INSIDE PORSCHE CLASSIC
Is Porsche Classic a marketing ploy, or is there real benefit to owners of older cars? Total 911 heads to a certified Classic centre to find out
What do you really know about Porsche’s Classic scheme? We’ll admit we only had a reasonable handle on what it offered, from attractively packaged oils to “access to more than 50,000 original parts”, as Porsche’s marketing teams have been at pains to point out. We’ve also seen the usual maintenance and restoration services, not to mention the Porsche Classic Register, offering owners some tempting perks.
We’d nevertheless just dismissed it all as mere marketing adjunct to the normal OPC activity, and wanted to discover whether it really was little more than PR smoke and mirrors or of real benefit to those that cherish their classic Neunelfers. There’s been a mixed reaction to the scheme among the wider Porsche specialist industry too: one specialist we spoke to questioned the attention to detail when it came to preparing cars to original specification, although it’s reasonable to view Porsche Classic as an attempt to counter such criticisms. That said, another specialist took a more positive view, seeing it as reinforcing the appeal of classic models and Porsche’s support of them, although they felt that it may take a little time for staff to gain the sort of experience that specialists have built up over years of dealing with classics. Either way, more investigation is needed, which brings us to Porsche Classic Centre Swindon, run by the Dick Lovett group, where Classic manager Stephen Brown is awaiting us.
Some background first: it was back in November 2015 when the first Porsche Classic Centre opened, located at Porsche Centre Gelderland in The Netherlands. It was the first time the usual sales and service offerings had been aimed exclusively at classic models which, given our specific interest here, encompassed 911s up to and including the 996. Promising specially trained staff and a separate area within an OPC, the scheme would be rolled out worldwide with chosen dealerships certified as ‘Porsche Classic Partners’. In the UK the first two opened in Leeds and Hatfield in 2015, followed by Glasgow and Swindon a year later. As with all of the sites their applications required approval from both Porsche GB and Porsche AG, while detailed training of sales staff and technicians was a prerequisite of their joining the programme, followed by rigorous auditing to ensure standards remained high.
Porsche wouldn’t be drawn on the exact criteria used to determine approval, although it did say that the market potential in any given area is one consideration, as is the capital investment required by the dealership and the scope to accommodate
a classic-specific area. That may be why, in the UK at least, the four centres chosen seem to cover the north, east and west of England, plus one in Scotland. Perhaps in time we can therefore expect a Classic centre to open up on the South Coast. Again, Porsche wouldn’t comment on this, but did add that any future expansion would take into account the size of the classic market in a region and how positive an impact an additional Partner would have on the Porsche Classic business. The existing skillset of staff is also taken into account, and any potential Classic Partner would need to commit investment in raising those skills further. It’s certainly not just a case of smart new signage appearing on the wall. Only time will tell, but we have discovered that Porsche is investing plenty of resources, including the re-introduction of around 300 previously unobtainable parts per year – some of which utilise 3D metal-printing technology.
It sounds impressive so far, but back in Swindon Stephen shows us to the Centre’s ‘Classic Corner’ and, while it is modest in the physical sense, it clearly indicates to customers there is something different about this particular showroom. That a stunning 356 is positioned nearby on the day we visit reinforces the impression, but we also can’t fail to miss the beautifully prepared 993 C4 Coupe sitting amidst the display boards showing Porsche history through the years. Although technically for sale, it is actually a demonstration car that prospective owners can try to see if a classic 911 is really for them. An initiative unique to Swindon, it’s a clear demonstration of the flexibility afforded to Classic Partners, and one Stephen is rightly proud of. We think it’s a great idea.
As we talk further we discover he’s an SC owner himself (his father drives a 993) and the obvious enthusiasm for the older cars is immediately apparent. In fact, it’s that ‘emotional’ side of things that he feels is at the heart of the Classic Partner programme. While you’ll not be surprised to learn that those working in sales and service at an OPC love their Porsche, what differentiates those working at somewhere like Swindon – and indeed the other Classic Partners in the UK – is a real passion for the older cars. “With a chairman [Peter Lovett] that has extensive experience of classic Porsche, that passion filters down to the whole team,” says Stephen, whose enthusiasm is infectious, something that customers would quickly pick up on. He explains: “Becoming Classic manager means I’m immersed in a world I know and love outside of work.” Are we convinced?
