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Drew Hafner's prototype 912 has the spirit of a 356 outlaw

Written by Aaron McKenzie, Photography by Shayan Bokaie

Nov 22, 2022

Every year at Luftgekühlt, one car steals the show. This is no easy feat, given that Luft’s annual celebration of Porsche’s air-cooled heritage regularly features the best examples of the marque’s history,  from one-off prototypes to bespoke custom builds to legendary race cars. At Luft 8, the show-stopper belonged to a young builder named Drew Hafner who as recently as five years ago was still honing his skills by fixing wrecked modern cars by day and restoring classic Camaros at night back in his native Ohio. 

Drew HafnerDrew Hafner

Hafner, whose car surprised everyone but himself, embodies the truth that any “overnight success” is decades in the making – or, at least, the product of countless late nights spent honing one’s craft. That Hafner knows what he wants – and, more importantly, knows who he is – doesn’t hurt either. 

Hafner’s self-assuredness dates back to his childhood in Delaware, Ohio, population 41,000, hometown of President Rutherford B. Hayes, and the sort of place where the local high school has a “Drive Your Tractor to School” day. And thankfully for the Porsche enthusiasts in the room, Hafner’s high school has managed to fend off the “college for everyone” trend that has overtaken American high schools and which seeks to funnel all students – regardless of interests, goals, or aptitudes – into four-year universities. 

Drew Hafner

“Any high school principal who doesn’t claim as his goal ‘one hundred percent college attendance,’” writes Matthew B. Crawford in Shop Class as Soul Craft, “is likely to be accused of harboring ‘low expectations’ and run out of town by indignant parents.”

This, then, is where we pause to offer our gratitude to the parents of Delaware, Ohio, for allowing their local high school principal to hold onto his job. Moreover,  to the great benefit of students like Hafner, Buckeye Valley High School also offered academic credit for what amounted to an apprenticeship in automotive collision technology, in which Hafner learned to weld and to fabricate, to paint, and to straighten entire car frames on a rack. By the time he graduated, Hafner had a full-time job offer, while his classmates were headed off to accumulate eye-popping amounts of debt at college. Yet, even as Hafner knew what he wanted to do with his life, and knew that he didn’t want to attend college, holding any kind of minority opinion will inspire moments of doubt. After all, if the majority are doing something, it must be the correct thing to do. Right?

“They put all the colleges up on the wall at school, and I thought, ‘Oh, this person's going there, this person's going there,’” says Hafner, now twenty-five years old, “but I was just into working on cars, which certainly didn’t seem very glamorous to my peers at the time.”

Drew HafnerDrew Hafner

Hafner’s life was still anything but glamorous when, two years out of high school, he happened to see an Instagram post from a Porsche shop in North Hollywood, Calif., soliciting applications for the position of metal fabricator. The shop: Emory Motorsports, renowned for its custom Porsche 356 builds. Hafner followed Emory on Instagram but, beyond that, did not know much about the shop’s storied history. All Hafner knew was that he was ready for a change, ready for a new challenge that his life of working two jobs at local Ohio collision shops could not offer. Ever since he was a young kid, Hafner knew that he eventually wanted to build one-off cars, hot rods, anything that took shape from his own imagination, and he was willing to do whatever it took to make this dream a reality, whether it was working multiple jobs, paying for weekend metal-shaping classes, or accumulating his own stock of metal-working tools.  Hafner threw his name into the hat and soon found himself on a call with the shop’s namesake, Rod Emory, who quickly recognized a kindred spirit and offered the kid from Ohio a job in California.

And so, at twenty years old, Hafner threw all of his personal belongings – which, at the time, fit in a single laundry basket – into the trunk of his Volkswagen Jetta and set out across the country in 2018. Once on the Emory shop floor, Hafner – whose father did restorations and collision repairs and whose mother was an artist – found himself right at home. 

Drew Hafner

"This type of work gives you so much more freedom than fixing a wrecked car or doing a concours restoration, where things have to be a certain way because that's how the factory did them," says Hafner. "If we want to shape the car a certain way, or emphasize or exaggerate factory lines and details, there's no rules to it. There's a lot of freedom and creativity involved in what we do."

