

The 2005 Porsche Carrera GT was not the most expensive Porsche sold by RM Sotheby’s in California, but the final price of $1.193 million including buyer’s premium for GT number 1021 established a new world record for Carrera GT at auction. Looking at the spec before the sale, it was obvious that the bidding would be energetic, as the car ticked all the right boxes including:

  • Low mileage of just 265 miles
  • Paint-to-Sample in a great colour: Arancio Boreallis/Metallic Orange
  • Huge options list totalling over $37k
  • Recent $25k service

In a world of identikit silver GTs, this car was the ultimate antidote. It rightly took home a pretty penny and established a new benchmark for the model at auction. By comparison, a two-owner Carrera GT in Silver with just 5,200 miles from new sold for over $400k less.

Another Porsche that took full advantage of the holy trinity of low mileage, low owners and paint to sample with Exclusive interior was the very last 1989 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Speedster. Presented with just 260 miles from new, and finished in custom Cinnabar/Zinnobar Red with beige suede trim (ooh), the polished Fuchs on chassis number 173786 couldn’t stop the car rocketing to $379k including premium. This must be some sort of record.

Water-cooled 911s also did well. The 2011 Porsche 997 GT3 RS 4.0 that changed hands at the 70th Anniversary sale in Atlanta during October 2018 returned to the market in Monterey.

Having sold at auction less than a year ago for $566k, it went for almost $100k more in Monterey: $665k including premium. One may view this either as 4-litres taking off in California through 2019 or Atlanta in winter having been the wrong place to sell this RS. It was a good result for a 4-litre RS either way, especially given that the car cannot be registered in CA due to smog laws.

Porsches that failed to sell in Monterey

Twenty-one Porsches were offered for sale at Monterey and only three failed to sell: the aforementioned Type 64 (sort of a Porsche), a 1973 RS with a bunch of Japanese history and a 1996 Porsche 993 GT2 that had previously changed hands at Amelia Island 2018 for over $1.4 million, but failed to find a new home at Monterey. Nothing too surprising.

Other cars that sold below expectations (my expectations, at least) all had restoration in common. When it comes to buying old cars, there’s still no substitute for originality.

“First Ever Porsche” fails to sell

“First Ever Porsche” fails to sell

Fallout from the failed sale of the so-called “First Ever Porsche” – the 1939 Volkswagen Type 64 – at RM Sotheby’s in Monterey continues to unfold across the Internet. If you missed it, the car crossed the block fairly late in the sale and bidding in the packed tent began at an eye-watering price. A series of errors then followed.

Auctioneer Maarten ten Holder is said to have opened by saying that Sotheby’s had a bid at $30 million. The screens were duly set to this. As Maarten called out the bids, the numbers on the screens (facing away from the auctioneer) went up in $10 million increments until the podium displays read $70 million, at which time the auctioneer said the bids were in fact at $17 million and the numbers should be corrected, blaming his Dutch accent for the confusion.

From videos of the sale, it seems clear to me that Maarten is going up in increments of $500,000 from a start point of $13 million, and not ten million from a start of $30 million. However, the main fallout has come from claims of shill or chandelier bidding, where the auctioneer is calling increasing numbers with no bids actually received. Auction watchers are pointing the finger at dishonourable conduct.

Bid Running at Auction

I am not presuming any guilt here, and I’m not affected one way or the other, so there is no issue at my end. But anyone who thinks that ghost bidding is unusual conduct at auction needs a reality check. The best auctioneers all make their reputations through generating a fever and driving bidders to ever-greater heights: the practice is known as running the bids. Having bought hundreds of cars at auction in my career as a retail car buyer, I have had the bids run on me more times than I care to imagine. It is part of the auction experience.

I don’t remember one auction from the hundreds I’ve attended over more than thirty years in the motor trade where something that clearly was not worth the space it was taking up went for a higher price than expected. I have written several magazine columns about this crazy phenomena.

