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Porsche, Custom Interiors, and Mini vs Fiat

Porsche.  The very name inspires artistic design, precision engineering, and power.  My first Porsche was a 924 turbo with pearl white exterior (it looked like your hand would pass through it) and red leather interior.  The turbo had instant response, with the thrust getting more intense as the RPMs soared!!  The car was pure ecstasy to drive. California's Interstate 5 is a long,

fairly straight, super highway, just begging me to test the turbo, speed, and agility of the 924.  After enjoying a 100 + miles an hour ride in the little rocket, fortuitously, a bit of responsibility set in which saved me from the Highway Patrolman waiting just a few miles after I backed it down.  His radar gun found me within the speed limit.  Another lucky break. 

In this issue, you’ll meet Porsche enthusiast David Van Epps, founder of Sonderwerks, a Porsche restoration and performance upgrade shop as well as owner of Hot Rod Interiors, specializing in custom upholstery and interiors for all vehicles.  David has a passion for motors, and has attracted top notch talent to his shop.  They have some great stories and really cool hardware in their shop!! 

Drop us a note and let us know of your favorite car!!  And, enjoy the ride!!

Brad Bowman
Monte Carlo Garages

Exclusive News and Features

Snapshot: Sonderwerks


Like so many, David Van Epps spent many years cruising through the halls of corporate America, climbing the ladders, and building a name for himself.  After the sale of his last business, he was faced with the question of what to do next – in his 50s, he thought his next venture should ideally leverage his passion for Porsches.  

“I’ve been a Porsche enthusiast for a long time and have owned many Porsches,” he said. “The idea was to create a shop where we could restore Porsches, build custom Porsches, maintain Porsches, and essentially become the go-to place for Porsche owners.” 

To make this all come about, he founded Sonderwerks, which translates to Special Factory, and was able to bring in Martin Steger and Charlie Martinek. Martin is a seasoned pro whose entire professional life has revolved around Porsche; Charlie isn’t quite 30 years old, and yet has already established a reputation as a gifted air-cooled performance engine builder. 

“Martin apprenticed with Porsche at the factory in the mid-1960s, segueing into the development of the 917,” said David. “He moved over to the United States and kept focusing on the Porsche brand, at one time owning his own dealership and managing race teams, and much more. His knowledge of the Porsche brand is really outstanding, he’s a walking encyclopedia. Charlie and Martin complement each other as a team.They are both skilled engine builders, each with terrific ideas and insights that really make these motors tick.  At the same time we also take care of the routine Porsche maintenance like oil changes, brakes, and suspension."            

With the objective of being a one stop shop for custom restoration and performance upgrades, upholstery absolutely had to be a component of Sonderwerks. David credits himself fortunate to have acquired Hot Rod Interiors owned by Chuck Hanna. 

“We were absolutely humbled by the increased interest; you don’t get that without establishing trust and proving that you can do what you say you will. Chuck is a true artisan when it comes to interior creations,” said David. “His talent seems limitless and I had always been impressed by his work, so adding his talents to Sonderwerks was a tremendous opportunity.”           

While Porsche is a main focus, and Sonderwerks has a number of full restorations and custom resto-mod Porsche projects underway, on any given day there is an eye-popping assortment of iconic autos in for custom interior work. 

“Right now, there’s an amazing first gen Bronco in the shop that will be a showstopper, and a Cadillac convertible that has had every square inch of the interior customized.  Tri Five Chevys, first gen Camaros, Mustangs, and Mopar, we work with some of the best custom car builders in the country and have had countless award winning full customs for people," he said. "Oh yeah, but we'll also repair that torn seat cover on your Toyota Camry." 

See more about Sonderwerks here or about Hot Rod Interiors here.


SmallCars, Big Performance, Pure FunMini
Cooper JCW v Fiat 500 Abarth

MINI vs Fiat

John Cooper and Carlo Abarth likely invented the term “pocket rocket” without even knowing it.  Cooper turned the sedate Mini into something worth fearing and enjoying, while Abarth did the same with the pedestrian Fiat.  Today, their names live on through the latest iterations to come from both their namesakes, the Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works and the Fiat 500 Abarth, giving automotive fans a lot to enjoy for just a little coin.  But which is the better of the two?            

Both allegedly seat four, both have two-door hatchback bodies, both are front-engine/front-drive layouts with turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, both have heavily revised chassis dynamics, and both are a total hoot to drive.  The Abarth has a sound like no other – it brips and brattles like an Italian supercar, and it really thinks it is one.  Sprints from 0-60 take a modest but amusing 6.9-seconds, and the steering is a little indecisive and numb compared to the JCW, but the Abarth’s short wheelbase and diminutive size carries with it a nimble athleticism that encourages drivers to dart through traffic diving in and out of gaps – it loves moving around, and does it well.  Meanwhile, the JCW lends much more poise and plant, especially later variants hosting the revised suspensions.  The sprint to 60 takes roughly the same amount of time, but on the turns and twists the JCW feels more stable, more capable, heavier, but the feeling of size diminishes driver’s ideas of zipping through traffic, but rather easing through and around it.  There’s also a solidness to the JCW that the Abarth lacks, very likely part of the German family Mini has become part of.  The Abarth retains a free, whimsical, Italian feel, which can be a lot of fun.            

On the used market, both cars are a veritable bargain, especially finding one that hasn’t been in an accident or abused.  A mint condition Abarth will set the bank back around $15,000-$18,000 depending on the year and condition, whereas a JCW is likely to command money in the high teens to mid-twenties.  But, in all fairness, for the most part, JCWs were sold new at a premium price to begin with – again, likely (at least in part) due to that German management.            

Which one you prefer obviously depends on your personal preferences, driving styles,and even pocketbook.  Both take motoring to a sublime level of fun, but in the end, to answer the question of which is better might begin with another question – which automotive construction philosophy do you prefer?  The Italian style or German?  Because that’s what both exhibit well – the free-spirited Italian feel or the planted German prescription.