Interview with Magnus Walker
It wasn’t long ago that I first heard about Magnus Walker. Dutch automotive journalist Erik Kouwenhoven met up with him in the winter of 2010, because Walker was interested in a 1964 911 engine Erik had for sale. Erik took advantage of their meeting, and wrote a short article about the extravagant Englishman and his collection of German machinery.
When I read Erik’s article I was blown away and as a sucker for Los Angeles, extravagant people and Porsches, I decided I had to meet up with Magnus in person during my next trip to LA.
Magnus left Great Britain and came to Los Angeles at the tender age of 19, back in the mid-Eighties. He was big into rock music and started to design and produce clothing for the punks and rockers in the LA music scene. Things went well and in 1994 he started the Serious Clothing Company with his wife, Karen. In 2000 Magnus and Karen bought the 1906 warehouse where they are still located today, and in order to use the warehouse as their home, they built a beautiful loft inside. The following year, LA Times Magazine came by to do a photo shoot of their newly built place for a special feature they were doing on loft living. When the magazine came out, it was only two weeks before the phone rang; a Hollywood production company wanted permission to do a film shoot at their place. Everything went well, and the rest, as they say, is history. All the hard work paid off, and today Magnus and his wife still run the clothing company, but their main business is renting out their film and production spaces to film producers and the like, under the name Downtown LA Film Locations.
Things worked out perfectly. Magnus is a regular visitor to Porsche forums, such as Pelican and the Early 911S Registry, so it was easy to get in touch with him. After emailing back and forth for a while, the time came for me to leave Holland for another work trip to the City of Angels. An appointment was made with Magnus, and after first meeting at the 2011 Rennsport Reunion, then doing a helicopter flight above Los Angeles together with a mutual friend of ours, I was meeting up again with Magnus for the third time in a week, on a warm but overcast Thursday morning in October.
Magnus welcomed me in his roomy, downtown warehouse, located right in the middle of the Los Angeles Arts District. The slightly dishevelled, rock-’n’-roll-looking ex-pat from Great Britain is quickly building a reputation as the outlaw early 911 guy.
Traffic was flowing pretty good on the morning and I got there early. Magnus told me earlier in the week that he’d be available from 7am to 7pm and I thought I’d better make good use of that opportunity. After talking shop for a while, Magnus suggested I get my cameras ready, while he warmed up his 1971 911T.
He pushed out the red, white and blue car from his storage unit and started it up. It’s his favourite machine and has been on the fleet the longest of all his early Porsches. Magnus bought the car in 1999 at the famous Pomona swap meet. With the exception of a 2.7-litre CIS engine, the car was stock, but Magnus soon went for a 1973 RS transformation. Not long after, in 2002, he joined the Porsche Club and took the car to the track. This was the beginning of Magnus’s trip down a slippery Porsche slope.
Now, almost ten years of track events later, the car is on its third engine. A twin plug 1972 2.4S unit, combined with a 915 gearbox with a limited-slip differential and shorter second, third and fourth gears. Add ten years of continuous track-inspired performance upgrades and you have a pretty insane car. Magnus describes the feel of the 911 as like “wearing your favourite pair of shoes”. He recently drove it to the fourth Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca, which he recalls as being a fun-filled 600-mile run.
After ten minutes we left the compound and rolled onto the downtown LA streets. Riding shotgun with Magnus for the first time started out quite different to what I expected. The drive, which began as a short location scout of the urban neighbourhood for our photo shoot, changed quickly and within a few minutes we were pretty much flying over the 6th Street bridge doing at least 100mph. There was hardly any traffic so it was the right time to let the flat six scream. First thing that came to mind was that short but famous Rendezvous movie with the classic Ferrari, which was recorded on an early morning in Paris.
After taking the bridge another time, the pace changed and we hit the 110 freeway going north. The 110 is the oldest freeway in LA and has some great curves. It was designed in the Thirties for the slower vehicles of the day. The current 60mph speed limit is fine for most modern cars, but making use of this freeway in a tricked-out Seventies 911 at about double the speed limit is where it’s at!
With the delicate grip on the well-worn suede Momo steering wheel, Magnus executed perfect heel-and-toe downshifts with a quick raspy blip of the throttle, the exhaust note sounding like machine gun fire bouncing off the concrete centre divider wall two feet away.
With the pace increasing, Magnus cut through the LA morning traffic with ease, as if he had done it many times before. Five minutes later we were exiting the freeway in south Pasadena, only to turn around and do it all again as we headed south back into LA.
Magnus tells me he takes his car out on little runs like this whenever he gets the time for it. When he’s sitting in his office working and gets bored or annoyed of it, he’ll fire up the ’71, taking it out for another one of these fun-filled spins around the block, then sits back behind his desk 30 minutes later, adrenaline still pumping, and feeling fresh again for another few hours of work.
