Talking À La Carte Porsche Restorations With Veteran Mechanics At Makellos Classics
Photography by Andrew Golseth
As a part of the Petrolicious Marketplace, we’ll be interviewing sellers, dealers, and collectors to give you an inside look at some of the key figures in the industry and introduce you to the people behind cars you’ll see listed on Petrolicious. We’ll also be discussing the classic car market, potential investments, and current trends.
Southern California and Porsche are synonymous with each other—a lively microcosm of enthusiasts, collectors, brokers, parts suppliers (even hoarders), niche restorers, and vendors. One of the newest entities in the mix is Makellos Classics, located near San Diego. While their brand may be new, they’ve recruited veteran Porsche mechanics to support their restoration and sales operations. We were curious to learn more.
Shayan Bokaie: You guys are relatively new to the restoration and sales world—tell us how about how you got started!
Matt Kenyon: My dad and I actually started Makellos, meaning “flawless” in German, about four years ago. He was collecting Porsches and I started helping him sell some of his collection. As this started to pick up, we noted that each car needed a little work before the sale, so we decided to bring restoration and service in house which is how Tom Muehl and Mark Straka came into the picture.
As a new company, it was important to us to bring in experts, so both Tom and Mark bring over 28 years of experience working with Porsches and are factory trained. We’ve worked on everything from a 906 to the new 991s.
SB: In terms of sales, do you have a specific focus or niche in the Porsche market?
MK: Low mileage 911s. We’ve done a few 914s and others, but definitely focusing on the air-cooled 911s.
SB: There’s 40 years of Porsche experience between your mechanics, where did your careers start with the brand?
Tom Muehl: My dad was a Volkswagen tech in the early ’60s, and I started with with him at an early age. I remember visiting the VW headquarters once and seeing the ’76 930 Turbo, and that pretty much got me wetting the whistle for Porsches; the car was just amazing to look at. That’s when I decided the direction I was going to go in.
Mark Straka: While I also got into Porsches because of my dad was also into Volkswagens, my path was a bit different as I started with Alan Johnson Racing before I worked on the dealer side. Tom and I both have extensive factory training, and have worked together before.
SB: So all of you guys got into Porsches because of your dads—pretty cool when the legacy gets passed down. What’s the most interesting or exciting car you’ve worked on or prepped? Any particular stories?
TM: I did a PDI at the dealer for a Carrera GT heading to Egypt that afternoon. One of the lot attendants came running over and said, “Tom, the Carrera GT is leaking fuel.” Sure enough, I go over to the car and it looks like a river of fuel running out underneath it.
It took me a couple hours to figure out that it was the gas tank, which, in a Carrera GT, you have to separate the car into two pieces to access because it sits between the passenger and engine compartments. I look go to look at the bottom of the shell and there are probably two or three inches of gasoline in it. Not only was I fearful of sparks or fire, I had to now take this brand new car and actually separate it into two pieces to get the gas tank out. I doubt Porsche wants me to tell this story, but what we found out was they forgot to put a closing tap on the fuel tank and they had a little dust protector on one of the fuel lines, and as soon as I filled it up, the pressure of the fuel kind of just popped that cap off. It took a week or so, but we finally got the car on its merry way, but that was quite something for me, considering the how special the car is. A brand new car split into two pieces, it was interesting to look at!
SB: Woah! Certainly a weird sight and a weirder repair job. What about you Mark?
MS: During my Alan Johnson racing days—he was good friends with Otis Chandler, the owner of the LA Times—Otis rented the Riverside Racetrack and he invited guests like Dan Hagerty, Paul Newman, etc. He comes out with his trailers, he has a 917 and he had just ordered a 935 that was being delivered to the racetrack. They pulled it off the truck, and he’s already striping it and working on it as it’s coming out of the truck! He spent the whole day at Riverside, he rode the track in the 917, and Alan Johnson had his 914-6 out there, those types of things. A lot of memories there.
SB: There are quite a few seasoned players specializing in Porsche restoration, how are you guys planning to stand out?
TM: Currently, we’re working on a much smaller scale. Each of us basically has one car to himself and we get to see it through the whole process rather than having multiple hands on it, and our customers seem to appreciate that, that one-man, one-car setup.
MS: There’s a lot of great restoration companies out there, and all the good ones do quality work, but I think one thing that sets us apart is having the factory trained technicians who actually worked on these cars when they came out, new. We both felt the cars when they were just released for the first time. When we get done with our projects they feel the same way they did when we PDI’d them back then.
