The Sunday supplement: divining Rod
Discover the competitive passion behind every Emory Outlaw
Rod Emory looks lost for words. Gloved hands grip and release the slim leather wheel of a highly original 1977 Porsche 935, its three-litre flat-six engine rumbling menacingly right behind him. His eyes betray adrenaline, tension and anticipation in equal measure. “I've waited for this moment for ten years,” the 44-year-old explains. “I can't quite believe that my first race here at Laguna Seca is taking place on Porsche's 70th anniversary – and that I get to race this 935.”
For many in the Porsche community, Rod Emory is to the 356 what Magnus Walker is to the 911. Over the last 20 years Rod has made a huge name for himself around the world as the go-to guy for resto-modifying Porsche’s original sports car, defining the ‘Outlaw’ concept in the unlikeliest of cars.
Rod began Emory Motorsports in Los Angeles with his wife Amy back in 1996, with a stated aim of building ‘the most iconic, yet personalised Porsche 356s on the planet’. Feeding on a rich cultural seam of custom Porsche builds in his native California, Rod set out to refine and tailor this free-for-all process, creating a bespoke and more focused product, finished to an unprecedented and exceptional standard.
Fresh from the workshop, an Emory Outlaw is now recognised immediately as a collector’s item. Epic waiting lists and hefty ticket prices come with the territory. As does, for Rod himself, an increasingly high profile. This unassuming family man has been thrust into the spotlight in recent years, making him a slightly reluctant celebrity. But the trade-off is days like this one. Days when he gets to live the Porsche dream to the full.
The day in question is Rennsport Reunion VI, the final major event on the 2018 Porsche calendar. As Rod gentle blips the floor-mounted throttle of his historic 911-derived Behemoth, the engine notes of a dozen equally important Porsche race cars chime in on the grid around him.
Rod is flanked by the legendary 917, both the short-tail and long-tail models, a rare 904 and a number of 911 STs, all waiting to be released onto the historic Californian circuit with its famously Corkscrew. As intimidating a prospect as this would be for the most of us, Rod has previous when it comes to pedalling classic Porsche cars on track.
The passion began at a very young age for Rod. In May 1974 his father Gary picked up newborn son and mother from hospital in his treasured G-series 911. Rod would spend his childhood Sundays washing that 911, while his father and grandfather dedicated theirs to building cars.
At just 14 years of age, Rod modified a 356 for racing under the watchful eye of grandfather Neil (30 years later it is still part of the family collection.) “Whilst other boys his age went to American football or baseball training, I increasingly found Rod deep within the bowels of his 356,” remembers Rod's father Gary. By the age of 16 and with his official racing licence in the bag, Emory Junior was finally able to start competing.
Looking back on his racing career, Rod is refreshing frank: “I certainly wasn't a winner, but in every race I started I was able to make it into the top 10.” Initial designs on a professional racing career were eventually abandoned, as was the amateur alternative when the demands of family and business took over. “Instead of loading the trailer and putting the pedal to the metal at a race track somewhere in America at the weekends, I preferred to be there for my wife Amy and my children.”
Emory Motorsports has gone from strength to strength under Rod’s passionate stewardship, but the call of the race track has never quite disappeared. Nevertheless, when the Florida-based Gunnar Racing needed a reliable driver for their 1977 Porsche 935 for the sixth Rennsport Reunion, Rod did not immediately think of himself. It wasn't until Kevin Jeannette, who launched Gunnar Racing in 1978, approached Rod directly that he could picture himself behind the wheel.
The 935 that Rod now finds himself in is chassis number 930 770 0904, supplied by Porsche more than 40 years ago. Various high profile teams and drives have raced it on tracks in Germany, Belgium, the UK and France, from the Nürburgring and Hockenheim, to Brands Hatch, Silverstone and even Le Mans.
“It's crazy that I get to drive this very 935,” Rod says over the roar of vintage competition engines. “It's been a part of so much racing history, not to mention the noise it makes and its immense power. I'm going to ask my wife to pinch me afterwards so that I know I'm not dreaming!” Then suddenly the flag drops and Rod lets in the clutch, disappearing up the main straight amid a sea of colourful, priceless metal, three feet of flame spitting from the 935’s supersized tailpipe.