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the first speedster

Porsche rarely misses an opportunity to produce an anniversary model, but it is significant that the 991 Speedster Concept celebrates 70 years of the sports car rather than 30 years since the best known 911 Speedster, the impact-bumper 3.2. In fact, there was a 356 Speedster built from 1954 for the US; a specific cut-down and denuded barchetta sold for owners who wanted a competitive weekend racer. Not offered in Europe, the Speedster was the choice of the thinking American club racer who might otherwise have bought a Corvette, an Austin Healey or a Triumph TR2. The Speedster’s replacement was effectively the 1955 550/1500 RS Spyder as Porsche’s competition-build models switched to mid-engine.

When the 911 was launched, its subsequent race-oriented versions – the S with its various Sportpaketed upgrades or the race-engined R – were all based on the Coupe, as there was no open version of the 911. A somewhat half-hearted attempt to make a 911 convertible to replace the 356 Cabrio had been abandoned, with problems of structural rigidity gone unresolved. After the ruckus stirred up by Ralph Nader, future US legislation seemed likely to outlaw open cars. In the circumstances Porsche’s Targa model, conceived quickly in 1965, appeared to fill the gap in the market for an open sports car.

Ten years later Porsche knew how to make an open 911 sufficiently rigid: work on a possible Cabrio 924 had shown that a combination of the transmission tunnel and stronger passenger bulkhead largely overcame structural concerns. However, this was at a time when under CEO Ernst Fuhrmann, development of the 911 had been halted in favour of the transaxle 924 and 928. Board member for engineering Helmuth Bott, an open car devotee, was frustrated at this, as there was now no technical reason not to reintroduce a convertible, and as far as Porsche sales personnel were concerned there was plenty of demand to justify the model.

Fuhrmann however was increasingly determined to make his legacy at Porsche the 928, and would not hear of it. Worse, feeling more and more isolated by his universally disliked stance on the 911, he is said to have threatened Bott with dismissal if the chief engineer persisted in a pet project of a simplified convertible 911, a latter day Speedster. Always loyal, Bott dutifully rolled the partially completed prototype out of his workshop in Weissach and into a discreet lock-up at the back. Then Porsche underwent one of those sea changes, which seem to occur at ten-year intervals during its history.

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996 CSR EVO: Evolving the Carrera

There’s a very nice 996.2 GT3 sitting in the RPM Technik showroom when I arrive early on a Wednesday morning. There’s a track booked, but the GT3 will be staying here. Instead RPM Technik’s commercial director Darren Anderson hands me the keys to the company’s CSR EVO. The CSR name has been around since 2010, RPM offering the CSR as a package of upgrades on 996 and 997s which can be done at once or over a period of time, depending on budget and expectations.

With the EVO the focus is more on track driving, it obviously a more hardcore, adjustable car that offers the serial track day enthusiast something they can drive as a daily, yet track mercilessly. As Anderson himself says, the EVO “has the broadest remit of any CSR”.

RPM Technik admits that to qualify as a CSR there has to be a minimum of work done to give the name its due. Obviously the Merlin purple demonstrator, build number 22, has the full EVO package on it, but if elements don’t chime with your desires or needs then you don’t have to have them. Add all the EVO changes up and you’re looking at around £55,000, which is a not-insignificant amount, especially as you need a 996.2 Carrera base car in the first instance. Indeed, that pushes the CSR EVO into the league of that aforementioned 996.2 GT3.

That’s perhaps a moot argument as, regrettably, the likelihood of buyers walking into RPM’s showroom, buying a GT3, chucking a lid and some Nomex clothing under the bonnet and heading to a track day are past. Blame the speculative nature of the Porsche marketplace for that, and in particular the ‘value’ of the GT cars.

The CSR EVO represents an opportunity: this is a car that a genuine enthusiast can buy and use as they like, that indeed being a significant part of its appeal. That it’s based on the 996 only makes it more interesting, a car that the market’s traditionally described as unloved. I’ve never subscribed to that – a good 996 delivers a wonderful drive, yet as with any car there’s scope for improvement, which is where RPM comes in.

