Historically, the Porsche community has been a largely staunch and conservative bunch, placing a premium on pedigree and originality, and often turning its nose up at custom modifications — at least outside of dedicated race applications. And while cutting up one of these elite German models was once seen as objectively sacrilegious, a half-century of emerging outlaw Porsche culture has more recently culminated in a thriving Porsche tuning and customization industry. As this segment has evolved, a myriad of independent shops have increasingly developed their own signature styles and traits, with specific regions becoming hotbeds for aftermarket work such as Japan, California, and Porsche’s native Germany.
Now widely embraced by the greater Porsche community, these specific shops manage to improve on what are already objectively iconic automotive designs, modernizing the machines inside and out while still retaining the brand’s core visual DNA and remaining readily identifiable as being from the storied Stuttgart firm. So, with the popularity of custom and resto-modded Porsches at an all-time high and so many renowned outfits in operation all over the globe, we thought we’d take the time to unpack this guide to the best Porsche Tuners.
From Outlaws To The In-Crowd
A Brief History Of Porsche Tuning & Custom Culture
As high-performance vehicles in their stock form, drivers have been modifying and racing Porsches since the company’s inception. Engine and other mechanical upgrades and bodywork tweaks were common, though these alterations were primarily reserved for the race track, and seldom found their way onto road-going examples. This would all change, however, with the birth of the “Outlaw Porsche” (or “356 Outlaws”).
Amidst America’s “Kustom Kulture” boom of the 1950s and ‘60s, Los Angeles-based stunt driver, sculptor, painter, and all-around gearhead, Dean Jeffries is credited as the catalyst to today’s modern Porsche tuning scene. Jeffries was originally running a successful paint shop — with clients that included the likes of James Dean, and legendary race car drivers such as A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones — but wanted to show the wider automotive industry that he was good for more than just laying down a livery.
So, in 1957, he got his hands on a Carrera that he proceeded to tear down and rebuild in his own unique style. The front of the car was stretched, it’s bumper was pulled and smoothed over, and a pair of sunken stacked headlights were added to either side, hugely streamlining the donor. Out in back, the rear bumper got the same treatment before being given a set of custom taillights and a grilled rear scoop. After spraying the bespoke bodywork up in a metal flake paint job, the first Outlaw Porsche was officially born (seen directly below).
Once completed, Jeffries, proceeded to enter his custom creation into a variety of car shows over the next half-decade, supposedly amassing some 30 first-place and best-of-show awards, in addition to being featured on numerous car magazine covers. In the early ‘60s, Jeffries decided to change things up, and replace the 356A’s original satin paint job with an involved multi-dozen coat gold livery. Not long after, a guy walked into Jeffries’ shop and offered to buy the customized Porsche on the spot in cash — an offer that Jeffries obliged.
In an interesting turn of events, the customer who purchased the “Kustom Karrera” just so happened to be, Albert Nussbaum, a notorious bank robber on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. While one might think a gold one-of-a-kind sportscar a poor (and less-than-inconspicuous) choice for traveling cross-country with the FBI hot on your tail, that’s nonetheless exactly what Nussbaum did, making it all the way to Florida before the car was reportedly abandoned in his sister’s driveway when the house was raided.
So, while the name “Outlaw Porsche” monicker primarily stems from the initial oppositional reaction expressed by the Porsche community towards these kinds of irreversible modifications, Nussbaum’s coast-to-coast road trip behind the wheel of Jeffries’ Carrera definitely helped to solidify the status and image of this emerging subculture.
The Outlaw build hugely sparked Jeffries’ career, and not long after he started being called on to whip up one-off vehicle designs for movies and TV shows such as the Black Beauty from The Green Hornet and the moon buggy from the Bond flick, Diamonds Are Forever. Despite Jeffries moving onto other projects, his Carrera left an indelible mark on the Porsche scene and served as a pivotal inspiration for many of the individuals behind today’s leading Porsche tuners and customizers — including a young Gary Emory, who first laid eyes on the 356 at a car show in 1961, before going on to build his own custom Porsche legacy.
