"I'm not really a car guy: I'm a Porsche guy." And that's an understatement. Rod Emory lives and breathes the carmaker as one of the foremost Porsche customizers in the world. Also as an all-around "gear guy" with everything from Porsche bicycles to an impressive Porsche Hot Wheels collection, would you expect him to wear any old watch? Of course not: these days, you'll find him wearing a Porsche Design watch created exactly to match his made-to-order car.
Porsche Design has the connection that resonates for the automaker's fans, but the brand's got its own identity, too. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, designer of the famous 911 (and other cars) and grandson of the carmaker's founder, started Porsche Design as a separate company in 1972. His inaugural product was an all-black chronograph watch, and today you can go on the company's website and extensively customize the modern version of it — the same way you can custom-order a Porsche car.
After he's got his hands on a car, Emory might have tweaked everything from subtle design elements to performance and its very shape. The Porsche Design online configurator (Custom-Built Timepiece Program) doesn't quite present that level of customization, but it's said to offer 1.5 million possible combinations. What happens when a Porsche modifier like Rod Emory digs into watch customization? He took the time to discuss his own Porsche 911 GT3 RS car, the watch he had made to match it, his fascinating career and much more.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Interview with Rod Emory
Q. Why do you modify Porsche cars? How did you get started?
A. I've been in the Porsche racing and restoration business really my entire life. This is my life's work: I started building these cars when I was 14 years old, finished the first car when I was 16, started racing, and went on to build this amazing business around it. But the history behind what I do really goes all the way back to my grandfather, Neil Emory, who was one of the pioneers in custom car building.
Growing up in that environment, with a grandfather that was this amazing custom car builder and my father, Gary Emory, who was the parts manager for Porsche parts, I learned every aspect of these cars. The day I was born, I was taken home from the hospital in a modified, fat-fender, black '65 Porsche 911. I learned how to weld when I was 10 years old. I learned the mechanical stuff. And then I learned every nut and bolt from my father. So naturally, as I was around these cars, it was just in my blood.
By the time I was 18 years old, I was racing all over the West Coast. My car was a 1953 Porsche, and I had done all kinds of cool modifications to it: lowered the car, put little leather hood straps on the front, and fog lights, I backdated the look of it to make it look like an even earlier car. Then I put lubers, little air vents, on the rear deck lid.
The Porsche purists thought it was blasphemy. So we got this little badge that we put on the back of my car that said "356 Outlaws," and it was just this underground, fun thing in the late '80s. Now, even Porsche, the Porsche clubs and all the events have an Outlaw class because it's become so popular to modify or customize cars. We did more racing in the 90s and 2000s, but started doing a lot more custom car builds starting about 2008. We now build about 12 to 15 very tailored, bespoke cars a year for people all over the world and currently have about a four-year waiting list.
Q. The Porsche Design watch you had made was built to match your own Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Tell me about that car.
A. I'm not really that guy that likes to go in to a store and just pick up something cookie-cutter. My personal cars are GT Silver, which is a color that I just love, and I've got a 2016 Porsche GT3 RS in that color that is really my daily driver. That GT3 RS had a bunch of unique things about it when it was ordered: the color, the finish, the style of the wheels, the interior, and the interior finishes... because that's what makes these cars so fun.
Q. Was your approach to configuring a watch similar to the way you customize cars? As a lover of Porsche cars, what meaning does a Porsche Design watch have for you?
A. So, you can go on porsche.com and special-order your car to get the colors and finishes you want. As soon as I heard that Porsche Design had come up with a way to do customization on their watch platform, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.
I don't know if you've been on there and done the configuration, but there's like 1.5 million different possible combinations. I chose the case that I wanted and the outside finish, and I was able to do the color wheel in GT Silver to match my car. And then, I ordered an extra strap to reflect the black interior on the inside.
I actually learned about the program before it was public and had an opportunity to visit the Porsche Design factory where they're building the watches and doing the customization. To go in that facility, to see the craftsmen and watchmakers, all the little details and things that they can do — it just opened my mind to the possibilities.