The list of changes on this CSR EVO is lengthy. It’s very obviously purple, which is deliberate given its demonstrator status, Anderson wanting it to stand out among other cars. The likelihood is CSR EVO customers will leave their cars in the standard hue, though RPM will be only too happy to take on a colour change. Overt colour aside, the bodywork changes are relatively subtle. There’s a vented CSR EVO front bumper with ducting behind it feeding an additional third radiator, a carbon ducktail and sideskirts and rear bumper with vented inserts, and a central exit for the twin exhaust pipes. There’s a carbon bonnet, upon which there’s a stickered Porsche badge, in keeping with the lightweight ethos.

That carries over to the inside: there’s a lower dash delete, RPM moving the window switches up from between the seats to the centre dash, the ashtray also being removed. Out of that neater tunnel between the Recaro Pole Position bucket seats is a longer gearstick attached to a modified linkage for an improved shift, while ahead of you is a deep-dished, leather-rimmed MOMO wheel with a yellow strip…

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930 3.0 v 991: evolution of a species

Second gear, just before the apex of the tightly radiused corner. Squeeze the power and wait for the 930 Turbo to spin up and deliver boost. 2,500rpm and nothing is happening. 3,000rpm and still nothing of significance. In fact, it’s feeling like a slightly flat, normally aspirated Porsche. Three-and-a-half grand and finally we’re feeling a shove between the shoulder blades, the boost gauge below the rev counter now stirring. Suddenly that softly sprung rear is squatting down and the nose is lifting, and we’re being pushed hard at the horizon. The revs rise at a disproportionate rate to what was happening a second ago and I’m readying for that long-throw 915 shift across the gate and into third gear, hoping that I can shift it briskly enough that the engine doesn’t fall off boost.

Ahead of us there’s a vivid, gold 991 Turbo S Exclusive Edition that only seconds ago was filling our windscreen and has now almost vanished over the horizon. The 930 Turbo, now on boost in third gear, is covering the ground rapidly, yet there’s just so much distance to make up. An awful lot has happened in Porsche technology in the last 40 or so years… and not only in turbocharging technology. In fact, today is proving to be such an education and reminder of automotive technology advancement that it’s going to take some time to gather my thoughts.

These two Porsche 911 Turbos are both utterly beautiful. The fact that they both happen to be shades of gold that reflect the prevailing fashions at the time of their production is a happy coincidence that makes for an attractive photoshoot here in North Wales. They are both equally stunning to behold, and of course both are rear-engined. However, beyond that the differences are so stark that they provide probably the most graphic illustration possible of how the Porsche 911 ethos of Darwinian evolution has brought us to what is probably the pinnacle of internal combustion engine technology today, without the addition of hybrid power. We have here the beginning of the Porsche Turbo and quite possibly the end, together on the demanding roads of the Evo Triangle.

I’ve driven the 991-generation Turbo before, so its performance is nothing new to me. It’s fair to say that I am a devoted fan of the 911 Turbo as a road car. I fully accept the argument that the GT3 line has a purity of throttle response that is linear and telepathic, yet there’s something about the effortless, devastating overtaking capability of the 911 Turbos of each respective generation that has given me many happy memories over my years of 911 driving. Most enthusiasts would admit that if there were only one Porsche to drive every single day for the rest of their life, it would probably be a 911 Turbo.

It’s for the best that I’m driving the 930 Turbo first. At least that way it stands a chance to impress with that charismatic, early generation power delivery. The nicely adjusted 915 shift has only four gears, and I’m reminded as a former 1979 Turbo owner just how often you use first gear around the town. Those junctions where you may normally dip the clutch a little and keep it rolling in second gear need a slow, deliberate shift down to first that ideally requires a little heel toe and timing to achieve smoothly; you’re using first as an actual gear here, rather than something you select once stationary. Leaving it in second can strand you mid-junction in a black hole of performance that can be a little embarrassing if you’re not careful.

