Ex-rocker Rob Dickinson and the sum ofPorsche 911 knowledge
’ll be honest: When I first received the email saying that a Singer Porsche—a real live Singer Porsche—was going to be available for viewing in New York City, I just about fell out of my chair. Let me explain. I’ve been in love (no exaggeration) with the Porsche 911 since I was a boy, and of all the 911s, my favorite is the ’70s Carrera RS. The model produced in ’73 and ’74 was the pinnacle, considered by many to be the best of the classic 911s and a stunning, simply beautiful car. With its unmistakable ducktail rear spoiler and five-spoke alloy wheels, it is known as a design icon, and it’s in the fantasy garage of pretty much every petrolhead on the planet.
So imagine taking a later model 911—the 964 series from the 1990s, to be precise—stripping it down to its frame and building it back up again with a body reminiscent of the ’70s archetype but handmade from carbon fiber. Imagine having engineers from Cosworth breathe on the air-cooled engine so that it puts out up to 360 brake horsepower (and then place a plaque with the names of the two engineers who worked on yours atop the cooling-fan housing). Imagine an interior upholstered with sumptuous leather, including a hand-stitched cover for the race roll cage and a matching quilted liner for the engine bay. If you can picture all this, you’re about halfway to appreciating just how comprehensive an endeavor the Singer version of the Porsche 911 is. The company describes what it does as restoration—and the finished vehicle retains the donor car’s VIN—but the reality is that Singer goes far beyond simple renewal. What Singer does is radically reconfigure a car using the best possible components and what Rob Dickinson, Singer’s creative director and CEO, refers to as the “sum of all 911 knowledge.”
I’d seen a Singer a few years ago on an episode of British Top Gear, and it instantly became my straight-in-at-number-one dream car. So you can appreciate my excitement when I received the invitation to meet both Dickinson and the most recent of the five made-to-order Singers built thus far at the showroom of Manhattan Motor Cars in New York City—the car was destined for an owner in the tristate area.
I arrived early and became one of the first to do what I was to watch many others do that evening: spend the first 20 minutes alternately standing, bending over, crawling and lying down flat on the floor, taking in every single detail of the car from every possible angle. While I’d been thrilled by what I’d seen on TV, in front of me it was a revelation. The degree of detail is outstanding. The machined aluminum trunk and hood hinges, for example, are objects you’d like to have on your desktop so you could pick them up and be soothed by their perfection during moments of stress. The brushed steel mirrors, mounted on bosses that penetrate the quarterlights, seem to float in midair. The gas cap, set into a recessed opening slap bang in the middle of the trunk (which, of course, is at the front of the rear-engine 911), instantly says this is not your average Porsche, and it’s a Singer trademark. Another trademark is the tachometer that goes up to 11 (more on that shortly). Then there’s the stance. With rear tires nearly a foot wide barely contained by wickedly flared arches, the car has a prizefighter’s wide, crouched stance. It’s aggressive albeit elegant—suave yet ready to punch you in the teeth. It made me weak in the knees.
fter a glass of wine to restore my wits, I got a chance to speak to “Mr. Singer” himself. Rob Dickinson has had an interesting life: After commencing an automotive-design career at Lotus, he decided to take a furlough as a rock star, heading up the band Catherine Wheel for 10 years before starting Singer in 2009. He was the band’s singer (hence the company’s name), and it’s his rock-and-roll mind-set that explains why that tach goes up to 11: It’s a This Is Spinal Tap reference. Oh, and did I mention he’s a cousin of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson?
When asked why he’s focused on the Porsche 911, his answer is not unexpected. He too fell in love with the car as a lad, and he sees it as “a masterpiece, arguably the most important sports car in the world.” But rather than split hairs with purists about the restoration process, he decided to throw authenticity out of the window in favor of something he feels is more true to the 911’s spirit. His mission is to optimize the car, which means selecting in every single instance the best possible element from the frame upward. In some cases, that means fabricating entirely new components, such as the carbon-fiber body shell, but in many cases, it simply means going into the Porsche 911 parts archive and pulling together the best versions they made, no matter what year they were. Dickinson explains that Singer is “a celebration of the air-cooled era” of 911s from 1963 to 1998, “which means we have 35 years of incremental development and huge interchangeability.”
So in essence, a Singer Porsche is the all-time ultimate 911, assembled in the way a Yankees fan might cobble together a dream lineup of players from across the team’s history. Each car comprises the best elements of the entire period. It’s a highlight reel in car form—a best-of compilation—and, of course, this kind of editing doesn’t come cheap. A Singer runs about $350,000, including the purchase of the donor car. Dickinson, though, is unapologetic about this. “We’re not going to do a halfway version if someone can’t afford it,” he says. “We’re not going to do a cheap version. We’re just going to do the best.”