Top 5 from Luftgekühlt 5
Just five years ago, two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class-winning racing driver Patrick Long decided he wanted to throw a relaxed parking-lot gathering for fellow enthusiasts of air-cooled Porsches. He teamed up with SoCal friend and advertising creative Howie Idelson to design flyers and reserve show space at a high-profile Southern California custom moto shop. It seemed like a simple enough idea at the time, but we doubt they knew exactly how big the Pandora’s Box they were opening would prove to be.
Granted, only a few dozen cars were brought out for that very first Luftgekühlt meet (loosely translating to “air cooled” in German), but the buzz it generated from Porsche fans, vintage/custom moto fans, hipster Venice Beach locals and the invited automotive press dwarfed that number several times over. The show became a phenom among automotive gatherings. It's grown bigger and more interesting, and has incurred a more fervent following, than anything in recent memory.
From that first year in the tiny Deus ex Machina parking lot, to production company Bandito Brothers’ headquarters in a Culver City creative industrial park, to the sprawling campus of retro furniture makers Modernica in south-central L.A., to a large swath of the Port of Los Angeles, to this year’s hand-selected 500-car and 5,000+ ticket-holder turnout at Ganahl Lumber in Torrance, Calif., there are real reasons Luftgekühlt is hailed by reputable members of the automotive press as “the best Porsche show in the world.” Let’s take a look at some of them.
1. Location, Location, Location
One of the most intriguing aspects of Luftgekühlt, to Porsche heads and the general public alike, has to be its choice of locations. Past venues have had some practical or stylistic similarities with vintage Porsche enthusiasts or the event’s organizers, but…why a lumber yard?
It very well might have been a simple matter of location and space (Ganahl’s Torrance campus is huge, and easily accessible), but the more details we learned about the key cars in this year’s event, and the more we explored the show, the more we realized just how appropriate the setting was.
Lumber yard stock is modular, and everything from wooden beams and planks, to racks of pre-fabbed doors and rows of rebar were employed to highlight specific cars, guide the flow of foot traffic or add some division of specific models.
Ganahl’s stockhouses were perfect for providing shade, high vantage points and refreshments, and its outdoor yard just seemed a lot less tedious of a place to browse a few hundred cars than a barren parking lot would’ve been.
But there’s more to it. Aesthetically, wood is beautiful. It's timeless, classic and calming. The aroma of fresh timber prompts fond memories of the outdoors, rejuvenation, construction and newness, kind of like our favorite cars and the memories we have of them.
There was even a time when Porsche’s operations were moved to a sawmill in Austria where a small number of 356s were built. Coincidence? Maybe. But having one of Jerry Seinfeld’s such cars displayed on a pallet of freshly milled beams might suggest otherwise.
All of the vehicles on display at Luftgekühlt 5 were hand-selected by Patrick and Howie. Those that made it into the most prominent areas of the venue were of special significance, and it’s unlikely you’d find them together anywhere else.
2018 is the 30th anniversary of the 964 Porsche 911, and celebrating its 25th anniversary of victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was the no. 47 Labre Porsche Carrera 3.8 RSR.
This car is particularly important, in that it debuted at a time when Porsche’s endurance racing program was just beginning to take off as the standard-setting force it is today. Behind it were several other 964s with historical relevance that built upon its precedent and helped further that legacy.
Just on the other side of the aisle was a group of 911 race cars meant to show the evolution from 934 to 935, beginning with another Le Mans winner: the no. 58 Burton 934.
Following it were two of our favorite 911s of the entire show: the no. 00 Interscope Racing and no. 7 Heimrath Racing Porsche 934/5s. Consisting of chassis and engines from Porsche’s 934 (a race-specific version of the 911), but with the wheels, tires and rear aero of a 935, the 934/5 is very rare. Only 10 were officially produced, all in 1977, solely to compete in IMSA Group 4 competition, where it was banned right off the bat.
The 934/5 was then relegated to lower-tier SCCA and Trans Am competition, where it proved its dominance by winning six out of the eight races it entered.
