The mid-week long read with video: secret society
Meet the late-night Shanghai skunkworks penning its own vision of Porsche perfection
As the hubbub of another frenetic day in central Shanghai dies down, as towering office blocks empty and the traffic thins in the streets below, Alan Derosier gets down to business. Which is not to say he hasn’t been working all day.
Alan is a designer for a major Chinese car firm, but his liberal bosses let him do what he likes on the company computer when everyone else is heading out to bars or home to their families.
Alan has a very particular passion, but one that members of tribe are likely to subscribe to. From the age of around nine, by his own admission, Alan was eating, drinking and sleeping Porsche, in particular the late 1960s racing silhouettes embodied by the 908 and 917.
Aged 28, he finally decided to channel his professional skills and private preoccupation into one place, and began to create the car you see here, a 908 for the modern day, part contemporary design study, part nostalgic celebration.
He recruited colleagues with the correct skill sets to help realise his vision, and before long Marcos Beltrao (rendering), Martin Peng (components), Guillermo Mignot (interior) and Tom Wheatley (images) were also sacrificing unimaginable amounts of free time, late into countless nights, carefully crafting a unique and personal homage to one of Porsche’s most iconic and enduring sports cars.
Alan’s initial checklist sounded simple enough. He wanted the car to have a ‘back to basics’ feel that echoed the relative simplicity of the original 908. He also wanted to evoke that energy and excitement, that love of racing he had felt since childhood. And it couldn’t just be an ethereal study. This car had to appeal to genuine petrolheads like him and his team.
The upshot of this ambition led to a seriously challenging and potentially contradictory goal: a car highly advanced in appearance, but with a truly mechanical soul. And at all times adhering to the ‘form follows function’ ideology so critical to Porsche.
The exact model Alan settled on was the 1969 908 LH, a further concession to his consuming obsession. “I, as designer, made the choice to have the longtail because Porsches with this feature have something genuinely unique”, he recalls. “And until now nobody, as far as I know, has tried to create a modern version of it. In my opinion, it is a bit of a forgotten idea, so I thought it would be a ‘rebirth of an icon’ that would generate nostalgia in car and Porsche enthusiasts alike.”
From the beginning the team wanted it to be readily identifiable as a Porsche, and set about designing the exterior in a way they believed Porsche enthusiasts would love.
“Porsche is one of the rare brands that has evolved from a strong heritage of unique design and identity,” Adam explains. “I didn’t want to ‘overdesign’ it, and from my point of view, objects with pure volumes and complex details will stand the test of time and define the way I see Porsche.”
A critical element in the success of the project was working with real proportions. The team built their models in a way that would always be physically feasible, working, as Adam explains, “with coherent dimensions and constraints such as seating position, visibility, headroom, door openings, ingress/egress, width, length, height and so on.”
The secretive project ran and ran, taking two years and an estimated 5,000 hours of the team’s free time. And before long the rumours of something remarkable taking shape in secret in Shanghai had reached the doors of Porsche HQ in Zuffenhausen.
Eventually Alan found an email from Porsche in his inbox. “I was initially a little apprehensive to open it. We never had official permission from Porsche and I was worried that we might be in trouble,” he admits.
But it transpired that nothing could be further from the truth. Porsche was delighted that the passion for its brand, past and present, had reached such extents – inspiring an international team of young designers to devote two years of their downtime to an unpaid project. It quickly dispatched a team to make the film below that documents the realisation of Alan’s remarkable Porsche dream.