Gear: Book Review: The Gold-Plated Porsche

Book Review: The Gold-Plated Porsche

By Benjamin Shahrabani
April 23, 2014

The book: The Gold-Plated Porsche

Author: Stephan Wilkinson

Pages: 213

Purchase: Click here

 “It was a machine that many people consider to be so incomprehensibly complex that it should only be worked on by people named Dieter and Rolf, imperious Teutons in white shop coats. Tattered as it was, this was a Porsche, made of aluminum and magnesium, leather and fine steel, hand-assembled in Stuttgart in annual numbers that would have sufficed for a day’s production of Ford Tauruses. What right did I have to tamper with such a jewel?” These are the author’s words and no matter what your passion is–especially when it comes to taking things apart, and putting them back together–it all has to start somewhere. For Mr. Stephan Wilkinson, it was the Erector Set of his youth. And so he’d embark on a journey that would span two years of his life and take a run-down 1983 Porsche 911 SC, purchased for about $10,000, and turn it into a brand-new street and track car. The difference here being, that whilst almost anyone can pay to have the work done, Stephan would rebuild the car on his own with the exception of some specialized machine-shop work.

Besides having a very understanding and supportive wife who is also a writer, Stephan is a regular contributor to Military History Magazine, Military History Quarterly, Aviation History and Air & Space Smithsonian, and before the titular “Gold-Plated Porsche,” he had spent a lifetime rebuilding engines, hot-rodding cars, and even built an entire two-seat airplane from scratch. However, his start in automotive journalism was anything but straightforward. According to Stephan, “I had owned an Aston Martin DB4—not because I was rich but because the car was pretty much a piece of shit that I got from a famous artist named Larry Rivers and fixed up (you can read a bit about it in the GPP book). Anyway, I was the Executive Editor of Flying Magazine, and the company that published it also owned Car and Driver. The Editor of C/D quit and somebody said, “That guy Wilkinson at Flying, he’s a sports-car guy, right? Let’s move him into that job.” Instant car writer. When I became a freelance writer some years later, I got a lot of assignments because people simply assumed that because I’d been the editor of C/D, I knew all about cars. Whether that was true or not, I was a good enough writer that I soon established a useful reputation.” 

But rather than serving as a how-to (and no one should restore a car using this book as a blueprint, although there’s definitely something here for the technically inclined.), The Gold-Plated Porsche is more of a memoir spanning two years of Stephan’s trials and ordeals restoring a piece of German automotive history that dovetails into an autobiography, weaving in his upbringing and many “colorful” adventures through numerous jobs and travels. There are chapters dealing with drug smuggling (and smuggling in general) via airplane, getting caught up with the FBI, and his stint as editor at Car and Driver. It’s great stuff; amazing tales worthy of their own tome. Only about half the pages of The Gold-Plate Porsche deal with the actual car and its restoration, but every area of the car is overhauled, and written about, from engine to seats.

Costing two years and $50,000 in parts and labor (which Wilkinson values at almost nothing because it his own), Stephan had his perfect Porsche (with a book value of probably no more than $30,000 on a good day), and the author makes the reader feel he has been along for the entire journey. As someone who loves cars, memoirs, and offbeat stories I found this a highly addictive read, and found myself unable to put it down. We find ourselves rooting for the author, our car-guy “average Joe” to complete his car in spite of some roadblocks, because like him we love or long to do it too, and it speaks to who we are and what we are able to do in spite of the common pressures to take the path of least resistance.

The “gold-plated” part of the Porsche is the money spent, but no, its not actually gold-plated. It’s a car, not a museum piece, and Stephan built it to run. “If you can’t drive a car, what’s the point?” You should consider buying this very entertaining book…as it’s the only way the author won’t be upside-down on his restoration.

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10 years ago

I found the book enjoyable but not exceptional. I agree with the previous recommendations of Confessions of a Hack Mechanic. I would also recommend Shop Class as Soulcraft (even if the author seemed to have a quota of thesaurus use in the first couple chapters).

10 years ago

This was really a great read. Anyone interested in 911’s, car restoration, airplanes, as well as a good (true) story will appreciate this book.

Doug Churchill
Doug Churchill
10 years ago

Looks like a fun book into the insanity of doing your own restoration.

I also highly recommend “Confessions of a Hack Mechanic” by Rob Siegel – a contributor to the BMW Roundel magazine for many years.

A Sacks
A Sacks
10 years ago

I own Confessions of a Hack Mechanic and I can say I absolutely think it would appeal to Petrolicious readers. Additionally, a book that I love is called The Art of Racing in the Rain. It’s a novel by an author in the Seattle area that tells of the main character’s dream to be a professional racing driver through the eyes of his best friend, a dog. Everyone in my wife’s family read it after I did and everyone got something different out of it. Check it out! I think a series of automotive [i]related[/i] book suggestions would be a great idea for Petrolicious.

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