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Outfitting Porsches for Arabian kings, American ostrich farmers

Road Trip 2011: For 25 years, Porsche has offered its customers a high degree of customization for their new cars. Buyers can choose from any number of unusual interior-leather color combinations, and can even have their ranch's brand embossed on the seats. For a price, of course.

This Porsche 911 GT would normally be all red. But a customer wanted the hood, side-view mirrors, and rear spoiler to be black. Satisfying unique choices like that is the job of Porsche Exclusive.

STUTTGART, Germany--Let's say you're an ostrich farmer, and you've just bought a Porsche. And that you want to outfit the interior of your new car in the leather from some of your precious birds. Could you get your wish?

Yes, is the answer, thanks to Porsche Exclusive, a 25-year-old program through which buyers of the luxury cars can, for a price, have them customized in some very unusual ways.

Are you an Arabian king wanting to get a new Porsche in your country's national colors for each of your ministers? No problem. An American rancher wanting your cattle brand, instead of the Porsche logo or the model name, embossed on your seats? Check. A black hood and spoiler on an otherwise all red 911 GT? Porsche can do it.

Indeed, Porsche Exclusive can do just about anything its customers want--so long as it's safe, and legal. Though unusual colors for interior stitching is easy, and odd combinations of interior and exterior colors might present a problem only for people with aversions to, say, all brown Porsches, the company does occasionally have to say no to things like modifications to aerodynamic packages that would unbalance the car, or to steering wheel covers that would make the air bag inoperable.

As part of Road Trip 2011, I got a chance to visit the Porsche Exclusive workshop and showroom in Stuttgart, home to the company's headquarters, as well as its museum and one of its manufacturing plants, and I came away with a much keener eye for how Porsche owners choose to outfit their cars.

There are simple modifications--say, choosing to have only "Turbo" emblazoned on the rear of the car instead of the full model name, or choosing a different color for the interior trim. And then there are the ostrich-leather requests. But for 25 years, the company has been looking for ways to say yes to its customers, and if my visit revealed anything, it's that there is a never-ending supply of customers looking to spend just a little more to have their Porsche stand out from the crowd.

Actually, nearly every Porsche has some sort of customization done, but less than 30 percent of owners choose the most unusual options, the ones that are picked just 3 percent to 5 percent of the time. And while many Porsche buyers never venture beyond their closest dealer, anyone can make the trip to Stuttgart and visit the company's flagship Exclusive showroom, where they can look at more than a dozen example cars, some of which are decked out in colors that no driver should ever choose--but that they could if they wanted to.