Why you should care
Old cars can have a second life that’s even better than its first.
Fuse a California hot-rod sensibility for old cars with a proper dose of German engineering, and what do you get? Matthias Höing. Or one of his multicolored classic Porsche 911s that practically flies off the road with a rebuilt engine.
It wasn’t always like this in Germany. Far from it. Among international Porsche fans, the “German way” was the meticulous restoration of historic automobiles, humorless, exacting. This was particularly true for the icon among German cars, the Porsche 911, which turned 50 last year and is revered at home in a way similar to Thomas Mann, Richard Wagner or Franz Beckenbauer: German classics.
Part of my mission is to unsettle the Porsche old-timers with their almost fascistic correctness ethics.
— Matthias Höing
But when it comes to Porsches, Höing has very different intentions: to popularize wild interpretations of the classic car in Germany.
“Yes, part of my mission is to unsettle the Porsche old-timers with their almost fascistic correctness ethics,” Höing tells OZY. “It’s funny how the older, established German Porsche guys hate my guts.”
He fuses the minimalism of Porsche design with something very different.
“Porsche as a brand has such a rich and exciting cultural aspect to it, and the way this is conveyed by them is beautiful for the most part, no question. But let’s add some more color, some more individuality and diversity, maybe play a little rock ’n’ roll soundtrack to it,” he says.
Höing became a cult figure among Porsche aficionados when Magnus Walker — the famous LA-based British Porsche restorer with dreadlocks and rocker style — praised him as the best engine builder in Europe, and California Porsche fans appeared in videos wearing his T-shirts. He added to the cult image with a video that made the dismantling of a boxer engine seem like an erotic striptease, attracting more than 300,000 viewers.
The decisive twist in his professional biography indeed stemmed from an encounter with Walker in 2007, when he turned up at Höing’s when he was selling an old 911 for a friend. He arrived in a Porsche hot rod in red, white and blue.
It dawned on skateboarder and punk rocker Höing that Porsche could also mean rebellion, subculture and wild creativity. This insight was further fueled by the R Gruppe, a group of die-hard Porsche fans, including the son of actor Steve McQueen.
In the mid-“noughties,” the now 40-year-old Höing completed his master’s certificate in Germany and was appointed head of engine testing in LA, responsible for the finish of Porsche racing engines.
But upon returning to Germany in 2008, he established a one-man boutique for air-cooled “boxer” engines, flat engines in which pistons move in a horizontal plane. He restores them to ensure that the engine runs considerably better afterward than it did when it left the Porsche factory. He loves the air-cooled, six-cylinder boxer and yet still sees many things that, 50 years after it was invented, can be improved. Additionally, because Höing is a child of pop culture, he created merchandise like a punk band: T-shirts, badges, caps.
Those who enter the workshop he now runs with Torsten Hanenkamp find themselves in a peculiar world somewhere between museum and racetrack. “Mezgerwerk” is what the two men have called their company, as a tribute to the renowned Porsche engine designer Hans Mezger, whom Jerry Seinfeld likes to get to sign the hoods of his Porsches.
So he combines respect for the old and the origins, but the curiosity as to how the air-cooled six-cylinder boxer can be further refined and optimized is stronger. A 380-horsepower engine is being fitted into an aged F-model, more than double the power of the original early ’70s version. Anyone who wants to get behind the wheel of this rocket will really have to know how to drive. Price tag for the engines: €20,000 to €50,000 ($64,400).
Old 911s, or any other old car for that matter, will kick their Prius in the nuts when it comes to being green.
— Matthias Höing
Höing is unapologetic.
“I really like to argue with my self-proclaimed environmentalist buddies about this whole sustainability issue,” he says. “Old 911s, or any other old car for that matter, will kick their Prius in the nuts when it comes to being green. People need to thoroughly scrutinize this PR crap that carmakers feed them about emissions nowadays. The point is that the production of every new car replacing an old car is a bad thing to the environment.”
Höing will also become a father soon. The baby is supposed to be born on 9/11. “No joke,” he says with a smile, in his Steve McQueen-style. His wife is a star in the German tattoo scene, and so the whole Höing family looks like a typical new-school German bohemian gang. He is working so hard at the moment that he doesn’t have time to find a Porsche 911 for himself. But this will come soon. The business is doing well. And there are two seats in the back. For children.
“I think we all agree that cars as means of mass transportation are on a downward slope, and rightfully so,” he explains. “But they are still beautiful machines that embody a culture most of us love. It is up to the enthusiasts of our generation to keep the car culture going on a smaller, yet exciting, scale.”