Porsche specialists are a wide and diverse species. If you wish to get analytical about it, you could create a flowchart of genres, subgenres and artisans of Porsche, each one a subspecies known for a particular talent. It could be sales, service, race teams, air-cooled, water-cooled, bodywork, or engine specialists.
I’ve visited quite a few Porsche specialists in the past 12 months and it’s remarkable that a single marque can have so many diversifications. So I find it all the more remarkable that Paragon Porsche encompasses pretty much all the areas I’ve mentioned above.
Started 22 years ago by Mark Sumpter, Paragon has grown organically from two enthusiasts with a passion for retailing older Porsche 911s into a thriving dealership with a varied stock list covering anything from a classic 356 right through to the latest 991 series, together with a busy workshop and a professional race team capable of winning multiple championships.
So it’s fair to say they’re doing something right. The obvious question is how do they do this with what is a relatively small team? Jamie Tyler explains: “I guess it’s because we each specialise in a certain area, but we also integrate our skills.”
“For example, these days I’m mainly responsible for sourcing the newer cars for stock, while Mark (Sumpter) is spending a lot of time out on the road tracking down the older classics. But we’re talking all the time and the combination of having a ‘field agent’ able to move quickly plus someone here at base works really well.”
The first thing to talk about is the current marketplace and how Paragon has fared in the current climate. It’s clear that Jamie knows his Porsche audience well: “We stock cars from £10,000 upward, so we start at, for example, a really well cared-for early Boxster.”
“Right now, the 997 series are superb value for money. The interesting thing about current Porsche 997 buyers is that this car is attracts people who have never considered a Porsche 911 before and are certainly not the traditional enthusiasts or track drivers. They are new to Porsche 911 ownership.”
“Often we find they’ve been driving past our showroom for years, but never thought they could own a Porsche. But now they see a 997 Carrera as a perfectly viable alternative to buying a brand-new car in the same price range and they plan to drive it every day.”
What about the collectable Porsche price hysteria sweeping the world right now? “Classic, limited-numbers 911s will always sell, but there are a lot of owners putting cars on consignment with dealers and speculating. So not all the prices being asked are a true reflection of what’s achieved.”
“While we will always ask a market value for any classic Porsche, we don’t undertake consignment sales and we own all our stock. So you could say we’re more realistic as we’re motivated to constantly turn over our stock and search out new cars.”
Another element of a dealership that owns all of its stock is car preparation. “It means there’s no ambiguity in what is included in a sale. The cars are all prepared ready to go before they’re put on display, so customers are not retrospectively listing items that require attention.”
“Once we own it, each car goes through the same process of preparation, so by the time a customer is presented with it, it’s ready to be driven away.”
Indeed, Paragon includes a 12-month or 12,000- mile warranty with each sale and the next due service is done, regardless of where the car is in its service schedule.
Jamie introduces me to service manager Pete Twyman. He’s been with Paragon for six years and has 20 years of experience of both Porsche and sister marque VAG. We talk about his small but capable team of four technicians and the race team.
“The four guys here do everything. Throughout any weekday, they could cover anything from routine servicing on a 997 Carrera through to a 356 engine build all the way to loading the truck and departing for a race weekend.”
In fact, the Paragon race team is one of the strongest in Porsche Classic and Porsche Club racing, with Mark Sumpter and team-mate Adrian Slater regularly at the front end in their pair of Baylis & Harding-sponsored Paragon 964 race cars.
Paragon built its first racing car in 1994, a 1978 SC that competed in the Classic Porsche Championship. Since that time, they’re raced continually, with notable successes including the British GT championship in 2000 and back-to-back victories in the Silverstone Britcar series in 2007 and 2008.
However, second-place position in the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hour Group C support race in a Porsche 962 must surely be a highlight of the team’s achievements to date.
The 2014 season saw a pair of immaculate Porsche 964s competing in the Porsche Club Championship, the car’s superior agility often beating the more powerful 996 C2s, with a double win at Rockingham showing how the 964 chassis is still a contender.
Talking to Pete, we discuss the usual trends and the popular subjects of engines. Have they seen significant engine issues? “Certainly not significant in terms of the volume of them, no. The internet jungle drums do the cars a disservice. That’s not to say we’ve never seen any.”
Owner: Mark Sumpter
Location: Five Ashes, East Sussex, UK
Rarest 911 sold: Porsche 997 Sport Classic
Most common 911 sold: Porsche 996 Carrera
Most expensive 911 sold: 2.7 RS at over £300,000
Interesting fact about the business: Paragon takes its specially prepared 964s racing at the weekend, and owner Mark is a former British GT champion
“We’ve rebuilt several water-cooled cars, but the common theme with significant failures is that the owners let small faults germinate until a terminal failure occurred. We’ve often caught the RMS before anything bad happens. It probably sounds like we’re trying to drum up business, but regular oil and fluid changes pretty much ensure reliability.”
Surely it must be a diverse working day at Paragon after main dealer life? “I love it,” Pete says. “Some people will probably find it odd, but I can get as much satisfaction from coordinating an entire week’s routine servicing for regular customers, with everything being in the right place at the right time, as I do from hearing a classic Porsche 356 engine fire up in the workshop for the first time after many years of being dormant.”
Many people go through life working jobs they hate, only working to pay the bills. However, the Paragon guys have a working life they’re passionate about, a life that goes far beyond normal work.
The motor trade can sometimes be a cynical place, but when you have a small team like Paragon, people with diverse skill sets and decades of experience working continuously for the same company, you know there’s something very good happening there.