In a junkyards-and-smokestacks part of L.A., forty-six-year-old Rob Dickinson, leader of the 1990s rock band Catherine Wheel, lies belly-down in a cluttered workshop under a 1991 Porsche 911 that costs more than twice as much as a brand-new 911 Turbo.
Dickinson's resto-mod service for early 1990s 911s -- called Singer Vehicle Design, after his former career -- began when music-industry types looked at his banana-yellow 911 and asked, "Can you make me one?" In 2008 he decided that he could, then set about it with a "level of scrupulousness" that would daunt Chip Foose.
That's plainly evident in the silver '91 pictured here, Singer's fourth car. The shimmering Frankenstormer is remade from tip to tail, including a blueprinted flat six custom-built by Cosworth and a crazy leather basket-weave interior. Dickinson and his crew blend the best of original and aftermarket components. "When there isn't a brilliant aftermarket part, we will invent it," he says boldly.
All of those exotic components are wrapped in Singer's house-designed, carbon-fiber body that's bonded to the original steel monocoque -- only the original steel doors remain. Matching the level of scrupulousness is the preening price: $299,000 and up. Other Porsches, such as the 930-generation Turbo, could be next in Dickinson's crosshairs.
Insurance restrictions keep us from getting behind the wheel of this $375,000 commission that's destined for a customer in Mexico City, so Mazen Fawaz, who tends SVD's business matters, drives us into Little Tujunga Canyon. The silver nose bobs over bumps in the road: final rebound and sway settings are some clicks away. But this hot-rodded 911 -- de-air-bagged and de-catalyzed by customer preference -- makes a strong case for itself. The car is bracingly fast; the fortified 360-hp engine is like soup stock with an extra marrow bone. Releasing the accelerator well before the redline that is marked at 7200 rpm doesn't entirely starve the six throttle bodies (the engine, with its forged internals, will happily rev to 8500 rpm). The custom-programmed engine-control unit, itself a $20,000 piece, excites a malevolent crackling from the tailpipes. Inside the cabin, though, civility rules. The seating is plenty comfortable, and the instrument panel and dashboard are a delight. While less compromising suspension setups can be chosen, it's easy to agree with the Mexican buyer's decision to go for a tolerable ride.
Self-anointed Porsche-philes may sneer at the 911 by Singer, dismissing it as heathenish desecration. But anyone who gets American speed culture has to love it. Is this a trend? Will there be Alfa Romeo Spiders or Toyota MR2s from another resto-modifier? Maybe -- but it would take someone with Dickinson's acumen, taste, and perfectionism to strike the right chord.