Magnus Walker On All Cars (Not Just Porsche), Life, The Universe & Everything
Many people find that Magnus Walker does not need an introduction—so let me be clear: haters and fanboys alike believe that they already know everything there is to know about the enigmatic man behind the wheel of some of the most sinister Porsche 911 builds on the road today. To some purists, he’s a menace. To some menaces, he’s a purist.
Until the last few years, Porsche AG preferred not to be associated with what they perceived to be his “outlaw” attitude, and now he proudly sports a framed holiday card from division heads on his desk, each one brandishing a distinctive “rock on” gesture over the words, “Merry Christmas From The Stuttgart Outlaws”.
Needless to say, sitting down together with Magnus Walker himself was an exercise in perception-meets-reality, and I’m extremely glad that we did.
Ted Gushue: Magnus, what was the first car that you ever drove?
Magnus Walker: Well, when I lived in England I actually never had a driver’s license. I left England at 19, came to America in 1986. That story is pretty well-documented, but moving from Sheffield, England to L.A. are two completely different environments. Sheffield, you can get around on the bus for back then 5, 10 pence. L.A. you can’t get anywhere without a car, L.A. is the car capital, and if you don’t have a car you’re really lost without it because everything is so spread out.
For me, acquiring my first car represented freedom. There’s nothing better than freedom in a city like L.A., because you can come and go wherever you want at whatever speed you want to go.
To me, that first car was a real memorable moment because it ticked a lot of boxes. I bought it in 1988. It was a 1977 Toyota Corolla 2TC, I paid 200 bucks for it. I believe I must have been 21. I took my driver’s test in that Corolla at the Santa Monica DMV. That to me was really a memorable moment, to be able to legally drive in California. I’d been driving around illegally but to have a card that says you can go anywhere in America was really special. It was freedom.
TG: Had you been interested in cars before the Corolla?
MW: To me, the automobile has never been purely transportation, it’s more than a means of going from A to B. I fell in love with Porsche when I was a 10 year old. I grew up in England, born in ’67, so the mid-’70s was a glory period to be an auto enthusiast. In 1976 and 1977 England ruled the world in motor sports on both two and four wheels. Two wheels, we had Barry Sheene, World Superbike Champion. Four wheels, we had James Hunt obviously in the epic duel with Niki Lauda for the ’76 Formula 1 World Championship. As a kid I was 9, 10—I always say the dream starts at an early age. I was no different to any other kid anywhere else in the world.
I think you had a choice of three posters on the wall at the time. A Porsche Turbo, a Lamborghini Countach, or a Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer. I picked the Porsche because I went to the London Earls Court Motor Show with my dad in 1977 and saw a white Martini liveried 930 Turbo on the stand. That was it. I’d been familiar with motorsport even though we started real poor in working class Sheffield. My dad never had any cool cars, but my uncle had a cool car. My uncle actually at one time had a 246 Dino, which he then traded for 308 GTB. Back then that was a step up from a Dino into a 308, today it’s a slightly different story—it was one of the first 308 GTB 5 Vascos, which was a pretty rare car at the time.
I had another uncle who had an E-Type Jaguar. Occasionally we’d go to club races, there were track days at Donnington, Mallory Park, Cardwell Park. From that age of I guess 7, 8, 9 I’ve been around motorsports or watching it on TV. But the real turning point, the real memorable point was that London Earls Court Motor Show. I have the cutaway poster of the Martini 935 actually on the wall now. I wrote to Porsche in 1977, I said I wanted to design cars for them. Back then Porsche was a small company, so they wrote me back essentially saying to call us when you’re older.
They sent me a little brochure, I still have it to this day. To me, I always had that dream, but Porsches were not a common sight in Sheffield so it was a dream that didn’t come to fruition until I moved to America. That dream came true I guess 15 years later. I bought my first Porsche, which was actually my third car, in 1992.
I think in 1990 once I’d started actually making a little bit of money in the clothing business I bought my second car, which was also a real memorable car for me: it was a 1988 Saab 900 Turbo with the SPG package. I must have bought that in, I guess, ’91 when it was probably three years old. That car, I paid 7,500 bucks for it. I drove that car quite a long time and I really liked that car. It’s funny, those first two cars—the ’77 Corolla and the ’88 SPG 900 Saab Turbo—are two cars that I’m now looking for.
