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RUF CTR Anniversary driven

“The Yellowbird is a car that made us internationally renowned from one day to another. We were the world’s fastest car – all the big companies were slower. No matter if it was 20 years ago, ten years ago or just yesterday, everybody talks about this car.” These are the words of Marcel Ruf, who talks with passion and pride when I ask him to describe what the RUF CTR of 1987 did for his father’s company.

It was that 3.2 Carrera-based ‘Yellowbird’ which put RUF Automobile on the map. A real-life David versus Goliath moment, it was faster than Ferrari’s F40 and Porsche’s 959, inspiring an entire generation of automotive fanatic. Those three letters responsible for building it became an alluring brand synonymous with engineering precision and purity henceforth.

We’re here on Rufplatz to celebrate 80 years of a company which has been integral to the culture surrounding the 911, a sports car we all – RUF included – admire greatly. RUF has always found a way to improve on Porsche’s recipe, consistently evolving the 911 years ahead of Zuffenhausen.

It led to RUF becoming a certified manufacturer in its own right by the German authorities in 1981, and since then we’ve been on the road to this very moment, a dream Alois Ruf Jr has harvested for decades: to build a complete sports car from scratch. That car is the new RUF CTR.

Revealed in 2017 – 30 years since the original – the latest CTR has undergone further testing, tweaks and even a name change. The CTR Anniversary, as it is now known, is at last approaching the finished article, and is a fitting way for this family-run business to celebrate its 80th birthday.

Putting the festivities to one side, this new CTR is arguably the most important RUF creation in years. Times have changed, and now there’s much stiffer competition for ultra high-end, Porsche-inspired craftwork, most notably from a well-known company some 5,000-miles away in north Hollywood.

Looking more inwardly too, the fact this is the first RUF to be built completely from scratch carries a significant cost. Company sources tell me it could be between €12 to 15 million to develop the CTR, all of the investment coming directly from RUF itself. It’s a statement of confidence to say the least, the carbon fibre monocoque at its centre forming, we are told, the basis of RUF cars of the future as well as now.

On paper the CTR Anniversary’s credentials (we’ll come to those later) have well and truly resonated with the uber wealthy, so much so that all 30 cars of the initial build run were sold within a week. I say initial build run, as off-the-bat demand for the CTR Anniversary caught out not only RUF itself, but owners of the first CTR, too, who simply didn’t react quick enough to bag the latest example.

“We felt it was important that those owners of the original CTR were given the opportunity to have an Anniversary, so we spoke with the 30 buyers of the new car and asked how they felt about us increasing production to 50 cars to solve the problem. Thankfully they gave their blessing, so we were able to offer the extra 20 spaces only to those who had a CTR1,” Marcel Ruf explains. A potential sticking point dealt with efficiently and calmly – how typically German.

Production of the CTR Anniversary is set to run until 2022 (by which time the company will also have started building its new, naturally aspirated SCR) with deliveries beginning later this year. A handful are very near to completion, these being assembled by hand on the factory floor during our visit. However, sitting outside and resplendent in the house colour of yellow, there’s an example ready for the road – and we’re going to be driving it.

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930 v 964 v 993: air-cooled Turbos

This is the story of an action hero: one who starts as a trigger-happy maverick, becomes all-powerful, then ends up going straight. Well, that’s the Hollywood version at least.

The truth about the air-cooled 911 Turbo – from 930 to 964 and 993 – is harder to sum up in a sound bite. So dim the lights, grab some popcorn and settle in for a saga of sequels without equal.

Posing outside the Paul Stephens showroom in Essex, our Turbo trilogy makes for a great movie poster. They’re The Expendables in four-wheeled form: brimful of testosterone and bulging in all the right places.

The 964 Turbo 3.6 has the most visual clout, crouched like a coiled spring on dished Speedline split-rims. It’s one of the most aesthetically aggressive 911s, on par with the 993 GT2 and 991.2 GT2 RS.

The 930 isn’t far behind, its fulsome hips and signature spoiler immortalised on a million bedroom walls. And the 993 Turbo is equally iconic, albeit smoother and more urbane.

The 964, built in 3.6-litre guise for the final year of production only, is also our A-lister in terms of price. At the time of writing it was offered at £224,995 – enough to buy both the 930 and 993.

Is it the big-budget blockbuster those looks suggest, or does the sweet-spot of this air-cooled 911 line-up lie elsewhere? I’m childishly excited to find out.

I start with the 930. ‘The Widowmaker’ shares its epithet with a movie about a nuclear submarine, and its presence feels equally forbidding. However, it could have been much wilder.

