The easiest job in the world?


"PistonHeads? Wow, everyone back at the studio, we are always on PistonHeads looking at old 911s in the adverts!"

Not just you then, Porsche head of exterior design Matthias Kulla and his team back in Stuttgart also avid browsers of the PH classifieds. Which might, indeed, back up the idea that coming up with a new 911 involves five years of sitting about in the Porsche design studio sipping espressos, waiting for the call from engineering to say the new car is ready, moving the headlights a bit on the design sketch and getting it signed off by the board before going out for a long lunch.

991 is, in this context, genuinely a work of art
991 is, in this context, genuinely a work of art
Obviously there is a bit more to it than that, more on which in due course. But first of all, what brings the Porsche design team to the PH classifieds? "The prices for right-hand drive cars are much lower than in Germany," says Kulla. "964s are, maybe, 20,000-25,000 euros but we see them on PistonHeads for half that!" Clucking over old Porsches in the classifieds is a great ice-breaker but, in all honesty, Kulla's in relaxed mood anyway. Back at the Royal College of Art where he formalised his self-taught skills as a designer with an Audi-sponsored MA in the mid-80s he's here to help launch a new exhibition celebrating 175 years of the college. And obviously thrilled to be back in London.

"I still love watching the cars here!" he says, eyes flashing. "When I came from Germany you might see a Porsche now and then but nothing exotic. And then when I moved here to London there were all sorts of cars around." His own fleet is eclectic too, comprising Jensen Interceptor, 1966 fastback Mustang and Maserati Indy.

"Yeah, just change the lights a bit. Lunch?"
"Yeah, just change the lights a bit. Lunch?"
Kulla started drawing cars aged six, making models at 12 and, around that time and waiting for the school bus, spotted an ISO Grifo. "I said cars like this cannot be made by engineers or in the wind tunnel - they are made by artists!" After a spell at Target Design - home of the Suzuki Katana - he impressed the RCA enough to take him on as a post-grad student purely on the strength of his experience and portfolio. No mean feat, given that completing the course is a fast track to the car design elite with alumni including Jaguar's Ian Callum, Martin Smith at Ford, Peter Stevens, Gerry McGovern from Land Rover and Kia's Peter Schreyer to name just a few.

The artistic and creative atmosphere of the RCA clearly suited Kulla and just 18 months into his Audi job he got a call from Porsche design boss Harm Lagaay on Christmas eve asking if he'd like to join the team. Some Christmas present! And since 1989 that's where he's been.

991 a bit of a squeeze through RCA's door
991 a bit of a squeeze through RCA's door
Life in 80s London certainly influenced his work too. "I thought when I saw an exotic car it must come from some better place," he says, somewhat idealistically. "But then seeing the cars here I realised exotic isn't always best. Certain Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the period, the first time you saw them you said 'wow!' but then the next time you look more closely and it's like 'uh huh...'" The boldness and complexity of the 928's styling impressed him, his first major project at Porsche being the aborted 989 four-door.

Now head of exterior design he admits his role now is "the job I would have dreamed of while I was here at the RCA." But, really, how hard is it designing a 'new' 911?

"What is easier, to compose a symphony or a simple pop song?" he asks. "A symphony has a million different parts but a 911 has just a few elements. It's like cooking with just five ingredients. And we have progression in steps - the 996 was a big revolution in form, proportion and graphics. The 991 is a big step in proportion with the longer wheelbase and wider track but a smaller step in graphics and a refinement." And who's the hardest to please? Us! "German magazines always like what we do," he says. "The British journalists like Porsche but complain much more strongly if they think we got something wrong. The biggest reward is not to hear the British press say 'oh, they moved the lights or changed the wheels' but say 'wow, that's new!'"

Widebody Carrera 4 Kulla's favourite 991
Widebody Carrera 4 Kulla's favourite 991
Interestingly he says the new Carrera 4 is his preferred 991, saying "normally I'm a narrow-body guy and though it never occurred to me in the studio now I see the C4 on the street I think it looks better and it balances the wider front track of the 991."

