When you’re a brand, like Porsche, that has long fed the passion of its fans, it comes as no surprise that there are customers who want to create a new car that reflects their personality to the finest of details. To address these desires, the Sonderwunsch programme was set up in the 1970s to bring such dreams to life. Translating literally from German as ‘special requests’, the name first appeared in 1978 with the founding of the Porsche ‘Sonderwunschabteilung’, which handled special modifications and conversions of series vehicles – even custom one-off Porsche models.
Today the term stands for a Porsche programme where almost anything is possible. Whether it’s a Factory Commission of customised colour and material during vehicle production, a later Factory Re-Commission, or a Factory One-Off at the think tank of Porsche itself, then the craftspeople and engineers of Porsche Sonderwunsch can make it happen. To explain more about what this remarkable programme is capable of, we hear from the manager of Porsche Classic product management, Eduard Reichert, and Sonderwunsch one-off classic vehicles manager, Nico Bauer.
Nico and Eduard – can you explain the main principles of the Porsche Sonderwunsch programme?
Nico “Three main pillars define the core of the Sonderwunsch programme. The first, ‘Factory Commission’, allows customers to be able to choose specific colour and trims for new cars or build a car with individual options directly at the factory and therefore before delivery.
“The second pillar is the ‘Factory Re-Commission’. Depending on the vehicle, either the colleagues from Porsche Classic or from Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur are involved. Here, the customer brings their car to us and presents us with their desired configuration for it – in other words, how they’d have built the car had they been given the opportunity to do so from new. Next, together with the customer, we agree on the final configuration in order to create their own ‘original’ version of their car. Once the Factory Re-commission process is complete, the car leaves the factory, as new, for the second time in its life – you could call it a ‘second birthday’. Thanks to the expert help of the factory, the customer has truly fulfilled their dream.”
“The last column is ‘Factory One-Offs’. This differs to the other two in that we develop completely new parts for it. We carry out this work with newer cars and are also responsible for classic Porsche vehicles. When it came to the 911 Classic Club Coupe, it was created out of a 911 Carrera type 996 produced in 1998. Back in the day, there was no Classic Club Coupe as part of the 911 Carrera type 996 range. Elements like a ducktail rear wing and new rims were fresh developments for this car. And some developments are carried over into series production too – for example, as a result of this project, Porsche Classic now offer these rims for our customers on different 911 Carrera type 993, Boxster type 986 and 911 Carrera type 996 models.”
How does the relaunched Sonderwunsch programme of today differ from its original 1978 version?
Eduard “Back then, a customer would order their car, such as a 911 Turbo, and then it would go through the process of coming back to the workshop to be updated as per the customer’s request. Now, with the Sonderwunsch programme of today, we offer these services for Porsche owners of new and old cars.”
How involved is the customer during the Porsche Sonderwunsch journey?
Eduard “Every customer essentially becomes a part of the company itself, taking the role of project manager for their own vehicle. They are like an employee and a Porsche owner all at once. They get an incredible amount of insight in the process, gaining access to areas of the business normally reserved for our own internal experts and engineers. Our customers really are a part of the team throughout.”
Nico “Exactly – the customer is involved during the whole timeline. There are two main phases: the first is the concept phase, which usually lasts one year for a Factory One-Off, and then we have the realisation phase in which we build the car according to the final agreed concept. The customer is included from the very beginning because it is, after all, their idea. We put the idea together with the customer and create the car from a styling perspective. We go through technical decisions and specifications, all the way to creative direction. To sum it up, what’s special about the Factory Re-Commission and Factory One-Offs is that the customer is no longer just a customer – they are our colleague and project lead.”
Who at Porsche is the customer in contact with throughout their Sonderwunsch build?
Nico “Every customer has a dedicated point of contact with a Sonderwunsch consultant in Zuffenhausen throughout each of the steps. They also have the chance to talk to everybody involved from the project team, including experts from Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur or Porsche Classic, as well as the Style Porsche design department. During consultations and progress meetings –whether physically or digitally – everyone involved is there to answer questions, from styling all the way to the technical side.”