That freedom and creativity shines through in Hafner’s own Porsche. The car began life as a 1968 912, though by the time Hafner found it the car had been the victim of a cheap 930-style fiberglass body kit so common to the 1980s when these cars were cheap, disposable, and modified as such.  No stranger to long days and multiple jobs, Hafner followed up each 10-hour day at the Emory shop with late nights working on his own car, all in pursuit of a vision that had been in his head for years and which he now had the skills and circumstances to make a reality. 

Drew Hafner

“When I got the car, it was just full of rat poop and newspapers, and all of the windows were out of it and there was water sitting in the floor pan," recalls Hafner "Everything was rusted out: the longitudinals, the heater tubes, the floor pans, the battery tray. The first thing I did was cut all the fiberglass off, cut all of the rusty metal off, vacuum everything, rip everything out, and just get it down to the bare essentials of what I knew I was going to work with.”

What emerged is a car that, like many Emory cars, stands out both for its aesthetic unity as well as for its individual details. And Hafner knew that, whereas the average car enthusiast might just see his car and think “Nice Porsche,” attendees at Luftgekühlt would eye his creation with a different level of appreciation…and scrutiny. 

"I was so excited to debut this specific car at that event because I knew it would be full of people who know what these cars are supposed to look like,” he says. 

Luftgekühlt attendees know these cars well enough to appreciate, for example, the 356A beehive tail lights, the single-grilled decklid, the rolled rocker panels, the sectioned front bumper, and the custom roll bar that parallels the pitch of the B-pillar. If they looked under the rear decklid, they’d find an engine that started life as a 3.2-liter, 6-cylinder 911 powerplant but which is now a 2.1-liter, 4-cylinder engine (the center two cylinders have been milled) capable of 180 horsepower. And if those admirers stood back for a moment, they might also appreciate the one-piece body-and-fenders sculpture that Hafner created for this car. Whereas on Porsche 356s all of the quarter panels, rocker panels, and fenders flow together in a single piece, Porsche split these components on their 911 and 912 models to facilitate easier replacement in the event of damage to any one area. Hafner had other ideas. 

Drew Hafner
Drew HafnerDrew Hafner

“What I wanted to do was make my car more like the 356 and make the fenders fixed on the cars,” says Hafner. “It’s a tremendous amount of work to do that, and the only result you're getting is getting rid of the gap from the fender to the cowl, and the gap from the fender to the rocker. It's two little gaps, but having that result is so worth it to me.” 

One more time, all together: Drew Hafner knows what he wants

And he’s willing to do the work necessary to achieve that vision: “There were so many weekends where I worked 35 hours straight and then went home and slept for a few hours or just kept clothes at the shop. I’d just work until I fell asleep on the shop floor or on the couch for a little bit before getting back to it. I just had this image burned in my head of what I wanted this car to be, what I wanted it to look like, and how I wanted it to drive, and that was what kept me going.” 

Drew HafnerDrew Hafner

Having achieved his vision, Hafner has no intention of relegating this car to the status of show queen.

“I want to take this car out to the desert and drive it around and do donuts in the dirt, or drive it up to the mountains in the snow,” he says. “It's a car that I've always dreamed of building, and the purpose of that is to get out and really drive it hard and push it to its limits.”

Drew Hafner

Having stolen the show at Luftgekühlt, Hafner must now contend with the barrage of “what’s next?” questions. 

“I've got millions of ideas,” he says, “but there's only so much time in the day.”

Rest assured, Hafner is ready to wring 30 hours out of every day to make those ideas a reality.

More about Drew Hafner

You can see more of Drew's incredible craftsmanship and cool projects by following him on Instagram (@drewhafner)

Meet our contributors

Aaron McKenzie is a Los Angeles based writer, photographer, and producer with an eye for all things automotive. You can see more of his work by checking out his Instagram (@aaronwmckenzie).


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