Inspired by the on-track success of the turbocharged 917/30, the prototype 930 was a back-to-basics road racer – effectively a Carrera 3.0 RS with forced induction – and just 200 cars were planned. Porsche’s sales and marketing department had other ideas, though, envisioning the 911 Turbo as a luxurious super-GT.

In the end profit triumphed over purity, and the Turbo debuted in 1975 with air conditioning, electric windows, a rear wiper and a four-speaker stereo. Climbing aboard, this flagship 1987 911 still feels well-appointed today.

There’s supple leather, deep-pile carpet and even heated seats. Only the boost gauge, nestled within the rev counter, offers a clue to its added oomph. Well, that and the four ratios etched atop the gear lever – the SC had switched to five-speed back in 1978.

The original 3.0-litre 930 served up 260hp: a modest 63hp more than a contemporary Carrera 3.0, and Golf GTI power today. Even so, edgy handling and all-or-nothing power delivery made it a challenging steer.

Le Mans-winning Porsche racer Tony Dron said: “Frankly, it demanded too much skill, even from an experienced driver, and that made serious driving hard work… I was far from convinced that selling them to the public was a good idea.” An upgrade to 3.3-litres and 300hp in 1978 also included beefier 917 brakes and a more stable chassis. This had “better handling, but was still something of a monster when driven really fast”, noted Dron.

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991 v 992: the ultimate battle

It’s fair to say Porsche’s executives can be mighty pleased with the way the company’s eighth generation of 911 has been received so far. The Neunelfer is, after all, the bedrock of Zuffenhausen: an entire automotive operation is administered with this iconic car at its centre.

Of course it’s crucial that any new 911 must succeed in obtaining the approval of a global fanbase so impassioned by it. In the case of the 992, succeeded it has… and then some.

Not since the arrival of the 997.1 has a new generation of 911 been met with such resounding acclaim by all corners of the motoring spectrum. The 992 has built nicely on the foundations of the 991 before it, an era which didn’t exactly enjoy the same instant endearment.

Its bloated size over the outgoing 997 was lamented, as was the uptake of electrically assisted steering, both of which were seen as surefire signs of a general creep away from the 911’s all-out sports car demeanor in favour of a more comfortable grand tourer.

Despite what might best be described as a takeoff with turbulence, the 991 has gone on to become one of the most popular 911 generations of all time, right where it matters – in the showroom. Even after that mid-life introduction of turbocharging for the entire Carrera range, customers continued to back the car handsomely with their wallets. As a result, the 991 is a best-seller.

The 992 is still wet behind the ears in terms of its production cycle. There are only four models to choose from, Carrera S or 4S in Coupe or Cabriolet, but, with sales managers in an effervescent glow from early reviews, it’s about time the new arrival was put directly against its predecessor.

The 992 Carrera 4S Coupe’s RRP in the UK might be £98,418, but once you’ve added some sensible options you won’t see much change from £115,000 – our Dolomite silver press car here comes in at £116,467.

That’s the same figure you can expect to pay for a 991.2 GTS right now, either straight from the production line, as some late examples are still being built alongside the 992, or from a host of used examples currently available with around 1,000 miles on the clock. The stage is therefore set: what’s better, a new 992 C4S or a well-specced 991.2 C4 GTS?

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Open-top classics: 964 Targa v Cabriolet

These days the 964 is an almost universally popular generation of 911. Endeared to the hearts of many for its near-perfect blend of modernity and classic purity, most would stick a 964 in their five-car 911 garage – though that 964 would likely be a Coupe.

However, with 964 Coupe prices – particularly for the Carrera 2 – now off the scale, and in an air-cooled Porsche marketplace that’s slightly unpredictable, for anyone wishing to get behind the wheel of a 964 at a reasonable price point perhaps the Targa and Cabriolet versions of 964 are worth considering?

I admit I am with you with a preference for the Coupe. A 964 Carrera 2 Coupe is always the perfect choice, so would you really consider the two runts of the litter: a pair of Carrera 4 964s, one a Cabriolet and the other a Targa? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

Drive both across the bumpy, undulating B roads of the North Yorkshire Moors in the bitter cold of March, on a week when the UK is being battered by winter gale-force winds. Sounds perfect.

If we’re going to do this, we had better do it properly. That means no sheltering underneath the canvas; topless is the plan. It’s actually a bright,
sunny day despite the gale-force winds, and as photographer Chris says: “You won’t see the howling wind in the pictures.”

