Fact: The Porsche 911 is the rock star of sports cars. So it’s fitting that a former recording artist and 911 fanatic set up a stealth shop in Southern California to rebuild vintage Porsches. Rob Dickinson, the founder of Singer Vehicle Design, arguably remakes the most exquisite and expensive 911s on the planet. “It is the late-’60s to early-’70s cars that are the most elegant,” says Dickinson. “The genius of Porsche is to incrementally do something fashion forward and yet thumb its nose at fashion too.”
Singer starts by integrating $40,000 worth of new Porsche parts into each vehicle. For the interior, the company hand-lays the finest basketweave leathers from Spinneybeck in Tuscany to upgrade Porsche’s black-vinyl-embossed equivalent from the ’60s. Each engine is developed and improved with Cosworth. Singer stitch-welds critical chassis seams to strengthen an already taut body. Brass seat grommets reminiscent of the 1967 Scheel racing versions offer just about the chicest ventilation solution. And so on and so on and so on. In luxury- goods terms, a 911 from Singer is equivalent to an Hermès Birkin bag, a limited-edition Patek Philippe, a Riva yacht. Prices start at $350,000. And the buyer provides the car upon which Singer goes to work. “To respect this genius design and do an ultimate incarnation, I refuse to restore down to a cost,” Dickinson explains. “We extravagantly attack the car as if money is no object.”
It all sounds delectable, but the proof of concept was on the road. I climbed into a right-hand drive version that was about to be delivered to a customer in Taiwan and wound it up in the mostly deserted hills around Singer’s LA-based shop. It was one of the purest, most engaging machines I’ve had the pleasure to manhandle in a long time. Woof. Responsive, crazy fast, the kind of handling that makes you feel like you’re in the embrace of a world-class dancer — and you get to lead. I shrieked with joy, grunted with satisfaction, inhaled with a little fear — and stuffed my right foot in the accelerator like there was no tomorrow (and no cops).
To Dickinson, an essential part of reinventing such a high-caliber ride was shifting its axis of influence. “This car is a product of California — of sunshine, can-do attitude, car culture. The support network, from design studios to suppliers, is almost entirely within a 40-mile radius of the shop,” he says.
Dickinson first laid eyes on a 911 when he was five years old. “We were on a family vacation in the South of France — in a VW Bug,” he says. “I saw one coming at us. It had this friendly, smiley face, but made angry noises and had an equally angry, cross-eyed rear visage. It was a conundrum — complicated, sophisticated, hard for my 5-year-old mind to take in. I’ve been haunted by them ever since.”
With such Teutonic passion, could there ever be room for a non-Porsche project at Singer? “Singer is a design company that understands classic industrial design icons — we are obsessed with beautiful things,” says Dickinson vaguely, shuffling sketches on his desk of what looks very much like a Ferrari.
A shorter version of this story appeared in the August 12, 2013 issue of Fortune.