I think we can all agree that if one car was to symbolize all sports cars through the years, it would have to be the 911. It’s one of the most legendary cars ever built, and one which has more lives than a cat, but also one which has evolved such as to always stay on top of its game. Matching the 911 has been difficult for any other sports car builder, not to speak of really small outfits with limited resources. And yet one of these, a family business based in the Bavarian town of Pfaffenhausen, is doing it successfully since more than 50 years, and is perhaps the most legendary Porsche specialist of all. I’m of course talking about Ruf, the small company which restores and perfects 911’s to new heights for a small number of very fortunate – and very rich – clients. Looking at what has made Ruf so legendary is however completely free, and that’s what we’ll do this week!
Launching any business in Germany in 1939 doesn’t necessarily sound like very good timing, but that’s what Alois Ruf did. It was a car repair shop and how it fared during the war is anyone’s guess, but it did survive and Alois also made some money on the side by working as a Sunday bus driver. Nothing very remarkable about that, until in 1963 his bus was overtaken by a Porsche 356 which went on to slid off the road and end up on the roof. Alois took the driver to the local hospital and promised to repair his car. So he did, and this was Ruf’s first contact with a Porsche. He bought it from the unlucky owner after the restoration and a few years later in Munich, he was stopped by a man offering him anything he wanted for his 356 – including his own 911. Alois accepted and realized two things: firstly, that the 911 was an even better car than the 356, and in his eyes with lots of further potential. And secondly, that all Porsche drivers are nutcases.
Ruf thus started by repairing Porsche’s, mostly 911’s, thereby learning everything there was to know about parts and the car’s general construction. As we get to the late 70’s, Alois Jr. had taken over the company from his father who died in 1974, and Porsche was planning to discontinue the 911 and replace it by the 928. The number of 911 versions was therefore reduced to the basis version and the turbo, but with the large following of 911 owners Ruf had as clients, Alois quickly realized that this wouldn’t work – the 911 crowd had precious little interest in a large GT that didn’t have the engine in the back, at least as replacement for the 911. He didn’t need more to start developing an alternative in 1979, which would become Ruf’s first, and to this day, most legendary car: the CTR1, also known as the Yellowbird.
The CTR1 was based on the Carrera 3.2 shell and the 935 engine and was built both on frames provided by Porsche, but also from existing 911’s. 29 “original” CTR1’s were built, with another 20-30 as reworked 911’s. Weight was reduced by removing the back seats and sound-deafening material, and where Ruf felt they had better parts to offer, the didn’t hesitate to replace Porsche parts with these, such as the braking system which became known as the best in the car world. Thanks to a double-KKK turbo, performance was increased to 469 hp for a total weight of the car of 1150 kg. In a famous test in the US magazine “Road & Track” in 1987, the CTR1 was matched against notably the 959, the Countach and the Testarossa, beating them all in top speed and thereby becoming recognized as the fastest car in the world, with a top speed of 339 km/h. The test car Road & Track drove was yellow, which gave it its more famous name Yellowbird. Ruf took the CTR1 to the Nürburgring as well and became known as having been there not to set the fastest time, but rather to record the most drifts…
Production of the successor CTR2, based this time on the 993 Turbo chassis, started in 1995. The philosophy was very much the same as with the CTR1, namely that every part on the car should have a clear purpose. In Alois’s words, a Ruf should fit the driver like a pair of tight trousers. The CTR2 does however have far more styling elements and the advanced thinking that goes into the cars can for example be seen in the CTR2’s rear wing, which is formed such as to provide down force but also lead additional cooling air into the engine. The car was offered both as rear- and all-wheel drive and a long list of other improvements, including a kevlar body with lightweight glass. The engine was this time based on the 962 Group C engine with 520-580 hp depending on year of production. Hereby Ruf reclaimed the title as fastest serial-produced car in the world, at 10 km/h more than the CTR1, now beating notably the Jaguar XJ220 and the Ferrari F50. All in all 28 CTR2’s were produced, around half of them in an optimized “Sport” version with up to 702 hp, raced notably in Pike’s Peak but still fully street legal.
The Ruf CTR3 which was presented at the 20-year anniversary of the CTR1 in 2007, no longer looked like the corresponding 911, as this time Ruf had built its own rear half, fitted to the 911 front. The 3.7-litre, twin-turbo 701 hp flat-six engine was mid rather than rear-mounted, as in the Cayman. A Clubsport version was trimmed to 777 hp, with both cars achieving top speeds of over 375 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of three seconds. The standard car was discontinued in 2012 but the Clubsport version is built to this day. It’s not clear how many have been built all in all but it’s a small number, as with its predecessors.
the CTR’s 1-3 are the most well-known Ruf cars, but many others have been built from scratch or from existing 911’s through the years, as unique cars or in very small series. Of these, it is still the CTR1 that as no other has come to symbolize the Ruf philosophy and which is also the closest related to later cars, such as the SCR and the anniversary CTR the company now works on. It’s easy to focus on the performance and top speed when talking about Ruf, or indeed on its strong rally pedigree that I haven’t covered here, but it’s also worth remembering the tradition and craftmansship which goes into every car built. Every screw is tightened by hand by what almost feels like a family of technicians, many who have worked for the company for 30-40 years. There is great pride in the cars built, many of which today end up in Asia, but also in the production of parts that are difficult to get elsewhere. Alois Jr. is the company’s CEO and his wife Estonia handles marketing. Today the production consists of a variety of models where my favourite is hands down the Ruf SCR, a car I had the pleasure of seeing at the car show in Geneva in 2018. Not only does it look like a classic 911, only slightly better, but it also marries a 510 hp naturally aspirated flat-six to a weight of only 1250 kg. I personally spent more time in the Ruf boot that year than in all the others combined, where Estonia was happy to answer all questions I had.
There are Ruf’s for sale out there but they’re obviously few and far between and usually have six-zero price tags. The other alternative is of course to take your 911 to Pfaffenhausen and have it modified to your own specifications, and here the price will depend on what those are. Ruf will even build you an electric 911 today, should you for some reason want that. Luckily, business is good, and Ruf promises to be around for another few years. We should all be grateful for the fantastic cars, but also as what the company represents has become a very rare commodity in today’s world. Let’s hope companies like Ruf and others where true craftsmanship still rules will still have a place in the motoring world of tomorrow!
PS. In other news, the car vlogger Jayemm also picked up on the “Ferrari FF being the best bargain out there” angle in a video from this week you can see here (if you missed my post on it from March, see here). He makes the point that given the future of naturally aspirated V12’s looks about as promising as being one of the last remaining dinosaurs 65 million years ago, these could well become collectibles with rising values as a result. If you’re in the market for one, and I don’t see why you shouldn’t be, something worth keeping in mind!