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Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Rare Shades celebrates Porsche's long history of loving color

Porsche's Exclusive Manufaktur division has facilitated custom sports car creations for decades through its Paint to Sample program.

No automotive brand has a culture of color quite like Porsche. For decades the German sports car manufacturer has produced cars in weird, wild and wonderful hues, but things ramped up in the 1980s with the creation of the Porsche Exclusive division. Through Exclusive, customers are able to build custom specs for their Porsches using both new and historic colors and trim options, and the popularity exploded in recent years. I spoke to Boris Apenbrink, the director of Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur, and went to the fifth installment of Rare Shades, a car show dedicated to the most interesting Porsche colors.

Rare Shades 5 was held at Summit Skywalker Ranch north of San Francisco -- yes, that Skywalker -- and I fittingly drove up from LA in a Frozen Berry Taycan Cross Turismo. (More on that car soon.) Launched as a joint effort by 000 magazine, Marqued and Instagram account PTSRS, the show featured 52 cars and hundreds of spectators, many of which parked their own rare Porsches in the underground garage. Cars came from all over the US, with the oldest being a 1953 356 pre-A in Slate Gray and the newest a 2021 911 Turbo S in Signal Green. The cars were organized by color, with a few important models getting special placement. 

A rainbow of Porsches at Rare Shades 5

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Sometimes shows focusing on higher-end cars can feel pretentious or exclusionary, but Rare Shades was the exact opposite. Everyone I spoke to was stoked to be there, equally appreciating everything from the brand new 911s to the rare classics. It was a refreshing feeling -- something I wish I could experience at other car shows. And despite every car being a Porsche -- and almost all of them being 911s -- Rare Shades 5 was far from boring.

Many of the Porsches at the show were finished in rare or unusual color options from that model's standard color palette, like actor Daniel Wu's Cassis Red 1988 911 Carrera coupe and a Cream White 997 Carrera S with color-matched wheels and a deep chocolate brown interior. There were even some colors I'd never seen before, like the Lido Gold paint on a 1967 912 that looked like muted yellow in the shade but a searing citrus hue in sunlight.

When it came to the modern cars, however, most were in colors made possible by Exclusive's Paint to Sample program, which currently costs around $12,000. This allows customers to get their Porsches painted in nearly any color from the brand's back catalog, something that's become exceptionally popular in recent years. Porsche also offers Paint to Sample Plus, in which you can paint your car literally any color you want -- including those from other automakers -- for an even higher price. Building a Plus car can take months, as the paint has to undergo feasibility testing before it can be approved for actual production.

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Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Green was one of the most represented colors at Rare Shades 5, and that's true for the PTS program as a whole. Normally green makes up just 1% to 3% of total car production -- that's for both the industry as a whole and for Porsche specifically. But when it comes to PTS, the top five colors in the past few years have all been greens, and Porsche currently offers over 30 green shades through PTS. A Birch Green 911 R got some of the most attention at the show, as did a 1973 Carrera in the older version of Birch Green with brown leather seats. "You can never judge anything with the Paint to Sample program with the same methods or arguments that we would use for series-production color," Apenbrink said, adding that customers who go for PTS colors are usually much more adventurous. The colors popular among PTS fans are sadly not indicative of the market as a whole.

People brought modified cars too, like the amethyst over gray 964, which wears awesome three-piece BBS racing with a gold finish. Another favorite of mine was a mint green 992 Targa GTS with white gold BBS centerlock wheels and a 917-style wooden manual shift knob. (The plate reading "AQAFRSH" was a nice touch.) Many of the cars were obviously well-used and loved, with dirt on the sills, worn seats and paint chips on the front ends, and that made them even easier to appreciate. Sports cars are meant to be driven, after all.

My favorite car at the show was a 964 Turbo 3.6, one of the rarest Porsches of the era, painted in a one-of-one, super subtle beige color called Silver Rose Metallic. The driver's door was left open all day, and for good reason: Nearly every surface in this 911's interior is covered in Magenta leather, including the headliner and sun visors. The carpets are color-matched, too, and it even has the factory Porsche phone on the dash -- though sadly that's just black plastic. I love a spec that's subtle on the outside and bold on the inside, especially on a sports car, and this 964 really stood out.

Special interiors like that 964's have been possible for decades through Porsche Exclusive's Leather to Sample offerings, but the company increased the possibilities in recent years, and many examples were on display at the show. A Rubystone GT3 Touring had plaid seats with color-matched inserts, while an Olive Green Touring featured brown leather seats with houndstooth centers. According to Apenbrink, it's tougher to have as many custom leather-covered options as in the 1990s and 2000s thanks to pesky airbags and electronics, but there are now around 60 different possible interior color combinations. The same level of interior individualization is available on the 911 and 718 as it is on Porsche's four-door cars, to much success. Smaller options like custom key pouches and floor mats have seen high take rates as well, and Porsche is seeing a lot of demand for custom interior bits on the Taycan especially.

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There were modern cars with custom interiors too.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The 911 has always been the most popular model for PTS builds, especially the GT cars, but Apenbrink said Porsche itself wasn't anticipating just how big demand would get in recent years. The first car where customer interest noticeably increased was the 991 911 GT3 RS, and Porsche's factory didn't have the capacity to keep up with demand. Porsche's GT models were no longer super rare cars that spent most of their time on the track -- more customers started regularly driving GT models than ever before with the 991 generation. 

