GET OUT AND DRIVE
The universe always seems to find a way to work itself out. Case in point, the stars aligned when Porsche legend Magnus Walker said yes to sitting down with us for an interview. Magnus was in the process of writing an autobiographical book and fresh into the reflection of his life’s work as a legend in the automotive world – he has been our unicorn and we’ve finally caught up with him. During the course of our interview, the one thing he emphasized was that he’s never once had a gameplan and that he ’s always allowed things to manifest organically. Luckily, things came together as they should and we are now showcasing a living legend in the Porsche game.
Words by: Richard Coyle
Snaps by: Leah Moriyama
In 1977, when he was 10 years old, Magnus’ father took him to the Earls Court Motor Show, where he met his first love — a white 1977 Martini Porsche 911 Turbo. “I always say any kid who grew up in the 70’s, chances are that you had Porsche Turbo, Lamborghini Countach or a Ferrari Berlinetta boxer. Those were the iconic dream cars of that era. I wrote a letter to Porsche to ask for a job to design cars for them and they actually wrote back with a ‘hey, call us when you’re older,’ or some words to that effect. I never gave up on the dream,” Magnus reminisces. Realizing that he’d had about as much success as a 10-year-old could by garnering a response from Porsche, he funneled his tenacity to athletics. “I eventually had a passion for middle distance, cross-country running. I was more of a lone wolf individual sports guy, versus a team sports guy. Being successful at an early age, really taught me discipline and self-reliance,” he tells us. Magnus left school with two O-levels when he was 15, and in 1986, he took a trip to the US and landed in Michigan. When he arrived, Magnus spent a summer as a camp counselor in Detroit for underprivileged inner-city kids. “You can image what that was like – I was this long-haired rock n’ roll guy working with kids that were entirely into RUN DMC and LL Cool J. I learned what I call to be an Adaptive Swimmer – I was dropped into an unfamiliar environment and had to learn to sink or swim,” says Magnus.
Shortly after, he made his way out to 1980s’ Hollywood, the epicenter of rock n’ roll and its cultural icons such as Gun n’ Roses and Mötley Crüe. Never one to have a gameplan, his first business venture was selling custom Levi’s on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. In 1994, he met his wife, Karen, and collectively they built a rock-inspired fashion label, which became wildly successful. “Serious was designed and influenced by what I was into at the time. Red, white and blue Americana,” he remarks. “We liked rock n’ roll, punk rock and country and just threw it in a blender and out came our brand. We sold to a small chain store at the time called Hot Topic. We grew with them pretty big.” With the Serious label taking off, the duo purchased their 26,000 square foot warehouse and renovated the interior that would give Joanna Gaines a run for her money. “When we bought this building 14 years ago, people thought we were crazy,” he remembers. “Back then the neighborhood was desolate and transient. Now, it’s worth over 10x what we bought it for.” Shortly after they bought the warehouse, the LA Times did an article about urban loft gentrification and the day after the article was published, they got a phone call from a production company asking to rent it as a film location for a music video. They’d later find out it was for Missy Elliot. “30 years later, I feel whatever it is you want to do in life, you can do here in LA. This city has the infrastructure to make things happen so long as you remain focused,” he follow-your-gut, can-do spirit and it’s always resonated with being in LA. You could always do what and be what you want here. Now we’ve been in the film location business for over 16 years – we rent part of our building for a shoot for production companies.”
Along with his impressive success comes his impressive car collection. Magnus has owned over 40 Porsches, but the 277 is still his unicorn. Several years ago, on a 911-centric forum, Walker began a thread called “Porsche Collection Out of Control Hobby”, which became a somewhat of a viral hit. “I got an email from a gentleman named Tamir Moscovici,” he says, “a director and a passionate Porsche guy who wanted something edgy for his reel.” Moscovici flew to LA, and together the two petrolheads created a 30 minute documentary about Walker and his 911 obsession called Urban Outlaw. The trailer for Urban Outlaw was picked up by the Top Gear website and the film premiered at the Raindance Festival to critical acclaim. “October 15, 2012, Urban Outlaw came out and that changed my life. Four and a half years later, I’m still getting hit up from that movie,” says Magnus. Magnus’ bespoke Porsches are prized for their individuality, and the same can be said about their creator. Revered like a ’82 W.L. Weller Bourbon, the 50-year-old Englishman lives and works in a cluster of sprawling gentrified warehouses and historic buildings in the iconic DTLA Arts District. His distinct features are buried beneath a beard ZZ Top would be impressed with and dreads Bob Marley would be proud of. His arms are blasted in ink, and his Sheffield accent is slightly diluted by over 30 years of SoCal’s melting pot of dialects.
