The recent London Concours, held in the splendidly unexpected city centre greenery of the Honorable Artillery Company, featured a new class called “The Outlaws” where customised classic cars could compete for glory in the same arena as the highly polished, original and rare machinery you more typically expect of a concours event. Stewart Longhurst explores the story of the outlaws.
Most modern definitions of the word outlaw agree on the basic premise that it refers to an individual who has not only broken the law but is still a fugitive from it. Historically, being declared an outlaw meant that the law breaker’s deeds were so heinous or habitual that he no longer had any protection from society or the law and could therefore be killed on sight with impunity. The Robin Hood legend, and the more recent story of Ned Kelly, are two such examples.
Author Tom Robbins in his book Still Life With Woodpecker, suggests that a modern day outlaw has chosen to live not only beyond the law but beyond the spirit of the law and outside of society. An anarchist if you will with a goal to “turn the tables on the ‘nature’ of society. When we succeed we raise the exhilaration content of the universe. We even raise it a little bit when we fail.”
This second definition is perhaps more appropriate to the automotive use of the word outlaw where car owners have made a choice not to follow rules or conventions but to modify and customise their pride and joy in whatever way will exhilarate or please them.
The motoring outlaw movement has its origins in the 1950s-’60s hot-rodding and custom scene in Southern California but there are indications that it was the Porsche community that gave birth to the term when purists scathingly referred to those enthusiasts who had made “sacrilegious” hot-rod modifications to their 356s as outlaws. The name stuck and has since become an established sub-culture among enthusiasts of Porsche and many other marques.
One such SoCal outlaw was Gary Emory, son of feted hot-rodder Neil, who had previously been very active and successful in the originality and polish-obsessed world of the concours exhibitor but became increasingly frustrated that the perfection demanded by judges prevented him from using and enjoying his cars. Over time he also realised that while most older Porsches might never be viable concours contenders, they could be brought back to life with aftermarket parts or race components and turned into something of beauty that people could still appreciate.
This customising spirit has passed on to a third generation in his son Rod, who now runs Emory Motorsports creating 356 Outlaws. Rod wants cars that he designs and builds using traditional methods to be used and enjoyed and not tucked away in a private collection or museum. His design philosophy for an outlaw is that although anything goes, it must go together. Each of the many modifications or custom parts must blend into the whole and not stand out too much on its own. The finished car should therefore look like it came out of the factory as an evolution of the original design rather than as a heavily modified car.
Moving away from the established Porsche 356 and 911 scene, this stylistic outlaw concept has taken root and is gaining momentum among other classics such as Volkswagen Beetles and Type 2s, Mercedes W108s and even “Fuorilegge” Lancia Aurelias. In fact, it was the fourth example of the Thornley Kelham Lancias that was declared the winner in the London Concours Outlaws class, beating off competition from a Porsche 356, two Porsche 911s and a Cayman, as well as an Aston Martin Virage, a Cygnet, a Mini, and a Ferrari Dino.
There’s something of an irony that outlaws should now become a feature of an establishment concours event when their genesis was so counter to that culture – and their inclusion will no doubt spawn a set of rules governing what will become a high-stakes class with owners spending increasing amounts of time and money to ensure that theirs takes the rosette. Price tags on these unique outlaw classic cars are already many hundreds of thousands of pounds, dictated by the rarity and huge number of specialist man-hours that go into them.
Let us hope that this doesn’t mean that outlaws soon become too valuable to use and enjoy and that they continue to defy society’s rules to keep raising the exhilaration content of our automotive universe.
Stewart Longhurst @SportsandGT