Just behind these two gems was one example of the culmination of this lineage: the Porsche 935. Unlike the 934/5, the 935 was eligible for IMSA GT competition, as well as the World Championship for Makes, Germany’s DRM series, the ACO’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and more. Of the 370 races the Porsche 935 teams entered, 123 were won, including the overall victory at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Predating them all was this unassuming little guy, one of four surviving prototypes of only 20 production versions ever made. Nissan had its N1 and Honda its Type R, but nearly two decades before either, Porsche had the 1967 911 R. In a quest for racing dominance (hence the "R"), the 911 R was built with fiberglass body panels, Plexiglass windows, a glass windshield half as thick as the standard unit, thinner coatings of paint and was devoid of amenities like sound deadening material, excess seat padding and even door handles.
After it proved its worth with an outright win at Germany’s ridiculous 84-hour Marathon de la Route race (longer than two 40-hour work weeks!), many philosophies behind the 911 R’s spartan success recipe would remain part of 911 DNA for decades to come.
While it might be impossible to separate an air-cooled Porsche show from the subject of history, with a brand history as rich as Porsche’s, it’s also impossible to explore and celebrate it too much.
As you might have gleaned from the sections above, most of Luftgekühlt’s curation was meant to highlight this rich history. There were more one-of-a-kind Porsches on hand than we’d seen anywhere—rivaling even the Peterson Museum’s current “Porsche Effect” exhibit—and each played an integral part in the history of the brand and its many accomplishments.
One of the earliest models inside the main display was this Porsche 550 Spyder, one of the first Porsches to be purpose-built for racing, beginning in 1953. Weighing in at only 1,200 lbs and powered by a 110hp air-cooled flat-four, the 550 Spyder won its very first race and dominated for years thereafter, becoming one of the brand’s all-time most successful models, based on its limited 90-unit run.
For ultimate purists, there’s the 996 lb, 180hp, 10,000 rpm, flat-eight-powered Porsche 804. This particular no. 10 car was driven to victory by the late Dan Gurney in the 1962 Solituderennen race in Stuttgart, one week after scoring his and Porsche’s first F1 Grand Prix win in France.
Sitting next to the 804, this 1964 Porsche 904 Carrera GTS has become a perennial darling of Luftgekühlt shows, with its thoroughbred racing technology, low-slung fiberglass body and retro ‘60s styling. It weighed more and made less power than the 804, but man…what we would give to drive one on the streets of L.A. for a day!
The crown jewel of the show, however, had to be this Porsche 908 K, chassis number 010, driven by Vic Elford and Jochen Neerpasch in 1968.
Despite the many victories earned by these two drivers, and all the Porsche teams with different variations of the 908, this particular car only competed once before it was decommissioned and eventually restored.
Still, that didn’t stop Luftgekühlt organizers from treating fans the best-possible way they could inside a show setting, which brings us to our next important aspect …
Time is cold and uncaring. On a long enough timeline, all of our creations will return to the earth and our proudest accomplishments will be forgotten. For many of us, that will happen sooner than we’d like. So it’s of the utmost importance that we take the time to celebrate our accomplishments as often and for as long as we can. Here’s where Luftgekühlt and the Porsche community really shine.
The most emotional and moving moment of the show came when Patrick Long invited storied Porsche factory drivers and collectors to take a seat behind the wheels of the very same machines they drove decades ago, and start their engines for all to see, hear, and feel.
Here, Vic Elford, who last raced the no. 6 Porsche 908 K almost 50 years ago to the day, fills his ears and Ganahl’s sprawling campus with some truly glorious rotations of the car’s 350hp, 3.0L flat-eight engine—one of the best-sounding air-cooled engines ever made.
Porsches attract big names. Walk the Luftgekühlt floor and you’re bound to see a few celebs and well-known local personalities doing the same. Once you realize they’re there mostly for the same reasons as all of us, one thing becomes clear: Porsche's successes as a brand are ultimately due to the fans who recognize and appreciate the greatness they’ve fought to attain throughout their uniquely rich history. And that brings us to…
The shows that become the biggest hits have some great element of fan participation in their mix. Luftgekühlt has that in spades.
There were no velvet ropes and no invite-only guest list (but you did have to buy tickets in advance). Scattered next to and around all the notable machines we’ve profiled here were Porsches restored, modified, maintained, driven daily, raced and otherwise loved by enthusiast owners like most of us.
There were plenty that caught our eye, and we’ve put our favorites into a gallery below. After you’ve thumbed through it, be sure to head over to the official Luftgekühlt site for even more storylines from this year’s show, as well as all the info you’ll need to get next year’s on your radar: https://luftgekuhlt.com