Opinion: It’s time to stop the retro backdates

Earlier this week I had to the opportunity to nose around the premises of a well-respected Porsche 911 specialist. Amongst the immaculate metal in the pristine showroom and a few lightly modified track cars in the main workshop, there was one neinelfer that caught my eye.

Covered in vast swathes of blue cellophane to protect the freshly sprayed, classically hued paint, the car (sans interior, windows, and doors) sat tucked away in a separate room around the back, hidden from the prying eyes of the general public.

The proportions immediately suggested this was a Porsche 964 Carrera of some ilk, yet on closer inspection, a pair of classic, chromed horn grills coupled with a long-nose hood (along with a set of the ubiquitous Fuchs-style wheels) started alarm bells ringing.

It was a retro backdate project and, where 12 months ago I’d be intrigued by this pre-impact bumper pastiche, I now had to physically prevent myself from rolling my eyes at yet another 911 (specifically a 964) converted into a piece of bespoke automotive jewellery.

You see, over the past year or two the fashion for backdating a 3.2 Carrera or a 964 has become big business as Porsche 911 enthusiasts search for exclusivity of the highest order – and what’s more exclusive than a car built to your own exacting specification?

PS Retro R
PS AutoArt were one of the early originators of retro backdating.

PS AutoArt (one of the originators of this bespoke style) and Singer (arguably the masters of the art) have been a huge driving factor behind this trend, expertly mixing classic visuals and driving experience, with modern usability and comfort, all wrapped up in a superbly tailored, unique package.

When I put it like that, it sounds like a pretty appealing concept, and it certainly proved that way when I was offered the chance to drive PS AutoArt’s latest car in issue 116. The vision of proprietor, Paul Stephens and the Monaco-based customer had been expertly realised.

However, for every car with the quality of Singer or PS AutoArt, there have been numerous imitators (many of which are trying to emulate the style of these 911s without reaching similar insane budgets).

While I’m not saying the retro backdate I saw this week looked cheap (because it didn’t) but it certainly didn’t have quite the same insane level of detail (and subsequently costs) as a Porsche 911 restored and reimagined by Rob Dickinson’s crew in sunny California, something that was pointed out to me on the day.

Yet, the problem is, even if this retro backdate costs a quarter of the $500,000 that a Singer modified 911 costs, it will still be judged against the quality and the look of the latter because Singer is the undoubted gold standard on this side of the Porsche 911 world.

Singer Vehicle Design's level of detail has raised the bar for everyone else.
Singer Vehicle Design’s level of detail has raised the bar for everyone else.

Therefore, everything other retro backdate simply pales in comparison to the extent that it has just become another fad within 911 culture. There are simply too many retro backdate projects floating around, and soon enough they will all lose the exclusivity that made them an inviting proposition in the first place.

It doesn’t matter if “it’s not a Singer” because it will still be judged as that in the eyes of many. It’s a car that strives for a look popularised by Rob and his team but is attempted to be realised on the fraction of a budget and, I’m afraid to say, it just can’t be done.

If people want bespoke Porsche 911s built for them, think of another avenue you can take to make it unique. Creating faux pre-impact bumper cars has already been done (and done well) so I urge people to carve out a new niche.

That way, the modifying scene will continue to move forward, breaking new boundaries and forcing everyone to up their standard of craftsmanship in order to keep up. Innovation is key and is something I want to see more of.

Do you agree? Are there too many retro backdate cars being built? Join the debate in the comments section below, or head to our Facebook and Twitter pages now.

There are good retro backdates, and there are retro bad-dates.
There are good retro backdates, and there are retro bad-dates.

Comments (13)

  • Paul Harford

    A Porsche 911-based vehicle is (as has been said many times and most often mo’ better than me) more than a sum of its parts.

    I understand the sentiment expressed but I don’t think a budget-minded (when is enough $$ enough?) retro build has to be or has become a bad thing just because the builder isn’t Singer or the PS boys. I may be naive or too much of a Porsche-flag waver, but I don’t think the retro-trend or back-dating builds inhibit creativity.I mean you got your various wide-body builders with scoops and flares (integrated or snap-on-looking) and your wild-wing wonders.

    Some designs work, stand the test of time and deserve to be recreated. Some design fantasies are better left on the drawing boards or sold as comic book creations

  • kaze919

    Personally the US crash regulations made ugly what was a very beautiful car. To be honest I don’t see the bumper changes as being a retro touch. Its more of a pleasing design aesthetic than all the black rubber hanging around.

    The Porsche engineers had to begrudgingly comply to these regulations in order to sell the car here so they threw it together last minute in the least costly way possible. Had this not been a factor the 964 could have looked more like the 911s of old and the design evolution could have kept the same style.

    Personally this is a car I aspire to own. I will never own a Singer, but that is what looks like a perfect 911 to me. Its not a retro-fad that would inspire me to do that, its that the car is much much better looking with an older style of fender.

  • C911

    Having seen the PS Autoart 911 at the Porsche festival Brands, I loved what they had done to it, encapsulating the European flair of the 911 whilst not displaying any American brashness 🙂 keep up the good work I say!