Well, surely the workshop will just be the usual area filled with modern 911s, Boxsters and SUVS in for servicing with little evidence of a passion for classics, won’t it? That’s our next stop, and as we enter the ultraclean and quietly industrious space our eyes immediately fall on the 964 Turbo wearing
Middle Eastern number plates. Oh yes, and the superbly restored SC and, whisper it within these pages, there’s a 968 in the same colour that looks boxfresh. This latter car isn’t exactly Total 911 fare, but it’s sitting in the dedicated bay required as part of Classic Partner certification, and it looks stunning close up. Being prepared for a classic motor show, where it will join other older models prepared by Classic Partners, the technician working on the car proudly shows us the work he’s done, and his enthusiasm is clear. “I love engineering, and working on cars has been a passion from an early age,” says Kevin Allen, “but now, as Classic lead technician I’ll never work for another marque.”
“I can ask Porsche for a batch of 2.7 RS rear quarter panels, which is a pretty amazing service to have”
The 930 LE we’re shown that had just received a detailed and lengthy engine rebuild is rather tasty, too. It seems that any given week could see up to half of the cars in the workshop being classics, and it’s worth noting that technicians need to volunteer for the extensive training that brings classic certification, so those that do are clearly excited by the prospect of spending more time on older models. There’s also greater flexibility when it comes to the cost of work as opposed to the limitations of menupricing for modern Porsche – another example of how a Classic Partner can do things a little differently.
Of course, there are other aspects to the business besides maintenance and restoration, the parts department well-versed in supplying classic parts to both owners and independent specialists. Stephen explains: “Like all of the aftersales team they receive special training, and access to Porsche ‘Special Procurement’ is especially exciting as it means we can request the remanufacture of rare parts. For example, I can ask Porsche for a batch of 2.7 RS rear quarter panels, which is a pretty amazing service to have.” Surely any Porsche Centre would be able to request this service if a 2.7 RS customer wanted a restoration, though?
Sales will always be at the core of any OPC’S work, and you can be sure they too will have received extensive levels of additional, classic-related training, should you choose to visit your nearest Classic centre. Sales does present a few challenges, admits Stephen, mostly around guiding customers during a classic 911 purchase and managing expectations. As he explains: “They could well be new to an older car, so it’s important to ensure they appreciate the different driving and ownership experience so they go away happy.” It’s easy to see how that 993 demonstration car is a useful tool.
And with a dedicated buyer and financial advisers for the classic side of the business, it’s becoming obvious that it’s no mere lip service being paid to the older cars.
And, having mentioned the greater flexibility that a Classic Partner enjoys, we’re also impressed to learn of ‘Porsche Classic Life’ at the Bicester Heritage site in Oxfordshire. Run by the team at
Dick Lovett, it’s the only standalone official Classic Centre in the UK and is housed in one of the site’s original WWII fire stations. Potential owners can take advantage of accessories on sale, as well as an inspection ramp, while the private test track can be a great introduction to the joys of an older 911. Charmingly quirky, this certainly doesn’t feel like the usual iron-fisted control that Porsche exhibits when it comes to its premises. And given the general enthusiasm around Bicester Heritage at the moment it demonstrates a flexibility to react to the demands of the classic car marketplace.
Our meeting with Steven over, we prepare to head off, but not without taking a moment to reflect on what we’ve seen. Before arriving in Swindon we certainly felt we needed to be fully convinced that Porsche Classic is a worthy addition to the brand that offers real value to customers; that it really did add to the customer experience in a meaningful way. We’re fairly certain now that it does add some value, though questions remain as to the real difference in service between a Classic centre and a normal OPC: for example, if the owner of a classic 911 wanted his or her car to be restored at a main dealer, is using a Classic centre a necessity when technicians at a ‘normal’ OPC often have years of experience working with classic cars anyway?
This scheme is still a relatively new addition to the OPC network but, having seen the passion for classics that exists here, it certainly presents another tempting option for those with an older 911 – and choice will always be good for the customer.
Thanks to Simon Lisemore, centre principal at Porsche Centre Swindon, and Stephen Brown for their time and help with this feature
Below left A certified Classic Centre won’t just have 992s and Approved Used 991s in the showroom