Why would dozens of Porsches converge on a side street nestled among gritty brick and mortar buildings covered with painted murals in downtown Los Angeles? But why would they do it on September 14?
The “Rare Shades” event celebrated the unique and bespoke colours that make individual Porsches true novelties. 000 Magazine and Will Lee, operator of the Instagram handle @ptsrs, coordinated the event and the A+D (Architecture and Design) Museum in the downtown Los Angeles arts district provided the venue, with around 80 cars on display.
Three similar events preceded the Los Angeles edition – the first was at Bruce Canepa’s Scotts Valley, California facility in August 2018; the second was at the Porsche Experience Centre in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2018; and the third was at Champion Porsche in Pompano Beach, Florida in April 2019.
In 2018 alone, Porsche sold over 256,000 automobiles globally. While Porsche has historically maintained an extensive options list, a unique paint colour has been one way to customise their car to their personality, recall a favourite factory colour from decades prior, or merely just take the opportunity to create something unique.
Porsche has a history of accommodating customers with the desire and resources to spend on customising their cars. Customers could add or delete features, customise interiors with unique accessories or materials, and modify bodywork. The practice started informally but eventually became formalised as the Special Wishes program (or “Sonderwunsch” in German) and now operates under the name “Porsche Exclusive.”
One of the most common requests focused on the exterior body colour. Historically, the practice of “paint to sample” allowed a customer to submit an item and Porsche would seek to match the colour of that item with the exterior paint or dye of interior materials. In modern times, “paint to sample” is more of a generic term that encompasses requests that come through a systematic process of ordering a car through a dealer.
When dealers submit specifications for new cars, they can request that Porsche paint the exterior with a non-standard colour. A non-standard colour can make a car stand out from the crowd and may be more compelling for some buyers. (Of course, caution is warranted because a car with a colour that has more selective appeal in a particular market may also sit on the showroom floor without a buyer.)
The practice creates friction for the Porsche assembly line and the laws of supply and demand apply. Porsche limits the number of custom paint job or PTS (for “paint to sample”) orders and charges for the privilege.
Some customers special order their own cars. A great example was the GT2 RS fresh from the factory decked out in Albert Blue that basked in the California sunshine with its deep and rich blue paint colour. It also showed off blue-tinted carbon fibre accents on mirrors, louvers, and inlets.
Rare Shades 4 grouped cars together by common colour. Greens and yellows of all types welcomed guests at the venue entry, a robust line-up of blue models of from across the decades anchored the middle (accented nicely by several white variants), and reds, greys and pinks filled out the other end of the avenue. While the downtown Los Angeles event celebrated custom orders, it also included some colours that were pure factory stock but more unusual or specific to a period or model.
With many variations in colours and many colours across the decades of many Porsche production models, one interesting element is the names themselves. How many different words can be used to articulate a unique shade of green, red, yellow, blue, grey – or even white?!
The names are creative – Voodoo Blue, Maritime Blue, Adriatic Blue, Blue Turquoise, Mexico Blue, Gulf Blue, Albert Blue, Pearlescent Effect White, Geyser Grey Metallic, Slate Grey, Carbon Grey Metallic, Mahogany Metallic, Tobacco Metallic, Viola Metallic, Rubystone Red, Orient Red Metallic, Phoenix Red, Gemini Metallic, Ancona Blue Metallic, Horizon Blue Metallic, Marathon Blue Metallic, Oak Green Metallic, Forest Green Metallic, Brewster Green, Signal Yellow, Pastel Yellow, Canary Yellow, Signal Yellow, Mint Green, and others.
Aficionados of this slice of Porsche trivia are enthusiastic. They know the colours by both name and paint code. Whether that kind of detail speaks to others is irrelevant – it provides interesting ways for owners, historians and enthusiasts to engage with the brand, the production process and with each other. The existence of four Rare Shades events in four different corners of the United States is testament to the breadth and depth of the custom colour following.
Perhaps one of the most compelling stories at Rare Shades 4 was the 1979 Porsche 911 SC draped in a striking metallic purple. The paint was not a factory colour in any era. A woman custom ordered the car new and sent her favourite purple felt pen to Porsche to match the colour of the plastic pen casing. Porsche not only matched the colour, but returned the pen with its own unique paint code manually written on a sticker applied to the pen. Porsche also supplied a quart of the left-over custom paint which was called into service for a minor repair several years later.
After many years of happy ownership, the woman realised she was driving the car less and less and decided the car needed a new owner. She could have sold to anyone and likely for more money, but she wanted to make sure the car got a good home. A Porsche collector who keeps his eye out for unique cars made the grade and took the car to Texas in early 2019. The new owner addressed a few maintenance issues but otherwise is dedicated to preserving the purple Porsche.
The event wasn’t only about unique colours. Holding the event on September 14 permitted a companion tribute to the 914 model and related variants. A separate neighbourhood featured ten special cars. A silver 914 produced in December 1969 and believed to be the first 914 sold in Los Angeles was on hand – still in the hands of its original owner, now 101 years old. A pre-production 914-6 was displayed next to the first production 914-6. A yellow 1975 914 time capsule with only 3500 miles on the clock joined the display.
Several race cars attracted eyeballs. A yellow and orange 914-6 GT that won its class and finished seventh overall in the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona sat in front of an orange 914-6 GT works rally car known most for running in the 1971 Monte Carlo rally. A school bus yellow 914-4 IMSA GTU car showed off a monster rear wing. A black 914-4 with an extensive race history in the hands of Bob Kirby was on hand as well. Mr. Kirby was looking to retire and asked family friend Mark Hotchkiss to drive at the SCCA run-offs in 2005 but died several months before the event. Undaunted, the family worked with Raetech Motorsport and Hotchkiss to make the October race where Hotchkiss not only won the event, but claimed the last significant race win for the 914.
Perhaps the highlight of the assortment wasn’t a 914 at all. Ferdinand Piech commissioned a more robust version of a 914 as part of an effort to boost 914 sales and compete with the Ferrari Dino. Fender flares and a fixed roof were external visual cues to set the car apart from a standard 914. A 2.9 litre flat six-cylinder engine from the 911 RSR provided 345 horsepower. Upgraded suspension and brakes helped keep the beast on the road. Dubbed with a 916 designation, the rocket ship served as the daily driver for Corina Piëch, Ferdinand’s wife. Apparently, she liked the car, nicknaming it “Brutus” on account of its purposeful look.
Brutus inspired Porsche to build another ten 916 prototypes but only Brutus had the benefit of such a powerful engine. Ultimately, the costs would have put the 916 above the 911S and in direct competition with the Ferrari Dino. Porsche abandoned the 916 as a viable production model, and Corina Piech sold Brutus in 1974. After years in storage, it was discovered and restored for the 2017 Amelia Island Concours. In February 2019, Brutus found a new owner via the Retromobile auction in Paris with a price of USD$1.08 million (inclusive of auction fees).
All in all, a morning spent among a carefully curated collection of custom colours and 914/916 history was a great way to soak in how wide and varied the house of Porsche really can be.
Written by: Kevin Ehrlich
Images by: Kevin Ehrlich