This Ex-Singer Vehicle Design Mechanic Has Struck Out On His Own
Photography by Ted Gushue
Remember a few years ago when everyone was first discovering Singer Vehicle Design? Jalopnik did a big post on it, including just about everyone else. They all were basically the same piece: “OMG LOOK AT WHAT THESE GUYS ARE DOING”. Well, one of those original guys at Singer was Marlon Goldberg, who ran the 964 builds for two years under Rob Dickinson. Like our dear friend Dorian Valenzuela whose garage we recently profiled, Marlon’s left the Singer nest and struck out on his own with Workshop 5001, and we’re glad he did. He recently opened his doors to us and walked us through what he’s been up to over the last few years.
TG: Tell me about the first car that you remember driving.
MG: The first car I ever drove [laughs] My grandfather had a Saturn. That was the first car I ever drove.
TG: A Saturn…?
MG: The second car was my dad’s Porsche 964. That was the first stick-shift car I drove.
TG: What do you remember about that car?
MG: Actually, the thing I remember the most was when my dad got the car. I was away at summer camp, and I basically got thrown out of summer camp on purpose so that my dad would have to come take me home, and I could see the car. I didn’t want to wait till the end of the summer. He was really pissed at me, that he had to drive up to Pennsylvania from New York and come get me, but then he took me for a ride in that car and I just remember it being so much faster than his 944. He was turning out of our neighborhood onto a main street, and he gunned it and fishtailed, and I’m like, “Oh my God. This is the coolest thing.”
TG: So you came from a Porsche family?
TG: What cars were before the 964?
MG: We had an 1987 944S. Before that, my dad had a Saab 900S. My first word was “Saab,” or so my parents say.
TG: When did you start playing around with cars?
MG: In high school. My dad and I were really nutty together. He’s a doctor and always wanted everything precise. We weren’t happy with the quality of work we were getting done on our cars at different shops. We always had the mentality that we can figure out how to do something ourselves, and buy the tools to do it. We would rather do that, that way we know we’ve done it the right way. I started tinkering with him, and then started doing formal apprenticeships by my senior year of high school.
TG: Your apprenticeship, was that with a certified Porsche mechanic, or was that with a small shop?
MG: The first shop I apprenticed for, it’s a well-known shop on the East Coast. It’s called Auto Sport Design. They do Porsche, Aston, and Ferrari. I apprenticed there, and then when I was in college I interned and apprenticed for Manhattan Motorcars, which is the Porsche, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini dealer.
TG: What was that like?
MG: That was cool. I was actually supposed to be Brian Miller’s intern, who is the owner of the dealership, to start learning the sales side. What ended up happening was I spent all my time in the shop. Their shop foreman at the time was a guy named Bobby. He kind of took me under his wing. He would stay there all night, building motors, and building hot rods. During the day, he would just oversee the shop and the other guys. He became like my big brother. To this day, he is my closest friend.
TG: What were you exposed to there besides building motors? Did you get to drive all the cars that they had, and just kick it?
MG: Yeah. Everyone who I always worked for was very lenient about letting me drive stuff. There was one summer during college, I did an apprenticeship for a guy named Tony Dutton. His shop is called Northumberland Engineering, in Southampton New York. Him and his partner had moved from England to take care of a 100-plus Rolls Royce collection. The guy they went to work for died within a year, so they were left in America, and they opened their own shop doing old British race cars and different stuff. He said, “If you don’t drive everything and know how they’re supposed to drive, you can never fix them.” He let me drive everything. It was cool, getting to drive a lot of different stuff.
TG: Where did you head from there?
MG: I then worked for Ferrari North America as one of their two staff mechanics.
TG: One of two?
MG: Yeah. They have one for the Ferrari side, and one for the Maserati side, at their headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, taking care of the cars that are driven by the executives; press cars as well. I was there for six months filling in for one of the guys who had gotten hurt on the Maserati side. I did well. They got me a job; they placed me at the dealer on Long Island. I worked for Ferrari Long Island, and then I decided to move out here, because my wife grew up out here.
TG: Do you miss working on Ferraris?
MG: Not really. We still do now and again, even though right now there’s no Ferraris in the shop. We still do a little bit, because, it’s funny, a lot of guys my age, my friends, are starting to make money, and they want a Ferrari but they can’t really afford to take care of them. I call it the “Ferrari charity work,” because you can’t make any money on the parts. They all need a lot of work to keep them going, especially cars like 355s. One of my friends has that car. It is more money to take care of a 355 than a 250 GTO. We try to avoid that, but I like those cars too.
TG: So, you move out here with your wife, then what?
MG: I had free time on my hands because I came out here without a job. My wife and I both quit our jobs in New York. I started doing pit crew for a team that took care of Ferrari Beverly Hills Challenge cars. I had always wanted to work for Andial. While I was in college, I had been coming out, and I interviewed with them twice. They liked me. The thing that was cool about the guys at Andial is that they were a big deal to everyone else in the Porsche world, but they weren’t a big deal to themselves. I think they thought it was fascinating that this kid from New York wanted to come work for them so badly. Most of their staff had been local, Southern California people, or on the Motorsport side, they had guys from Germany. They basically told me, “Look. We’re going to retire, and Porsche Motorsport is taking over the whole building.”
