You have probably seen Magnus Walker at a car event or two. He’s hard to miss: about 19 feet tall with dreads that run most of that length, scruffy yet comfortable-looking clothes, and often accompanied by his statuesque girlfriend, the journalist Hannah Elliott, one of the nicest people you will meet all day, maybe even all year. They make up as close to an automotive power couple as might exist in this modern age.
Walker is best known as a Porsche collector and builder. At any given moment he has anywhere from 30 to 40 Porsches in various states of reimagining. Most of them started out as air-cooled 911s built between 1964 and 1973, but he’s by no means limited to that time period. He started out as a fashion designer, his first calling, but always had a thing for Porsches, ever since he saw a Martini-liveried 911 at the British International Motor Show in Earls Court, London, when he was 10. Now he does less of the fashion designing and much more automotive designing and trendsetting, making his Porsches into creations all his own, from the major parts like fenders and wheels, down to the subtle details like door pulls and steering wheels.
You may have seen the now more or less famous documentary of him, also titled Urban Outlaw. It was directed by Tamir Moscovici. In it, Walker describes his dropping out of school at 15, his move to America at 19, his start in fashion and his lifelong passion for all things Porsche. From it you come away thinking that this guy has the confidence to just do whatever he wants to do, and success almost naturally follows him, as if it, too, wants to be cool and confident. That documentary came out 10 years ago, and to celebrate, Walker has a new exhibit of his cars in the Legends Room of The Vault at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. After a private opening Saturday night, the exhibit opens to the public October 15 and runs through January 31. We tracked him down in The Vault two days before the grand opening of the exhibit, trying to decide exactly which of his collection of cool items he wanted to put in the exhibit to go with the 10 cars.
Autoweek: Some collectors keep their cars in a warehouse and don’t let anybody near them. Others start what they call museums, which they open for the legally required four hours a month and no more so that they can get a tax write off. But you’re sharing yours with the public.
Magnus Walker: The goal here with the Petersen Museum, separate of it being the 10-year anniversary of Tamir Moscovici’s short documentary film that came out October 15, 2012, the goal is: 10 years of outlawing, 10 years of disruption, 10 cars. But basically, the exhibition of the Peterson is not just 10 cars, it’s to recreate my downtown L.A. garage. A lot of people have visited me over the past 10 years. You know, whenever anyone’s in L.A., whether it’s a tourist or journalists for L.A. Auto Show, a lot of people come by the warehouse garage and visit. So the goal here was to try and replicate my downtown facility at the Peterson.
For example, I have nine cars in the Legends Room, which is where they just wrapped up the Formula 1 exhibition last week. But to put it in perspective, I don’t have anything around the cars, there’s no ropes, there’s no stanchions, people can walk right up to the car. The Peterson’s a little paranoid about this because they’ve never actually had it where people can literally sit on the car. So for me, you know, I’m not that precious about the items that I own. I’ve owned them long enough, I bought them cheap, it’s not a monetary thing. It’s just sharing the collection.
And the collection is not just cars, and it’s not 911-centric. For me, when I think of Porsche, it’s front-engine, mid-engine, rear-engine, air- and water-cooled. So the first thing you see when you walk in is my 924 Carrera GT. Next to that is my 1.7-liter 914, the lowly, unloved, underdog. But that’s the art car. And next to that a 993. And then it takes you on this journey of everything that sort of happened in the past 10 years: my collaborations with Hot Wheels, and Momo and Nike and my fifteen52 Outlaw and my reinterpretation of the Fuchs wheel, and my book, and a 10-year retrospective of films that have been done over the past decade presented in a looped compilation mode and put on display, and the wheels, so it really feels a little bit like you’re just in a cleaner version of my own warehouse.
AW: It sounds like quite a decade you’ve had.
MW: Yeah! To me, this film really opened the door or opened the world to me in the sense that, I don’t think I’m any different, but yeah, there’s just more opportunities, more people are aware of my story. I think the story is relatable to a lot of car enthusiasts, not just specifically Porsche-centric people. We all have a need for speed, the thrill of the chase, the drive, the camaraderie, the friendships, you know, the automobile, the car brings people together, right? And so that’s sort of the story that I’m sharing here with like-minded enthusiasts. I always say my drug of choice just happens to be Porsche, but you know, car guys are fanatical about everything, right? So I’ve just kind of condensed that into one environment here in The Vault at the Petersen. It’s the story of the film of celebration, of retrospective.
AW: Whose idea was it to do the exhibit, did the Peterson come to you?
