Inside the outlaw Porsche empire of Magnus Walker

Marco R. della Cava

Admit it. Magnus Walker is one heck of a name. Sounds more like a drink, or a hand-crafted line of men’s shoes. So it’s fitting that the man who owns this name presents himself with unmistakable flair.

“Park it right there,” Walker says to a guest pulling into his downtown Los Angeles warehouse courtyard, brushing aside massive dreadlocks as his perfectly distressed cowboy boots thump the asphalt. “Let me show you around.”

Over the next few hours, Walker, 45, talks non-stop. About his life: growing up poor in gritty Sheffield, England, before making it big in the U.S. apparel business. About his work: from selling second-hand jeans with hand-sewn patches in Venice Beach to providing teen-oriented rock ‘n roll garb to national chains. About his good fortune: from choosing an American flag motif for his clothing just before 9/11 hit, to buying this very building in a once seedy arts district only to see it become a wildly lucrative movie-location rental.

But mostly he talks about his hobby, about how visiting the London Auto Show in 1977 exposed him to a white Porsche 911 Turbo with blue and red Martini markings. The hook set.

“I saw that car and it just clicked for me,” says Walker, surrounded by innumerable automotive books, posters, hood ornaments, along with a gaggle of signed Les Paul guitars and a classic photo of Keith Richards in a mid-'70s drug-addled stupor. “As a kid coming from Sheffield, owning a 911 just seemed like an unachievable dream.”

Dream, achieved. The hard way. Walker spent a good part of the ‘80s working as an international camp counselor in various U.S. cities, and in 1989 decided to turn rags into L.A. rent money. His repurposed jeans creations soon caught on with area rockers, and before he knew his company, Serious, was shipping hip clothes and hats to malls across the nation. In Serious’ turn-of-the-millennium heyday, Walker was outfitting the likes of Alice Cooper and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and finally indulging in his drug of choice: automobiles.

He started with a 1974 911 slantnose conversion, and later sold it for a 1971 911T that he turned into an RS replica so he could hit the track. Between 2002 and 2007, Walker lived at nearby circuits such as Willow Springs and Thunderhill, and the resulting plaques hang on the wall of his cavernous office. At that point, the fashion business faded, but he found a new stream of income renting his warehouses to rappers and film crews (the mobster’s lair in the Bruce Willis film “The Whole Nine Yards” is Walker’s home).

But it’s what Walker has done in the past few years that has elevated him from automotive enthusiast to Porsche fixture. In short, he has taken his obsession with early 911s - models built between 1964 and 1973 - and turned them into a small business with huge visibility, restoring cars so lovingly that they’re often sold before they’re completed. He and a small team built four to six cars a year, most fetching between mid-five figures to low-six.

Walker currently calls “a few dozen” 911s his own, some of which are on display in his warehouse, as well as countless bits, parts and shells of cars that he uses to revive once-forgotten Zuffenhausen beauties from the rusty dead.

Walker, however, is “not a Pebble Beach Concours kind of guy,” as he dryly puts it. As a result, his cars skirt authenticity and instead often feature distinctive tweaks such as drilled door handles, louvered rear engine lids and body-integrated turn signals. These are the marks of so-called “outlaw” cars, a nod as much to their modified state as their rebellious look. Walker will soon be selling those parts online along with shirts, hats and other paraphernalia through his newly created company, Urban Outlaw, which also is the name of a documentary about the long-haired car guy that’s gotten some attention online.

“My vision for any of the cars I do is to make them streetable track cars,” says Walker, whose outfit today includes a massive brown cap, black jeans and black leather jacket all hiding a landscape of tattoos. “Because my looks and appearance tend to make me stand out, the same thing applies to my cars. It’s the little details that make them cool.”

Jay Leno was so intrigued by Walker’s story and handiwork after watching “Urban Outlaw” that he filmed a segment with him at his airplane hangar of a garage in Burbank. That the two men cut completely opposite figures - Leno in his trademark jeans shirt and pants and his signature silver mane, and Walker looking like a member of Rage Against The Machine - highlights the egalitarian nature of the automotive hobby, says Leno.

“Because Magnus does something interesting with cars means we have something in common,” says the comedian. “Did we talk fashion? No. Did we talk hairstyles? Um, no. But none of that matters with car guys. Nick Mason is a friend of mine. I know he was in Pink Floyd and he knows I have a TV show, but neither of those things ever comes up.”

Leno was drawn to Walker because he both shares the Englishman’s an affinity for early 911s and believes that if you’re salvaging an old car you have the right to tweak it. That’s not a position shared by restoration-focused purists, but Leno says that misses the point.

“When Magnus takes an old 911 he’s found in some storage shed somewhere and turns it into something beautiful, he promotes the brand just by putting that car back on the road, and I applaud that,” he says.

None other than the brass at Porsche seem to agree. At the recent L.A. Auto Show, Porsche Cars North America held an event at Walker’s downtown loft. In fact, on his cluttered desk a letter takes pride of place. Sent by the head of Porsche’s museum in Germany, it alludes to a letter a 10-year-old Walker wrote to the company after seeing that 911 in 1977 asking to visit the factory. He didn’t get the nod then, but now the invitation clearly is open.

“None of this was planned,” Walker says with an amused shrug, still very much the wide-eyed kid at that London auto gathering who has somehow found himself welcome in the classically Teutonic world of Porsche.

“I’ll just see where it takes me. I do know that I’ll never want to restore cars for customers. I just want to keep building what I like, and if other people like what they see they can buy them.” He pauses, then smiles. “Sometimes. All of me goes into each one. So when a car rolls out that door, part of me thinks it’s a real shame.”