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The Globe and Mail

Would you pay $5000 more for custom stitching on your car?

Some dream cars cannot be found on any showroom floor.

Strong personal tastes require custom ordering to achieve satisfaction. And luxury vehicle manufacturers increasingly are eager to oblige.

Picture an order specifying robin's breast orange as a Porsche 911 Carrera's body colour. Not simply orange, exactly the tone of a robin's breast. Wheels, dark grey matching the robin's head. Northern cardinal red is specified for the leather interior with all stitching in blue jay blue – and, as a final touch, the ventilation slats are to be leather-covered in the same blue jay blue to pull everything together.

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A migraine headache on wheels, some would declare, but not anyone at Porsche Exclusive. Personal taste is never judged at the custom finishing centre at Porsche's headquarters at Zuffenhausen, Germany.

Rather, they'd add up the figures – $7,500 for paint to sample (feathers or photograph), $1,710 for painted wheels, $7,500 for leather to the cardinal sample, some $5,000 for deviated stitching (that's what they call it), $1,200 for the leather on the vent slats and $600 for carpet in the deviating colour – for a total of $23,510 on top of the 911 Carrera's base price of $90,100.

Allow up to six months for delivery, they'd tell the bird-fancying driving enthusiast, and thank you very much.

"Everything is possible," said Exclusive's Sabrina Spletter, "there are basically no limits on what we do unless it has an effect on safety."

BMW has its Individual, Mercedes-Benz its designo, and of course Rolls-Royce its Bespoke, but no volume manufacturer tries harder than Porsche to involve customers in personalizing their vehicles.

The process maximizes profits, obviously, while simultaneously enriching the ownership experience and increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases.

Customer consultation showrooms at select dealerships worldwide operate as Exclusive pilot projects in North America – Pfaff Porsche in Woodbridge and three in the U.S. – display woods, leathers and other trims such as carbon fibre. A computer configuration allows customers to see how their choices come together.

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All dealerships, though, have access to Exclusive alterations. A 911 Carrera GTS ordered by another Toronto outlet is known to have grown from its $117,600 base price to $180,000 when kitted out to its buyer's taste with an unique interior and mechanical modifications.

"We can probably say that no car that has been touched by the Porsche Exclusive team has another one just like it out there," said Andreas Niermann, in charge of custom tailoring manufacturing of 911, Cayman and Boxster models at Zuffenhausen. (A separate facility modifying Cayennes and Panameras operates at the Leipzig factory.)

"There are 200 options not including colours offered for the 911 – and 70 of them we hand-fit here because it's not possible on the production line. The best tool that man can have is really the hands."

On the day journalists toured the Exclusive – Werkstatt, 35 cars were arrayed in the three work lines of the custom manufacturing area. On average, each car requires 3-1/2 hours of labour to complete a special order. Those "fully packed," as Niermann put it, can occupy the workers for 20 to 30 hours.

Not all were special-order vehicles; limited-production models also are part of the mix. The 911 Speedster, for example, of which only 356 were built, required five hours of finishing touches after coming off the regular 911 assembly line. In total, some 6,500 cars are expected to pass through the facility this year.

In the nearby leather shop, we observed a craftsman covering a centre console (option price of a leather-covered console, $1,400). He worked with a plastic blade, pressing the leather into the cavities of the console, the ash tray and the storage tray, aided by a hot air blower, ignoring the multiple eyes studying his endeavour.

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The process would take 45 minutes. The completed unit appeared as though the leather somehow had melted into place with nary a crease.

Customers from throughout Europe, along with a few from overseas, come to the adjacent configuration centre to spec out their cars. Just prior to our tour, a Mexican spent two days studying possibilities. A Canadian made his annual visit in March. "This time it was a Turbo, the time before a GT3, of course I can't talk about the name," said consultant Ulrike Lutz.

But Porsche's goal is to make it unnecessary for any customer to travel to Zuffenhausen.

"Every market reflects cultural and language differences and they're best served by their local centres," said Jochen Biemann, a Porsche business development specialist with Porsche's Exclusive and Tequipment division, after a visit to meet with sales staff at Pfaff's earlier this month to introduce newly available contrasting stitching in Cayennes. At the same time as Biemann was in Toronto, his colleague was in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, on a similar mission.

"Our customers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, are conservative," Biemann continued. "Whereas, in Shanghai our cars can't be flashy enough, a lot of customers want the Porsche name big, they order gold trim and so on."

Toronto? "A little on the conservative side," he said. "Miami, on the other hand, orders a lot of bright colours."

Whatever the character of the cars emerging from its custom manufacturing, Porsche views Exclusive as a growing operation. "Porsche plans to double the number of cars we are producing," said Biemann. "With more cars on the road, interest in individualizing them is certain to increase.

"Whereas 10 or 15 years ago we were on the sidelines of Porsche's business, today we're more at the centre."

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