What do Porsche 911s, surfboards, bicycles and coffee have in common? A lot, it would seem. South African entrepreneur, Gavin Rooke, hit on a common thread that runs through all of these products above…that is as brilliant as it is simple.
Sometimes, things or events that we are exposed to in our youth, often helps to shape our future. Perhaps we don’t realise it at the time, but much of what we do in our youth, even if it fades from our lives for a time, invariably returns in some form or another at a later date. Gavin Rooke experienced just this turn in his life as he worked on and restored cars as a young boy, something that taught him those essential lessons in vehicle preservation and maintenance again at university, and now in his career.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the era of the modern sports car was running like a swollen river in full flood, and as a young lad in those years, you were literally spoilt for choice with the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Corvette…and the list goes on. These evocative sports cars came in sleek shapes that looked simply out of this world, and most young boys could not help but be drawn into this intoxicating world. Superiority amongst the top sports car manufacturers was measured in horsepower, acceleration and top speed, and frankly, there was little else that mattered. The manufacturer that you identified as ‘your’ favourite was further cemented in your young mind through the various motor racing achievements that were racked up around the world. Of those manufacturers who competed on the international stage in the Grand Touring (GT) class, certainly Porsche and Ferrari stand out above the rest by far, and of those two, the Porsche 911 is unquestionably the most successful GT racer of all time.
Taking a step back for a moment, it was Ferry Porsche’s philosophy to produce sports cars that satisfied the specific requirements of the owner, and performed to a high standard in the process. Porsche identified early on that his sports cars would be purchased by that segment of the market who wanted to experience the practicality of a sports car, while enjoying the individuality that the car would bring to its owner. In simple terms, the Porsche owner would typically be a company owner, perhaps someone of independent means, who could afford the benefits of leisurely pursuits such as golf, skiing or horse riding. As such, right from the earliest 356 model, promotional posters and advertisements showed the 356, and later the 911, in settings that appealed to potential owners who indulged in such pursuits.
The young boy could probably not afford the purchase price of a Porsche 911 in the ‘70s, but perhaps he might have indulged in the more affordable pursuits of surfing or cycling as a youngster. While beach pursuits did play a major role in the life of this writer, my top pastime did include cycling to the local golf club with my golf cart and clubs securely affixed to the rear of my bicycle! Roll this picture forward several decades, and your young boy has grown into a man who now has the time and resources to consider acquiring his ‘first love’, that sleek Porsche 911. Along with his love of sports cars, the chances are that he, or she, has also developed a liking for the finer things of life, including art, music and the like.
The Dutchmann brand
A Porsche enthusiast from an early age, Gavin Rooke bought into the Porsche brand at the tender age of 24, when he became the proud owner of a 356 SC. This car, though, had to unfortunately make way for an expanding family life, and it would be a decade later that Rooke went on the hunt once more, this time for a 911. It was by no means a quick search, but his patience was rewarded with not one, but two cars, a 911 and a 912. The 912 was purchased as a donor car for the 911, at least initially, but that plan was to change with time.
It would be helpful at this point, to explain a little of Gavin Rooke’s working background. Armed with an Honours degree in Marketing from the University of Cape Town, he made his way first in the advertising world which exposed him to the creative world, and an understanding of form and presentation. One thing led to another, and after about ten years, Rooke opened a high-end art gallery as a side line. This in turn introduced him to the real world of hands-on creativity, as the crafts people he warmed to were experts in a wide spectrum of creative disciplines. Inspired by the out-of-the-box thinking of these folk, Rooke began to think about how to put those skills to use in not only an artistic realm, but to apply that creativeness in a practical way.
Thus was born the Delft range of surfboards. Approaching world-renowned surfboard shaper, Spider Murphy, Rooke commissioned ten blank shaped surfboards, handing these out to selected artists who gave each one a bespoke design. These were then displayed as artworks that could be both enjoyed as a piece to hang on your boardroom wall, or in your man cave, or they could be used for riding the waves, whichever the owner chose to do. This concept of art and practicality was to become the hallmark of everything that Gavin Rooke undertook. Following behind the Delft surfboards came the Vicious Cycle, an innovative bicycle that combined the old qualities of a traditional bicycle with modern carbon-fibre components. The Delft surfboards and the Vicious Cycle would become just two of a number of innovative and creative products that fell collectively under the Dutchmann brand.
The birth of the Dutchmann Porsche
In 2008, Rooke’s search for a Porsche led him to a ’71 911 T that he restored between 2009 and 2011, not to Concourse standard, but to a very high standard nonetheless. The ’68 912 that he acquired at the same time, and which was intended for use as a donor car for 911, was simply parked and was not given a second glance until after the 911 project was completed. “When we restored the 911, we were going to use the 912 as the parts bin but we actually didn’t ever do that, it just didn’t get used, and so I had to decide what to do with it,” Rooke said.
