From car designer to rock musician to car restoration expert, the career of Rob Dickinson has most certainly come full circle.
As the singular vision behind Singer Vehicle Design, Rob Dickinson has helped breathe new life into the car restoration world. Specifically, he helps revitalize the cult-favorite Porsche 911.
Starting at $475,000 and quickly climbing to prices exceeding $1.8 million, the Singer Porsche 911 Reimagined is the dream vehicle of car aficionados everywhere. Each car is carefully restored to make it roadworthy and the envy of other motorists.
What led a rock singer to the world of car restoration? What makes Singer Vehicle Design stand out and command such high prices for classic cars? To answer these questions, we need to take a closer look at the history of Rob Dickinson and the cars he loves.
So Who Is Rob Dickinson?
Rob Dickinson was born and raised in Norfolk, England, which is also home to Lotus Cars, a company that he would eventually go on to work for. However, it wasn’t Lotus Cars that inspired his love of automobiles.
During a family trip to the south of France at the age of five, Dickinson saw a Porsche 911 for the first time. He says that he fell in love with the vehicle instantly and the feeling stuck with him over the years.
Dickinson went on to attend and graduate from Coventry University in Coventry, England. It’s known for its engineering and design programs, which helped Dickinson land a job at Lotus Cars in his native Norfolk.
Dickinson’s stint at Lotus Cars gave him hands-on experience with fabricating vehicle parts. He worked directly under Professor Peter Stevens, one of the first vehicle designers in the UK.
The Rock-and-Roll Lifestyle Comes Calling
Rob Dickinson didn’t stay at Lotus Cars for long. He soon switched from tuning cars to tuning his vocal cords as the lead singer of an alternative rock band.
The rock-and-roll world wasn’t foreign to Dickinson. He is the paternal cousin of Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson.
Along with guitarist Brian Futter, drummer Neil Sims, and bassist Dave Hawes, Rob Dickinson formed Catherine Wheel in 1990. The name of the band came from a firework known as the Catherine Wheel. After a year of gigging, the band signed with a major label.
Catherine Wheel released its debut studio album, Ferment, in 1991. The group experienced varying levels of commercial success but ultimately called it quits in 2000.
After disbanding Catherine Wheel, Dickinson stuck around the music scene for a while. He played with Tracy Bonham for a few years and contributed vocals to two tracks for other artists. In 2005, Dickinson released his first solo album. He’s still active in the music scene but it slowly took a back seat to his original love, automobiles.
Rebuilding and Restoring a Beloved Automobile
The first Porsche 911 that Dickinson rebuilt wasn’t for a client. He purchased and restored the popular automobile for himself. As with many business stories, Dickinson’s company grew from his passion.
During his time as a rock-and-roll singer, Dickinson settled in the Los Angeles area. While working on a record, he purchased a 1969 Porsche 911E. Using his knowledge of cars, Dickinson carefully restored and customized the automobile to suit his preferences.
The restored automobile turned a lot of heads and led to many requests to purchase the car. As he didn’t want to sell something that he spent so much time on, he offered to build custom cars. Before long, someone took him up on his offer.
Singer Vehicle Design Launched in 2009
In late 2008, Rob Dickinson rented a spot in the desert near Los Angeles and started rebuilding a Porsche for his first client. During this first build, Dickinson met with various suppliers and fabricators. He built relationships and gathered interest that would ultimately lead to the formation of his company.
Dickinson managed to attract a few investors, giving him the resources to rebuild a Porsche 911 in time for a car show at Monterey in 2009. Singer Vehicle Design was founded the same year.
Since that first build, Dickinson estimates that he’s rebuilt over 150 Porsche 911s. Due to legal requirements, Dickinson cannot market the car as a “Porsche 911”. It’s called a “Singer Porsche 911 Reimagined.”
The name “Singer” is a reference to Norbert Singer. Singer is a German automotive engineer and racecar driver. He joined the Porsche company in 1969 and was directly involved in the development of the Porsche 911.
The company also has a motto – “everything is important.” From the dials on the dashboard to the trim, no detail is too small. Singer Vehicle Design has thrived in the decade since its launch. It didn’t take long for the car industry and car aficionados to take notice of these unique builds.
The company also received some publicity due to an appearance of a Singer Porsche 911 Reimagined on an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage. Dickinson donated a car to Jay Leno for the show. This type of attention has helped the company quickly gain traction and more clients.
What Is the Porsche 964?
Most of the cars rebuilt by Singer Vehicle Design are the Porsche 964 but the company still calls them the “Singer Porsche 911 Reimagined.” What’s with the name?
The Porsche 964 is the internal company name used by Porsche for the version of the Porsche 911 produced between 1989 and 1993. It featured several design changes compared to previous Porsche 911 models, including a more stylish design and multiple transmission options.
Automobile manufacturing has changed a lot since 1993. Cars now need to meet specific safety and emission standards. Luckily, there are companies such as Singer Vehicle Design to bring outdated automobiles into the modern world.