  • porcherac

    Well the truth is we can’t all afford a singer or even a ps autoart car or better still a real 73 rs (what my childhood dreams were made of,). But I could just about afford an 1992 964 c4 which I love dearly, however I need the look of the classic pre impact bumper cars, so I for one hower distasteful to some it may be ,am DIY ing my 964 into an Rs . so my dream can come true !!!!!
    Ps ;Porcherac is the place where me my girl and my Porsche Live

  • madcaplaughs

    I can understand those that think that what leaves the factory should stay as built. However the 911, more than perhaps any other car, is designed for modifying. Even Porsche modify the 911; they do it on every model and encourage such modifications by releasing modified versions by the bucket load of every 911 incarnation. Having owned numerous original 911s over a 30 year period, I now have a 911 2.7 RS evocation. My car was originally a 3.2 Carrera and I appreciate that the 3.2 is indeed a classic in its own right. But, my car looks like a 1972 2.7 RS but has a galvanised body, uprated suspension and brakes and 30 bhp extra power. It is also lighter than the 2.7 RS touring and so it handles and drives like a dream. It is better than an original but worth 10% of the price of an original. However I can drive my car daily without worrying about the weather or stone chips. I can take it shopping and I can thrash it around the back lanes. If it was an original it would be in storage in an electeonically controlled environment. Really what is best?

  • Smithy718

    I own a very useable 3.2 Carrera, now in need of some TLC to bring it up to standard. I’ve considered retaining the ’80’s spec, and also the back date option. Costs either way are roughly the same, and I have been in two minds about what to do. (I really wanted a pre ’74 car, but all were either very expensive, rotten, or a combination of both).

    Purists will advise to retain factory spec, and in terms of long term value, they might be right. However, there are significantly more of these 80’s cars around than the highly desirable non-impact models which came before them.

    Impact bumpers were forced upon us by American legislation in the ’70’s, and few would argue that they did much for the 911, other than add weight. The original purity of the design which Porsche had created was badly compromised. How would Porsche have developed the 911 if that legislation had not come into being? Impact bumpers I think not!!

    Decision made, and work on my back date starts soon. I see it as a way of recovering the aesthetic of the car to something very close to what Porsche originally intended. Singer budget not required. The basis is a very well engineered car thanks to 25 years development by Porsche, and most of the work is relatively minor amendments to outer panels. (Fully reversible too). The result will be a fantastic looking classic 911 with superb, and safeish performance. It’s a car which can (and will) be driven on a regular basis.

    First 911 to be nick-named Twiggy. Looked great in the ’60’s and early 70’s, was dressed ridiculously in the ’80’s, and soon to be wearing something which suits much better!

  • monetelus

    Trying to undo a “update” of a 1970 911, to return it to its former (and original) condition and ran across this discussion. Remember when updating the look of the old 911 bodies was “in” (change to a 930, 74-89 updated bumpers etc…) or maybe even a slantnose? You can’t stop the need for Porsche hot rodders or modifiers to stop doing what they do. Backdating is a cool mod when done right. Really beautiful stuff is being built. I’m taking an updated one and backdating it to make it into an ST. Go figure.

  • erasearchons

    Many great comments here. I have a ’77 911s that I purchased in an already “hot rod” condition. Different engine (3.2) and exhaust. That, coupled with the fact that I happen to like the look of long hoods and pre 74 bumpers, makes it a no brainer for me to create the car I want. the switch to a longhood is currently in process. I have no desire to try and live up to Singer standards. To me the classic 911 is much like a Ducati Monster in the sense that it is a wonderful platform for mods. It is YOUR car.

  • Ramon Ricardo Hasbun

    A project car is a very individual creation, and the satisfaction of actually building our own project cars is more important than the trends that we follow or impose. People should build projects that they are inspired by, and that they love, if that means that the project will be judged by others as a copy or a second best (or eleventh best) then so be it. Although, as porsche owners, we all have a responsibility to the history and the brand that were so passionate about, the cars are, in the end an individual expression of our tastes and likes, not a piece of metal that other can pass judgement on. So I say, if you want to build a backdated project, or an outlaw, or a track car, do it! The satisfaction of doing a project and doing it to your desires, far outweighs the few and un warranted comments from those that would judge a project based on a meter stick that is really a white whale.

  • Paul

    The downside to becoming a Porsche owner is having to deal with arrogant pretentious snobs like the author who wrote this article. A true car lover never insults another car project. These comments are clearly a sign of jealousy. Whoever owns that car invested a lot of time and energy and if creating another back dated 911 makes them happy that is all that matters. Prick

  • Phil W

    Is it time to stop modifying Ae86s? Challengers? What is the author’s opinion on how we should be able to modify those? 911s, especially post-impact-bumper 911s, beg to be modified, not because Singer or Magnus Walker have done so, but because they are NOT perfect and it is the right of those of us lucky enough to own these beasts to do what we please. Singer does a great job. In my opinion they recreate what the model should have been. I love bone stock 911s, but the post- ’74 bumpers and lines were always a negative. I respect those who want everything to remain stock (thank God for them), but don’t tell us when and how we should be allowed to displease your aesthetic senses. As others have pointed out, some of the trendy mods of the past (my least favorite is the slant nose conversion) were mistakes. Let people make their own decisions/mistakes!

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