Chit chatting to the world's most famous Porsche collector
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What do Victoria Beckham, Bruce Willis and Madonna have in common? The perhaps unlikely answer is a bearded, dreadlocked and tattooed car fanatic from Sheffield who has rewritten the American dream for a whole new generation.
Born in 1967, Magnus Walker grew up in South Yorkshire as something of an outsider. Bullied in school for his unusual name, he would learn to think of himself as a ‘lone wolf’, preferring to shy away from group activities and team sports, and dropping out of school aged 15 with two O Levels.
What followed is as unpredictable as it is impressive; a tale of grit, talent, good timing and a little bit of luck that means the 49-year-old sitting before me today regularly engages with the biggest names in entertainment, and has one of the world’s most interesting collections of Porsches, many customised in his trademark “Urban Outlaw” style.
Walker’s unpredictable journey started when he left Sheffield for Detroit as a music-obsessed teenager to work on the Camp America programme. “At the time Detroit was a little bit like Sheffield in the sense that both were musical, former industrial cities that had fallen on hard times, Sheffield for steel and Detroit for the automobile,” says Walker.
“The camp was challenging, but at the weekend we’d get to go into the city and experience the music. Then, after the camp was over I took a bus and went to LA.”
This would be where Walker carved his success, starting with a weekend job on the Venice Beach Boardwalk that paid $10 a day for flogging seconds from Gap. Spotting the seller on the next stall was doing a roaring trade in vintage clothing, Walker decided to do the same. “I’d always been into Levis and vintage clothes so I started going to yard sales and flea markets and buying up jeans. I set up my own stall during the weeks. Within a month I was making money.” Key to Walker’s success was that he wasn’t merely reselling the jeans, but customising them by adding patches, as well as making and selling oversized reversible hats - signs of the entrepreneurial spirit that have served him so well.
Business grew to a stage where a factory was required and a new brand of rock-inspired fashion - Serious Clothing - was born. Walker ran this with his wife Karen, who together created a style that would be featured on magazine covers and was regularly worn by artists including Alice Cooper and Madonna.
Although long since out of the fashion business, Walker’s style remains as individual as ever. His leather jacket has a deeply worn patina, his dreadlocks tumble from beneath a baseball cap and tattoos spill out from under his sleeves on to his hands. The most recent of these, he explains, is dedicated to Karen, who passed away in 2015. It is the only time in our two-hour interview that the man from Sheffield pauses for thought.
In the 21 years the couple spent together much was achieved, but it was the the purchase of a warehouse in downtown LA in the late Nineties, paid for out of money generated from Serious Clothing, that served as the next catalyst for success.
Derelict to begin with, the building would go on to become (again through spotting an opportunity where others might not) a film and television location studio. It is where Bruce Willis filmed parts of the ‘The Whole Nine Yards’, and where Victoria Beckham arrived for a fashion shoot shortly after moving to LA with David Beckham in 2007. “She’d just launched a clothing line, Becks had moved to play for Galaxy, they were the new ‘it’ couple in LA. Her security company told us they wanted to check the facility beforehand. We’d had big stars such as Prince, Bruce Willis and Jay Z, but nobody else had asked for this. It seemed a little excessive,” remembers Walker.
“The next day Victoria Beckham arrived. What we weren’t expecting were the 40 or so paparazzi chasing her, with a ladder trying to climb over the gate to get pictures. That’s when we realised how popular she was.”
Of course, Walker’s fame comes not from his success in fashion or property, but his love of Porsches, which can be traced back to when, as a 10-year-old, he became captivated by a new 911 Turbo at the London Earls Court Motor Show.
Rather than simply collecting cars, of course, the man from Sheffield customises them as only he knows how, taking inspiration from his tastes in fashion and his love of fast driving to create unique 911 hot rods. It was this style that led Tamir Moscovici, a Canadian documentary maker, to approach Walker in 2012 with an idea to make a short film. The resulting 32-minute feature, “Urban Outlaw”, has not only won awards for cinematography, but captured the attention of millions of viewers. ““Everything started happening for me on a bigger scale after Urban Outlaw came out,” says Walker, who has since used social media to engage with his thousands of fans, regularly sharing pictures of his travels and his cars.
Currently the collection numbers 25 Porsches from a very early 1964 911 that he’s left completely standard, through a mid-engined 914, a 924 Carrera GT and “277”, the 911T from 1971 that he has modified in what has become a signature vehicle.
Unlike most Porsche customisers though, Walker does not build cars for customers, although they do come to market from time to time. Most notably, a 1972 STR (Walker’s name for the custom 911 that can be seen being built in Urban Outlaw) was auctioned as part of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2013, where it fetched $302,000 - double its estimate.
He’s also formed a strong, if unofficial, relationship with Porsche itself, appearing at numerous events and even in a television commercial. For Porsche, the rebel owner and customiser represents a side of the brand not often seen, but one it is clearly keen to engage with.
Listening to Walker’s rags to riches tale, you could be fooled into thinking he’s merely lucky, but that would be unfair. For a start, it is unlikely anybody could find success at his level in three disparate industries purely by chance. But also there’s a subtle charisma to the man and the way he rejects convention that is hard to resist.
It is surely no surprise therefore to hear he is unfazed by the celebrities he so often encounters on a rarefied one-to-one basis. “To me these are just fleeting magical moments and memories,” he remarks. For Magnus Walker, almost 40 years after seeing that first 911 Turbo, it still starts and ends with the cars.
- Telegraph UK