During the restoration process, Dickinson and his team use the latest engineering standards to produce a roadworthy vehicle.
At the time of this writing, Singer Vehicle Design has over 130 cars on order. The customers at the end of that queue may have to wait a long time.
What Goes Into the Rebuilding of a Porsche 964?
Rebuilding a classic car with modern parts isn’t quick, easy, or cheap. If you have half a million dollars available, you could be driving a Porsche 911 Reimagined. However, you’d also have to wait for close to two years.
While some projects take close to a year, Dickinson has stated that the average project takes about two years from start to finish. Remember, the company motto is “everything is important”. Dickinson and his team do not overlook a single detail. Each project includes over 4000 hours of work.
Converting a Classic Car into a Modern Car
The car is completely restored from the ground up. Everything from the car seats to the engine is taken out and stripped down before Dickinson and his team painstakingly rebuild the entire vehicle.
There is a catch to this process. The client needs to supply the original car. Singer Vehicle Design only accepts the Porsche 911 or Targa made from 1989 to 1994. The cars must also be fully road legal.
After the company receives the vehicle, the cars are completely disassembled. The main body is media-blasted, leaving just the bare metal and removing rust. From there, the unibody is prepared for new bodywork using welding strengthening and fabrication. An entirely new body is then fabricated & fitted.
The new bodywork is outsourced, which helps Dickinson and his team focus on some of the finer details. The company relies on Aria Group, a fabricator based in Irvine, California that has military and defense contracts.
Along with reconstructing the body, the group can also replace other parts of the car with carbon fiber parts. The fenders, bumper, and hood can also be replaced.
One of the most exhaustive steps in the restoration process is rebuilding the engine. The original engine is completely disassembled & blueprinted. The team then hand builds the new engine using state-of-the-art components.
Throughout this process, clients are given a wide range of options. For example, they can choose from three different types of engines. They can also select from 75 specially researched and blended colors that the company believes complement the classic curves of the Porsche 911.
Interiors Designed to Reflect the Client’s Style
Perhaps the greatest customization is found in the interior. Singer Vehicle Design offers bespoke interiors that resemble the car interiors found in vehicles produced in the 1960s and 1970s but with modern touches.
For example, clients can have the dash fitted with a radio that features a Parrot Asteroid tablet. The tablet provides connections for iPods and USB devices, which you wouldn’t find on the original Porsche 911.
Many of the interior features are based on older cars. However, the company also provides complete customization for the seating. Multiple colors, textures, and finishes are available. You can even choose to have the rear seats removed for an uncluttered look.
The company’s website offers a complete breakdown of the custom specifications available. Based on the wide range of options, you can tell that the company puts its clients’ needs first.
How Does Singer Vehicle Design Stand Out From the Competition?
The truth is that there isn’t a lot of competition for such a niche market. While there are dozens of high-end car restoration companies, Dickinson has stood out for the care and craftsmanship that goes into each rebuild.
According to one Singer client, the personalized relationship between the company and the clients is an integral part of their success. The client equates the feeling of ordering a rebuilt Porsche 911 to the feeling of proud parents watching their child grow.
Dickinson has clients work closely with his team throughout the restoration process. The company does not even start rebuilding the vehicle until the client chooses the initial design options. Through each stage of the redesign process, clients are invited to monitor the progress, offer their input, and request changes.
Personalized attention is likely the driving factor behind the success of the company. When charging close to half a million dollars for a restoration project, every client is a VIP.
Another factor in the success of Singer Vehicle Design is the company’s specialization. If you look at the top custom car shops in the United States, you will notice that they all have one thing in common. They all have a specialty. Some companies focus on rebuilding off-road vehicles while others specialize in trucks or SUVs.
By focusing on a specific type of automobile, the people behind these companies become experts in their field.
What’s in the Future for Singer Vehicle Design?
After growing Singer Vehicle Design into a major restoration business, many entrepreneurs would start diversifying their offerings to attract new clients. Dickinson remains committed to his original business model, which is unique in the business world.
Instead of offering to rebuild other classic automobiles, Dickinson and his team are sticking with the Porsche 911. In fact, Dickinson continues to run his business like a passionate hobby. This passion and commitment to building a beautiful automobile are what really help the company shine.
While the company has not expanded its reach by rebuilding other automobiles, it has introduced one new product.
Singer Reimagined Reimagines the Wristwatch
Rob Dickinson met with Italian watch designer Marco Borraccino and the two soon founded Singer Reimagined. As with Singer Vehicle Design, this new side venture is focused on reimagining classic items.
Dickinson and Borraccino both love classic sports watches of the 1970s. Using some of the designs of automatic chronographs as examples, the new company started producing reimagined high-end watches.
Watches may not seem like a natural fit for a car restoration company. However, this outside-the-box thinking is part of the reason why Dickinson thrived.
The bottom line is that Rob Dickinson took something that he loved, shared it with the world, and built a successful business around it. He remains devoted to his original vision, which is likely the most important detail to take away from this story.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.