No Fixed Abode: The Case For Cloth

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
no fixed abode the case for cloth

I should have known better than to get excited. My old friend Brian Makse posted a photo of a four-cylinder 718 Cayman S with what appeared to be a partial cloth seat. This is not something that TTAC readers will know about your humble author, but cloth interiors in Porsches are my thing, man. Long before Singer was charging $400,000 to put plaid door cards in an old 964, I had “cloth interior” on my list of things to find in my next Porsche. It’s a tough ask for any car from Weissach after 1982 or thereabouts, and in fact, of the three 9-somethings I’ve owned, only my 944 had anything besides leather on the seating surfaces.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw cloth in (what should be) the entry-level Porsche. I was so worked up that I stopped doing what I was doing, which was building a Watkins Glen Grey Grand Sport with Hyper Green stripes online, and promptly pulled up the Porsche website to build a cloth Cayman of my very own. I kind of thought it would be a no-cost option to have a fabric seat, but I secretly hoped it was one of those options where you actually get some money back, like a sunroof delete.

You all know how naive this was on my part, right?

Let’s just get this out of the way: it’s not really cloth, and as Anna Gaye once told Marvin, it’s going to cost you. In fact, it’s going to cost you a minimum of $2,960. That’s the tab for “Sport Plus Seats With Sport-Tex Centers”. Sport-Tex appears to be a sort of fabric replacement using stranded vinyl. I’m going to try to look at it a bit closer in the near future; obviously I didn’t get an invite to the 718 event from which Brian had posted the photo.

If you choose the 18-way power seats with the “cloth” centers, the additional cost is $5,985. Listen, I’m a big fan of Porsche’s have-it-your-way philosophy. I admire the wide variety of options offered by the company, and if I decided to buy another new Porsche for some reason (like, say, a head injury severe enough to make me forget that the Cayman S costs as much as a Corvette Grand Sport), I would absolutely get a few of the special boxes checked. But six grand for fake cloth seats? Doesn’t that verge on the flat fucking insane?

I wonder if Porsche isn’t learning the wrong lessons from looking at what the Singer folks are doing. Singer, just in case you’ve been living in a cave with no exposure to Instagram since 2013, is the boutique (re)manufacturer that builds cheerfully colored and meticulously detailed tributes to vintage 911s using 1990-1994 Porsche 964-generation cars as a base. The resulting vehicles are sort of like listening to a Super Audio CD of the Berlin Philharmonic playing Bach on a $100,000 stereo system. Intellectually, you’re aware that the modern version is in fact far more perfect and dynamic and powerful than the original performance could have possibly been, but you’re okay with that because nothing exceeds like excess.

Singer has demonstrated that people will pay half a million dollars for a 964 Targa (street value in 2010: $15,000) if it hits all the right vintage notes and has absolutely perfect materials inside and out. There have only been two street Porsches to cost that kind of money: the Carrera GT and the 918 Spyder. Both of them were tough sells at the dealership — but Singer’s order books are full. I can see how the men of Zuffenhausen couldn’t help but cast an envious eye at Rob Dickinson’s Plaid Door Card People once in a while. And I can also kind of hear their inner monologue: If the old, inferior 964 is worth six figures with some nice fabrics and CNC-machined logos, shouldn’t we be able to charge six grand for cloth seats in a 718 Cayman that utterly destroys the 964 in every conceivable instrumented test?

Alas, Porsche is missing two crucial components of the Singer success story. The first is that the air-cooled 911 has, rightly or wrongly, become of the most important and desirable mechanical objects of the late 20th century. In the space of five days or so last week, I drove my old 993 and a brand-new 911 Turbo S with a sticker price of $200k or so — and if Porsche offered me the latter car as an even swap for my 1994-built beater, I’d say haha fuck no. The old cars were special. If you’ve driven them you know; if you haven’t, then go drive one and you’ll see.

It’s not fair, however, for me to endlessly castigate Porsche for not living up to its back catalogue. The air-cooled Porsche can’t meet modern regulations and it sure as hell can’t keep pace with even the basest of Boxsters now. It can’t be helped. But what can be helped, and what Porsche could easily learn from Singer, is the sense of whimsy and fun that exists in their re-created products. Go to Instagram (or wherever) and look at the interiors of the Singer cars. They are wacky, over-the-top, non-matching, deliberately eye-catching, iconoclastic. The fabrics are fun and the materials are mega and that’s all the alliteration I’m comfortable collecting for this current column.

The Six Thousand Dollar Seats in the 718 Cayman, by contrast, are boring and depressing-looking and just so serious and so impressed with themselves. It’s Porsche at its narcissistic, Kraftwerk worst. It reminds me of all the company’s well-known mistakes and all the times they’ve ignored their customers and all of the rest. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to the Corvette configurator.

Chevrolet could also do with a little more whimsy in its available options, particularly with regards to color. But at least they don’t make you pay $60,000 for a four-cylinder car. And they know what the customers really want. Maybe that explains why the various vintage re-creations of the ’60s Vettes don’t really have any traction at any price. The best Corvette is a new Corvette. If you can say that about your product, then I guess you don’t need cloth seats, do you?

Join the conversation
2 of 122 comments
  • Furiouschads Furiouschads on Sep 21, 2016

    Chevy Volt has good cloth seats with optional seat heaters. 3 stages. Considered to be the practical approach to winter comfort in a car with little waste heat. Better than leather in my book.

  • Domestic Hearse Domestic Hearse on Sep 23, 2016

    But the deal is, the Singer is for the Porsche buyer who already has one or two new ones, and wants something more Porschephilic as he cashes out his/her latest stock options. Porsche marketers and designers may enviously study the Singer website and consider the whimsey and price-is-no-object add-ons. But then they remember they are A) humorlessly German, and B) the new Porsche buyer wants serious, in order to prove how serious they are about their automotive choices and driving talent. Maybe Porsche management could consider an even more special Sonderwunsch where the would-be Singer buyer, with two new Porsches already in the garage (along with an Italian or two), could go a little nuts utilizing both imagination and wallet? Behold, your cloth checkered interior awaits. Along with lime-green RS-style door pulls and matching Schroth belts.

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.