And now for something completely different!
Hot rodding has many definitions — it’s not just about ’32 Fords with flathead V-8s. Take the early Porsche crowd, for example. If the definition of a hot rod is to take an old car, strip it down a bit, upgrade the brakes and suspension and install a hot engine, the Porsche guys do that — they just don’t call their cars hot rods.
They call them “Outlaws.”
The creation of the Outlaw
The “Outlaw” term arguably originated with Rod Emory, whose Los Angeles-area shop builds some of the best modified old Porsches imaginable. Emory’s sexy, race-inspired Porsche 356s kick-started the Porsche Outlaw trend that has swept Southern California and spread across the country. When you know Rod’s background, it makes perfect sense. His grandfather was Neil Emory, who partnered with Clay Jensen at Valley Custom in Burbank, one of the finest LA-area shops of the post-World War II era. Valley Custom specialized in sectioning, a radical surgery process that altered the shape of a stock American automobile by cutting a 3- or 4-in. swath of metal from its midsection, thus lowering the silhouette of the car while preserving the essential elements of its factory design.
“When you’re the grandson of one of the pioneers of hot rodding and custom car building,” Emory notes, “you can’t just leave well enough alone, can you?”
But the notion of hot rodding and customizing Porsches, with very few exceptions, was not commonly done. Rod Emory told me how he started:
“When Valley Custom closed,” Emory told me, “my grandfather, Neil Emory, went to work for Chick Iverson at VW-Porsche of Newport Beach, in 1961. And after he graduated from high school, Gary Emory, my dad, started at the dealership and became the parts manager. About 1974, Chick Iverson and my father started Porsche Parts Obsolete. Chick owned it; my dad ran it. Everything that was a couple of years old or overstocked would go back to Porsche’s distribution warehouses. They were actually destroying old, unneeded inventory, so Chip and my dad bought all of it and started Porsche Parts Obsolete in Costa Mesa.” (It’s still in business).
“Very soon, my dad was selling NOS (new old stock) Porsche parts around the world,” Rod continued. “In the back of his warehouse there was a room where we did some restoration work, playing around with cars for our own personal use. So when I was in high school, my dad and I would take old Porsches and lower them, polish the brake drums and trick ’em out a little bit.
“Next thing you know, I’m doing a full restoration on a ’53 coupe for myself. I put body-mounted fog lights on it, and hood straps. The Porsche purists were freaking out because we were customizing a rare ’53 coupe. We went to a couple of events. There was no class to display this car in the late ’80s, so we came up with this little ‘Outlaw’ badge for our deck lids that read, “356 Outlaws.” We put those badges on the personal cars that we were building, and gave that badge to friends who were rodding their cars out.
“It started as a little private fun club, but people picked up the term, so any Porsche that’s modified now is called an Outlaw.”
There was a reason. Early Porsche 356s had just 60 bhp in “normal” form, 88 bhp in “Super” guise and 115 bhp as a “Super 90.” Even with a 2200-lb. coupe (Speedsters were lighter), that’s not a lot of suds. Typical Outlaw Porsches today pack Porsche 912 four-cylinder engines bored to 1700cc and even 1800cc with Weber carbs, hot cams and twin plug heads for 150 bhp and more. Most enthusiasts upgrade to five-speed gearboxes. Suspension mods include aftermarket sports shocks, springs and sway bars. Wider wheels and modern radial tires are a must, and most enthusiasts retrofit disc brakes.
Although body modifications are less popular, wider rear fenders, subtle dechroming and Carrera GT mods such as external fuel fillers and lightweight bumpers aren’t uncommon. Bruce Canepa is one of several restorers/builders who’ve taken a 911 six block, lopped off two cylinders and built the ultimate 2-liter-plus Porsche flat-four. And a few brave enthusiasts — such as Ken Fenical, aka POSIES, who supplies custom springs to the hot rod community — have fitted water-cooled Subaru flat fours good for an easy 200-plus horsepower.
The 911 crowd has its Porsche Outlaw devotees as well. Practitioners such as Magnus Walker (Urban Outlaw), Marlon Goldberg (LA Workshop 5001) and Rob Dickinson, who founded Singer Vehicle Design, will happily build you a totally modified and restyled, air-cooled 911 that will flat run away and hide from some contemporary model Porsches. But you’ll pay as much as $500,000 for that privilege.