Removing the roof of both cars differs significantly. The Cabriolet is simple: sit in the driver’s seat, and push and hold the button. Wait 20 seconds or so. Done. Okay, so it’s not quite as snappy as a modern convertible Porsche, though it’s perfectly acceptable. For me, convertible cars of any make should be driven top-down whenever possible.

I always offer a disapproving frown to anyone I see driving anything with the hood up in the sunshine, so making the process as simple as possible is a vital element for me. 

The Targa is different. First off you’ll need to rummage in the glovebox for the two levers needed to release the latch above the windscreen, then faff about inserting them before swinging them through 90 degrees. That releases the front edge.

Now you have to climb out and figure out how to lift the entire roof section clear, with the catches at the front combining with two steel pins at the rear to secure the section. If you’re like me and have a giraffe-like physique, you can use your leverage and self confidence to lift it clear, a small voice in your head saying, ‘don’t drop it, don’t drop it…’. Humans with lesser leverage may need assistance.

Once you’ve lifted the top clear, what do you do with it? The stubborn male in me refuses to do the obvious thing and read the manual. After a few more moments of fiddling I discover the over-centre crank that gives the Targa section its shape and rigidity and allows the whole assembly to fold down, suitable for storage in the front luggage area. Assuming you haven’t already filled it with luggage. 

Fast and easy it is not. However, as I stand and look at the two cars, there’s no doubt in my mind which one is the better looking with the
roof configured for sunshine. The Targa is the more attractive of the two. I have always loved the rollover hoop section and, while the rear screen isn’t the classic Coupe shape, I do actually like the wrap-around curvaceousness of the one-piece rear glass.

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August Achleitner: the final interview

April first. April Fools’ Day. A hugely significant day for Porsche, and specifically the 911, as August Achleitner will close his office door at Porsche for the last time, handing the keys over to Frank-Steffen Walliser.

Achleitner’s business cards might say ‘Vice President Product Line 911 and 718’, but he’s long been referred to simply as ‘Mr 911’. He opened the door to that office 18 years ago on 1 April 2001, Dr Dürheimer giving him the job of looking after Porsche’s most famous model.

His leaving is arguably as seismic a change as many of the key points in the 911’s development, Achleitner overseeing the water-cooled era of Porsche, starting with the 996 and signing off with the recently launched 992. You don’t walk straight into a job where you’re responsible for the model that defines a brand. No, when Achleitner removes his nameplate from the door he’ll have been at Porsche for 35 years.

 

It was perhaps inevitable that Achleitner would work for Porsche. He is the son of a vehicle engineer, born in Cologne, Germany, to Austrian parents, while his father was working for Ford before moving to BMW.

The young Achleitner studied engineering in Munich while his father worked at BMW, Achleitner adding economics to his curriculum in a bid to ensure his eventual career path didn’t follow the normal route. “I saw which kind of jobs my former colleagues of my engineering studies had at BMW, and I thought to myself, I don’t agree with that. It’s too small to be responsible for the left door handle. That’s not my target.”

The engineer wouldn’t, of course, start at the top of Porsche, but his ambition and talent undoubtedly dictated his successful career path. He admits always wanting to work for the company, saying: “I was always a Porsche fan, from my childhood. When I joined I was only in engineering because of my additional studies in chassis; I did five years in chassis development.”

A neighbour having a bright-red 356 when he was growing up might have influenced him, too. His first role was with Porsche Engineering, the company’s offshoot that quietly undertakes work for other manufacturers. “At the beginning I had many projects for customers, because Porsche was always doing customer development at that time, more so than today,” says Achleitner.

He admits during this period to being kept busy by BMW, doing some work for Audi and others and also travelling to Detroit to work with Pontiac. Porsche’s own projects started taking over Achleitner’s time, his first work on the 911 relating the brakes. “The only part which I designed and drew by myself that made it to production was the new brake disc off the 964 Turbo,” chuckles Achleitner, admitting that every time he sees one he thinks, ‘I did that’.

A visible contribution there, albeit through the wheel spokes, but it would be what was behind the 964 replacement’s brake discs that would help define Achleitner’s career path. Achleitner was one of the engineers responsible for the Lightweight Stable Agile (LSA), or ‘Weissach’ axle introduced with the 993.

It had been developed in part for the shelved 989 four-door Porsche, the multi-link rear axle being transformational in helping add some predictability to the 911’s dynamic behaviour. That basic rear-axle concept remains to this day, Achleitner saying it’s under the 992, adding: “It’s always a little bit improved, but it’s the same concept. No big changes.”

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