I was driving home after a tour of Singer Vehicle Design, and, for once, I was at a loss for words. PCA-LA had hosted an intimate Cars and Coffee event at Singer that morning. It was a good thing I stopped at Starbucks before I left home because I was so inspired while I was at Singer, I never even frequented the baristas. For the most part, I just stood and gawked, though I did do a little lusting, too. I was in awe, in awe of their cars, in awe of their processes, in awe of the vision of the their founders.
Singers are amazing automobiles. Starting with a customer’s 964 model 911 as a donor car, Singer proceeds to rip it apart and rebuild it completely. Singers are sort of related to my 89 G-Body 911 Carrera in the same way I am related to Lance Armstrong—we are both human, but one of us has been infused with a lot of technology. Engine, chassis, suspension, brakes, transmission, interior are all replaced. Weight is stripped. Carbon fiber is used liberally on all body panels. Even the engine compartment is partially leather lined. With its top end 4.0 liter Ed Pink Racing Engines modified Cosworth six cylinder naturally aspirated air cooled flat six producing just under 400 horse power, the 2,700 pound Singer can leap to 60 miles per hour in about 3.3 seconds. It is hard to imagine the three piece forged Fuchs style wheels turning that fast in that period of time. The 964 body is all that is kept, and even that is modified. The end result is arguably the ultimate expression of old school 911 cool reassembled with modern components and off the charts performance.
I had been feeling pretty lucky since I managed to land one of the coveted spots to attend the event. I was like one of the kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they learned they had a “winning ticket.” PCA-LA events sell out, no doubt about it. But the time it takes to sell out is usually measured in weeks or days, or, every now and then, in hours. Unbelievably, the Singer event sold out in less than a minute, and demand for it overloaded the MotorsportReg system which handles the signups. There was so much demand that I was surprised that no one tried to sell their spot on StubHub.
Though it ended with me in awe, my Singer adventure did not start out that way. Instead, it started with me muttering, “Aw sh*t,” It was mostly my own fault, though I had a little help from my friends at CalTrans. Singer is located in the North East San Fernando Valley, about 15 miles from my house in West Los Angeles. I have not been in the vicinity of Singer in many years, as it is located in a schlocky industrial area. I got directions from Google on my PC, and it looked pretty easy there. All I had to do was head north on Coldwater Canyon and turn right on San Fernando Road. Looks can be deceiving.
I opted to drive my air cooled 89 to Singer, leaving my water cooled Cayman GTS in the driveway. I left West LA with what I thought was plenty of time to get to Singer. I even dawdled a bit at Starbucks before I left because I thought I would be early. I was so wrong.
When I drive my 89, I like to act like it is 1989, and I eschew the use of Waze and Google maps on my cell phone. Though if it were 1989, at least I would have had a period correct Thomas Guide in my car. I don’t now. Anyway, my aw sh*t moments began when I got to the intersection of Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland, where CalTrans had closed Coldwater in both directions, right at the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, leaving me with two route options—either turn right or turn left on Mulholland. I turned right and headed over to Laurel Canyon, apparently something many drivers ahead of me had done.
Though Laurel is only about a mile of twisties east of Coldwater, it took me forever to get there. First, I had to go the mile, which took a really long time due to the lack of speed at which the cars in front of me were moving, forcing me to grit my teeth and lug the 89 in second gear. Second, I spent an incredible amount of time at the inordinately long light at the intersection of Mulholland and Laurel. At that point, the only option I had was to wait, which I did while continuing to grit my teeth, knowing I was now most likely going to be late.
Once I got onto Laurel and into the Valley I should have backtracked to Coldwater because I knew Coldwater intersected with San Fernando Road. But because I was running late, I decided to wing it and stay on Laurel. Big mistake. I stayed on Laurel, but soon Laurel angled west, leaving me with no idea if it intersected with San Fernando Road. I felt uncomfortable, but I was in old school mode and I am fairly stubborn, so I opted for a trial and error approach, hopping on the 5, assuming it would have a San Fernando exit. The absence of San Fernando Road on the list of upcoming exits disabused me of staying on it for long. It was getting later and my stress level was soaring. I opted to get right back off the 5, not knowing exactly where I was. I ignored the little voice in my head which was screaming, “You schmuck, just look at your iPhone!” Instead, I pulled into a gas station and asked for directions.
It turned out that I was just about a half mile or so from San Fernando Road, and I was really close to Singer. I thought I was home free and would get there on time for the tour, even if I missed some of the pre-tour schmoozing. Yet again, I was so wrong.
I made it to San Fernando Road and turned right. That’s when I noticed the railroad tracks, tracks upon which trains still run, tracks that were not part of the Google instructions I had scanned before I left. Singer is located in an area that is on wrong side of the tracks, figuratively. Unfortunately, I also learned that Singer is on the wrong side of the tracks, literally. I drove right by it because I couldn’t cross the tracks. After a mile or so, I found a place to cross the tracks. But by then the little access road on which Singer is located had ended. I tried circling back behind it, and found myself in the middle of several quarries and every turn resulted in a dead end. So I retraced my steps and went right by it again, this time going the other way. Eventually, I found a street on which I could cross the tracks and get to Singer.
Pulling into the lot at Singer was a bit anticlimactic. I was more than a little stressed, and apparently I was the last one to arrive. As I parked, I muttered to myself, “I think it’s either time to use my iPhone when I drive my 89 or break down and spend the $1,000 or so to get the nav equipped, period appropriate Porsche Classic Radio.”
Singer has five locations spread out in the area, and we were at the one where final assembly was done. The mostly nondescript place just oozed hipness. After decompressing for a moment or two I got out and began chatting with a couple of the Singer employees. As it looked like I had missed the first tour, I asked them, “When does the second tour start?” Their response made me laugh. They said, “It already did. You will be on the third one.”
And what a tour it was. Singer is run like a big business. It is easy to lump them into the Custom Car Restoration business category, consisting mainly of mom and pop, one off customizers. But that would be so wrong. Without a doubt Singer restores cars, and it gives customers choices about what goes into those cars. But Singer is really a low volume, semi-custom, build to order manufacturer of a product line of air cooled cars, cars with a wide range of mostly predefined options. At the outset of the tour, our guide spoke about their process. My ears perked up when the word configurator came out of his mouth. Configurators are used to enable customers to communicate the options they want in a controlled manner. I was stunned that Singer used one, but I guess if you are going to work with a customer and ask them to drop $425K to $700K on a restoration, you better have a solid way to control costs, document choices and structure communication with each customer.
The tour only got more impressive from that point on. We were told about the entire build and assembly process, the Singer philosophy, and the way the cars have evolved since it was founded. We saw a wide range of cars, from raw bodies to finished works in the quality assurance area. It takes two years for the transformation of a 964 to a Singer, and I am not sure how much of that time is due to backlog. It does not matter. The result is magnificent, even if I do not have the words to properly describe it.