Want to do it yourself? There’s a whole cadre of premier aftermarket suppliers including ANDIAL (racing, suspensions, engines, etc. — note: Porsche bought the ANDIAL company years ago); Nickies (high performance cylinders); Air Power Racing (high performance engines); Shasta Design (cams, crank-shafts, rods and engine parts); and many others who will sell you all you need to hot rod your old Porsche
OK, you could argue that this transforms a nice old car into a Frankenstein monster, but (of course) I disagree. It’s no different than the “resto-mod” craze that’s seen ill-handling vintage muscle cars transformed into faster, safer, more reliable cruisers. The Porsche Club of America and its many subgroups don’t frown on modified cars and the cars are welcome at club gatherings. You can find suppliers in Chrstophorus, the PCA monthly and in The Porsche 356 Registry, to name a few publications. Talking with many Outlaw owners, they’ve usually started with a beater 356 or 911, so you could argue that they’re preserving cars that might otherwise not have been restored. A great start is the book “How to make an old Porsche Fly” by Craig Richter, if you can find a copy. It’s been out of print for years, but it can be downloaded from the author’s website for a nominal fee.
One of the best-known Porsche Outlaw owners is Bruce Meyer, whose collection of historic race cars, Le Mans winners, Full Classics and hot rods is one of the best in country.
“I’ve had my Outlaw Porsche 356 for at least 25 years,” says Bruce. “I’m sure I didn’t invent the idea, but I was certainly one of the first. I bought my little ’57 356A Coupe in a basket, unassembled, and it was red. I’d already gone through my “red car” period and thought it would look cool as an old silver Porsche GT. The engine is a bit over 1800cc and develops about 125 bhp, which is enough. It’s got the full GT appearance group with Speedster seats and a roll bar. I’ve done a dozen rallies and driven it from Chicago to LA on Route 66…and I will be driving it again on Route 66 again soon. Since I built it, we’ve done over 20,000 trouble-free miles.
“I’ve driven Porsches since 1961,” says Bruce, “that’s over 57 years, and truth be told, it’s my most favorite marque. We also have an Outlaw ’72 911S with a 3-litre Twin Plug ANDIAL engine…it makes my ‘73RS feel slow!
“I love the Outlaw concept,” he adds. “It’s another fun way to enjoy the brand and much like hot rodding… you do it your way with cues inspired by Porsche’s rich racing history. With Porsche prices being what they are for the pure examples, it leaves a little on the table for the creative “Porsche-philes” to stand out and be in the game.”
So what do Porsche restorers think of all this?
I spoke with Cam Ingram, owner of Road Scholars in Durham, N.C., one of the premier Porsche restorers in the country.
“I think the Outlaw builders make a vital contribution to the Porsche brotherhood,” Cam said. “They’ve re-stimulated interest in the early 356s. Since the dawn of time, people have been modifying Porsches, especially Speedsters. The Outlaws are just a new interpretation. I think there’s a market for it, and it’s good for the brand and the hobby to have all these young people re-engaged. The collector car hobby is expensive and this allows a way for guys to get involved at a different price point.”
Cam’s Dad, Bob Ingram, owned one of Magnus Walker’s “Urban Outlaw” modified 911s. The Ingrams were impressed that Magnus had come to the United States with very little money or opportunity, then modified 911s for himself and became a popular success.
“My father was interested in buying something that had become a cultural artifact,” Cam says. “We enjoyed owning it, but then we sold it. It became so recognizable my father literally couldn’t drive the car around, because of all the public attention it drew.”
I had to ask Cam if he’d build an Outlaw for a client. “We’ve had that (request) happen,” he said. “But we are really passionate as a company in authentically restoring these cars. It’s a niche market; we’re good at it, and it’s what drives me, to make sure that we’re preserving the cars the way the company actually produced them. There are many guys who do those (Outlaws), Rod Emory being the top guy — but we’re well-known for authentic restorations. Rod works on some cars that would never have been saved. I applaud him. We don’t get to do the super-sexy stuff. We do everything to factory specs.”
On a personal note, I bought a used Porsche 1961 356 S90 coupe right after I finished graduate school. Of course it had an aftermarket (and loud) Bursch exhaust and I upgraded the shocks, but it wasn’t an Outlaw — we didn’t even have that term in the early ’60s. I keep looking for that car, or one like it. Of course I’d have to upgrade the drums to discs and probably fit a hotter cam and Weber carbs. I am still a hot rodder, so the Porsche Outlaw mentality fits me to a T, and it seems to attract a lot of other folk, as well.
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