Eduard “Respective experts are brought in as and when relevant. For example, a customer might want a new roof or headlight system, so we’ll gather the relevant engineers from our Technical Development Centre in Weissach to consult with the customer. It all depends on what’s necessary – whoever the customer needs to talk to, we make it happen.”
What are some of the challenges that can arise when it comes to building a customer’s dream Porsche?
Eduard “Someone who is dreaming of their ultimate Porsche already see the final car in their mind. The challenges that can arise here might sometimes be that we have to limit certain wishes, often due to limitations governed by laws. To ensure that a car is road legal, we have to consider safety aspects and technical topics. It’s up to us to guide customers by informing them about what can work and which compromises may have to be made. Communication is integral at every stage, as we explain what’s going on in great detail. We have to explain why it’s not always as easy as it looks.”
Does every Porsche that comes through the Sonderwunsch programme have to be roadworthy in the end?
Nico “Not if the customer doesn’t require it to be, but the vast majority are desired to be driven. A great example is the 911 Sally Special. It is, in fact, the owner’s daily driver. Most Porsche Sonderwunsch customers want to feel the car and not just to store or display it. My feeling when talking to customers about their wishes is that driving their car is usually the strongest wish of all.”
Nico “If somebody wants to build a car built that’s intended never to be driven, and just to be displayed as a piece of art, we can certainly do this.”
What wild and wonderful Sonderwunsch ideas do you get?
Eduard “We’ve received a lot of requests which are cool and interesting, but very crazy at the same time! In these cases, we check to see if it’s really a fit for what the customer wants and for Porsche itself. We can certainly build some crazy vehicles, but we always have to communicate with the customer to ensure the end result is exactly as they wish.”
What’s the timeframe of a typical Porsche Sonderwunsch build?
Eduard “When developing a completely new car, you would need around four years. When it comes to Sonderwunsch, it’s around two to three years – depending on the scope of the project. The first year is very important for us to define the final concept with the customer, as well as figure out what is and isn’t possible. Then we go on to create new parts, testing and considering regulations.”
The one-off 911 Classic Club Coupe was built as part of the Sonderwunsch programme – what made this project so unique?
Eduard “Almost everything. The combination of the powertrain, chassis and the body is totally unique. Here we had a second-generation GT3 powertrain and some first-generation GT3 body components. But what was totally new for a 996 was the addition of a specially manufactured, fixed rear spoiler in the ducktail style of the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 from 1972. And that’s not all – the double bubble roof and the individualised, one-off version of the new Fuchs rim developed for the 996 are further special features of that car.”
The 911 Sport Classic Club Coupe took two-and-a-half years to complete – how does it feel at the end of such an epic Sonderwunsch project?
Eduard “It makes you very proud, especially after such a long process. As we were working together with the Porsche Club of America to build this car, we travelled to California for the final approval. Everyone who worked with us was so happy to collaborate. They’re also very proud. At the end, this singular, special vehicle feels like our car – like our baby.”
What’s been your favourite Porsche Sonderwunsch project so far?
Eduard “It has to be the 911 Classic Club Coupe. It was such a long journey and it required constant creativity from day one. Everyone was open and fun to work with. Most of all, it’s just being able to realise these sort of customer wishes, and to see their reaction at the end. This makes it pretty special.”
Nico “It’s definitely the 911 Classic Club Coupe for me too. It’ll always have a place in our hearts because it was the first of its kind to be street legal. Working together with so many different colleagues – and the customer directly – is very special.”
Do you have a dream Sonderwunsch project you hope rolls into the factory one day?
Nico “Definitely the 986 Boxster – it’s the car which rescued Porsche in the 1990s. An air-cooled 911 is amazing, but I’m a water-cooled guy, and the Boxster was ground-breaking for Porsche. With roots to the very first Porsche 356 with its mid-engine concept. Overall, the character of the car has so much potential for a Factory One-Off too, which is why it’s my dream project.”