No one has really fucked too much with a ’77 Corolla, a lot of people mess with Datsun 510s and stuff like that. I’m obviously known for modifying Porsches, but I really want to build a ’77 Corolla in the spirit of like a 510 Datsun S.
TG: Do you feel that because of your notoriety in the Porsche community it would be difficult to move into other marques?
MW: It’s easy because I’ve never cared really what people think, I’ve always done my own thing. I think that’s why I stand out a little bit in the sea of fellow Porsche enthusiasts building a similar style of car. Because my thing has never been to follow the trend. I think ultimately I’m able to transfer in and out. I’m not so Porsche centric that I couldn’t rip around in a Saab.
Since the minute the Outlaw film came out on October 15th 2012, my life has changed drastically both personally and professionally, but I’ve stayed largely the same. Even though I’m a Porsche guy I think the message transcends the Porsche marque, which is just to get out and drive.
That being said, I’ve always maintained that Porsche is my drug, it’s my religion, it’s my language, I say it all the time. It doesn’t matter whether you speak English, German, or Japanese, you’ll speak Porsche because it transcends the language barrier. It transcends the class barrier, but ultimately all true car guys share that same passion. I can have fun driving other people’s cars that are non-Porsche cars and I think that it doesn’t matter what you drive, just so long as you’re driving.
Everyone has their dream car, whether it’s a Corvette or Ford Mustang. I find I’m actually always talking about the similarities between the Mustang and the 911, even though the two couldn’t be more different. They came out the same year, both have been in production since 1964, both have a fanatical fan base.
And both have factory ranges within the model range which are vast. Like Porsche has probably 30 different varieties of 911. Mustang’s got just as many I’d reckon.
TG: Would you ever consider a Mustang?
MW: One time I owned one, I had a ’65 GT350 Shelby replica fastback with a 351 Cleveland, Detroit Locker, and a Richmond 5-speed. Back in the ’90s I wasn’t purely, purely Porsche. I’ve owned and loved many other cars besides Porsche. I had a ’67 E-Type Jag. I had two ’69 Super Bees, still have the tattoo [shows me tattoo of his Super Bees]. I had a ’73 Lotus Europa, I had a ’79 308 GTB Ferrari, and I had a handful of Porsches during that process.
TG: What was your experience like with the Europa?
MW: Super nimble, cat like, but nobody ever saw you on the road. My Europa story is great, I love telling this story. Back in the ’90s, we were acquiring a lot of cars, my wife and I. We’d literally go to the Pamona Swap Meet. I remember once buying her a Type 3 Notchback for like three grand. We weren’t looking for it but it was just there. I used to love getting The Sports Car Trader. On a Wednesday night, I’d get it late before it came out on Thursday. Back then it was pre-internet so things didn’t move quite as quickly. I had always liked Lotus Europas, it must be an English thing. This car was in Walnut Creek, Northern California. It had been for sale for a couple of weeks at 7,800 bucks. I called the guy probably two weeks later and he said, “You know what? Next weekend I’m driving down Orange County to visit my cousin. I’ll bring the car.”
I said to him, “If it makes it all the way to L.A., I’ll buy it on the spot.” That was how I ended up with a Lotus Europa. It made it from Walnut Creek California to Downtown L.A., I paid the guy 7,500 bucks for it. That was a super nimble car, an outboard car, I’ve still got photos of it. Mine was sort of burnt sand, beige copper metallic color. It’s just a great nimble driving car, it was like a 914 in a sense. But just nobody ever saw you on the road, it was so low you would be under everyone’s mirrors. Just wasn’t quite as exciting as a 911 and that summed up the beginning of the end of all non-Porsche cars for me.
For that period from I guess ’94 to 2000 I had acquired all those cars I described. In 2001, 2002 I joined the Porsche Owners Club, learned to hone my driving skills, became a better driver, and realized that as great as all those cars were—and each one of them was great in their own sense. But compared to the 911, the 911 did everything great. The Mustang was great but didn’t really stop. It went around corners a little bit but just didn’t tick all the boxes. It wasn’t that easy to heel and toe it, didn’t shape that well.
