History of PTS
Paint to Sample has become the generic term for a phenomenon which is far from new. Total 911 delves into the history and origins of PTS…
It’s a popular option now, but what are the origins behind Porsche’s Paint To Sample procedure?
When Bjørn Steinar Kirkholt began his search for a 993 C4S in 2012, the objective was pretty clear. “I didn’t just want another black or silver example. I wanted a colour you do not see every day,” he says, as we stand and admire the rich shine of the paintwork adorning his 993. That search, as it happens, took a whole year, eventually leading to a whisper that a car was soon to be available which hadn’t yet reached the market. The car in question was certainly not another silver or black example, its hue more commonly attributed to the slender hips of the 964 generation before it. “When this one came up, I did not hesitate. It never came out in the market – I got a tip and bought it before it was advertised,” Bjørn recalls proudly as he starts the engine of his gorgeous Maritime blue 993 C4S. A Maritime blue 993 C4S, I hear you ask? It can only be the work of Porsche’s storied Paint To Sample programme.
The expression sounds rather ordinary, like the announcement of some commodity such as ‘food to go’ or a routine call to action: ‘bills to pay’. But, in fact, it is all about having a paint job on your car that is different from the norm. Ah, you say, wasn’t that kind of customisation always possible? Yes it was, but in recent years, recognising the potential profits here, certain premium manufacturers have quietly included this option in their manufacture programme. Chief exponents in Europe are BMW, Daimler Benz, Audi, Ferrari and, of course, Porsche. Indeed, having a Paint To Sample colour has become a significant strand of new Porsche ownership, especially when today’s happy proprietors can now broadcast their good taste on social media, a route not possible until a few years ago. And however tasteful or otherwise the hue, for the manufacturers all publicity is good publicity. With even the more straightforward shades charged over €6,000 on the price of a new 911, Porsche is of course very happy to oblige.
In the early years, extras for your Porsche were limited to tuning kits; it was only when Zuffenhausen launched the 911 Turbo in 1974 that it discovered a lucrative aftermarket in customisation for Turbo customers who were often rich, rather than simply affluent enough to afford a Porsche. The Sonderwunsch department was set up in 1978 to exploit this seam and produced perhaps the most famous custom 911, Mansour Ojjeh’s road-going 935, which incidentally was finished in a unique ‘Brilliant red.’ Even in 1984, type approval regulations were
already closing in on this sort of caper and when he took delivery, Ojjeh could not drive the 935 legally in Germany. Sonderwunsch later morphed into ‘Porsche Exclusive’ as bodywork customisation and the practicality of short production runs diminished, finally disappearing altogether when Porsche reequipped Zuffenhausen for 986 and 996 builds in the mid-1990s. To hone accessory marketing, extras were grouped under a new label: Porsche Tequipment. This was a range of factory-fit items such as sports exhausts or post-build dealer-installed accessories such as bike racks, while the Exclusive Department handled what was essentially bespoke cabin work.
Colour options on Porsche have been around since the 356. The first 911 in 1964 had seven standard colours with four optional; by 1969 there were nine standard shades and 21 ‘special order’ possibilities. By the time of the 996 Porsche listed four standard colours – yellow, red, black and white – and seven options, all metallic, including the 996’s most common colour, Arctic silver. Significantly, these options cost $805, whereas, offered here for the first time, colours to sample were priced at an impressive $4,230, with a rider that delivery could be an additional three to six months.
Personalised customer choice had quietly arrived, but potential takers would need to be both patient and persistent. It was as if the company was reluctantly acknowledging this demand, but not going out of its way to make access easy. By the time
the 997 was launched, and in contrast to a decade earlier, Porsche was in poor financial health. This was reflected in the standard 911 palette, which featured no less than 24 colours. Now there were no optional colours, simply a slightly cryptic reference to nonmetallic Paint To Sample under code 98 and metallic under code 99.
The role of colour individualisation has grown since bespoke coachwork became impossible and is a lot more significant since the internet. Porsche is not alone among premium car makers in constructing its Car Configurator to enable buyers to specify exactly what they desire. The introduction of the
991 coincided with the opening of Porsche’s stateof-the-art painting facility at Zuffenhausen, and it was no coincidence that the colour possibilities available for the 991 were far wider than any previous generation. Over a dozen Paint To Sample colours were pre-approved for immediate order, and although many of these sounded a little tame – various greys and Arctic silver – there were also more adventurous shades, notably Pastel orange, Mexico blue and RS green.
A second group comprised of colours described as already undergoing feasibility study. Among these were Sepia brown and Ipanema blue metallic, striking throwbacks to 911s of the 1970s and 1980s. Other old favourites – Guards red and Speed yellow – would also be subject to feasibility checks, as was a long list of more contemporary shades. Not all would materialise: there are several reasons why a manufacturer may not approve a customer’s chosen paint shade from the outset. One can be legal – a number of Porsche fans enquired about Gulf blue or Gulf orange – and there may be a question of ‘ownership’, rather in the way Peugeot laid claim to 900 model numbering in the 1960s.
Another reason – and the most common cause of rejection – is that despite the sophistication of modern paint application, exposure to sunlight and the environment causes some shades to change.
All paint finishes fade eventually, but premium manufacturers do not want to have clients who have paid five-figure sums for a colour knocking on the door two years later complaining their expensive paint has faded.
For these reasons, the feasibility study looks not just at the availability of the required pigment, but its stability. How extensive these studies need to be will ultimately be reflected in the price charged to the customer, and indeed how long he or she will have to wait for delivery. Another factor for would-be
‘unique’ colour clients is whether their choice will prove difficult to sell the car on, though unless the colour scheme is extraordinarily outlandish these cars usually prove far more acceptable than some of the customisations that used to disfigure 911s 30 years ago.
There is also an element of teasing in the marketing of Paint To Sample. Towards the end of 997 production Porsche produced a very limited number of Speedsters: these were available in Carrara white or what was described as a ‘unique’ blue. Later that Speedster blue would become a Paint To Sample possibility for the 911. This is a recurring theme; highprofile 911 releases like the GT3 RS or the GT2 RS were launched with their own exceptional colours, but these soon became available as PTS options, as was the Irish green of the millionth 911 in 2017.
It may be an ever-more popular choice for customers today, but Porsche’s Paint To Sample programme is as historical as it is magical, offering customers an opportunity to ensure their car is truly unique. This might well be the reason Bjørn says his own research on the production numbers of MY1997 993 4Ss in Maritime blue has gathered little in the way of facts. “I’d like to know how many others are out there,” he says, but we think he’ll be hard pressed to find any. That’s the beauty of Paint To Sample: it gives you your special Porsche in a limited production of one.
Above Maritime blue graced the curves of many a 964, but is a rare sight to behold on a 993
left Slate grey has always been a popular PTS choice, while above left, Sport Classic grey is now only available as a PTS colour
RIGHT Porsche’s own Millionth 911 was finished in Paint To Sample Irish green, originally a classic 911 hue