Dieter, who was the main technical guy of the three partners; he ended up taking a smaller shop to do work for some of his clients. I approached him, and I said, “Look. I would still like to learn from you guys. My dad’s 964 is leaking oil everywhere it can leak oil. Can I bring it out and we’ll do the motor?” I spent six months with Dieter doing the motor on that car, so I got to do my apprenticeship with them. I’m really the only non-employee that ever trained there, which I thought was kind of cool; and then I went to work for Beverly Hills Porsche, because I live around the corner.
I kept going to BH Porsche and saying, “Hey, I want a job.” This is when…2009, ’10, the economy was still not great. They said, “No. We have too many guys in the shop. You’ll be taking the food out of their mouths.” I just kept coming around. I finally said, “Look. If you’re not going to give me a job in the shop, give me a job in sales.” Most of the sales departments are like a revolving door. They said, “Oh, a mechanic can’t sell cars.” I said, “Okay. Watch.”
For the first two weeks I was there, they wanted me to do training, because I had never technically sold cars. I had to shadow one of the other guys. Finally, it was a Saturday, and it was busy, and there were people not being helped. I said, “You know what? I’m just going to start helping customers. If they don’t like it, they can fire me.” In the last two weeks of the month, I sold six cars. My second month, I was top salesperson. It continued at that pace. I stayed there for a little over a year.
TG: It makes sense. You’re able to talk about the way that the cars deliver on what they promise.
MG: Yeah. I don’t know that I could sell other cars. I think that Porsche is something that I really believe in the quality, and it has been such a big part of my life that it makes it easy for me to sell the cars, because I believe in them. I think even the modern Porsches are the best cars on the road, and obviously air-cooled Porsches I think are the best cars ever built, so it was natural for me to sell them.
TG: You’re there for a year, you’re a top salesman, and then you’re like, “All right, now what?”
MG: That was when I went to Singer Vehicle Design. Rob actually came into Beverly Hills Porsche one day, driving the second car that they had done.
TG: The ’69R?
MG: No. That’s his personal car. That’s a ’69. This was built for the guy that owns Porsche of Omaha. That was an ’88 G-Body car. I had seen a piece on them in Robb Report, so I immediately recognized the car, and I started talking with him, and also a friend of his, a guy named Maz, who is also heavily involved at Singer. He was with him. I started talking with them for a couple months, and then I came to work there, to start doing the 964s. I was hired as operations director, to basically run all the day-to-day business, and then to be head mechanic. At that point, John was there, who was a fabricator, and he had almost single-handedly built the first two cars, the first two G-Body cars. It was him and myself, and we had a small support staff, and started building the 964s.
TG: You were there for how long?
MG: Just about two years. I stayed on for about seven cars.
TG: Why did you leave?
MG: I just…I had enough. It wasn’t for me. Rob and I were fighting too much.
TG: Were you having disagreements around his design principles, or the way that he wanted to construct the cars?
MG: Some of it I really don’t want to get into. I do like Rob. I like what they’re doing. I believe in what we were doing there. It just wasn’t for me. Sometimes you do and say things, or the people around you do and say things, that just push you in a different direction, and it’s what is meant to be. I walked out unexpectedly, and I called up the guys at Auto Gallery, who was the other big Porsche dealer in LA. One of the owners is from New York, and I knew the guys there. Two days later, I was selling cars again at Auto Gallery, and I was top salesperson every month for a year and a half. During that period of time I was there, I was working seven days a week. The dealerships are all open seven days a week here, from eight in the morning until eight at night.
TG: Your wife must have loved you.
MG: Yeah. I’ll tell you, after I left and I had weekends off, it was almost hard for us to transition back into spending time together.
MG: She knew I was driven, and anything I’m going to do I want to do it as well as I can. During that period of time, I bought this building and spent nine months renovating it while I was at Auto Gallery. Originally, I wanted to do both, but I quickly figured out that I couldn’t do both well. I had invested so much personally in doing this project that I had to do it. I could always go back to working at the Porsche dealer. It is one of my career goals to own a Porsche dealer.
MG: Yeah. It’s kind of what I’ve always wanted to do. I think right now there is still too much of a gap between taking care of the old cars and servicing those clients and their cars, and then what goes on at the dealer. I think that gap needs to be bridged more. Porsche is getting better at it, with this Porsche Classic program, but right now the Porsche Classic program is more marketing than anything else. I don’t want to take anything away from them. They’re going in the right direction, but they need the people and the infrastructure to be able to follow through.
TG: If they ever knock on your door and ask you to come help run their program, would you say Yes?