Coming Full Circle
The Modern Customization Boom
No matter how much time passes, or what new models are unveiled, Porsche’s 911 and 356 continue to stand as two of the most iconic and celebrated automotive designs of all time. And while these models may have stood the test of time from a visual standpoint, the same can’t be said about the vintage models’ reliability, safety standards, or performance – all three of which have grown objectively long in the tooth.
Recognizing this, modern Porsche customizers now offer something of the best of both worlds, building high-performance Porsche’s that retain their timeless appearance (albeit with some modern flair) while bestowing the donors with updated mechanics and componentry. This ranges from engine swaps from newer models, to building out Porsche’s to specific factory specs.
As the Porsche tuning community has grown over time, the standards for builds have enormously evolved. It’s now common to see projects that pore over every inch of the car, beautiful and painstakingly considering every detail, from custom-woven seats and trims to fully-finished engine bays and boots. Superfluous weight is shed, and original body panels are often replaced with more aggressive flared items that are routinely made from carbon fiber. Each of these projects requires hundreds of hours of labor from experts in their craft, and consequently, it’s not unusual to see today’s custom Porsche builds costing six to seven figures.
Just like the original wave of builders that were inspired by Jeffries, the initial Porsche customization movement would go on to spawn an even greater number of outfits that are in operation today. The RUFs and Singers that once took inspiration from Jeffries were now motivating the next wave of builders that constitute today’s custom scene. The subculture’s prolonged existence and the steadily-increasing demand for one-off 911 (and 356) builds has allowed for a thriving ecosystem with tuning outfits scattered across the planet, all offering their own unique takes on the ultimate Porsche project.
A highly-respected Porsche restoration and tuning outfit, Canepa’s official launch dates back to 1982 when Bruce Canepa founded both Canepa Design and the exotic car dealership, Canepa Motorcars. Having now existed for close to four decades, Canepa boasts an immense portfolio of top-notch work. And while Canepa’s expertise with the Stuttgart brand covers a vast range of models and eras, one of the many feathers in the company’s cap is its treatment of the ultra-rare and elite Porsche 959 — the car that famously lead Bruce Canepa, alongside Bill Gates and Paul Allen, to successfully lobby Congress in order to approve the Show or Display amendment. The Canepa’s 959 is a wonderful example of the outfit’s abilities, with the shop bestowing the already high-performance model with titanium coilovers, magnesium rims, a revised ECU paired with a custom exhaust, and twin Borg-Warner turbos with titanium heat-shields that allows the engine to generate over 760hp.
A third-generation tuner and customizer and son of Gary Emory, Rod Emory built his first one-off Porsche at the age of 14. With the help of his wife, in 1996 Rod founded Emory Motorsports, which has since grown into one of the most eminent shops in the Porsche world. Not only does Emory have more than 175 Outlaw Porsche 911 and 356 builds to its name, but it’s also responsible for some of the most noteworthy Outlaw projects in existence, such as the Emory RS (MOMO collaboration). Perfectly encapsulating the spirit of Jeffries’ original Outlaw Porsche, the shop offers several custom models, though each build is made-to-order, with the customer getting to select from an enormous number of personalization options. And, on top of sporting a slew of performance and mechanical upgrades, custom Emory builds also begin with ground-up nut-and-bolt restorations, ensuring the quality of each example inside and out.
Since Gemballa’s inception in 1981, the German tuning outfit has been focused on squeezing extra power and performance out of Porsche’s latest high-performance models, from the Leonberg-based label’s Slantnose 911s of the early ‘80s up to its latest 800hp+ 911 Turbo GTR 8XX Evo-R. A big part of what makes Gemballa unique is the supercar-approach that it takes when upgrading cars, separately improving individual aspects such as power output, handling, weight, and aerodynamics which come together to allow for markedly improved and more competent vehicles. Though usually street legal, the tuner’s wide body and aero kits are heavily derived from competition machines. The company has also made a number of nifty little innovations over the years that have become commonplace today, such as pioneering the use of LED lighting and backup cameras. More recently, Gemballa has announced plans for a carbon fiber 911 Safari, as well as the tuning outfit’s very first hypercar model, which is being developed entirely in-house.
