Full Porschtek Review
911 & Porsche World
Issue #176
911 & Porsche World Porschtek Review:
The case for the independent
Words: Paul Davies Photography: Michael Ward

The Porschtek workshop has that 'eat your lunch off the floor' appearance that would not disgrace any official dealer centre. Or did they just give it a good clean because they knew we were coming? We jest, of course, because this is exactly the standard that Porsche customers expect

Tony Snowden (left) and Phil Woodhead both trained with Porsche Centre Leeds before deciding to go it alone. Each progressed to the highest level as Porsche technicians - and Tony is one of a select few to train on the Carrera GT supercar. They reckon that the typical car coming their way for servicing is getting younger all the time, with more people prepared to switch to a specialist as the two-year Porsche warranty expires

Porsche owners in West Yorkshire have the undoubted asset of Porsche Centre Leeds on their doorstep. Part of the JCT600 group - headed by chairman Jack Tordoff who, back in 1973, took the ever-spectacular Carrera 2.7RS to outright victory on the international Circuit of Ireland rally - it's a state-of-the-art corporate palace that is the largest Porsche Centre in Europe. However, just a few streets away, you'll find the alternative, independent specialist Porschtek.

Driving straight from one to the other, as I did, the contrast is striking. But there's also more than a whiff of similarity. Separated only by their size, both premises are immaculate: clean workshop floors, tool chests neatly lining the walls and diagnostic equipment blinking. Plus tidy waiting room with leather seating, magazines (both 911 & Porsche World and Stuttgart's own Christophorus) on the coffee table and drinks machine to one side.

But the difference is also obvious. Porsche Centre Leeds has a staff of 67, Porschtek just two. Which probably explains why both can happily exist, even co-exist, nearly side by side. I'll illustrate my point.

My morning call at the official dealer premises saw me arrive in the twenty-year-old (freelance editorial) 911. Pretty fair condition and impressive in its own right, if I may say so, but faced with massed ranks of gleaming Caymans, Cayennes and late-model Carreras, I thought it prudent to tuck the red beastie out of sight on the extremities of the car park. (I felt a bit like I did many years ago when I first went into a Porsche showroom - should I have worn a suit?) At Porschtek the same afternoon, I drove right up to the front door with not a tinge of inferiority.

Which, I think, sums up the role of the independent in the Porsche world. The Centre is primarily for new, and nearly-new car owners - identified perhaps by the size of their wallet, and perhaps by the fact a company is footing the bill. Don't get me wrong, you'll get first-class service at a Centre, but you'll rarely see a Carrera 3.2 or 944 in the workshop, and almost never in the used car - sorry, pre-owned - lists. It's not the way they do business. Once the typical Centre customer's car has passed out of manufacturer warranty, he's thinking about the next one, not will it pass its first MOT inspection?

The independent is for the rest of us, with older cars and less money, craving what we perceive as a more personal service from the little guy around the corner. But the gap is narrowing, as Porschtek's Tony Snowden explains:

'Porsche new-car warranty is two years, and with the latest cars the first service, typically, also comes in two years. The cars coming to independents like us are getting younger, and we're even seeing cars for that first service.'

Porschtek is just two people - Tony Snowden and Phil Woodhead. Tony started as an apprentice at a Leeds Lexus dealership and, at age 22, achieved the status of Master Technician. He then joined JCT at its Brooklands, Leeds, branch which in pre-Porsche Centre times lumped the German manufacturer with Maserati, Ferrari and Lotus.

Phil, meanwhile, started at JCT's Ferrari outlet, worked at Brooklands and did time in the workshop of the group's Jeep agency (before returning to work at Brooklands). At this point, both of them had progressed to the highest grade of Porsche technicians, Tony in charge of the workshop and one of a select few to train on the Carrera GT supercar.

When, in 2006, JCT opened its stand-alone Porsche Centre, just a short distance down the road from the Brooklands agency, the duo moved, too. From there it was a short step - but for them a massive leap - to Porschtek early in 2008.