E-Type Jag was a great cruiser but couldn’t match the 911’s performance. The ’69 Super Bees were just really good in a straight line and they were fun because you could drag race anything up to like 60 mph, it didn’t matter: Corvette, Viper. The ’73 Europa I described was a little bit slower down the path.
The ’79 308 GTB, we paid 20 grand for that car and kept it for about eight years. It was pretty reliable, actually, we only ever replaced the water pump but it just wasn’t 911 nimble. It got better the faster you went. The coolest thing about the 308 really was that naughty gear shift, I loved that. Still, the 911 just did everything really well, so over a five year period we pretty much got rid of everything. The last non-Porsche car we had was the E-Type Jag, I think we bought that in 96 and we kept it all the way to 2011. That was a 15 year run, in 2011 as you know was the 50th anniversary of the E-Type legendary car that came out in 1961.
TG: So you basically sold at close to peak market?
MW: Yeah, we did. It was a coupe though, so coupes were still undervalued. We had the series 1, 1967 which was to some the best of the breed because of its covered headlights, full synchro box, and 4.2-liter motor. As I described earlier on, that car just was not really that great at anything close to a hundred miles an hour. The great thing about the E-Type was it was a great equalizer, always got two thumbs up from anyone passing by. All the other cars you’d always get a look, or the finger or something. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about the E-Type Jag.
TG: Have there been any cars that have ever scared you?
MW: No, not really, and I’ve driven a lot. In the Porsche world I’ve driven everything up to the 918. I’ve driven all the supercars, the 959, the Carrera GT. The 959, fuck, under 3,500 RPM it’s like being in the 3.2 Carrera. Because once you’re inside everything is so familiar, which is what’s great about Porsche. That car is now 30 years old but it’s still really current. The Carrera GT, that’s a different story, it’s such an intoxicating car.
Funnily, I described that experience as like being like a boxer on steroids. I read so much about the Carrera GT and all you would ever read was about a journalist that stalled the car. Let me tell you my long answer to your, “Did any car ever scare me” question” I became good friends with the Ingram Collection—Road Scholars—I don’t know if you are familiar with these guys.
I think ultimately they’re the coolest people with the best collection of cars, everything from a Gmund Coupe up to a current 918. I was at the Pinehurst Concours and Cam said, “Hey you want to go drive the Carrera GT?” Of course I couldn’t say no. So I get in the car and 10 seconds later, because it’s such a striking car, there’s 50 people standing around essentially waiting for me to stall it in front of them.
All I could think was, “Don’t stall it, don’t stall it, for the love of god don’t stall it!” And they’re notorious for that light switch on again off again clutch. Luckily, I’d read quite a few articles. I guess the key is you just don’t touch the gas, just let your foot out of the clutch and it rolls on. After I’d not stalled the car, I pulled it out of this crowd of 50 people and the rest of it was literally like a boxer on steroids. Just the most intoxicating drive. The 918 I’ve driven, but that’s a whole different story right there.
TG: Does the 918 feel disconnected compared to the CGT?
MW: Well, you’re less involved. The Carrera GT is a humbling and intimidating and rewarding and challenging drive every time you come to a stop light, especially one on a hill—you’re super involved. With the 918, it’s just a strange experience because you can pussyfoot around in whatever mode it’s in for traffic, not worrying about it. You don’t even hear it, then you flip the switch to sport mode and everything just gets really loud and scary straight away.
To me, driving needs to be involved, one of my favorite things I like to say is some people go to gym to work out, I like to get in the car and drive. It becomes this challenge. It becomes a meditation. It becomes everything you’ve ever heard about all the senses being ticked. It’s one thing new cars don’t do. I’ve driven literally everything that Porsche has to offer.
In new stuff, you’re so insulated. Everyone says it, but the best way to experience real connection is to take a 2.0-liter car and just flat out flog it. Every time I do I find myself saying, “Fuck that’s the great thing about an early car”. You’re just so fully connected to the road.
TG: Do you have anyone in the Porsche world that you really look up to?
MW: You know I’m a big Brumos fan.
TG: Sure, go on.
