This Stunning Outlaw 356 Can Be Found Cruising The Streets Of San Diego
Photography by Andrew Golseth
When I first moved to San Diego a few years ago, I saw this very black Porsche 356 regularly driving about. Finally, I met the owner at a local car meet. Alex Singer, a diehard gearhead with a preference for P-cars and generally great dude, is part owner of Cryo-Werks. Since covering his dry-ice blasting side business, I’ve gotten to know the man obsessed with keeping classics clean.
As anyone can attest who’s seen this car in person, or any of his cars for that matter, Alex keeps it spotless at all times—quite a challenge with a car dressed in tuxedo black. Having spent time getting to know Alex and his stunning 356A Sunroof Coupe Outlaw, it became clear this was a Porsche story worth sharing with you.
Andrew Golseth: Alex, I understand your father is quite the petrolhead, is that where you got the bug from?
Alex Singer: Yeah, when I was younger, we didn’t have the collection that we both have now, but we had a 1972 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe that was my grandfather’s. My grandfather bought that new and kind of beat the shit out it. My grandfather passed away and my grandma told my dad to sell the car. So, my dad told her, “Alright, the car is sold,” and gave my grandma some money.
My grandma shows up at the house one day, sees the Fiat, and asks, “I thought you sold this car?” My dad said, “I did. I bought it.” (laughs) He got that car when I was 2 or 3 and that was the first car we ever worked on together, plus he always had a driver. A Mazda RX-7, or some weird Alfa or something. Something he’d take to work. One day in the mid ‘90s he bought a ‘85 Carrera, which I guess was the start of all this Porsche mess.
He kept that car for 10 or 15 years. It was his daily driver; it was beautiful. I’d drive it around when I was 14 years old on the road. My dad’s ‘85 Carrera was the car I learned to drive in.
My dad and I, we’ve lived 100 miles away from each other for the last 15 years and we’re still talking about cars, emailing about cars, and meeting up at least once a month to do some kind of car thing together. I’m amazed when people are into cars and their dad wasn’t. I don’t know what I would have done if he wasn’t into cars.
AG: That’s great you guys are still sharing this passion together. So, learning to drive in a 911, I’ve got to ask what was your first car?
AS: When I was 13, we bought a Mini Cooper shell and then we realized it was going to take a lot to get every nut and bolt that we needed so we ended up buying another car that was rusty but running and drivable. We stripped that car and restored the shell and transferred all the parts over and that was my first car. A 1967 Cooper S, which I still have.
After that, it snowballed into, “I’ll have one extra car,” to, “Well, I’ll have two extra cars.” Then I went to college and it turned into, “This looks fun,” and after I graduated it got out of control. (laughs) I’ve probably had 30 cars since then.
AG: So, that ‘85 Carrera you learned to drive on was your dad’s, what was your first Porsche?
AS: In college, I bought a ‘76 911S that was mostly restored and then I kind of fixed it up. This was when they weren’t worth very much. I had a $12,000 mid-year car. I drove that through college and sold it to some guy in Canada.
After that, my dad and I partnered up on an RS clone, before the values skyrocketed. Then we sold that and I was Porsche-less for a while. I had an S2000, a Lotus Elise, an M Coupe, some American pickup trucks, and then I bought a 550 Spyder replica.
It was running and driving but it wasn’t as good as it was suppose to be. So, I ended up ripping that car apart—repainting it, motor, transmission, and putting it back together. Then I got a 996 Turbo… you want me to go trough them all? (laughs)
AG: Sure. (laughs)
AS: Sometime in there, I had an ‘86 backdate that’s now the Auto Kennel car, and a grey ‘69 911 that’s currently my project car, a 930 Turbo that’s gone now, an RSR replica, a 912, then the black car?
AG: So, the black car—the ‘57 356a Sunroof Coupe—what’s the story with this car?
AS: I was always looking for one. I always wanted a 356. My dad would say something like, “What do you want that piece of shit for? It’s gonna drive like a Volkswagen,” and then he bought one! (laughs) So, I kept looking and this car popped up for sale one day.
There was the typical Internet banter about the car, but it looked really interesting and I saw some value in it. It came up for sale in Washington DC. Luckily, I have a friend, Danny, in DC who’s a Porsche nut, and he went and looked at it for me. He said it was a pretty good car but he way undersold it to me.
He told me everything that was wrong with it, said some things about it were kind of rough. So, I bought it, had it shipped out here to California, and it was nicer than he made it out to seem. But, it had a lot of mechanical issues. The cosmetics were very nice, but the car was pretty heavily modified, and then never really driven, never really sorted.
AG: So, it was someone’s project that hadn’t been ironed out? What’s the history—how did it end up half-baked?
AS: The car was originally a European delivery bought new by a U.S. service member. It stayed in his family forever. It ended up sitting, becoming some lawn ornament somewhere. Then it was given to his nephew in Florida who ended up doing pretty much the whole restoration but never drove the car.
When he got it, it needed everything. It was a mess. He replaced sheet metal, repainted it, etcetera. I actually have his name. I’ve tried to contact him, if he’s out there reading this please find me. I believe he’s a police officer in Florida. I’ve called and emailed, even called police stations, but I can’t get ahold of the guy.
