There aren’t too many businesses around that can arrange arrival by helicopter if necessary and, of those that can, I’d bargain that only a tiny proportion are luxury car specialists. Specialist Cars of Malton is one such company who offers this service. However, this is not the most extraordinary thing about the North Yorkshire Porsche 911 specialists.
Instead, it is just one of the things that helps John Hawkins’ business stand out from the crowd while providing the personal touch that has made it such a hit with rare 911 collectors. Started over 35 years ago, Specialist Cars’ foundation is certainly unassuming, and it didn’t begin with a 911; it started with a 944 S2. “I sold it to my mum,” founder and managing director Hawkins explains. “Then I bought it back off her and sold it to a guy in town. He had it for 30 years.” While dealing with your kin for your first trade is unusual, the popularity of that 944 with his first real customer convinced John that a business could be made viable. Like many Porsche 911 specialists, they are drawn predominantly to Zuffenhausen’s iconic sports car through its versatility. While Specialists Cars are able to find any rare automobile, “there is nothing like a 911,” according to Hawkins. “We could go down to Silverstone, thrash it around the track, come back, wash it off, go shopping, and everything still works. Ferraris and Lamborghinis look nice, but there is nothing like a Porsche.”
After starting out with just John, Specialist Cars initially hired just a single set of extra hands to help out. Now, there are 17 full-time employees, including six fully trained technicians, spread across four separate sites on the same industrial park. The four locations house a servicing and maintenance department, a paint, a body shop and a storage unit, and the showroom respectively. By keeping everything that the customer could want in-house, Specialist Cars are able to control the quality of their stock and work. It is for this reason that John doesn’t see any major expansion of the business in the future. “If you grow too much you would lose control of the quality,” he explains. Also, all the company’s customers are known on first-name terms.
Expansion could see Specialist Cars lose its personable nature, something vital to the business’s success. Hawkins’ business could be described as a European Canepa (if you don’t understand the comparison, check out the company profile from last issue). In a similar vein to the American rare car hunters, it is the showroom that provides Specialist Cars with its most high-profile side.Like Canepa, Specialist Cars specialises in tracking down rare and unusual Porsche 911s. If you look at their stock list, you can see that they are particularly successful in this endeavour. Funnily enough, rare 911s are so plentiful at Specialist Cars’ Malton showroom that they almost cease to be rare, their reputation ensuring that “some really cool stuff” passes through their doors.“At the moment we’ve got a 3.0-litre, right-hand-drive RS,” Hawkins says with a slight air of nonchalance. “They only made six right-hand-drive cars, and we’ve restored two of them.”
Currently, the sales side of the business is predominantly focused on air-cooled cars as, in John’s words, “at the moment, the market is air-cooled barmy.” This means that 3.2-litre Carreras are becoming regular fixtures on the Specialist Cars’ classifieds. Later 964 and 993 variants are also proving incredibly popular, with demand outstripping supply. Recently, three 964s were sold within 48 hours of them coming on the market. It’s the reason why Specialist Cars’ advertising strategy is geared around finding rather than selling cars. John personally sources much of the stock (around 80 per cent is owned by the company). As a truly international business, 911s are hunted around the globe, with cars coming from the likes of Singapore, Switzerland and South Africa. On top of this, select customers with ultra-rare examples sometimes sell their wares through Specialist Cars, making use of their extensive and loyal clientele.
Many of the cars are currently being sold to South East Asia, where the company is currently enjoying a “very good reputation.” It is this that led a South African buyer to provide Specialist Cars with a significant six-figure sum for a 964 RS he had never seen. “He [the buyer] had never seen me from Adam,” Hawkins says, almost incredulously. Turning business-like, he explains, “all that is done on your reputation. We’re very respectful of that.”
This reputation has led to 16 Carrera GTs and 11 918 Spyders changing hands through Specialist Cars. On top of this, there have been six 959s through the business’ doors, including chassis number one, a Sport model that sold for “about $1,000,000 a couple of years ago. It would be worth a lot more now.”