Longer journeys happen at least a couple of times a month. Magnus’s 911s are regularly being taken out into the mountains, onto curvy mountain roads like Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Mulholland Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road – both of which head Magnus’s ‘fun roads’ list. This is also where he takes newly built cars to give them their 300 to 500-mile shakedown runs. As a matter of fact, Magnus runs those cars all over LA County and its surrounding areas to put them to the test before he sells one, or plans on using one for a longer period of time for himself.
Whenever Magnus has to go out for groceries or other quick runs around town, he’ll take his green ’66. The motor has over 100,000 miles on it and has never been taken apart in its entire life, according to its maintenance statistics and Magnus’s own experiences with the car.
After that early morning excitement, we stopped for a quick coffee and a bite to eat at Starbucks, which we consumed in the car while cruising around the Arts District. Back at the warehouse, Magnus asked me what the plan for the rest of the day was, and I decided to take some photos at the warehouse and have lunch afterwards. For the afternoon programme, Magnus suggested going out again and, to quote the man himself, he was ready to “tear some shit up in the mountains”.
The first floor of the warehouse has been designed for different kinds of film shoots, with every area having a different theme.
The ground floor mostly accommodates Magnus’s clothing business and some office space, although I saw several Porsche parts, like a rare 1964 engine and a 1967 911S race engine sitting next to a set of Torq Thrust wheels in a storage rack.
Last but not least, there’s a hall filled to capacity with early Porsches and a good collection of accompanying parts and memorabilia. A true petrolhead’s paradise. Vintage Porsche race posters cover the walls and that typical smell of classic sports cars fills the room. This is definitely not a collection of cars that stands still most of the time, though, as Magnus takes them out as often as he can.
In a nearby building bodywork is done by sheet metal guru Frank Turner, and outside there Magnus stores his parts cars. Mechanical work on the pre-1974 Porsches is done by Magnus and Phil Slate; “Phil’s the guy who makes me look good,” grins Magnus. “Before I met him, I figured that dirt won’t slow me down, but Phil’s convinced me that I might as well look good while going fast!”
The Walker collection contains quite a few original standard cars, but Magnus is a big fan of sports purpose-styled cars. His 1971 race
car is a good example, and he also has a 1968 911R-inspired car. Sadly, this gunmetal grey 911 with blue striping was sitting on jacks, waiting for a new suspension upgrade, otherwise it would have been a treat to take this 2.5-litre short-stroked beauty out on the streets of LA. The
engine was recently built by Henry Schmidt at Supertec, using a 1966 aluminium case, 90mm pistons and a 66mm crank.
After finishing our meal in the vintage-styled yard next to the warehouse, we walked back over to the parking where the 1971 911 was still resting from its early morning workout. “Traffic shouldn’t be too harsh right now, so let’s go on this trip into the hills,” Magnus grins.
Highway 2, also known as the Angeles Crest Highway, is another of Magnus’s favourite roads. It takes you up into the San Gabriel mountains and the Angeles Forest. This perfect stretch of mostly fresh asphalt was going to take us up to the Mount Wilson observatory. The almost worn-out Hoosier slicks stuck to the Tarmac like glue on this hot October afternoon and the S engine was running like a dream. At some point along our rather quick way to the top we saw a motorcyclist coming at us, when he came closer I noticed that it was a highway patrol officer, and he was deprecatingly shaking his head. He didn’t turn around, though, but just let us do our thing. “I just never try to look ’em in the eye, and just keep on flooring it,” said Magnus when the officer was out of sight of the rearview mirror.
The area around the Mount Wilson observatory is never busy but it was particularly quiet during our visit because Los Angeles was obscured by a thick layer of clouds. While enjoying nothing other than the sounds of silence and a few birds, we suddenly heard the beautiful noise of another flat six around the corner. A beige impact-bumper 911 Targa came rolling up to us and its owner turned out to be a film producer who recently shot at Magnus’s warehouse.
On the trip back Magnus was on it again and, when asked how many miles to a gallon the eye-catching Porsche 911 does, he was forthright with his reply: “I’ve never really monitored it, but it’s not about how many miles per gallon the car does, but about how many smiles per gallon it produces!”
After arriving back at the warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, it was time for some tea and then, well, Magnus wouldn’t be Magnus if he didn’t say that the fun wasn’t over yet: “How about taking some pictures of my silver ’65 911 next,” he asked. This car is another of Magnus’s favourites and happens to be the 310th Porsche 911 ever built and one of the first 50 to be imported into the United States, and was maintained by Brumos in Florida in its younger days.
Magnus Walker is clearly a man living a dream. However, at the moment classic Porsches are only a hobby to him but, as he’s spending more time with them than ever, he’s seriously looking into expanding his hobby into more of a business. He’s already making a name for himself, with the help of his skilled friends, building some of the sweetest outlaw 911s around. I’m sure that we will see a lot more of these beauties in the future.
This was taken from issue 83, for all Total 911 back issues visit www.imagineshop.co.uk/
Check out Magnus’ R-inspired 1968 911 in Issue 91 of Total 911 out tomorrow.