After the Delft surfboards, which had proved popular as ‘practical’ art objects, his thoughts turned to the derelict 912, and what could be done with that. “I thought, let’s make a car, it’s not the first time that someone has decided to bring a car into the art world. If you think about BMW, they have done a number of those very successfully. So, I thought let me take that as the leading approach and see if we can build something quite unusual out of the 912. That is where it started, and it was going to be a once off limited edition, effectively an art object,” he added.
The next step was to develop a conceptual framework that would guide the process, and that framework would be based on an understanding of the rally culture within the 912 drivers in the late 1960s. Buying a 912 back in ‘68, the owner would have had the option of spec-ing it up as many of these cars were rallied at that time. Typically, you could go rallying in your car on the weekends and during the week you would use the car to take the kids to school. If this then formed the basis of what the 912 was in period, Rooke then asked himself, “If we were to bring that into the contemporary world where we are now, what would the equivalent be? I liked the concept of being able to take a car and spec it up with the best components, not only with the parts that were available in 1968, but in fact with the parts from five decades of Porsche components!”
Having finalised his plans, the 912-build process began in mid-2013. “There are two aspects to the process, and the first is the aesthetics which is what the car ends up looking like, and the second are the components. I started with the components and then slowly worked out what the car would end up looking like. At the time that I was doing this, there were so many engines around because there were a lot of people racing these cars. It was as cheap as chips to pick up a racing gearbox and a 2.7-litre motor, but this is now extremely expensive to do,” Rooke explained. A 915 gearbox replaced the old 901 ‘box, as the earlier unit was only a 4-speed and would not have been able to handle the increased performance put out by the 2.7-litre engine. In fact, the 2.7-litre engine was itself enlarged to 2.8-litres, and now pushes out just short of 240 horsepower.
As from the 1969 model year, both the 911 and 912 had their wheelbase dimensions extended from 2211 mm to 2268 mm, an increase of a little more than two inches. Despite this increase in wheelbase, the overall length of the body remained unchanged. Due to the engine upgrade of the Dutchmann 912, from a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder to a 2.7-litre 6-cylinder, and the fitment of the 915 ‘box, the wheelbase of the 1968 model 912 had to be extended to accommodate the revised positioning of the side shafts. This required the wheel arch to be modified, effectively also being shifted rearwards.
It is in the car’s rear wheels where one of the most interesting developments took place. Knowing that the car needed wider rubber all round, Rooke was determined not to extend the fenders outwards by anything more than ‘just a little.’ The rear fender mods involved cutting the metal and rewelding it, there is no fibreglass in the body at all. The original 912 was fitted with 6.95 H 15 inch tyres front and rear, but with the big jump in engine output, much higher straight line performance was going to be transmitted through the tyres, as well as lateral loading. As a result, Rooke sourced 964 Cup I wheels which was a 17-inch wheel, however, it was also too wide to fit within the wheel arch. A Fuchs pattern was cut into a Cup 1 wheel, which really created a bespoke look. Two further modifications were needed here, firstly the 7J Cup 1 wheel rim had to be marginally narrowed by splitting it and removing a section in the middle, and the bodywork on the rear wheel arch had to be modified outwards to accommodate the wider offset. This process resulted in a wider wheel toward the inside with just a small flaring of the fender to the outside. This gives the car a really ‘planted’ look while remaining understated.
This project took place over an 18-month period in 2013 and 2014. Rooke explains, “You must remember, this was back in 2014 and Singer was just up and running and Magnus Walker had done his first movie about his Outlaw projects. But this concept of having relatively classic looking 911s with high performance hadn’t really taken off by then. Singer is the best in the business, I have been very complimentary about them and they have done a lot for this industry. A rising tide raises all boats; however, we do different things. They move well outside of the Porsche realm, whereas we take classic 911s and we build a mixture of components into them. We didn’t want to leave the Porsche environment, the entire car is 100 percent Porsche and there’s nothing in the car that is not off a 911, it is one of our build principles. We never leave the Porsche world!”
When asked about the car’s exterior colour, Rooke laughed, “I was very focused on military greys, so we sourced our colours at the time by using these Humbrol military paints that you would paint your plastic scale models with. I would go to the hobby shops and buy up all the greys that they had and find the perfect grey which we would then mix. We call it Jürgens Grey which is the colour of the old Jürgens caravan, left in the sun for 20 years!” This is where a bit of local knowledge comes in handy, because Jürgens caravans are as much part of South African life as braaivleis and boerewors (local speak for BBQ and seasoned sausages).