SB: Can you tell us about your “Continuation” service, it seems quite interesting.
TM: We’ve seen an opportunity with owners whose cars are still in decent driving condition, where it’s all there but not quite in top shape, though not requiring a full restoration. A lot of companies won’t do anything but full restorations, so this service is positioned for customers who want to tackle work a la carte, prioritized by their preferences. We call these projects Continuations for that reason; it’s not a full restoration, we’ll address one thing at a time without breaking their budget, and it makes customers happy spending $2-$3,000 at a time instead of $150,000 all at once, but also seeing progress on the car.
SB: Sure, so un-screwing up other people’s work?
MS: You could say that, in some cases. This is a great way to chip away at previous work that might have been done to poorer standards. We take a lot of pictures to show these faults and then we put it back together the way it was supposed to be. We fixed a door recently that never closed properly on a ’74 911 that had been hit in the quarter panel. The owner had lived with this 15 years, so after the work had been done he was floored, “Look how this door closes now!” It almost sounds stupid but he was amazed. To this day he’s still talking about it.
SB: Well I would imagine when you close a door incorrectly for 15 years, I’m sure that takes a toll on your sanity to some degree.
MS: Right. Have you ever had a car or seen a car in those types of conditions to where you know what I’m talking about?
SB: I’m an Alfa guy, so, yes, of course. As a younger enthusiast who couldn’t really afford a full restoration, the idea of taking the work on in bits and pieces is actually quite attractive.
MS: Yeah, and I think as far as the service aspect goes, because we do restoration and servicing, we sometimes treat service as a part of the restoration where we’ll approach the customer and say hey, we can fix this, but would you want to do it the right way and pay a little more money and make sure your car’s correct? As it should be? There is a blurred line when you’re talking about older cars and servicing as opposed to restoring.
SB: It seems like the Porsche market could be the most globally liquid in terms of how often cars get sold across continents—is that true with your business?
MK: Definitely. I’d say almost half of our cars we’ve recently sold have went out of the country; Germany, Japan, Sweden, etc. California is recognized globally for it’s desirable car climate, so international buyers are always on the lookout for well-kept cars that haven’t faced any snow or have spent time in climates prone to rust producing rust.
SB: What are your thoughts on the state of the market now?
MK: There’s quite a bit of commentary about the Porsche market cooling down, which I agree with to an extent. Rare, special cars, or solid, low mileage examples still get the money they’re worth though. I feel like a lot of the market jumped too quickly a few years ago, resulting in overvaluing more minute model variations and paying more for “rarity” that just wasn’t there.
SB: Can you recommend a solid first-time or entry-level Porsche for us that won’t break the bank?
TM: I’d say a 911SC or a 964. 964s have seen some growth of course, but I feel like a 911SC hasn’t taken quite the same leap. They’re great because they can do 250 to 300 thousand miles without needing a rebuild. So, as far as like a driver quality car goes, that would be a great one for someone to jump into right now. 964s are becoming harder to track down lately though, maybe Singer bought them all! [Laughs]
I also think that the ’74, the accordion bumpers, are great because they’re right before the smog years. I think that people were so focused on the long hoods for such a long time that they just kinda forgot about the ’74 and ’75s, which are still great cars.
SB: I’m no mechanical guru, but I’ve heard that generation motor has some issues with the thermal reactor. Is that true? Is it a big problem?
TM: Well it’s very rare to even find a car with thermal reactors on it anymore. The issue is they don’t make them anymore, and you can’t pass smog without the thermal reactors installed. It’s true, they could cook the motor quite a bit, but if you take them off it’s a pretty strong running motor if it’s built correctly. So, that wouldn’t really keep me from buying one.
SB: There was quite a bit of speculation for the 914-6s for a while, what do you think is next for those cars?
TM: I’m not convinced the 914-6 market has hit its peak yet, it’s definitely jumped but people need to realize it’s still quite a rare car. They only made about 3,300, of which half came to the US, and they suffered from a rust “hell hole” issue which destroyed a lot of examples over time. The car is also great to drive sporting the ’69 911 T engine—this was the 914 Porsche actually put together, as the other models were assembled by Volkswagen.
SB: I guess all we can do is wait and see right? It was great chatting with you all of you!