It seems as of the last decade everyone and their sister has decided they want to be an exclusive Porsche tuning shop. Even with a fair amount of competition, there are two builders that stand far above the rest. L.A.’s own Magnus Walker and Rob Dickinson’s Singer Vehicle design. The two builders have painstakingly constructed their own reputations for creating arguably better Porsches than Porsche had built themselves. The real question then is if you had to pick one which would you? And why?
Magnus Walker. Possibly one of the most iconic tuners/builders of the last 10 years. He has made a name for himself with his radical style that translates itself into each and every one of the cars he builds. But who is the man behind the beard and unmistakeable dreads? Well, he’s as unique as the cars that he builds. Growing up in England, Magnus moved stateside when he was 19 years old. He worked a summer camp for underprivileged kids just outside of Detroit for his first summer in the US, moving west when his summer gig came to and end. After sleeping on a park bench and being awoken by the LAPD, Magnus found himself staying at a YMCA on Hollywood Blvd.
Being a lifetime metal head, Magnus had a unique image. Exploring the run down city he found a pair of snakeskin vinyl pants that he purchased for ten dollars. He then did what he did to all his pants at the time and turned them inside out and sewed them to make them tighter. Later on, he went to a popular shop on Melrose where one of the guys working they said to him “hey man cool pants, where did you get them?” Being a savvy young man Magnus responded with “I got them in London. Why, do you want to buy some?” While Magnus was half way joking the clerk was not, asking how much. When Magnus told him $25 a pair they agreed upon a size run and Magnus ran back to the store on Hollywood Blvd and bought the rest of the pants that he just made $15 profit per pair on. And that was it, the pivotal moment that allowed Magnus to do something original and make money while doing it.
The reason that story is significant is because that is single handily the moment that allowed Magnus to become the person he is today. He would go on to start and run a very successful clothing company called Serious Clothing, which allowed him to buy his now famous garage. While his entire story is utterly fascinating, what we really want to get on about is his cars and what makes them as special as they are. They thing that really struck me as impressive is the fact that Magnus had owned only two other cars before he bought his first Porsche 911. That’s astonishing. He was just 25 years old when he bout his first 911 in 1992. And since that first 911, he has now owned over 40 different versions of the most iconic sports car to come out of Germany.
While he already had the kindling, his first Porsche would be the one to spark it into a fire. He would go on to buy his second 911 in 1999, and although it will definitely not be his last 911, it can definitely be said that it is his most cherished. Dawning the white, red and blue colors with a massive ‘277’ on each side, Magnus’s ’71 T Porsche is the epitome of what the classic 911 is all about. When Magnus started upgrading his first car he learned more with ‘277’ than most people learn with a lifetime of cars. Not only did he learn to tune and modify with ‘277’, but he also learned to race, completing over 300 track days in the little 911. ‘277’ wears Magnus Walker’s blood sweat and tears on its sleeve, like a badge of honor. It’s gorgeous because it’s been worn in, showing signs of wear in every direction. ‘277’ isn’t fancy, hell it isn’t even that fast. While it’s been through a lot over the almost 20 years that Magnus has owned it, ‘277’ still only has a 2.6 flat-six that produces a rough 200-horse-power. Magnus calls it a ‘momentum’ car, signifying it’s more about the driver than the machine, a concept that speaks volumes about their relationship. ‘277’ is as close as you truly can get to a ‘driver’s car,’ and yet that’s not what we are after here. Although the famous ‘277’ car is possibly the best Porsche ever built, it is not for sale, nor can you even buy a replica of it. So if you can’t get ‘277,’ what can you get from Magnus?
First and foremost, what you are getting with a Magnus Walker 911 is not just a 911, and it’s not just a fast 911. It’s more of the style, the life that is bled into each and every car that rolls out of this Englishman’s garage. It’s a story that you can feel just by looking at the car. It’s an intangible experience, one that reveals itself by making the hair on your neck stand on end. His styling is subtle yet perfect, earning him the Urban Outlaw nickname. He builds the cars for himself and not in the sense that he is selling his style. It’s just like the first time he sold those snakeskin pants, he tailored them for him and no one else, and people were drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
It is absolutely worth noting that while his cars are gorgeous they are not just art that doesn’t perform. Magnus meticulously goes through each car, pairing suspension components to the right power plant like a wine expert pairs cheddar to the perfect Cabernet Sauvignon. They will never be horsepower monsters or technical marvels, instead, they are momentum cars. This is all because Magnus doesn’t sell cars on purpose. He builds cars that he loves, for himself, and if someone happens to want to buy it then he might sell it. Or he might also keep it. In a world where everything is done to make a quick buck its refreshing to see such a personal take on custom car creation.