Headed up by noted builder and tuner, Peter Nam, Gunther Werks is an elite West Coast outfit that builds true driver’s cars for diehard Porsche enthusiasts, recognizing the qualities that people love about owning and piloting these prestigious German machines and amplify these traits through their heavily involved transformations. The Southern California shop’s latest flagship project is the stunning Gunther Werks 400R. Limited to 25 units, the 400R starts with the final air-cooled 911, the 993, and sees the donor gifted with upgraded brakes and suspension, a fully-redone carbon-clad interior, and a naturally-aspirated, heavily-massaged engine from Oregon’s Rothsport Racing that’s mated to a Getrag G50 six-speed manual transmission, before the entire vehicle is cloaked in a custom carbon fiber widebody kit. The 400R’s transformation results in an extremely-nimble, approximately 2,600lb machine with over 430hp and 330ft-lbs of torque, though they don’t come cheap, with each custom-built 400R commission starting from $525,000.
What started as a one-off project in the home garage of a Bavarian chassis engineer, Kaege is another German Porsche tuning outfit that offers top-notch builds at substantially more attainable price points. Like most other outfits, Kaege uses a combination of (modified) classic bodies dropped over more contemporary frames and powertrains, however, the Stetten shop specifically utilizes production components (rather than custom parts) whenever possible in order to minimize man-hours and cost. The use of OEM parts also allows for more reliable builds that lend themselves to use as daily drivers. These are far from budget, wannabe Singer builds, too, with Kaege’s projects shedding several hundred pounds in weight thanks to key pieces being replaced with carbon fiber items, and being tuned to around the 300hp mark without requiring servicing every few hundred miles. Beyond the standard wide-body treatment, Kaege also boasts an objective knack for beautifully transforming 911 interiors.
Not unlike Kaege, Lightspeed Classic is another German tuner that aims to offer slightly more affordable, albeit still thoroughly elite customs and restomods. Founded by an ex-Porsche employee, the Taufkirchen-based tuner’s bread and butter is churning out more contemporary builds adorned in 1970s-based bodywork. Lightspeed Classic’s cars all receive a host of up-specced engine internals and other mechanical components from modern Porsche models, fully-appointed custom interiors, and various carbon fiber pieces (which are produced by an aviation parts company), though the shop’s aim is for each of its builds to be serviceable any Porsche mechanic. Specializing in the 964, Lightspeed’s vehicles aren’t exactly what anyone would call “cheap,” with commissions starting from around €100,000 (or just shy of $120,000), though they’re still a fraction of the price of customs from some of the more elite outfits that begin from the half-million mark.
Just like Dean Jeffries before him, Magnus Walker is a true maverick in the Porsche scene, marching to the beat of his own drum and allowing his personal taste to entirely dictate his builds, regardless as to how his work may be viewed by traditionalists. After emigrating to Los Angeles from the UK, Walker built a fashion and style empire (with the “Serious Clothing” brand), before turning his attention to his childhood love, the Porsche 911. His personal Porsche collection quickly grew, and his particular style of Outlaw Porsche hugely resonated with the larger automotive subculture, gaining Walker’s builds fame and widespread recognition, and eventually prompting the Sheffield-born builder to begin offering his customization services to the public. Magnus Walker’s involvement in the Porsche scene has undeniably slowed over the last few years, though he remains one of the most prominent and influential figures in the space.
Paul Stephens AutoArt
One of the UK’s most respected names in the Porsche realm, Paul Stephens runs a renowned shop in Essex that trades in everything from servicing to restorations, to lightly-upgraded builds, to full-blown custom builds, and everything in-between. Starting with the PS 300R prototype in 2005, Paul Stephens AutoArt has developed a growing number of base packages that serve as jumping-off points for customizable builds. Small touches like composite engine covers and bumpers and low-drag coefficient mirrors speak to the immense overall attention to detail that these elite British-built Porsches possess. Even the shop’s more involved customs (such as its absolutely stunning special edition Le Mans Classic Clubsport, seen directly above) follow more traditional retro-race-derived visual themes instead of the flared-fender and wide rear-tired aesthetic that’s increasingly become the status quo in today’s one-off Porsche scene. And, with a three-year (or 60,000-mile) warranty and modern 12,000-mile service intervals, Paul Stephens’ custom builds actually lend themselves quite nicely to daily driving/commuting duties.
