Porsche may have grown to world fame in Zuffenhausen – it owes its reputation as being the most glamorous and most cultivated of all sports car brands to a large extent, however, to the fans and sponsors on the US West Coast, where you will still find the world’s most creative Porsche community today. The foundation stone for Porsche‘s popularity along the Pacific Coast was laid by the likes of former importer Max Hoffman, who convinced Ferry Porsche to build the 356 Speedster that was predestined for California’s roads, and his Friend the Jonny von Neumann, who sold the sports cars from Stuttgart to Hollywood stars such as James Dean. It is hard to imagine that entire generations of famous sports car drivers from Steve McQueen to Patrick Dempsey would have heard the “good news from Zuffenhausen” if it had not been for the early missionaries.
That colonial enterprise of this kind has ultimately paid off for a brand like Porsche, even if the fine line between glowing admiration and acquired taste is occasionally crossed, can be seen in the case of Patrick Long and Howie Idelson – the two crazy Porsche guys not only created one of the most successful car events of the last few years with their laid-back Californian brand gathering ”Luftgekühlt”, but in so doing have also made Porsche fashionable in the ultra-cool surf and café racer scene. Last weekend, the fifth edition of the Porsche gathering fans affectionately refer to as simply “Luft“ was held in the lumber yard of Ganahl Lumber Company South Bay in Torrance in the Greater Los Angeles area – and one can safely say that Luftgekühlt has now overtaken Rennsport Reunion in Laguna Seca as the world’s most important Porsche gathering.
What the organisers of Luftgekühlt have created is akin to celebrating holy mass, at which Porsche fans can meet on equal terms, talk shop and together worship their sports car gods – regardless of whether they own a rusty 356 rat rod, a 914 they have restored themselves or a Le Mans racing car worth several millions. And despite all the easy-going American sense of equality, there are of course a number of celebrities who are also well-known figures way beyond California‘s borders – besides the hosts Patrick Long and Howie Idelson. It was quite on the cards that you’d bump into the restorer and outlaw designer Rod Emory, for example, or the racing driver and car film-maker Jeff Zwart . You might also meet the team from Singer Vehicle Design and even cross paths with tuning maestro and Californian in exile Alois Ruf in the lumber storage area and milling sheds.
The collection of cars on show was as hand-picked as it was varied – Bruce Canepa‘s mechanic had not only brought along his 789 hp version of the Porsche 959 SC, but also the fourth Porsche 911R ever built, with Chassis Number 307 670 – for 911 fans, this is their equivalent of the Holy Grail. To please the crowds, British racing legend Vic Elford floored the accelerator of the Porsche 908 short-tail coupé he drove with Jochen Neerpasch in the 24-hour Spa-Francorchamps event in 1968 – half a century ago – producing a blood-curdling roar from the engine. A Porsche 804 recalls the Formula One history of the brand, while Penske‘s L&M Porsche 917/10 Spyder brings alive the Can-Am series of the 1970s. There were also some fascinating oddities from the Porsche universe on display, such as the Schuppan 962 CR or the Ruf CTR2. The organisers of “Luftgekühlt 5“even managed to build a bridge between the location of the Californian lumber yard and the brand‘s history – with a Porsche 356, the aluminium bodies of which were first built in the sawmill in Gmünd in Austria.
As exquisite the “air quality“ was at the fifth edition – with the enormous success of the event, the same fate threatens the former gathering of friends and like-minded individuals that has turned the semi-private ”Wheels & Waves“ festival dedicated to motorbikes and surfing into an almost mind-boggling spectacle. It is not surprising that sponsors like Pirelli, Chopard and Mobil have recognised the appeal of the Californian target group. Perhaps the time has come to move the air-cooled Way of Life to other locations – and what a brilliant idea it would be, don’t you think, to have a Californian homecoming ceremony outside Plant 1 in Zuffenhausen?
(c) Fotos: Bastian Schramm - Text: Jan Baedeker