MW: No, it was the other way around. This was perhaps the only time I actually approached someone else. I always talk about “organically,” everything just sort of organically happening for me. I’d been doing stuff with the Petersen over the past year or two, I’ve been doing these IG live and drives, I hosted one of the James Bond exhibitions, I’ve made a few videos with them, one of them was on an electric 912. So I was kind of doing odd things with the Peterson, and knowing that Urban Outlaw was coming up on its 10-year anniversary last year, I just sort of sowed the seed of, “Hey, how would you feel about hosting or allowing me to have my own exhibition here?” In a way it’s the first time the Peterson’s actually had a standalone single exhibition. I mean, they’ve had (a previous exhibit called) The Porsche Effect, they had a Ruf exhibition, but coming from one individual who assembled 10 cars together under one roof in celebration of a film, it’s kind of the first time they’ve done that. So I actually approached them. They agreed, and here we are.
AW: What’s in it?
MW: It’s been great working with the Petersen, (but) they’re a very structured environment. And I’m not a structured guy. For example, they asked me, what am I bringing in, and I go, “I don’t know, I’m bringing a bunch of $#^+ in.” And they go, “Well, how many items?” I go, “I don’t really know, I’m gonna put it on the wall and what stays, that’s how many items are brought in.”
So on Monday, I actually had all 10 cars driven to the museum. I got nine of my buddies, and we drove all 10 of my cars from my downtown garage to the museum, went over the iconic 6th Street Bridge, drove down the 10 freeway, and we made a film documenting the drive. Because most of the time cars that are on display at the Peterson are not necessarily driven to the place. But my whole motto is, “Get out and drive.” You know, just like I said earlier, these things are not precious. Every car that’s on display here was physically driven here.
AW: You have a lot of businesses, you have the Porsches, you have the fashion interests, you just talked about doing more documentaries. What businesses do you have?
MW: I have to tell you, for me, the Porsche thing is not a business. It’s always been an out-of-control hobby, meaning, I don’t actually buy and sell cars. I don’t build cars for anyone else. I don’t restore cars for anyone else. The Porsche thing for me, it’s just a personal addiction. My background is, I’m a clothing designer. So, wholesale manufacturing, clothing, retail. And then over the past 20 years, I ended up buying property in the arts district in downtown, so it sort of became a property real estate element, which led me into the film location business, meaning, I own an old building, which we rent out for commercial filming, everything from TV shows, to photoshoots, to music videos, to commercials. So the car thing really is a hobby, it’s a way to, you know, spend money but not make money. My main business is film location, property, investment, and clothing,
I never had a structured plan of, ‘Hey, this is where I want to be in 5, 10, 15, 20 years. I just like to do cool $#^+ with cool people that makes sense at a certain time, purely organically, these things sort of come and go.
AW: Most people want a government job at the post office and they want to retire in 30 years. You’re out there freewheeling. Where does that confidence come from?
MW: I grew up in Sheffield, north of England, grim industrial town, no real future going anywhere fast. I’ve always sort of been a bit of a lone wolf guy, left school at 15, bummed around. But to answer your question, coming to America as a 19-year-old and working (his first job here) at a summer camp, and becoming that adaptive swimmer (he says he had to sink or swim, so he swam) gave me all the confidence in the world. I had the skills to survive in an environment where I had no education. You’ve got to remember everything that we’ve just talked about, the businesses, the property, the cars, these are all things that the common connection is it’s things I’m passionate about. So initially, the early sort of confidence came from coming to America, not knowing anyone, working at a summer camp, taking a bus to Hollywood, and surviving in Hollywood, gave me that inner confidence, British Bulldog spirit, to go, you know what? If I put my heart and soul into it and work those 18-hour days, don’t take no for an answer, ask for help when needed but don’t ask for other people’s advice. Should I do this? Should I not do that?
A lot of people trip themselves up to begin with, because you might have a great idea on a business, talk to a friend and the friend goes, “Oh, that’s a stupid idea. It’ll never work.” So a lot of people trip themselves up because they don’t even cross the start line of life. Because they’re too bothered about other people’s opinions. But because (when I arrived in the States) I was alone in America with no one telling me what I couldn’t, can, and can’t do, it sort of gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.
So I think that’s where that confidence came from. But at the end of the day, you know, it’s hard work motivation, never giving up, timing, but just really following your passion. I’m trying to find things that I enjoyed doing—clothing design was one that enabled us to buy a building, which got us into property. When we bought the building in the Arts District in downtown, people literally thought we were stupid. Now, it’s like, the hippest place in L.A. So it really is going with this inner gut feeling and having a self belief to go, “You know what, #@+& it, I’m gonna make it happen. Well, there’s a will, there’s a way.”
If you want to see what 36 years of following your passion in the United States does, go to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles between Oct. 15 and January 31 and check out Magnus Walker’s 10 favorite Porsches. And then see what you can do about following your own passion. You never know, you could have an exhibit yourself someday.