GRR

Magnus Walker: The Urban Outlaw interviewed

19th June 2017
Chris Knapman

Magnus Walker passes me his phone. On it is his Instagram page, a collection of shots taken on his recent book signing tour of London. There are cars, places and people, as you’d expect, but it’s the numbers that stand out, with more than 7 million impressions in the past week alone. It’s the kind of figure, along with his 391,000 followers, or the 4.5 million views on his TEDx online talk, that show how the Sheffield-born, Los Angeles-based Porsche fanatic has become one of the biggest names in custom car culture.

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So just how important is social media to his success? “Not as important as a beard,” remarks Walker with a sincerity that suggests he might just be telling the truth.

Certainly when you consider Walker’s close relationship with Porsche it’s hard not to conclude that it his image and his passion that the German car-maker values, as much as his ability. After all, there are countless individuals and companies out there modifying 911s, but it is Walker with his scruffy beard, long dreadlocks and mass of tattoos (“there’s no Porsche tattoo yet, but I’ve saved a space for one,” he says) to whom Porsche has arguably shown the greatest attention.

It helps of course that the man is as affable as he is interesting, not to mention brimming with enthusiasm for cars, and 911s in particular. His story, which is captured in the award-winning 2012 documentary Urban Outlaw, is fascinating. Dropping out of school at 15, he then headed to the US with the Camp America programme, first to Detroit and then New Jersey, without any idea of what he wanted to do, or any money.

By his early 20s, Walker was in LA using gut instinct, raw talent and a little bit of luck to go from selling second-hand jeans on Venice Beach to starting a hugely successful fashion label, Serious Clothing, with his wife Karen, who passed away in 2015.

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It was Karen too who saw the untapped potential in a warehouse in downtown LA that the pair would go on to buy and, in time, turn into a film location business that still forms Walker’s primary source of income to this day. With money came the cars, and in particular Porsches, indulging a passion that started when a 10-year-old Walker was captivated by a 911 Martini Turbo at the 1977 London Earls Court Motor Show.

Now on the verge of turning 50, his collection numbers 25 Porsches, some of which are completely standard (including a very early 1964 911) and others he has modified in his trademark Urban Outlaw style, which combines a love of materials and an individual style that, put simply, looks extremely cool.

The Sheffield man’s ethos to building cars can be seen in “277”, a modified 1971 911T with which he has become synonymous. It’s what Walker calls a “street-able track car”, meaning it can be driven to the track as well as on it. Almost as famous is the 911 “STR” that can be seen being built in the Urban Outlaw film. That car would go on to sell at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for $302,000, doubling its estimate. “What was more important to me than the money was the credibility that the car went into the Ingram Collection,” says Walker. “That elevated my status”.

With his huge fan base, approachable nature and enthusiasm for all things automotive, Walker seems made to measure for Goodwood. It is a surprise therefore that he is yet to make it to the Festival of Speed. “I will get there sometime,” he promises. “My goal is to have 277 doing the hillclimb”. 

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Walker has though been to the Revival: “Having lived in the US for 30 years, you forget that the Brits are so good at putting on pantomimes and plays, and I think essentially that’s what the Revival is: a playground for people of all ages to step back in time”.

It’s a typically neat summary from the man whose rags to riches tale has rewritten the American dream for car fanatics all over the world.

Urban Outlaw: Dirt Don’t Slow You Down, by Magnus Walker, published by Bantam Press, is out now, RRP £20.

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