As soon as you walk through the entrance door at Paul Stephens’ eponymous Porsche specialist premises, identifying the man himself will take a mere heartbeat.
Okay, so Paul’s desk is the first you’ll come across, with the usual reception-led paraphernalia neatly tucked away in a room to the left, but there’s a presence about the man greeting you that positively gives the game away.
Standing up to welcome me before offering a warm handshake, first impressions are exceptional. Smartly dressed in a jacket, jeans and embroidered company shirt, I look down to notice that a pair of black OMP driving shoes are being worn instead of the polished brogues you’d associate with such attire.
A discerning statement is made almost before any words are spoken between us: Paul isn’t merely an exotic car dealer; he lives, breathes and even drives them, and has done for years.
What’s more, as a serious enthusiast who has turned his passion for sports cars into a successful specialist empire, it’s quickly evident that Paul’s peerless eye for detail is a staple of his 20-year-old business at large.
His front office is adorned with a plethora of scaled models of idolised Porsche 911s, from a Rubystone red 964 RS to a 1996 GT1. Across the room, a gas pump turned show cabinet displays a selection of elegant Porsche-themed products for sale including an ‘Edition 901’ PS Design watch, one of a limited run of just 50 unique mechanical timepieces – more on that side of things later.
Paul takes his Porsche passion very seriously, having been in the company of Zuffenhausen’s darling sports car for many years: “I started buying and selling cars in my spare time while at college, and worked up to a 911 by 21,” he says.
“It had all the usual traits of a rusty 911 hidden under a shiny paint job with a tired engine. It came back to haunt me – rust bubbles were appearing almost by the day, and a rod was put through the side of the engine.”
Paul’s speciality with Porsche was galvanized from this tumultuous experience, duly restoring the shell and sourcing another engine on limited funds, which presented another problem.
“Excited at the prospect of more power, I thought I’d bought an S engine from a reputable specialist, but it turned out to be a T with an S shroud. Although the specialist didn’t actually lie, he certainly took advantage of my naivety and implied that it was the hotter motor,” he reminisces.
“I knew then that there would be more people like me who would want honesty and sound advice when buying and maintaining their Porsche, so it was on that principle that I built my business. I started in 1994, initially stocking all types of sports cars, including Porsche, but it quickly evolved into a specialist in the marque.”
Entering the showroom of the premises Paul has called home since 2010, I’m greeted by an impressive assembly of mostly air-cooled 911s, a sure-fire marker as to where Paul prefers to specialise in buying and selling, although I’m told that a handful of GT2s and GT3s pass through the doors every year too.
There’s a refreshing number of pre-impact bumper 911s for sale, and I’m encouraged to learn that a vast majority of the vehicles here are owned by Paul Stephens rather than simply being on ‘Sale or Return’.
“We mainly deal with air-cooled cars and modern GT-badged cars, and intend to stay down that route. It’s becoming harder to find good examples of the air-cooled cars though, especially with the prices going up,” Paul says, but judging by the backdrop of quality cars for sale here, I won’t feel sorry for him just yet.
Buying and selling is still very much the crux of the business, but a new string has been added to the Paul Stephens bow in the form of Porsche servicing.
“We have been looking after our own sales cars for some time now,” confirms sales specialist Charlie Abbott as he shows me an immaculately pristine workshop, “but we have decided that the time is right to offer our specialist knowledge to customers.
Primarily, this will be for maintenance and restoration, including bodywork of air-cooled Porsches, together with the modern GT cars and bespoke PS projects.”
Sitting directly next to the showroom, the workshop is a surprisingly vast expanse with a variety of 911s in for servicing and maintenance, including an SC, plus a 997 Turbo and GT3 RS.
A two-poster lift takes up the space in the centre of the room with a cutout in the well-lit false ceiling to accommodate the hydraulic posts, while in the corner, a concentrated area of worktops and storage units with boxed Porsche parts are all premium Dura items.
As you can see, the floor is spotless – it may look a little too sparse, but I haven’t seen a workshop this pristine since visiting the newly opened main dealer equivalent at Portsmouth.
To complement this new setup, Paul Stephens has a reputable selection of staff to oversee workshop matters, headed by George Tufnell, a recent recruit from another Porsche specialist. “We’re still in the early stages of expanding this part of the business, but with our combined internal knowledge there’s nothing that we can’t now offer – including engine and gearbox rebuilds,” he tells me enthusiastically.
A resplendent showroom and proficient workshop would normally suffice for a competent specialist, but there’s a metaphorical annex to the business that Paul Stephens has perhaps enjoyed wider attention for of late.
I refer to PS Autoart, of course, the service offering to craft you a bespoke Porsche that is hand-built to your own specification. PS Autoart is now in its tenth year, and has had great success: Paul himself has overseen 30 bespoke PS projects, which all start with a single idea from an imaginative customer.
From there, Paul assists in pointing the project in the right direction, offering ideas that are dependent on how far the customer is willing to go. “A project can typically take 12-24 months, and we can create a totally individual 911 like our aluminium Spyder,” Paul points out, “but while wanting technical enhancements, our clients tend to prefer their cars to have a very discreet and subtle style hiding the true potential within, which is where PS Autoart differs from the bespokery crafted at Singer Vehicle Design.”
A look at most PS Autoart projects confirms this: in the main, only a detailed look at an otherwise classic 911 will highlight small intricacies that set a PS Autoart reincarnation apart from the model that was originally assembled at Zuffenhausen.
Owner: Paul Stephens
Location: Halstead, Essex, UK
Rarest 911 sold: 993 GT2 Clubsport with just 1,500 miles from new
Most unique PS Autoart project: PS Spyder
Ideal base car for PS Autoart project: 3.2 Carrera or 964
Interesting fact: Paul is no stranger to race tracks having raced in Caterhams, Marcos, Ginettas, Chevrons and, of course, Porsches over the years, with many wins and the odd championship to his name.
The mention of Singer leads to a healthy conversation about the glorification of modified 911s brought about by the work of Rob Dickinson and Magnus Walker across the pond, and Paul is happy to embrace the public adulation for a Porsche with a personalised character – for now.
As values of donor cars rapidly increase, twinned with a new emerging desire for originality, “bespoke stuff may have a shelf life,” Paul warns, “so we’re soon to embark on an additional arm to PS Autoart, called PS Originals.
Like PS Autoart models, this will involve rebuilding original 911s to an as-new specification, but instead of modifying a donor vehicle, they will be exactly as Porsche supplied the car when new.
Obviously, these will be more expensive than a 20-yearold used 993, for example, as even these require significant maintenance for regular use, so they will be aimed at the client who wants to use his air-cooled 911 every day instead of, say, a 991, and will come complete with a three-year 60,000-mile maintenance and warranty package.”
Paul Stephens’ first 20 years of business have been remarkable through buying, selling and even customising 911s, and if this appetite for further expansion is anything to go by, the next 20 years in rural Essex could be even better.