"They see the GT car as a symbol of their lifestyle," Apenbrink said, "and they wanted to add another flavor to make it more special." The 991 GT3 Touring especially saw an onslaught of customers wanting PTS builds, and with the new 992 generation Porsche is expanding what's available on a "standard" build.

Social media also played a massive role in the burst of PTS popularity. There's a massive trend of documenting PTS cars on Instagram in general, with PTSRS being one of the biggest contributors. Run by friends Will and Amer, co-organizers of Rare Shades, the account documents Paint to Sample cars in detail. It's one of the most comprehensive databases on PTS cars that exists. 

The surge of social media interest is partially what caught Porsche so off guard. "Fully frankly speaking, we saw it too late," Apenbrink said, describing how Porsche's market research didn't take the potential effects of social media into consideration when planning how many PTS builds to do each year. Because the demand grew so organically and quickly, with potential customers finding out more about the program and potential colors online, the trend wasn't foreseeable through Porsche's usual means. "We were not aware that this trend was coming, so we were not able to adjust our planning and our capacities. It was difficult for us, and this is why we really had problems building those Paint to Sample GT cars."

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This Birch Green 911 R got some of the most attention.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

But the Instagram phenomenon also helped Porsche as much as it hurt it. "One thing with social media is that we saw that it helps customers to see how the cars really look," Apenbrink said. Porsche itself doesn't have its own website or configurator that can easily show PTS colors, as it would need to ask for permission from the owners to post photos of their cars. It used to be more difficult to even order a PTS car, too, partially because owners would need to contact a dealer to find out what colors were even available and to really get an idea of what the color looks like in the real world. An in-house database is something Porsche Exclusive is actively working on, but for now the team is thankful for pages like PTSRS and the Porsche Club of America that document these special cars.

"As soon as we found out that this trend will remain, we started to invest heavily into the factory. We really had to rebuild basically the whole infrastructure in Zuffenhausen and we are now able to build many more Paint to Sample cars than before," Apenbrink said. It used to be that Porsche could only build five 911s a day in PTS colors at the plant in Zuffenhausen, but now 20 a day are possible thanks to the major expansion and upgrade of the factory. Four-door cars such as the Cayenne, Macan and Panamera are more limited, being built in a separate factory, with only four PTS cars able to be built per day, but demand for PTS on those models is lower. The Taycan is also built at the 911 plant in Zuffenhausen, which means it can use the upgraded facilities. Currently four custom Taycans are possible per day, but Porsche is already seeing lots of positive reaction for the Taycan's PTS program so that number is likely to increase soon. In fact, Apenbrink has already seen some wild PTS Taycan builds, like a Brewster Green sedan with gold wheels and a Riviera Blue Cross Turismo wagon.

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Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Now that it has the production capacity to support the demand, Porsche wants to make its Exclusive creations even more popular. "We want to make PTS easier to be ordered, we want to make it more public so you can really see what colors you can order and which colors are available," says Apenbrink. "We also want to give customers more insight into the background of where the colors come from and how it was used. Every color has a different story, and that's what separates the series production paints from the Paint to Sample program. This is why we want to invest into Paint to Sample, bringing more colors onto the road and bringing more of those stories to the customers so that they can connect to their personal lifestyle."

When asked if Porsche would ever say no to a customer's desires, Apenbrink gave an emphatic no. "Everything we deal with at Exclusive Manufaktur is what other people dream about," he said, adding that talking with customers about their taste is always challenging. "I always tell even our board members that we cannot drive the world's taste out of Stuttgart. What people like in Dubai is different than what people in London or in China like. In the end it's about the personal tastes of the customer. If they are buying the car, they can decide what they want."

That's not to say that the team always likes what's coming down the line, though. "There have been a lot of cars where I first saw the spec sheet and thought, 'Oh my god, this combination must be too heavy, it's maybe awful,'" he said, mentioning a particular 911 Speedster that was dark blue with a bright orange interior. "But in the end when I saw the real car in person and talked to the owner it really convinced me a lot; I was really blown away." Apenbrink added that it stopped everyone who passed by in its tracks, with half of the staff loving it and the other half hating it -- and that's a good thing. "What all these PTS cars have in common is that they all make you turn your head because it's something special," he said "We always like to polarize a bit with these cars." Amen to that.

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More on the car on the right soon.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

In addition to the expansion of PTS and other custom programs, Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur is also working on a lot more special edition models like the recent 911 Targa Heritage Design Edition. Beyond that, truly bespoke one-off creations are possible, as well as resto-mods facilitated by the Classic division. And on a more attainable level we've seen Porsche introduce weirder colors into its regular paint offerings in recent years, like frozen berry and coffee beige on the Taycan and mamba green and papaya metallic on the Panamera.

The current state of car colors is exceedingly boring, with white, silver, black and grey making up around 75% of all sales in the US. Rare Shades demonstrates exactly why that is so sad. Walking through the show brought me a ton of joy, and like many other enthusiasts I get excited whenever I see a Porsche in the wild bearing a rare or interesting color. Porsche is working hard to bring more color back into the car world, and I can't wait to see how that will be celebrated at future installments of the show.