The steering is unassisted and heavy, weighting up in the traditional 911 way as soon as the corners become significant. It’s not difficult – unless you’re trying a three-point turn in a side street – but it’s heavy nonetheless and gives your wrists a workout, with the steering wheel doing its unique 911 feedback dance over road imperfections. The ride is certainly firmer that a standard 911, though it’s far from hard.

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Ruf Automobile: a tour of Pfaffenhausen

Rufplatz, Pfaffenhausen. A roundabout in the middle gently guides local traffic in an anti-clockwise fashion, the buildings around the outside playing home to an automotive showroom, service centre, main production factory, panel beaters and paint shop belonging to one of the world’s most renowned car brands.

Sound familiar? The set-up is not too dissimilar to that at Porscheplatz some 180 kilometres away, yet Rufplatz, like the Ruf Automobile company itself, has always liked to do things its own way. Founded in 1939 by Alois Ruf Sr, ‘Auto Ruf’ was originally a general vehicle repairer. Alois Ruf Jr arrived in January 1950 and immersed himself in his father’s business as he grew up, though it took a bizarre accident for Ruf as a company to become involved with Porsche vehicles. “My grandfather was driving his bus when a Porsche 356 Karmann shot past,” says Marcel Ruf, third generation of the Ruf family dynasty. “The driver lost control during his attempt at passing and put the 356 in a ditch, rolling it twice.”

“My grandfather stopped to check he was okay and explained he owned a garage who could repair the car. A few days later he ended up buying it as salvage. Once repaired, he was driving the 356 through Munich when a man stopped him and my father at some traffic lights and offered to buy the car. A deal was done, and my grandfather realised he was on to something: for years he had been dealing with customers who offered trade-ins or wanted to haggle for cars, and yet here was a guy who wanted to pay good money for the car at the side of the road!”

From that moment on, Ruf became intertwined with Porsche cars, enthusiasts of the 911 turning to Pfaffenhausen for performance upgrades in the 1970s as Porsche hesitated in its development of the Neunelfer. “In 1978 the 911 SC was detuned at 180hp. Our cars were capable of 230hp,” Marcel says, clearly proud of his family’s past achievements.

The culmination of this came in 1981 when the German Federal Motor Transport Authority recognised Ruf as a vehicle manufacturer in its own right, something which has separated the company quite spectacularly from its rivals in the tuning sector ever since. By 1983, the first sports car with a Ruf chassis number was born in the Ruf BTR, a turbocharged car with 374hp and, significantly, a five-speed gearbox. Porsche meanwhile would continue to use a four-speed gearbox on its 911 Turbos for another six years.

Ruf’s seminal moment came in 1987 at the Nürburgring with that video of Stephan Roser dancing the Ruf CTR ‘Yellowbird’ at speed through the hazardous Green Hell. Later posting a monumental top speed of 342kph against its rivals for a magazine test at Nardo, Italy, the Ruf Yellowbird was duly crowned the world’s fastest production road car for 1987.

Iconic creations with wonderfully acronymed names such as the Turbo R, RCT and RGT have all followed since, each one a breathtaking and often record-breaking feat of automotive engineering. Even in our contemporary world where specialists clamber to offer backdates of the Singer-inspired variety, Ruf still remains wholly relevant to an audience as loyal as it is large, as proven by the release last year of the all-new CTR 2017. A 30-year celebration of that first Yellowbird, it came equipped with a monstrous 700hp and a mere 1,200kg mass. Unbelievably, it sold out within a week.

Pleasingly, despite such prolonged growth and continued success, Ruf remains a family-run business, spearheaded by Alois and his wife Estonia, while son Marcel oversees day-to-day operations. It is Marcel who takes us for a tour, informing us the company has some 60 employees at Rufplatz, with an impressive 30 hand-built cars rolling out of the factory each year – more than one a fortnight.

Stepping onto the factory floor itself reminds us of more traditional times up the road at Porsche. There’s no moving production line, employees instead busy working around individual cars wearing braced overalls in the customary dark green of Ruf. Everything at Ruf is hand built, so there are no robot arms whizzing panels and components from one station to the next. It’s a breath of fresh air and goes some way to explaining how Ruf can offer an unrivalled attention to detail in so many aspects of its builds.