'It wasn't a long-thought-out process,' explains Phil. 'We'd chatted about the possibility of setting up on our own for a couple of months, then Tony came in to work one day and said we should make the move.'

'We could see a market,' says Tony. 'A lot of people would bring a car into the Centre for a service, we'd report a number of additional faults that needed repair and then we 'd never see the car again. They were obviously being taken elsewhere.'

After a busy time spending a couple of weeks setting things up, local advertising and launching a website, the pair opened the doors of their trading estate premises, and one customer - with a 928 - appeared on the first day. 'It was a wonderful feeling,' remembers Tony. Now the word's got around and Porschtek is busy.

Obviously, a certain number of owners moved from main dealer to independent, but the parting from Porsche Leeds was amicable, and the pair continue to have a good relationship with the nearby Centre - most of the (only) original Porsche spares they use come from the dealership. 'We have no hard feelings for JCT, but we felt we wanted to put another angle on our passion for Porsches,' says Phil.

'Not blowing our own trumpets, but we believe we can offer an excellent service. We know the cars and are good at our job. We can't say we can do a better service than a Porsche Centre, but what we can offer is quality work at an affordable price, and with a one-to-one relationship. People come in and talk through their problems with us. Everyone who's been here has been more than happy.'

The pair are seeing a much wider range of Porsche models than at the dealership - witness the brace of Boxsters, an Eighties 911 Turbo and a 968 Cabriolet rubbing shoulders with a 997 GT3 at the time our photographs were taken. The Boxster - it's been around for over ten years now, the Turbo and the 968 are understandably independent specialist material, but what about the GT3? Is this not still a car for a Porsche Centre ?

'I've dealt with the owner for years, and he's found out where we've gone,' explains Tony. 'He trusts us, which is good.'

The 997 is under two years old, but with European block exemption legislation effectively forbidding a 'closed shop' on servicing, the Porschtek men see no problem with it, or any other Porsche still within warranty period, being handled outside an official Centre. All work done is within the manufacturer's schedules, only genuine Porsche parts are used, and the independent has the required diagnostic equipment to deal with even the latest models.

But with an hourly labour rate of 50 and a competitive fixed servicing 'menu', the company is attracting older cars. Especially, says Tony, in the summer period when owners are more prepared to put their limited-mileage or classic cars on the road. A few trackday participants have also found their way to the workshops for preparation work.

Porschtek undertakes engine and transmission rebuilds - the number of failed 3.4-litre M96 Boxster and 996 engines in for repair seems to be reducing - and it seems that many local dealers are sending cars with hard-to-find electrical problems to the experienced pair. Tyres and bodywork are about the only two areas of Porsche care the two don't handle at present.

Tony and Phil see their compact (small?) size as an asset, the independent giving the customer personal service and modest bills. They admit they might have to grow a bit - adding a sunken, four-poster lift and upgrading the wheel-alignment equipment - but for now they'll continue as a pair, liaising with customers, sharing office work, fixing the cars, washing them and invoicing. Because it's small, the system, says Phil, is pretty bulletproof, there's no communication breakdown.

Several times in conversation the word 'passion' is used by the Porschtek duo. These guys clearly have a mission and, as Tony Snowden says: 'It is our passion, working on the cars, fixing and repairing them, looking after customers.'

Maybe, when it comes down to it, that's the strongest case for the independent.

It's all about variety, and independent Porsche specialists are always going to see a wider cross section of Porsches to fettle than the OPCs, as the rather wild and bewinged 930 Turbo demonstrates

Independents are seeing younger cars! Both the Cayenne Turbo and the 997 GT3 are at Porschtek because their owners like the way the duo does business

Both Boxsters are in for clutches, the 968 has a non-operative hood, the 997 GT3 needs an oil change and the 911 Turbo came in on a trailer!

Tony and Phil displaying impeccable taste in their choice of reading material

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