Unfortunately, I can't take my GT3 into a restaurant or business meeting or on an airplane. But to have a watch that I've custom built that reflects that car that I drive every day is something really special and cool to me. It was an opportunity to blend the community and culture that surrounds both cars and watches. These cars and these watches, to me, are more than just something for transportation or keeping time.
Q. There's clearly a lot of enthusiast crossover between watches and cars. Do you see a common appeal?
A. A lot of it has to do with the community for me. I've got Porsche Design watch geek friends all over the place: one in Florida, another one in North Carolina, one up the street, and we just geek out on that stuff just like my car friends. The other correlation is that you've got this amazing design with an engine wrapped inside, and there are a million different combinations. I think that's why so many of us that are watch geeks are also car geeks — because a watch is like a car that you can wear on your wrist.
Q. So you're also a full-fledged watch guy. How did you learn about Porsche Design watches?
A. Let me tell you a little bit about my love for watches and where that came from. When I was probably four or five years old, my dad worked at the Porsche parts dealership and one of his customers in the late '70s gave him a Porsche Design Chronograph One as a gift. It was the first black Porsche Design watch, and I can remember it vividly: here's this watch with a dial that looks like a gauge on a car, and it was this cool black material.
But my dad doesn't wear watches and just put it in the junk drawer. Every day I would run home from school and grab that watch. It was obviously sized for him and not me, but I'd put it on and I thought I was the coolest kid in the neighborhood because I had this big clunky watch. I'd make sure that I got it back in the drawer before my dad came home. So, that watch never left my mind.
Q. What other watches do you own?
A. If you ask me if I'm a car guy, I'm not really a car guy: I'm a Porsche guy. So I'm a very brand-focused person. Right now, I have 12 Porsche Design watches with the new watch, and they all mark a very specific milestone in my life. Unfortunately my dad's was lost, but my wife got me my first Porsche Design watch, which was a silver Chronograph One. Then the second watch she got me was the exact style, color, model and everything that my dad had.
When I was in Switzerland with my son, I found one of the Titan watches that I had been looking for forever. And then, last year for Christmas, my wife and kids got me the [IWC] Porsche Design compass watch. I do have two watches that are other brands that were gifts to me. I've got a Panerai and a Rolex. Do I wear them much? No, I don't even keep them in my Wolf watch winder. These Porsche Design watches have just been something that is part of me.
Q. Cars and watches can be expensive. Do you ever worry about taking them out in the world where they can get banged up?
A. Hey man, I'm the guy that doesn't mind rock chips on my cars. I don't mind a little scratch on my watch band because it's a badge of honor. I'm also a Hot Wheels guy, so I have this massive collection of Hot Wheels cars, and so many of my collector friends are like, "Rod, you can't take him out of the box." And I'm like, "Dude, that's like having a car and never driving it." So, yeah, I kind of geek out on a couple things.
Q. What's the coolest part of a Porsche car that nobody notices or talks about?
A. For me, it's more about the overall experience of the cars. And when you sit inside of a Porsche, there's a couple of things that are very unique. There's the sound or the note that they make and the way that they rev — which is unique because of the type of engine, whether it's the flat four or the flat six type engine. In most early Porsches, the engine's in the back, so it's a completely different sensorial feeling when you're driving the cars.
But I also love the smell. Take the 356s and early 911s as an example: if you ordered a 356, not all of the interior was leather, but the seats and the dash were, and so you get that hint of leather smell. They also used a German square weave carpet, which was a wool carpet, and the way that the carpet is bound, they call it a square weave. It's not like a pile carpet where it's just all little strands sticking up.
And then, these cars were carbureted, and a carbureted engine has float bowls and little vents in the top. So, if you can imagine driving an early Porsche, the sound is high revving, flat four or six engine behind you, and the smell is the combination of leather, carpet and a very small hint of gas. It's just something that sticks with you. The old-car smell of oil, leather and a little bit of gas — it gets in your blood and you just can't get enough.