Back in August we were honoured to host Rod Emory for a series of talks and appearances around the UK. At the centre of the week-long visit was the first staging of KG, the new pre-1974 event. Amid a gruelling schedule of Q&As, autograph sessions and drive-outs, we managed to grab a precious half-hour with the original Outlaw to discuss the past, present and future.
As anyone who came along to one of the evenings with Rod will testify, he is a great talker, full of energy and enthusiasm and as passionate as he is knowledgeable about everything Porsche. We started by asking him where his love for the marque, and his unique take on it, began.
“Back in the late 1980s, my father Gary had a Porsche parts shop in California, which was the birthplace of hot rodding in the 1930s. He was selling new original Porsche parts that he had bought from Porsche to sell to people doing full concours restorations. And in the back of the business was a small workshop where I was working on cars while I was still in high school.
“We were lowering them, removing the hubcaps and bumpers – hot rodding our 356s. And all of my dad’s customers were appalled. They’d say ‘How can you do this? This is blasphemy!’ And for fun, they started calling us outlaws.”
Today, Emory Motorsports has grown into a global business and the 356 Outlaw has become a cult symbol of Porsche’s shapeshifting appeal, universally admired and often imitated, sometimes with markedly less integrity. But this is not something that worries Rod.
“Not everybody was in a position like me where I had access to all of the factory original parts, and I learnt my skills from my grandfather, who was one of the pioneers of hot rodding. I do this every day and it has been my life’s work for more than 30 years. Not everybody can do it to the level that we can because they just don’t have the resources and the skills. But I’d never look down on anybody who’s out there having fun modifying their cars.”
Indeed, there are few, if any, 356s out there that undergo the sort of metamorphosis an Emory car experiences. “It takes 12 to 18 months in the workshop to build one of our cars, depending on what it is,” explains Rod. “We do about 10 to 12 cars a year and there are 14 of us in the workshop, so we do a lot of work there.”
An entry-level Emory Outlaw starts at $300,000, including a donor car, jumping to $400,000 for the more heavily modified Emory Special and $500,000 for the all-out Emory RS with its 964-derived motorsport underpinnings.
Rod has an extraordinary work ethic. He’s up at 3am and in the workshop by 4am, two hours ahead of his team. “It’s such a productive time because there are no distractions. There’s no traffic when I get gas on the way to work, and when I get to the workshop I have two hours before anyone shows up. It gives me a chance to go from station to station. I check the work done the previous day, and if there’s something that isn’t right I literally just write on the bare metal in a Sharpie.”
But Rod is less omniscient overlord and more pivotal part of the team. “So when everyone shows up, they see that I’m already there banging away and they hit the ground running. My station is right in the middle of the workshop and I’m there all day long, so it’s not like I’m an absentee boss in an office somewhere. I’m one of the guys and I’m doing my own work.”
The cars follow a fairly formal line around Rod’s modest but well equipped Californian workshop, where early 20th-century English wheels share space with the latest 3D scanners. A donor arrives initially for disassembly before being sent off for media blasting. The bare shell then returns for in-house rust repair, the invariably extensive 911-based suspension modifications, reshaping by Rod or right-hand man Sal should the commission be a Special, all before sanding and blocking, paint and final assembly.
“I spend at least 60 per cent of my time in the workshop because we don’t do retail sales or any marketing, and my wife Amy handles the payroll and orders,” says Rod. “And I maximise my time in the workshop by doing all my prep in those two hours in the morning.”
From outsider to establishment figure, Emory Motorsports has come in from the cold in the last decade, revealing both Porsche’s and the wider classic car community’s need to adapt. But has the old guard accepted Rod?
“I think now we’re 30 years into it and they’ve seen that we’re not ruining the cars but actually putting more back on the road – and that’s what we all want – then yes,” he says. “The bottom line is that the more of these Porsches that survive and continue being driven, the better. People know we’re here to stay and that the new generation of Porsche enthusiast likes the idea of personalised, customised cars.
“Even Porsche isn’t keeping its distance,” Rod adds. “They’re not partnering up with us but they appreciate what we do now. Guys like me and Alois Ruf and shops like Singer and Gunther Werks are putting cars on the road, building new fan bases and bringing more people into the Porsche world.”
Like the rest of us, Rod seems to be rooted in Porsche in a way outsiders seldom understand. Perhaps he summarised it best when talking to Club members at Porsche Centre Portsmouth: “Everything else is just transportation.”