He is the counterculture epitome of what a world renowned Porsche icon would be. As the garage doors open up, the visual experience is akin to the drapes pulling back to reveal the Sistine Chapel for the first time. One look at Magnus’ garage and the scope of his passion becomes irrefutable – the room houses a fleet of gleaming 911s, which include a model from every year between 1964 and 1973. There are a few others, in various phases of surgery spread around the complex. “It’s a hobby that got out of control,” he says. Magnus is globally known for his “Outlaw” builds – sport, streetable track cars. Cars that mean taking on aggressive canyon runs and track days while still being able to smash down Wilshire Blvd on the way to a meeting.
His builds are so sought after that he gets propositioned more than Heidi Fliess for his skillset. “I don’t build cars for people, I build them for myself. And occasionally, I sell if need to,” he says. “There’s a business opportunity in building customer cars, but to me, that would all of a sudden mean responsibility, accountability, timelines, deadlines, pressure. Right now, I can do what I want, when I want. The biggest difference between me and other builders is that this is a hobby for me,” he makes clear. Having said that, he has lent his celebrity to collaborations with the likes of MOMO, Hot Wheels, Need for Speed and Porsche themselves to name a few, all because he can. This story was never about Magnus’ impeccable and impressive Porsche collection. It was always about the man himself. A young lad from Sheffield, England who came to the US with zero plans except for a dream and what he calls, “British bulldog, follow-your- gut, can-do spirit.” He’s somebody who always took the path less traveled, and never took no for an answer while doing things his way on his road to success.
Tell us about your passion for architecture?
Things just evolve. Perhaps looking back, it was my parents dragging me to all these stately homes in England. It was probably being in England and being around castles, but it wasn’t real until I came to LA when I really had an appreciation for architecture.
Has anything surprised you since you’ve been reflecting?
Fuck yes! Like how I came from England at 19 to where I am now with a few toys. I didn’t think that would happen. I really hadn’t had time to reflect until lately. I’ve always approached everything with my head down and running forward. I describe my 20’s as a blur of partying. My 30’s, you get serious about business and really working 12-15 hour days and then my 40’s hit and things started to level off. Now, I’m 50 and it’s a pivotal number and it’s reflective.
How long have you been growing your beard for?
I started growing it in 2000. I’m lazy and shaving seemed to be a chore at the time and 17 years later, the beards still here. What is your favorite chassis? My favorite car is the 277 which is the second Porsche I ever bought. It’s the one I’m most associated with. There have been models made after the car, it’s the most recognizable and been in videos. It’s a 1971 911 T. It’s got Patina and memories and been to 5-6 years of 30-40 track days a year. It’s part of my life. It’s like my favorite pair of old shoes.
Automotive character is important to you. Why?
Driving is freedom. It’s not about going from A to B, it’s about the journey along the way. New cars are insulated. You don’t smell the gas or the oil. It’s a sensory thing and nostalgia. There’s 50 years of leather, wood, sweat, spilled coffee. when you open the door, there’s just something. To me, I build cars to be driven. Some people brag about a car that has 800 miles. I don’t care about that. There’s no story behind that car. It’s about the people. If the car just sits there, there’s no story. People have to get behind the wheel of the car and create the story. Then the story becomes the soul of the car — the journey.
With 911’s making a huge comeback, what are your thoughts on the RWB movement?
Here’s a Nakai-san wearing my Urban Outlaw T-shirt. We first met in London in 2013 and then again at the Need for Speed event. I really like what Nakai-san is doing with his RWB builds. He’s traveling the world and doing this thing. The Porsche pie is pretty big, and I’m a fan of his work.
Any other cars you’re into besides Porsche?
For sure. At one time before I was purely Porsche, I had a ‘65 GT3 Mustang replica, an ‘60 E-Type Jag, a ‘73 Lotus Europa, two Super Bees, a ‘79 Ferrari 308 GTB. Little by little, I got rid of things that weren’t Porsche. As great as the E-Type Jaguar was, it didn’t corner well, and as great as that Super Bee was, it was only great in a straight line. As amazing as the Mustang was, it didn’t handle as good as the Porsche, as cool as the Lotus Europa was, ‘Still, it wasn’t a 911. So, I got rid of everything that wasn’t a 911.”
Click here to read the entire issue.