If you do end up being one of the lucky lads that are in the position to buy one of Magnus’s outlaw creations, you will spend some serious coin to take it home. For instance, Magnus Walker’s 1972 Porsche 911 STR II sold for over $300,000 at auction back in 2013. What does that kind of coin get you from some other Porsche builders? For the answer to that let’s check out Rob Dickenson’s Singer Vehicle Design.
When it comes to building Porsche’s, Magnus Walker has brought out the very best in the classic 911’s, but Singer Vehicle Design has completely reimagined the 964 911. The newer 964 chassis that ran from 89-94 is the basis for every Porsche that Singer has designed. Singer didn’t set out to put their own spin on the classics, they wanted to radically improve them. Through an arduous process of trial and error, Singer has come up with arguably the best Porsche the world has ever seen.
Singer was brought to fruition by Rob Dickinson, but has now grown into something much more prominent housing over 50 employees for their production. Fittingly, Rob is a former rock star, heading up English alternative rock band Catherine Wheel as the singer and guitarist. Catherine Wheel had a great run throughout the 90’s. It’s a fitting beginning for a custom car builder, as both facets require a substantial amount of creativity. Now the motivation may be similar between Rob and Magnus, but their experience with something of this nature couldn’t be any more different.
What some people may not know is that Rob Dickinson has a formal education in automotive design from Coventry University in England. Rob even went on to work with the great Peter Stevens at Lotus. Peter Stevens is the iconic madman that brought us the original McLaren F1. That’s quite the mentor to have. Although he had landed what was close to a dream job it couldn’t topple his passion for music, eventually leaving his job at Lotus to travel the world with his guitar. In the end, it wasn’t the worst of decisions as Catherine Wheel went on to become a success and Rob was able to make a living through his music. However, the automotive flame never truly died out, so in 2009 Rob brought us all his best creation to date, Singer Vehicle Design.
The thought that started Singer was simple, ‘what if we took and cherry picked the best parts of each model and built the ultimate 911.’ And that is exactly what they have done. This is where things become much different from how Magnus Walker operates. Unlike Magnus, Singer gives its customers options, allowing them to build the car to their desires. So when it comes to components, you can either order it with ‘really really high end’ or ‘damn near the best.’ That’s about the extent of your options. It’s also worth noting Singer does not build track cars. Their 911’s are for street use, meaning they will perform impressively well in all conditions, but will not sacrifice creature comforts for all out performance. Life is about balance after all.
The body is a 964 911 because it has the most heritage. It’s more modern and able to handle better than the classic 911’s, but it remains raw and in touch with its ancestry. And then Singer takes it up a few notches, sculpting the body into perfection. First, they media-blast the entire monocoque, taking it to the bare metal because the goal isn’t a resto-mod, it’s a new car. Then the body is stretched and sculpted, gaining a generous track width due to the extensive carbon fiber fender wells. The front of the chassis has also been extended to fit a long nose carbon bonnet. And it doesn’t stop there. The bumpers and rear deck lid are also made from carbon, with select Singers getting a full carbon fiber roof. This gives the new 911 a svelt weight of just 2600lbs.
Make the body the best. Check. Now, what about the components you might ask? Well, they are just as spectacular. The suspension is handled through either the base KW coil-overs or a set of three-way adjustable Ohlins, all while utilizing the stock rear trailing arms. This keeps that distinctive 911 driving experience we all know and love. Pairing that with upgraded brakes from the 993 Porsche, the successor to the 964, you are left with a package that is as well rounded as the LMP Hella headlights that Singer uses. Keeping with the theme of cherry-picking highlights from each 911, Singer utilized the steering rack from the 993, giving the driver the most connection between the road to the steering wheel. Rounding out the chassis, Singer elected to develop 17″ forged aluminum wheels that mimic the iconic styling of the late 60’s, yet extend the width to 9-inches up front and a massive 11-inches in the rear. That gives customers the option to run up to a 275/40 rear tire. On your standard 964 this would be absolute overkill, but this isn’t your standard Porsche.