RAUH-Welt BEGRIFF (RWB)
Akira Nakai is a legendary name in automotive tuner circles, spending his formative gearhead years wrenching on a Toyota AE86 before applying the heavily-slammed drifter treatment to the Stuttgart manufacturers flagship sportscar, eventually giving way to the creation of the now-fabled RWB — or RAUH-Welt BEGRIFF (German for “Rough World Concepts”). RWB Porsches are characterized by their crazy-low ride-heights and clearance, bolted-on flared fenders, side skirts, lip kits, and large rear wings. No two RWB Porsches are the same, and every example is built by the company’s founder, who forgoes cutting-edge CAD software and the like in favor of a more old-school approach. And, while RWB’s signature aesthetic can admittedly be polarizing, the outfit’s ability to bestow 911s with drift-style transformations is truly unparalleled. The bodywork kits — which are entirely custom-designed and made by hand — reportedly start for around $25,000, with wheels, lowered suspension, and paint adding anywhere from another $15 to $30,000 (plus the cost of the air-cooled donor itself).
Though RUF had humble beginnings as a basic repair shop in Pfaffenhausen, the German outfit has consistently produced some of the most desirable, high-performance modified Porsches ever conceived. Dating back to 1939, RUF first appeared on the radar of the mainstream automotive community after a July 1987 appearance in a Road & Track Supercar Shootout, in which RUF’s twin-turbocharged CTR “Yellow Bird” dominated the latest and greatest machines of the era from the likes of Lamborghini and Ferrari, clocking a top speed of 211mph. Today, RUF maintains its same winning formula of heavily-tuning engines, running gear, and aerodynamics to deliver elite vehicles with the ability to clock some impressive lap times. RUF’s current range of models is a combination of objectively modern cars and more vintage-themed offerings, many of which pay homage to some of RUF’s earlier iconic works, such as the SCR and the aforementioned CTR Yellowbird.
Singer Vehicle Design
You can’t talk about the modern Porsche tuning scene without the Singer name coming up. This absolutely legendary California-based company is seen by many as something of the ultimate expression of a modified Porsche 911. Founded by former musician, Rob Dickinson, the elite brand’s moniker is a nod to famous Porsche engineer, Norbert Singer (as well as Dickinson’s previous occupation). Over the years, Singer has carved out a reputation for building ridiculously-detailed, modernized, high-performance restomods. From its woven interiors to its wide stance, to its carbon bodywork, to its bespoke intake system that utilizes the car’s rear quarter windows, Singer Vehicle Design is quite possibly the most influential Porsche tuner in existence, with the Southern California shop being responsible for inspiring the inception of several other outfits on this list. Singer’s builds start at just below the half-million-dollar mark but have been known to fetch well over a million when selling at auction. This company has also more recently gotten involved in the high-end chronograph watch arena.
Based in Miami, STRAAT is an extremely-elite Porsche restorer and customizer that caters towards a ridiculously-discerning clientele. Whether you’re looking to have a classic rebuilt to factory spec, or wish to have the South Florida shop build you one of its one-off works, every single project that passes through STRAAT’s HQ begins with a full ground-up nut-and-bolt Concours-level restoration — a process that STRAAT thoroughly documents each step of along the way. Furthermore, STRAAT is incredibly-selective about the donor specimens it works with, accepting only the best examples to ensure quality from the inside out. This area is further helped along by the lengths STRAAT goes to ensure longevity, such as powder coating sheet-metal and zinc-plating hardware throughout. Despite this obsessive level of detail, these American-made custom builds start at $170,000, though can obviously get substantially more expensive depending on options. STRAAT also boasts an online custom 911 configurator for interested parties.
The 15 Best In-House Car Tuning Brands
Still haven’t gotten your fill of elite upgraded autos? Then be sure to check out our guide to the best in-house tuning brands for a look at 15 of the world’s greatest performance-focused sub-divisions.