Porsche. It’s a sports car marque with many connotative images: well-to-do yuppies with a penchant for Oliver Peoples spectacles and tailored Jean-Paul Gaultier suits. Mouth the name with your eyes shut and your imagination will piece together a virtual Pinterest board peppered with all the clean-cut trappings of the millionaire lifestyle.
Fortunately there is always one glorious exception to the rule, an anomalous infiltrator who sneaks through the cracks and flies in the groomed face of convention. What Hunter Thompson was to the American establishment, Magnus Walker is to the white-collar world of Porsche. He’s a rock ’n’ roll rebel, a self-proclaimed urban outlaw who couldn’t be more out of sync with the brand’s perceived image if he tried. Just look at the dude: from that matted mane of dreadlocked hair to those ragged denims, Walker could pass as a Capetonian hippie eking out a living by selling farm produce from a horse-drawn cart.
Yet in the last few years he has become a cult motoring demigod worshipped everywhere from the east coast of Japan to his home on the west coast of America.
Born in Sheffield, England, in 1967, Walker moved to the US at the age of 19. Although he had no definite plans and no real prospects, he thrilled at the freedom that the New World offered. After a stint working as a camp counsellor he rode a Greyhound down to Los Angeles. He never had reason to leave.
With exciting new rock bands like Guns N’ Roses providing the soundtrack, Walker decided to take aim at the American Dream and started up a second-hand clothing line that first operated out of the bohemian neighbourhood of Venice Beach. Despite having no prior experience in the art of threadwork his customised creations were soon spotted on MTV. Before he knew it he was outfitting everybody from Alice Cooper to Madonna. Serious Clothing and Magnus Walker had arrived.
So where does the Porsche connection come into the story? Well in 2000 the tattooed Englishman, together with his wife and some of the proceeds of his clothing empire, purchased a 112-year-old warehouse in what was once a seamy part of downtown Los Angeles.
“People thought we were a little crazy when we bought it 15 years ago,” Walker explains while showing me around. “That was when the neighbourhood was more transient, desolate, warehouse-industrial. Now it’s turned around and it’s mostly residential with coffee shops and restaurants — a neighbourhood that’s sort of gone through a transformation. What was once sketchy is now the place to be.”
The renovated 2400m² building with its “60s-pop-art-mixed-in-with-pseudo-exotic-gothic” aesthetic became the ultimate live-work space. Now sought after by production companies as a film location, it gave Walker the space to indulge in a hobby that had been rapidly spiralling out of control: collecting classic Porsche 911s.
“When I was a 10-year-old kid I went to the Earls Court Motor Show and fell in love with a white Porsche 911 Martini turbo,” Walker says. “There was just something about it that clicked with me — especially the shape.”
This infatuation evolved into a passion that would stay with him for many years. Since that day he dreamt of owning a 911 of his own and in 1992, at the age of 25, this became a reality. Unfortunately one wasn’t enough, so Walker embarked on a mission to have a 911 from every year from 1964 through to 1973 — a feat he’s only just managed to pull off. Some of the cars are original and look pretty much the same as they did when they left the factory. But most have been given their own unique look and feel: a visual and mechanical makeover that has captured the attention of Porsche lovers around the globe.
These so-called outlaw 911s are a monument to their creator’s intense individualism. Like his gnarled leather boots or frayed trucker cap, they all ooze an effortless cool cultivated by a life dedicated to being different.
“I have never been one of those purists who care for super originality,” says Walker. “To me it was more about the experience of driving.”
He has never been afraid of experimenting with the car’s form. Fenders have been swapped, engines have been modified and colours have been mixed. Inspired by American hot-rodders of by-gone years, he has cut louvres into engine deck lids and drilled holes into chromed door handles. Original paint is, wherever possible, preserved and patina is always worn with pride. Inside you’ll find custom seats and door panels swathed in plaid or distressed leather — a hat tip to his days as a fashionista. Whatever he does, the results are raw and authentic. “My goal always is to do what I like to do. I don’t build customer cars, I build cars for myself.”
This design ethic attracted the attention of a Canadian filmmaker who in 2012 shot a cult internet documentary called Urban Outlaw. Watched numerous times, it has thrust Walker into the viral limelight and turned him into a celebrity. He’s now a Porsche brand ambassador.
“The last two years have been a whirlwind of press-related, travel-related, Porsche-related activities. It’s been an adventure. But to me my whole life has been an adventure.
“Coming to America really represented freedom because before that I was on the dole, living with my mum and dad telling me, ‘Cut your hair and get a real job, do this, don’t do that.’ In America it’s ‘go do whatever you want to do’.”
The cars. The stories. The passion. The attitude. I could hang out and jabber with the bearded Brit all day. Unfortunately he’s got to make a move. A new project has just been wheeled out of the spray booth and he is itching to check it out. After flipping me the sign of the horns, he climbs into one of his creations and thunders off into the mid-morning haze of Los Angeles.
Magnus Walker. The coolest, most unlikely Porscheophile you’ll ever meet. – Thomas Falkiner