Just as well the car brought to the RCA was a Carrera 2 though. One of the biggest exhibits at the show the clearance to get it through the front door was less than 20mm. It wouldn't go through with the mirrors so the doors had to come off the car - an easier job than removing the mirrors apparently. Obviously you don't have to take the trouble to go to the RCA to see a silver 911 in London but if a bit of artistic chin stroking is your bag it's worth a visit. For more on the exhibition, which opens to the public today, see here.

Additional photography: RCA

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Comments (78) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Dr Z 21 Nov 2012

    DJRC said:
    Well Im glad somebody else was confused. The 996,997,991 side profile shot to me is very generic.
    Im afraid I dont really pay too much attention to generic modern 911s, they hold absolutely no appeal to me beyond the idea of a cheap £9k 996 being an amusing daily smoker POS.
    Well, saying the profile is generic is one thing. Saying you couldn't tell if it was a 991/996/997 is something else. Of all the 911s, a 996 is probably easiest to spot even on a side profile shot!

  • Sofoklis 21 Nov 2012

    Easiest job in the world you say. I reckon the guys at Aston Martin have got it even easier. All they ever seem to change is a grille and add a couple more vents in the bonnet and its a new design. I dont think they look any different to what they did 10 years ago. LOL

  • DJRC 20 Nov 2012

    unpc said:
    Dr Z said:
    DJRC said:
    leon9191 said:
    Mmmmm... 991 C4S

    I really do love 911s, this ones mine!

    Gratuitous showing off of my own car not withstanding, I think each model is different enough to have a style and desirability of their own.

    Er...I have no idea if that is a 996, 997 or 991.

    Sorry.
    Can't tell? Kindly hand in your PH membership card on the way out.
    I better hand mine in too. As an ex 911 fanboy and ex owner it took me a while to identify it. Personally the rot set in with the 993. I lost interest about then.
    Well Im glad somebody else was confused. The 996,997,991 side profile shot to me is very generic.
    Im afraid I dont really pay too much attention to generic modern 911s, they hold absolutely no appeal to me beyond the idea of a cheap £9k 996 being an amusing daily smoker POS.

  • Ninjaboy 19 Nov 2012

    Cyrus1971 said:
    don logan said:
    DannyScene said:
    leon9191 said:
    Mmmmm... 991 C4S

    I really do love 911s, this ones mine!

    Gratuitous showing off of my own car not withstanding, I think each model is different enough to have a style and desirability of their own.

    Without meaning to be too harsh are you high?

    Each 911 does not have its own style, they all have 1 style... sporty beetle

    Don't get me wrong I like the 911, I just dont know which one I like cos they're all the bloody same
    What? like all chocolate is the same and all ice cream is the same?

    People who can`t tell the difference between things is why we also have st on supermarket shelves!

    With respect of course!
    Spot on. People should look harder. Quality can de subtle and perhaps is Porsche is trying to appeal to a thinking demographic rather than those after the obvious.
    So if you think Porsche design is lazy and stale your not the target "thinking" demographic. Porsche sell because it's what you buy to show you have a few quid. They are decent cars but over priced for what they are, mass produced sports cars. Aston Martin and Ferrari have a limited excuss for their price tags, they are produced in small numbers. I'm sure porsche produced 100,000's of 996's models.

    Edited by Ninjaboy on Monday 19th November 20:50

  • smilo996 19 Nov 2012

    Porsche have been doing the same thing with the 911 since the Beetle. Aston have been modifying the DB9 for less than ten years.
    It is testiment to German determination that they take a utilitarian car designed with a simple air cooled engine in the back (for a reason and not to make it a great handling car) and turn it into a sports car that after 40 years started not to try and kill its occupants. 4WD helps. Modern electronics also. I drove an early 90's 911 turbo, the one with the dining table on the back. It was lethal like a TVR but without the fun.
    Porsche has designed 2 innovative cars the 928, which they got wrong anyway and the Panamera Sportsback, that doesn't look like an oversize or undersize 911.
    The reason people buy them?
    Its THE only German "sportscar" and because it is German it has buried any sense of emotional expression - which suits the British.
    Why is it a successful racing car because the Germans have the determination and will to make it so, not because it is inherently a good car to make a good racing car.

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