And if that weren’t enough, the interior is just as stunning as the exterior. Everything right down to the HVAC controls has been upgraded, giving it that vintage appeal with the new car smell. They even brought in a sound deadening expert that specializes in personal aircrafts. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently it is a real challenge to cut down on the sound inside a plane while also keeping it lightweight, something Singer wanted desperately to accomplish with their design. And the results are perfect, a livable interior allows the driver to hear what they need to without being overly obnoxious.
And now for the main attraction, the engine. I think we can all agree that there may be no greater engine than a vintage air-cooled flat-six. Between the raspy exhaust note and the well-balanced performance, it is a legend for a reason. Singer made arguably their best decision by not building engines in house, instead enlisting prominent L.A. engine manufacturer Ed Pink Racing Engine. Ed Pink has built some phenomenal mills over the years, even assembling the 3.8-liter Cosworth engines that Singer has used in the past. While they offer three different displacements, we want to focus on the top of the heap, the 4.0-liter. Just like the chassis, Singer starts with the original donor engine, except this time they ship out the mill to be completely gone through. Singer supplies the cases and heads and Ed Pink supplies the rest. The engine features a Pankl crank, Mahle pistons and forged Carillo rods. With reworked cylinder heads and the use of a GT3 intake plenum the new 4.0 can spin to a redline of 7,200RPM while producing a heart warming 390hp. Sounds like the perfect match to a vehicle weight that floats around the 2600lb mark.
Rob Dickinson did exactly what he said he was going to when he built the first Singer. He built the ultimate Porsche.
Now the hardest question of them all, which one would you pick and why? Seriously, think about it. If you have anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 dollars to spend on a car and the 911 happens to be your all time favorite, how would you possibly pick between these two? It’s a loaded question that I don’t believe there is a right answer to, but will attempt to answer anyway.
When it comes to styling the Singer is a little less organic, but also a little more subdued. Maintaining a sleek exterior Singer’s 911’s are instant show-stoppers, rarely inciting debate. While Magnus builds straight from the heart his cars come out with a much edgier, in your face style that doesn’t fit my personality. His design also elects debate, constantly stirring the pot for all the right reasons. And on top of all that I happen to be a massive fan of the standard 964 body, even over the famed classic 911. Totally Biased, I know. 1-0 Singer.
Overall engineering is a very difficult subject, one that I have had many internal debates over. Both builders have taken radically different directions when it comes to tuning. I love how Magnus has managed to keep under the radar and stay true to his grass roots style. The builds that come out of his garage are simple, designed to perform with no added frills. I love that. It’s a driver’s car through and through, keeping so true to the original 911. But then we have Singer, who have created what many call the perfect Porsche. They have taken the 964, given it a hefty dose of steroids and trimmed all the fat. It’s still a drivers car, yes, but it’s tailored more towards an expert driver, being a lot less forgiving than some drivers may want, or even need. My inner speed demon wants the Singer while my ego wants to prove itself in the Magnus. If Magnus was a little more experienced with building engines I might have picked his builds, but the engineering in the Singer has stolen the show. 1-0 Singer.
If we talk uniqueness it becomes an absolute landslide. While Singer has definitely taken an original approach to building their 964 based monster, it’s still no match for how unique each and every 911 that comes out of Magnus Walker’s garage. His styling cues vary from subtle to in your face, yet they all still manage to stay true to the classic form. The Urban Outlaw doesn’t duplicate any of his builds, accentuating the one-off quality of each car. While Singers 911 may be original in design, each one that rolls out of the shop shares that distinctive look that screams it’s a Singer. 1-0 Magnus.
All in all its almost impossible to pick between a 911 from Magnus or a 911 from Singer. For me personally, I would have to go with the Singer 2-1. It’s almost regrettable saying that, but the truth is it fits what I would look for in the ultimate Porsche. Although if the question was picking between Magnus Walker’s real ‘277’ or a Singer, the answer may be much different.
One thing we can all agree on is that both Magnus Walker and Singer Vehicle Design have pulled off the impossible in building a better 911 than Porsche. Who would have thought the best German sports cars would actually come out of Los Angeles?