MW: [Whips out cell phone to show me driving video] This is me driving the Brumos Helmut Bott prototype 959. This is Don Leatherwood filming me driving. This is the Helmuth Bott prototype Type-959. These are the people and the cars I look up to. [Flips to another video] Now here, I’m driving Hurley Haywood’s 911S that he won the ’72 IMSA championships in, listen to this [puts phone up to my ear]. That’s the car Hurley Haywood won the ’72 championship in, and I was lucky enough to drive it in Jacksonville Florida out of the Brumos collection.
TG: What’s the collection like in person?
MW: It’s killer, I’m a huge Hurley fan. Huge. Have you ever met him or Don Leatherwood?
TG: I haven’t, only Hurley on the phone.
MW: Such a character, him and I click pretty well. I’m driving that car and I literally cannot get out of it. It’s one of those cars you just don’t want to get out of. And I’m ripping up and down the road in front of the dealership.
It’s quite a little country road, and here’s the real funny part of the story. I parked the car, Don’s showing me around the collection, and Hurley shows up and he’s got this pissed off look on his face, like, “What the fuck guys?” It turns out some neighbor was sick of me driving up and down the road, so they called the Brumos Dealership and asked to talk to Hurley—and basically said [to him]: “Who the hell is ripping up and down the road in this car?” So I got chewed out by Hurley. Once in a lifetime moment for me.
That’s what’s great about Porsche. That I’m somehow allowed to be in a scenario where Hurley Haywood is telling me to slow down around the Brumos Dealership.
MW: I don’t think any other marque is like Porsche that brings people together and breaks down class divides. It doesn’t matter in my experience, and you see how I look, and where I’m from, and my background story. I left school at 15, and not that many years later I’m getting yelled at by Hurley Haywood. Porsche is a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, what you sound like, how much money is in your bank account, there’s a space for everybody.
TG: Do you find that new Porsche owners don’t necessarily subscribe to that same sense of community?
MW: Ah, you’re talking about the Porsche wave.
TG: Yes, exactly. Do you find that some new owners don’t get it?
MW: Speaking generically, a lot of new Porsche consumers aren’t enthusiasts. Now this definitely doesn’t cover all bases, but as a Porsche enthusiast—and I sense you’re one of those guys—we have what I call “the Porsche passion”.
Today, many people buy Porsches as a status symbol, which is fine perhaps. They’re wonderful cars that can signify a sense of achievement, fine. For them, they’re a fancy means to go from A to B, with no connection to the enthusiasm and the adventure.
TG: I think it’s actually something that they’re very aware of as a brand, which is why I think they are trying to breed a sense of history into the Boxster by bringing back the 718 name, trying to educate the consumer that actually they’re not just buying a Boxster to go tool around town in. They’re buying something that comes from a history of one of the winningest race cars ever made.
MW: Yeah, Porsche has got so much rich history going back not 50 years, going back 60 years or more. I mean, that’s a currency they can trade on. I think they’ve realized what passion their enthusiasts have and are now trying to educate their middle market consumer. That’s why my era of real joy when it comes to Porsche is ’60s and ’70s. To me, that was the glory years of Porsche at its purest.
TG: But also when you get into a new 911 you still feel the connection. The connective tissue is still there to the original.
MW: Yes, it’s true. The DNA is there. It’s like even with the 928. My 928 I just got is almost 40 years old. Porsche is now celebrating this year the 40th anniversary of the front engine transaxle cars. The 924 came out in 1976, so no other car could be more different to the 911s I’m used to, motor is in the front, it’s water cooled. In true Porsche fashion, you get in that car, the sitting position is more laid back but steering wheel is in the perfect position, you can heel and toe. The pedals are perfectly laid out. The shifter is right where you want it to be.
Having owned and driven other makes of cars, The Ferrari I talked about, I’ve driven the Lamborghini Countach of that era, everything is wrong with them…even the Lotus. The steering wheel is off the center, it’s a mess. In the Porsche it doesn’t matter whether it’s a 911, a 928, a 924, that DNA runs all the way through. Just the other day, I tested out a $3,500 944. Loved the thing. I’m going to own one of every model eventually.
TG: You realize that by saying this on the record you’re going to be driving the prices up.
MW: People say that all the time. One time I had five ’67 911S models when they were affordable, but today they’re just so astronomically out of price. I had six ’65 911’s, I’m now down to one, but one time I had five of the first thousand. These cars were affordable ten years ago. Then they doubled, tripled, and doubled again. I mean what you could buy for ten grand then is a hundred grand today. Look at all the Turbos, nobody wanted 3.0-liter Turbos three to five years ago, they weren’t cool.
