Magnus Walker steps between the scarred carcasses of Porsche 911s lining his garage wall. He pauses and points to a gaping hole where the car’s front hood should be.
“Cars in here have to die,” he says, “so others can live.”
With a chest-length beard and finger-thick dreadlocks, the 45-year-old English immigrant doesn’t look like a prototypical buttoned-down Porsche collector. But for more than a decade, Walker has worked in downtown L.A.'s arts district, transforming scrap heaps into one-off custom 911s, earning him the nickname “Urban Outlaw.”
“I don’t build white glove, Pebble Beach show cars,” he says. “I’m building cars for myself.”
What once was an expensive obsession may now become a lucrative profession. Already a successful businessman, Walker has started a new company to sell merchandise and the accessories that have become his signature 911 modifications to a cult of followers.
Each of his 911s still has Porsche’s trademark large oval headlights, low front hood and sloping teardrop roofline that give the car its legendary silhouette. But Walker’s custom touches — drilled-out door handles, trunk lids with horizontal slats cut into the metal — give them a hot rod edge.
His handiwork is on display across the street from the “chop shop” in a showroom-like garage filled with classic Porsche advertisements, rows of vintage license plates and oil-smeared car parts. About a dozen candy-colored 911s from 1964 through 1973 sit parked and ready for the road.
Look closely. No two cars are the same.
There’s a 1966 Irish green 911 with wooden interior accents and black vinyl interior. A few steps away is a 1965 silver 911 with a houndstooth interior and Porsche black side stripe. Front and center is a 1972 911 STR decked out in white with red and blue accents and gold wheels.
“I’ve got to make the next car better than the last one,” he said. “I don’t chase originality, but if I stumble upon it, I don’t turn away.”
Walker has never wanted to build 911s to sell them. He’s received requests, but he prefers to build them the way he sees fit, in his own time. He sells them when he feels like it, and they fetch $40,000 to $130,000, depending on the rarity of the car.
Some, he can’t imagine ever selling.
His innovation has won the admiration of Porsche executives, several of whom visited his shop in November during the Los Angeles Auto Show. Walker now has an open invitation to tour the company’s factory in Stuttgart, Germany.
It’s high praise from the company, which is known for its strict adherence to the 911’s timeless styling. The two-door, rear-engine car is renowned for its simplicity. Its shape has remained virtually unchanged since the first model rolled off assembly lines more than half a century ago.
“We can’t go as far as to say we endorse his work. That’s pretty hard for a company like ours to say,” said Nick Twork, a Porsche spokesman. “But his cars have a unique style, and we have taken notice.”
Walker’s real skill with modifying 911s doesn’t have anything to do with shoehorning in a new engine or gaudy paint jobs. Rather, it’s something known as “backdating” to Porsche connoisseurs.
As Porsche’s popularity increased after the first 911 in 1964, so did the company’s car production. Many of the hand-made or accessory detailing began to disappear.
So Walker applies subtle changes to the cars, such as swapping out a glue-on plastic rearview mirror with a chrome one, or taking out dashboard gauges and recalibrating them.
“You can only look at a stock car so many times,” said Manny Alban, president of Porsche Club of America. “What he does is very tasteful. As long as he doesn’t stick a Chevy V-8 in the back, we’ll be OK with it.”
Walker lightens the cars, lowers them closer to the ground and installs a stiffer suspension for aggressive handling — basically building a street version of a 911 race car.
Other 911 customizers are known for their modifying work, such as Los Angeles-based Singer Vehicle Design and the quasi-secretive R-Gruppe car club that boasts worldwide membership. Walker’s artistic touches have increasingly garnered attention from the automotive world ever since a short documentary titled “Urban Outlaw” popped up on the Internet last year.
The 32-minute film features Walker tinkering in his garage, discussing his love of Porsche, as well as racing on downtown streets and Pacific Coast Highway.
The trailer for the documentary was posted on auto industry blogs, and suddenly Walker’s cars were featured in glossy car magazines. He was invited by longtime car buff and “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno to his garage in Burbank.
Walker’s passion for Porsche started after seeing a 930 Turbo at the 1977 London auto show when he was 10. When he got home to Sheffield, he wrote a letter to Porsche describing his desire to one day work for the company.
“They sent me a letter back, which said something to the effect of, ‘Give us a call back when you are older,’” Walker said.
He put the dream on hold for a while and, at age 19, moved in 1986 to Los Angeles, where he later sold vintage clothes on the Venice Beach boardwalk. The clothes — cowboy shirts, worn Levi’s 501 bluejeans and edgy flannel shirts — became popular with rock bands and the Hollywood crowd.
Six years later, Walker bought his first 911 and later began racing competitively with car clubs at Laguna Seca and other raceways. He stopped when his infatuation became more about winning a race than his love of Porsches.
Walker and his wife, Karen, moved to a 26,000-square-foot, two-floor brick building in the arts district, where he works today. The arts district — a forlorn and desolate location when the couple purchased the property — has been rejuvenated and worked to their benefit. They now frequently lease the building to television and film shoots.
The basement garage, however, remains Walker’s realm. There, he builds two to three cars a year.
“I can never have just one,” he said. “To me, Porsche is an all-consuming thing.”
But now he feels that he’s ready to sell the accessories that have made him famous in the Porsche world.
“I’ve been holding off on selling that stuff, but it seems to be the right time,” he said. “More people are starting to become familiar with my work and my story.”