It usually happens when a private buyer comes along who has never been to auction before and the bids are run up to private sale money for a car sold as seen without prior approval. While it makes no sense to buy a car at auction without any sort of test drive, and pay the same price as one would from a bona fide private seller with a test drive before purchase, the practice is just as commonplace today as it ever was. Car auctions are not the best place to learn how to bid.

One type of auction where bid running was less common back in the pre-Internet days was disposal sales, where the auctioneers were getting a fixed price, regardless of whether items sold or not. This included Police and Lost Property sales held all over London and trade disposals, such as the old sales hall at Dingwalls in Croydon; probably now demolished to make way for a retail distribution centre. I bought a stack of cheap cars at London disposal sales in the late 1980s and early 1990s and they came at exactly the right price.

Contrast this to a job lot of cars I bought at a well-attended Colchester sale around the same time. This was a job lot of ex-Tesco fleet cars in the colours of the Tesco logo (all non-metallic red, white and dark blue) and I paid well into book for all of them. They were all presented in good condition, ready to be sold, so I knew I could make a profit on the lot, but the auctioneer made it bloody expensive for me. I never went back there again.

“Once bitten, twice shy” is likely to affect some reputations for a while, but all auctioneers will feel Maarten ten Holder’s pain. The car was already cooling off after Porsche took the unusual step of publicly denying any special Porsche provenance for the Type 64, over and above its undeniable importance as one of the early VW-based racing cars built by Ferdinand. It was down to ten Holder to do his job and get things cracking in the hall and he had a good go. The problem with the numbers turned things into a bit of a joke, but did he really get the bids?

Before the sale started, the car had already been offered to everyone who was likely to buy it and all had refused at the asking price. Bids supposedly went to $17 million in the tent, but the car is still listed as being for sale. It is clearly worth buying, just apparently not at that price.

The car now sits in storage in California, where its market value has been described as “f**ked” by people who should know a bit better. The truth is that good collectors are switched-on investors who get into this for the long term. Their experience and love of a deal makes then savvy and open to taking a risk. There is no doubt in my mind that the vultures are already circling above the Type 64.

The scandal surrounding the car and its first trip across the block has added to its story and therefore its appeal in certain quarters. Commentators who put a pre-sale value of up to $5 million on it may eventually learn that the car has changed hands privately for more than this: it would not surprise me one bit. It depends on the mindset of the owners: if there’s a lawsuit pending, then all bets are off.

I would put a bit more than $5 million on it and, if I had the money, I would be making enquiries. It’s an interesting story and perceived long term value of these things is all about the story. If you don’t know this about the human condition, you will never make a good auctioneer!

Photo by Jack Schroeder ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

First-Ever Porsche heads for Auction

First-Ever Porsche heads for Auction

California is set to reassert its credentials as the epicentre of the classic Porsche universe this August, when RM Sotheby’s offers what it is calling the first-ever Porsche for sale at the Monterey weekend.

Sotheby’s refers to the car as “the only surviving example of the Type 64 Porsche and the personal car of both Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche,” but the honorary title is at odds with respected Porsche historian and friend of the Porsche archives, Karl Ludvigsen, who describes this car and its stablemates as Type 60K10s rather than Type 64s. This car is noted by Ludvigsen as one of three 60K10s built in preparation for the Berlin-Rome race, which was planned to run in September 1939. The historian explains things as follows:

“When, in 1941, Porsche compiled a book covering the activities of its first ten years, it conflated the Types 64 and 60K10 under the “Type 64″ heading. Understandably, this has led to confusion for later historians. This author prefers to maintain a clear distance between the two projects, which were in fact distinctly different and played contrasting roles in the Porsche sports-car saga.”

Type 64 Origins

The origin of the Type 64 Volkswagen is well documented. Ludvigsen’s must-have work ‘Origin of the Species‘ describes how, in 1937, “Porsche designers sketched the specifications of another member of the VW family, the Type 64, listed in the Porsche annals as VW-Rekord (Sport)”. However, circumstances surrounding the Type 64 plans were difficult.