Porsches were built to be driven, and they were driven by enthusiasts as opposed to becoming museum pieces. That’s now changing and I think it all started with ’73 Carrera RS. Fifteen years ago, that was 40 grand car. Today it’s a million dollar car, so that elevated everything.
TG: And you can say the same for Lamborghini Countach, 15 years ago that was a $50,000 car to own?
MW: Yeah, yeah, and look where they are today. I also love the Pantera, I love the Magusta. I’ve never spent crazy money on any of those cars, except that 924 Turbo as you see it was 4,500 bucks. To me, I’d always seem to be lucky that I never followed the trend and I said earlier on the things that connect my 30 years in L.A.: clothing, the building we’re in, and the Porches that I’ve built
Each one of them had its own unique style, which was essentially a reflection of my personality. When it came to Porches, my background was 12, 14 years ago doing a lot of track days, I was okay at that. Then I started writing my interpretation of my dream race car from the ’60s and ’70s into my build. That got to the point where there’s a visual reference. The pinnacle was right here.
TG: Who else do you see out there and perhaps like Singer that are also doing really great 911 builds?
MW: Oh, Rob from Singer I’ve known for 15 years, and they set the bar. He set the bar extremely high in the bespoke Porsche 911 world. Singers are the Saville Row tailors of the Porsche world. Rod Emory, he did the punch louvers on my ’67S and the current 964 build. Rod Emory is just an unbelievably talented guy, but the Emory story is even more interesting. Third generation, Porsche is in Rod Emory’s blood, in his soul. What he builds is just exceptional. Each one couldn’t be more unique while still having the same stamp on it. There’s a 356 Outlaw, “Oh, that’s a Rod Emory car,” so he’s got his DNA on that car.
Singer they’ve got their DNA on the 964, I think to a certain degree I’ve got my own DNA on the cars that I’ve built. What separates me from those guys is I don’t build customer cars. Those guys run a business of building, or re-interpreting other people’s dreams. It’s like you asked me, why do I turn customer car builds down all the time?
If you come to me and ask for a build, it’s this moment where you’re trying to build what you perceive my car to be like, and it gets messy. Each of my cars are built exactly the way I want them to be built, if I was to build you a Porsche it would be a nightmare, because you’ve got a preconceived notion of what you think it’d be like to own one of my cars. Not to mention would keeping track of the timeline, budgets, etc—all things I’m terrible at [laughs].
That’s why I don’t build customer cars. I just like to build them my own way, my own speed, my own time.
TG: Makes sense to me.
MW: Everything I build, make, whatever, I have to feel like it’s me. The way I dress, the way I look, the car I drive, I’ve never changed that for anyone. You don’t have to be a dick about it, but you have to know where you’ve come from and know what you want to be, and then never apologize for it. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to give back to the community that made you what you are.
I’ve got my tattoo that says “Made In Sheffield England”. When I’m posting on Instagram I describe myself as a one man army. You see there’s no one here. I don’t have a PR team bossing what I do. I put up a photo and speak from my heart.
TG: Is there anyone who gave you a break along the way?
MW: Truth be told for me no, mine was the opposite. It was literally struggle, struggle, work work work, and then finally started to break through. You build your own luck. You take advantage of that opportunity when it finally opens. Mine just boiled down to doing my own thing and hard work. It happened with the clothing that became successful to enable us to buy this building. When we bought this building 16 years ago people thought that we were crazy, because the neighborhood it wasn’t by then what it is today.
In essence people have always tried to talk me out of doing this stuff. To me, I never cared what other people thought, it was more gut feeling, I’d go on gut feeling all the time.
Right now, I’m at the point where a big chapter of my life has just ended with the passing of my wife. She and I had been together 21 years. We said we were laying the foundation for what’s coming next, so what’s coming next is now everything that I spoke about in that film four years ago. It’s happening in the neighborhood. It’s happening in the Porsche community.
All these opportunities that just happened are by always following your vision and never giving up. I think if you really want something bad enough you find a way to go get it. “Stay motivated” is my advice.