Benton Performance has long been a cornerstone of the southern California Porsche community. When I moved west, John Benton was the first person in the business I shook hands with. Of course I’d known him through various Porsche forums, and his sterling reputation as the guy with the hottest 912 in the world (maybe true) and some incredible driving talents (probably true). We’ve been acquainted, then, for at least 10 years. When my ratty old 912E developed a fault 500 miles from home in Los Angeles, Benton was the first place I called as I knew that was the shop with the knowledge and guidance I needed.
The last two years have been, let’s say, harder than usual for the Benton Performance crew. While every shop in the Porsche world (and every other world) dealt with adversity in the face of 2020, a pandemic, an economic crisis, and lockdown orders, Benton had an especially difficult time of it.
In the middle of the night on October 30 of 2019 a fleet truck parked next door to SoCal Porsche performance and restoration shop Benton Performance burst into flames. Thanks to the notoriously dangerous Santa Ana winds and an adjacent building full of flammable debris stashed between the two buildings, the presumed fireproof steel building housing three lifts, an alignment rack, and dozens of spare engines, transmissions, and countless other parts all went up in smoke.
Thankfully the insurance covered the clients cars and business interruption. All of the mechanics became construction workers overnight to keep them employed. Many businesses would have laid everyone off and spent the money on the rebuild, or simply gone belly up, but John has more fight in him than that. He decided to spend the insurance money as salaries to his employees, rented the equipment, and rebuilt from scratch. He turned to all of his mechanics and told them they were temporarily construction workers. The Benton team “rebuilt, repainted, fixed the concrete, tore down the steel building, we did it all.”
Because of modern code, the building will never be allowed to be replaced, meaning Benton’s shop space has effectively been cut in half permanently. In an effort to regain some of the lost space, Benton brought in a few shipping containers to store parts and supplies. An electric sliding gate was installed to keep everything separated. Some more of that outdoor space was covered and turned into prep space for chassis and drivetrains. It looks like a functional automotive shop again, and it would be an impressive one if you didn’t know what was there before.
The shop was back up and running, with an impressive grand-reopening celebration in late February of 2020. And Benton was open for less than a month before California, and the world, began its Coronavirus lockdowns. The insurance money had been spent, and the shop had just spent the last four months not turning any work thanks to the fire. Thankfully the Porsche community came through for them. A GoFundMe effort set up by a few concerned community members netted the shop enough extra cash to scrape by as the pandemic raged on.
Now that California is back open again in full, Benton is fully back in the swing of things once more. Without the extra bays afforded by the second building, things are a little cramped in the main building, which thankfully didn’t get any fire damage. The shop isn’t a pristine Instagram-friendly photo shoot shop, it’s a real shop that actually gets worked in. To keep the cars moving and to keep the lights on, Benton stresses the importance of focusing on work that actually pays. Keeping a clean shop is important, but getting shit done is even more so. They aren’t going to spend time polishing the floors when there are distributors to rebuild or custom exhausts to fabricate or rust repair to weld up.
As a reminder that everything is fleeting and it could all go up in smoke in a moment, Benton keeps three burned out shells of former customer cars hanging around. Following the fire last fall, the insurance company was dragging its feet getting the cars removed and paid for, and the shop was quickly running out of space to keep three non-repairable cars around. One day a next-door neighbor was getting an air conditioning unit installed with a crane, so John asked the crane operators how much it would cost to get the burned cars elevated up on top of the containers to get them out of the way. $200 and 20 minutes later the job was done.
I’m honestly glad my car failed when and where it did, because I was able to send it to Benton for a once-over. As it turns out, some janky wiring from the previous owner failed, and my fuel pump wasn’t getting any 12 volt juice. It was a quick and easy fix, but I figured since I’d already flown home and left the car in his capable hands, I’d have John do some other work for me and the car. That old 912E had a rusty and rotted set of heat exchangers when I bought it, so I replaced them with a set of headers and what amounted to a set of straight pipes out the back. It was WAY too loud for comfort. I had also been having some issues with my distributor maintaining contact. Toss in a new battery and some other minor work, and the 912E is back to good thanks to Benton’s diligent work.
Even before I knew the full story of what the fire and the pandemic took from Benton, I was happy to spend my hard-earned with the shop. Benton isn’t looking for handouts, and frankly they don’t need any. You should take your cars to them because they’re good, not just because you want to offer support. Every car that has ever gone into that shop has come out better, and that’s a fact. John has been building Porsches for thirty years, and has been doing it as a day job every day for the last fifteen. It’s going to take a lot more than a silly little fire and an pandemic to knock this incredible team out of the game. I know I’ll be back, because eventually I’m going to break something else. And I know they’ll fix it.