Building one-off sports cars didn’t suit the PR tastes of the German Labour Front, overseers of the KdF-Wagen (Volkswagen) project that the Type 64 was based on. Nor would the organisation sell KdF parts to Porsche for the design house to build its own Type 64s. As Porsche could neither obtain the parts or the funding to take the project further, no Type 64s were ever built.

Enter the KdF 60K10

When the first Autobahn was opened from Berlin to Munich, a race was planned for Autumn 1939, to highlight the feat of civil engineering. After sprinting south through Germany along the new highway, the competitors would continue through Austria to the Brenner Pass before racing closed roads, all the way to Rome.

With deliveries of the new Volkswagen/KdF-Wagen scheduled for early 1940, the race was tailor-made for PR. A racing car built on the Volkswagen was now an entirely different proposition, and the Labour Front was now all in favour. Ferdinand Porsche decided that the cars should be built on the standard Type 60 VW chassis with a special aluminium body hand built by Reutter.

Much of the engineering for Type 64 was integrated into the Type 60K10, allowing a short development cycle. The first of three cars was finished in August 1939, with the second completed a month later. The race was officially shelved after Germany invaded Poland the following month, but one more car was finished in June 1940. Based on the damaged chassis of car number one, that is the car being offered for sale.

First-Ever Porsche: The History

Sotheby’s press release tells how “the third Type 64 was retained as a personal family car and driven extensively by Ferry and Ferdinand Porsche. When the company was forced to relocate headquarters to Gmünd, Austria from 1944-1948, it was kept alongside No. 2 at the family estate in the picturesque lakeside town of Zell-am-See. No. 3 was the only example to survive the war, and Ferry Porsche himself applied the raised letters spelling out ‘PORSCHE’ on the nose of the car when he had in registered in Austria under the new company name in 1946.

“In 1947, restoration work was commissioned by Porsche and completed by a young Pinin Farina in Turin, Italy. Nearly one year later, Porsche demonstrated the Type 356 roadster, no. 1, on public roads in Innsbruck, with the Type 64 by its side. Austrian privateer driver Otto Mathé completed demo laps in the Type 64 and fell in love, buying it from Porsche the following year. He enjoyed a successful racing career with the car in the 1950s—the very first to do so in a Porsche product—and kept it for 46 years until his death in 1995.

“In 1997, the Type 64 changed hands for just the second time in six decades and appeared at a handful of vintage racing events with its third owner, Dr. Thomas Gruber of Vienna, including Goodwood and the Austrian Ennstal Classic. Dr. Gruber is the author of the renowned Carrera RS book and one of the most respected Porsche specialists worldwide. Delightfully patinated, the streamlined 1939 Porsche Type 64 is now offered in Monterey from the long-term care of just its fourth owner, who acquired the car more than a decade ago, and is accompanied by many original spare parts, as well as extensive period images and historic documentation.”

Previous efforts to sell the Type 64

Instagram threads on this car throw up a few stories regarding previous efforts to sell it privately. One commenter on the RM thread suggests that Mathé’s guys may have altered a chassis number back in the day (quite common on older Porsches) and classic Porsche dealer, Maurice Felsbourg, commented that “The Otto Mathé car has been for sale by owners for years now. Each time asking price was met, they either raised it or changed their mind. They play golf with Piëch & Porsche, they surely won’t buy it. I hope bidding stalls at €5m.”

Sounds slightly like sour grapes you might think, but it is true that the car has previously been offered to specialists. One contact showed me an email from 2014, when he was offered the car at €12 million. Plenty of people will know about recent efforts to sell and that will influence some bidders. It if often the case that collectors reject the opportunity to buy in open market when the seller has made things difficult behind closed doors.

Whether you call this car a Type 64 or a Type 60K10, assuming the car all checks out, this is the most significant VW-Porsche to come up for sale since the last time it changed hands. Sotheby’s press release says that it could get up to $20 million: we’ll see how that goes.

Update – read more about the dramatic events when the Type 64 came up for sale.

Photos © Staud Studios 2019 courtesy of RM Sothebys