Turning his attention to the interior, Rooke wanted to retain the simplistic and uncluttered look of the 912, and a lot of time was spent making the right selection. “We replaced the seats with Tombstone seats, which would have come out in the G-series in the mid-1970s. Slowly but surely, we worked through other little components that we could upgrade, so the car has slightly better lights from a later 911, but we kept the interior totally standard. It came with an original Nardi steering wheel, quite a large diameter which we kept. The 912 has got that wonderful almost sparse interior, it is just beautifully simple and so we kept that as it is,” Rooke explained.
The Hakskeen Pan adventure
Hakskeen Pan is a mud and salt pan in the Kalahari Desert, in Southern Africa. It is located in that thin finger of land that runs northwards with Namibia on the west and Botswana on the east. Lying at 2628 feet above sea level, this desolate stretch of land has become home to the speed fraternity of South Africa, and it also just happens to be the stretch of desert where the Bloodhound land speed record attempt is being played out. Popularity for this event has grown and it is now known as the Kalahari Speed Week, much like the Bonneville Speed Week in America.
Gavin Rooke takes up the story, “We literally finished the build job day before we had to go, so we loaded it up on a trailer, drove it over to the Hakskeen Pan, and spent three days in the desert. The surface of the Pan is actually quite soft. What happens is, there is a massive amount of rolling resistance and once you get to a certain speed, around 180 or 190 km/h, your car starts to float so at certain places it is sinking in and at certain places it is rising.”
Life after the Kalahari adventure
After returning from the Kalahari in 2014, Rooke received numerous calls and emails, all were enquiries about the Dutchmann 912. In that first week, he received no fewer than five orders for cars to be built along the same lines as his own car. The workshop, a stone’s throw from the Lanseria Airport just north of Johannesburg, was all of a sudden bursting with business, all of which was unintended as the Dutchmann 912 was to have been a one-off project.
But what is it that made the Dutchmann Porsche so sought after, and so successful. “We did surfboards initially, we then produced a car, then we produced a one-off bicycle with carbon wheels, but they all had the same mix of classic and contemporary. We would always play with a little bit of the old versus new meeting in the middle, and pretty much all the objects that we have built have done that. I took the decision that we would always do that, and so that is what the brand was all about.
“The bicycles are fun, but it is more of a passion than anything else and the surfboards have done very well but as a business it is just not sustainable. But with the Porsches, there is an endless demand for them, it just doesn’t stop. That is where the business makes its money and that makes it all sustainable,” Gavin Rooke revealed.
“In just over six weeks, I will hop in that car and drive to Knysna where I will compete in the annual hill climb. It is a remarkable thing that you can get into a car with your wife, pack it full of all your road nibbles, drive the 1300 or 1400 km to Knysna, sleep that night then get into the car the next morning and a race up a hill and hopefully do well. Then get back into that car the following day, and drive home,” Rooke said.
But what is it that makes the Porsche 911 such a versatile and practical vehicle. When the Porsche 356 was first launched, and then later too when the 911 came along, they were promoted as being capable of high performance, but with that feature came the practicality and convenience of everyday use. This is a philosophy the Ferry Porsche pushed right from the very beginning, and the company still does so to this day. There is a practicality to the Porsche brand that doesn’t for example apply in the same way to other sports car brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Jaguar, and many others that you may think of. “To combine performance and practicality with reliability in a classic car, there isn’t another marque in the world that does that like Porsche does, which is I think most of the reason for its enduring appeal,” Rooke revealed.
What is the appeal of the Dutchmann Porsche?
There is a lot to be said for an object that exudes an understated elegance, be that a motor car or a piece of art, jewellery or fashion item. In such cases, it is the underlying quality of that item that speaks for itself, and creates the appeal without shouting it out loudly. The simplicity of the 911 shape combined with the brand heritage and the model’s performance heritage, creates the enduring appeal of the 911.
“I have got clients saying they want these [grey] colours, so the more understated colours in our world are extremely popular. We have a certain client profile which likes to be understated, and in fact they don’t want bright colours. They don’t want stripes, they just want to kind of blend in which is interesting because they tend to be quite wealthy, successful people. They tend to want to whisper and not shout,” Rooke explained.
What about the coffee then?
So where does the coffee fit into this product mix? Rooke laughed, “The coffee is not my business at all, but I am fortunate enough to have my office and showroom based in a culinary equipment centre that sells roasters and makes a lot of food. They had a space in which their coffee roastery was located, and I said, well I need a space too and if I can put my office and showroom here, you keep making the coffee and I’ll keep selling the cars and that is what we did.”
When you’re considering what you want your Dutchmann Porsche to look like, give Gavin Rooke a call. He would welcome you into his showroom and no doubt buy you a decent cup of coffee, while you wander about the showroom admiring the Delft Portfolio, the Handgun series, the Vicious Cycle and the various other products. Don’t expect flashing lights and red carpets, these are down-to-earth guys who love what they do, and are proud to show it off.
You can connect with Dutchmann Porsche here:
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Gavin Rooke, Dutchmann Porsche