Anyway, for some reason, the nephew sold it to a guy in Washington DC who did the seats and the wheels, then he never drove it either, it just sat in his garage. So, when I got it, everything cosmetically was pretty much brand new but nothing really meshed and worked together, it was never really “figured out.” There were a lot of nice parts but nothing that someone really thought through where everything melds together.
The car had never really been driven enough since it was restored. Every time I do a restoration, especially with replicas or kit cars like the 550 Spyder, they need to be sorted. You get this whole thing done, then you drive it 100 miles and find all the things that don’t work right, or stuff that’s not figured out, or something you forgot, or something that needs to be adjusted.
This car just never got that. When I got this car, I don’t know exactly how many miles it had been driven since the restoration, but it couldn’t have been more than 100 miles. I think the original restoration was completed around ‘09 and I picked it up in 2012. So, after 3-4 years of all that work it just didn’t move much.
AG: So, what all have you done with it since picking it up?
AS: I ended up going through the suspension, the brakes, changed a lot of parts so that it would work properly. Then the motor blew up so I pulled the motor, and since the motor was out and the trans had a leak I pulled the trans and had it rebuilt. I put the car back together. It went through a lot of sorting, a lot of different stages to get it to where it is now.
If someone saw the car before I bought it they would say, “This is the same car, it’s just lower,” but everything underneath the paint has been changed. Aside from the actual rebuilding of the engine and transmission, everything was done in my garage.
There are a lot of custom touches. It’s got a 2180cc Type 1 flat-four built by FAT Performance with a four-speed built by Rancho Transaxles. Four-wheel disk brakes (944 units up front), Rudge style alloy wheels, shaved bumpers, speedster seats, and a custom gas tank.
AG: Bumper-less looks so right on this shape. Since dialing everything in, you’ve driven it quite a bit?
AS: Yeah, I’ve taken the car to LA a bunch of times. Rod Emory was nice enough to let me park with his group at Luftgekühlt 3. I take the car to all the Porsche events. I think I’ve driven it up to 300 miles in a day and it was seamless. I recently drove to Orange County and back in a day. I got there, was there for 45 minutes, jumped back in the car, and came right back to San Diego. It runs flawlessly.
AG: I understand you and your father have a small tie with the Emorys?
AS: My dad bought a very nice 356B that was very original he had for 5-6 years. After that, I bought the black car and my dad felt he needed an Outlaw. So, he was looking at this 356 and we heard that Emory might have worked on it back in the day. We did some research and while at one of the Porsche events we started pestering Rod, who’s the nicest guy ever, and he gave us some light on the car. Turns out, the 356 my dad bought was worked on by the Emorys in the ‘90s.
Since then, Rod and my dad have kept in touch and through that I met Rod. He’s just a great guy. Rod just wants to help, even on my own cars, cars he has no connection to, if I have a question he responds in 20 minutes. He’s just the nicest guy, which is not true of all Porsche people.
AG: I’ve heard nothing but great things about Rod Emory. So, compared to your other cars, what makes the 356 Outlaw so special?
AS: It’s not the fastest, it’s not the best handling, it’s not the easiest to drive, but it is a lot of fun. You know, I put the most miles on it. It’s the car I get in and go anywhere in. It sounds kind of stupid but it’s some sort of fun factor. You don’t always need to go 120 miles per hour, you don’t need to cut through a corner the fastest, it’s just a good cruiser.
I’ve got a lot of great memories with this car. For our 4th anniversary, my girlfriend, Mariko, surprised me with a day trip to LA and said we could take any car I wanted. So naturally we hopped in the black car and hit the road. The day was great, we head back south and halfway home (Mariko asleep) I hear a BANG! And the car just starts to free rev with no engagement to the trans.
I manage to roll off the freeway into a Christmas tree lot and some guys with sappy hands help me push the car to a safe area. All this time I’m thinking the motor is fine it has to be the trans or the clutch. We spent the rest of our anniversary in a very nice tow truck with a bouncer, I mean the biggest tow truck driver you’ve ever seen. Next day motor comes out, clutch is fine, flywheel was cast, not forged, and exploded. Long story short it was the perfect time to get the drivetrain dialed in.
AG: That’s great. What’s your favorite part about taking the car out?
AS: It’s always well received everywhere it goes. It’s not like taking out the 996 Turbo, where some people just think it’s some idiot with a checkbook or something, ya’ know? It’s something that makes me happy to drive it. I’d still have fun even if no one else liked the car, if it didn’t get any attention at all, I’d still get a kick out of driving it, but everyone loves it.
AG: It certainly has a charming character to it. I know you tend to buy, enjoy, and sell other cars in the stable, but is this one a keeper?
AS: Some of the cars I know I won’t sell, and this is one of them. Everything else will come and go, but this and the Mini aren’t going anywhere. The first time my dad drove it, he said, “This one is a keeper.” A lot of the cars I’ve had I know I could replace someday with something similar but I guess this car is kind of irreplaceable, so it’s here to stay.