MG: Yeah. I would definitely be interested in helping. I have a few friends who are Porsche dealer principals, who own dealers and are heavily involved in the classic stuff. At Manhattan, they’ve always serviced a lot of the classic cars because the guys in New York have the old air-cooled cars either tucked away in New York City garages or they keep them out in the Hamptons. They’ve always kind of been a ‘Porsche Classics’ center. I have said to the guys, I said, “Look. You need to put a Classic program in place before Porsche comes to you and says, ‘This is how we want you to do it’.”
I think I have pretty strong opinions of how the program needs to be structured for it to do well, but we’ll see how it evolves. I’m doing it the way I think it needs to be be done here, and then we’ll see how we can incorporate it.
TG: Clearly, people respect the way that you want things to be done, to the point where they are coming to you as customers. Walk me through the type of customers that you’re dealing?
MG: We’re dealing primarily with the people who are fanatical about these cars. Not just about the cars, but the way that the cars are taken care of. We have created a secure facility where everything is kept inside. I’m the only person who drives anything. I take care of their cars the same way I would take care of my own cars, or even better, in a lot of situations. Those are the kind of clients that we’re getting. They want more attention, not just for the cars, but I guess themselves.
TG: Any projects that you’re working on now that really stand out? The ’73 looks pretty cool.
MG: The ’73 is important because it’s the first full-build in the new shop.
TG: Walk me through, top to bottom.
MG: The car started life as a ’73 911T. It was originally Royal Purple, but the client decided he wanted Audi Nardo Gray. He wanted this battleship or primer gray, very simple and clean looking. It had already been a bit of a hot rod and had a 3.2L motor from an ’86 911, and I took that motor and brought it to the next level with a GT-3 oil pump, CP pistons, Mahle cylinders, twin-plugged the heads, Motec EFI, MilSpec wiring; every trick that you could possibly throw at that motor, and then the chassis as well: KW 3-Way Motorsport Coilovers, hand-built by KW Motorsport in Germany; eliminating the torsion bars, RSR sway bars; [the 00:17:08] fully adjustable, all-spherical bearing.
All the plating on the car has been done in a finish that we call Crystalite Chrome; sort of this satin finish. All the things that we did on it, the average person would walk by and the car wouldn’t stand out to them. That was the intent. Guys that are Porsche geeks would see the car, and see underneath it, and they would understand that all the detail stuff is over the top.
TG: What is it like to drive?
MG: It’s very fast. The first night I took it out…I was nervous to drive it during the day, when there’s traffic. It’s pretty congested around here. My test run is the 10, to the 405, to Mulholland, and then back down Laurel Canyon and Crescent Heights. A guy in a brand-new Turbo-S Cab, a 991 Turbo-S, pulled up to me on the 405. He’s kind of looking at the car, and takes off, and I hung with him, and then he slowed back down to look at the car again, and just couldn’t believe that this little, skinny-body car was keeping up with his brand-new Turbo.
It’s a little over the top, but it’s what the customer wanted. If you drive these cars, you know how they felt balanced originally, or even a little slow by modern standards? We wanted something that looked vintage, but you could still get in and scare the shit out of yourself.
TG: How many other orders has this car generated for other builds like this? Are there any in the works?
MG: It generated the ’74 build. That car is at paint right now. That’s the one that I told you is going to be a little more street-racer, club-sport focused; so, a gutted-out and painted interior; it doesn’t have a full-on race cage, but it’s got the club-sport bar in the back, with roof bars, and then down-bars by the A-pillar. Actually, both cars were on our Celette bench, and stitch-welded and strengthened everywhere so that for the next car, the ’74, the cage was all done on the bench. It generated that build, and then we have a 914 that we’re doing as well, that I think is partially related to this car. The client with that; I think him seeing and driving the ’73 car gave him the confidence to have us do that 914 for him.
TG: As someone who wants to build a business, and wants their work to be marketed, it is very powerful to have a car like that as a marketing tool. What happens when you’re a small shop that builds an amazing car that’s owned by someone who doesn’t want exposure?
MG: This particular client wants the car to get exposure. I think when things are done in series, or a shop builds a reputation for doing one after the other, it helps the value of all the cars. He wants that. The client we’re building the ’74 for, that guy actually lives local, in West Hollywood, and he said we would have complete access to the car whenever we need it. I think the process makes these clients our friends. They want other people to see the cars and to give them exposure. I have yet to have a client with one of these built that wants it tucked away and no one ever to see it.
TG: How long until you outgrow your space?
MG: There are days that we feel like we’ve outgrown it. It’s funny. One of the hardest things about managing a shop, or maybe managing lots of types of businesses, is controlling the workflow. Sometimes we’re jammed and there’s nowhere to stick the cars, and other days everything is cleared out, and certain cars are at paint, and then we’ve got plenty of space. That’s hard to gauge, but I think we’ll outgrow the space when I feel we are using this space as efficiently as possible. I think a lot of shops, once they’re jammed with cars, they’re like, “Okay, we need more space.” Just because you’re jammed doesn’t mean you’re using the space as efficiently as possible.
Thanks to Marlon Goldberg for taking the time to speak with us at Workshop 5001.