Grand Touring Garage
As a "builder of fine motorized contraptions," Philip Koenen's breadth of automotive building experience is impressive. He's pieced together everything from rare prewar classics at Pebble Beach-winning standards, to modern SCCA racers. His page of past projects showcases just a few of his builds from the 1900s through the 1970s. The latest contraption to roll out is the genre-bending Trans-Cammer. Inspired by vintage Trans-Am racers, but assembled like a high-end show car, the Trans-Cammer was a showstopper at SEMA where it was awarded the Sony PlayStation Gran Turismo Best of Show award. Those accolades mean that it'll soon join a very short list of real cars that have been digitally recreated to be playable in Gran Turismo. Look for it in version number five.

A few years ago, Pro Touring muscle cars were becoming more about the look and flash of expensive polished billet parts, and Trans-Am stands as the polar opposite of that. Now it appears that the two styles are intermingling to refocus the eye appeal: functional built to beautiful standards. The Trans-Cammer, for example, was built for high-speed open-track racing, but it still stuns car show judges despite its simplicity.

Grand Touring Garage puts its full efforts into only a handful of full projects per year in addition to repairs, so Philip has been able to keep fairly busy with clients, however, he's noticed a change of tone in their decisions on the direction of their cars. "The trend I see emerging today is no matter whether it's a simple repair or a million dollar custom build, the customer wants the best their money can buy, so they can ultimately enjoy the benefits for a long time," Philip says. In other words, there's still a willingness to spend money to get the good stuff, but people are paying much more attention to the return on their investment both in terms of the car's value, and the return they'll see in use and enjoyment. "It is apparent that customers are paying much closer attention to what they are buying, and focusing more on the real intended use of their vehicle. They want to be able to drive their investment instead of just having another bubble car," he says. For example, a customer may decide that rather than the top-of-the-line, race-ready brake package they initially wanted, their plans really only necessitate a good street package. In a way, that's good news for builders and parts vendors; people who spend their money wisely tend to get projects wrapped up in sensible time frames and at sane budgets, leaving more money for additional purchases down the line. Or better yet, more money spent on getting out and enjoying their investment.

The same influence seems to be bleeding rearward as well. While prewar classics like Duesenbergs and Auburns are still treated like fine art and traded like gold bullion, Philip thinks that their postwar, but pre-muscle, brethren are evolving. Philip's current project, a '36 Cord 812 Westchester called Sledge Hammer, sits on a custom chassis with chromoly unequal-length front A-arms, Penske coilovers, 14-inch Baer brakes, and adjustable sway bars. The coffin nose will be a marriage of old-money elegance and Art Deco styling to modern touring car driveability, with a little bit of 6-71 Mooneyham-blown, Enderle EFI-injected, 383ci small-block Chevy thrown in for fun. Rather than a street rod, this one really will be the essence of Grand Touring; it's just looking for the right person with the same vision to slide behind the wheel.

Grand Touring Garage