Ruf enjoys a close relationship with Porsche, the extent of this being the opening of a Porsche Service Centre on Rufplatz some nine years ago. It means the company can oversee the care and maintenance of factory Porsche cars as well as its own. “It’s good for everybody,” Marcel says as we take a look at both new and old 911s gracing the ramps.

Ruf is proud to be a manufacturer in its own right though, the fruits of which can be found with both the CTR and recently revealed SCR, which
uses a carbon-monocoque chassis for the first time. It’s a huge investment for a company of this size, but there are plans to use the chassis as a base for other projects going forward.

As well as its SCR, built to commemorate 40 years since the birth of the original SCR in 1978, Ruf has worked hard on the evolution of its first Yellowbird as we’ve previously mentioned. Very much a modern-day take of the original, the CTR 2017 has a 7cm-longer wheelbase than the Eighties car, despite its overall length being the same. The car is 3cm wider each side, noticeable at the base of either side of the windscreen, while an extra 2cm of body has been added to either side of the front bonnet. “Its appearance is more muscular,” Marcel himself says. “It’s as if the CTR has been to the gym.”

Production of both these breathtaking cars is already in earnest, making Ruf an ever-more busy and exciting place to be. The company will celebrate its 80th birthday next year, a quite remarkable achievement for a company used to creating, well, the remarkable.

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Our 24-hour 997.2 Carrera S roadtrip

It is ironic that in the same weekend Porsche Motorsport’s 991 RSRs are to spend 24 hours charging around a 13-kilometre track in northern France, Total 911 would be taking part in a European dash of its own.

The call came a couple of days previously; RPM Technik’s commercial director Darren Anderson enquiring as to our whereabouts over the upcoming weekend. Le Mans was of course on the agenda, but rather than travelling to Circuit de la Sarthe, the action was to be watched from the comfort of home via Eurosport. Cue the curve ball: “How would you like to collect a 911 for me?” Darren asked.

The 911 in question was to be a 997.2 C2S, it being no ordinary beast though. Serving purpose as a mule for the company’s critically acclaimed CSR programme, which modifies 996 and 997s in line with its ‘engineering exhilaration’ slogan, the latest phase of development has seen RPM Technik partner with KW suspension. The latter’s trademark yellow springs are a permanent feature under the arches of cars dominating competition on the Nordschleife.

Via Richard Good, director at KW UK, a close working relationship has been formed with the KW factory in Fichtenberg, Germany, to develop a set-up which RPM Technik believes ideally suits its burgeoning line-up of CSR 911s. “We’ve previously used other brands of high-end suspension without issue, but we felt KW offered the greatest diversity of products and those products provide more opportunity for adjustability to cover a wide variety of driving situations. A great set-up for the track doesn’t necessarily correlate to the ideal configuration for fast road driving, for example,” Darren explains. “With KW we can ensure our cars have precise focus and adjustability without compromising ride quality, and that’s across a range of driving scenarios our customers can find themselves in.”

There’s clear intelligence behind RPM Technik’s thesis here. As we’ve seen ourselves, the rush to deliver better and better performance in the aftermarket sector often brings huge caveats in regards to comfort, particularly for examples used everyday, as the 911 is intended. Our interest suitably piqued, we accept the offer to repatriate RPM’s mule, fitted with a freshly developed set of CSR-tuned DDC Plug and Play coilovers.

Arriving at KW’s sprawling Fichtenberg factory, situated an hour east of Porsche’s own Zuffenhausen base, we meet Oliver Scherbaum, who offers to show us around this impressive facility.

Essentially a complete walk-through of how each individual coilover is made, KW’s Ollie is extensive with his divulgence of information, yet engaging in his delivery. We learn the precise methods for building each damper, the exhaustive quality control present at every step of the process, plus the science and technology which goes into making a KW coilover – not to mention the sheer number of components involved (it is quite literally hundreds). All this helps paint a very vivid picture of the technology newly installed under the arches of RPM Technik’s GB-plated car out front. Time is ticking, so we’d better get on with the drive.

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