THE TIME MACHINE
Delving into his profound 911 knowhow, Alois Ruf has produced a 2.8 RSR lookalike, a ’70s car upgraded with newer powertrain and running gear. I travelled back to the future at Pfaffenheim.
Trust Alois Ruf to spring a surprise. Just when you’d pegged him as the turbo king, producing state-of-the-art supercars like the Ruf CTR-3, we discover he’s built a normally-aspirated 2.8 Carrera RSR. Or has he? This white swan is not quite what it seems. The 3.4 badge on the engine lid grille is a clue, as are the Ruf-tagged brake callipers.
It’s easy to understand why Alois would be tempted to produce a 911 that apes a 2.8 RSR. Growing up in his father’s garage during the ’50s and ’60s, Porsche’s competition history is in his DNA, and the 2.8 RSR is the quintessential classic Porsche racer. Conceived in 1973, the RSR racked up countless international victories in the mid-’70s, and in 1973, Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood even won the Daytona 24-Hours outright in the Brumos RSR. In 1974, John Fitzpatrick drove an RSR to win the European GT Championship, and at ’75 Le Mans Fitz and Gijs van Lennep came 5th overall, with no fewer than 14 RSRs taking part. Just 49 of these 300bhp 2.8 RSRs were built, with brakes from the 917 and bulbous wings and wheelarches housing 9J and 11J Fuchs wheels. A heady legacy, and one that Alois is well aware of. The RS models have always been dear to him, and this 2.8 RSR lookalike is something of a hobby car. And if you like it, he will create one for you.
We visit Pfaffenhausen at least once a year, and we first spotted the ‘RSR’ back in the Spring, making a mental note to check it out next time around. I can’t help noticing that they’ve changed the decals that read ‘Ruf Classic’ on our last visit. ‘That’s right,’ says Alois, ‘but since the word “classic” is used by everybody I thought I’d just put the Carrera logos on instead. Although we don’t want to pretend that it is a Carrera RSR, it is a 911 from that period, based on a ’73 911T, so it does represent the RSR era. It’s a more modernised RSR, let’s say, how an RSR might be if it was done at a time when digital engine management was available. We stripped the 911T bodyshell and took it completely apart, and inserted our IRC (integrated roll cage) and modified the body with the RSR flares and lightweight RS bumpers front and rear.’ The front lid has external fasteners, though the regular catch is still in place, and the oil cooler occupies the rectangular housing in the deep front valence.
The engine is based on a 3.2 Carrera flat-six, bored out to 3.4-litres and fitted with high-lift cams. ‘The engine case is Ruf and the layout is 3.2 Carrera,’ Alois explains. ‘The stroke is the same as the 3.2, and it’s a 98mm bore so you end up with 3.4-litres displacement. We went to the RSR type cams so the engine would want to rev, because a normal 3.2 Carrera engine would not perform at high revs like this engine does. Then the exhaust system is similar to an RSR engine with the correct headers and twin tail-pipes, and that makes it a completely different engine.There’s no mechanical fuel injection pump, but you still get all the excitement from the orchestra playing in the back of the car.’ It looks rather like an RSR racing unit too, with a triple set of injection trumpets on either side of the cylinder banks, and two distributors and coils for the twin-spark ignition. But, as Alois says, ‘a racy engine like an RSR’s always wants to be revved, and it needs the revs to run properly. This one has quite a good rev band; it can go up to 3,000 till the engine’s warmed up a little bit before going up to the higher revs. High revs are right for this type of engine. These cams are similar to RSR cams too, so the ramps are very steep and at high revs the engine performs well. It’s very much like an original RSR engine, only with more displacement, and the ignition as well as the fuel injection is incorporated in a Bosch digital engine management system, and that was quite a challenge for us.’
As another Ruf pièce de résistance, it has a G50-based six-speed gearbox, and that demanded a lot of speciality work to make it fit in the early 911 body. ‘The six-speed version of the G50 gearbox would never fit in an early 911 like this oneas it is, originally with the early suspension that uses the torsion bar tube in the back. So we made a special torsion bar tube that had to be welded into the chassis, and the gearbox needed to have a special housing that would fit into this arrangement, because lengthwise normally there is no way it would fit, and also the engine mounts in the back had to be moved into the Turbo position in order to get the longer gearbox case in. It’s not an easy job, and you have to have everything well prepared for that.’
The suspension is not as uncompromising as an RSR’s; it’s more akin to a 2.7RS. ‘I didn’t want to have a purely racing suspension set-up,’ Alois reveals, ‘because after an hour’s driving it’s very tiring; I wanted something that still gives a certain amount of comfort, so the suspension is based on an RS street version.’ There is currently no strut brace fitted but it will soon have one. ‘We’ve improved the brakes as well, which are from the 930 Turbo, and for a very lightweight car this is the ideal brake. We went to the 9in and 11in Fuchs, just like the RSR.’ They are wearing suitably tall Yokohama 285/40ZR x 15 on the back and 225/50ZR x 15 on the front.
In the cabin there’s a rollcage, bare poles in the rear compartment, while the front bars are nicely leather bound across the roof and along the sides of the door opening and down the ‘A’ pillars so you tend not to notice them. It has aluminium pedals and Schroth race harnesses anchored in the back, lightweight doors, steel wings, and fibreglass ducktail engine lid, also with external release catches. There’s just a single external mirror on the driver’s door. The driving position is higher than I would prefer, and the forward-leaning attitude I’m obliged to adopt is such that I’m holding the steering wheel with my arms lower down than normal, which I remark on to Alois and he says he’ll take a look at. ‘We can always lower the seat, and that’s actually a good idea; I should give that a try.’ It’s got a six-speed G50 gearbox, so that’s the first impression that makes it seem mechanically different to an early 1970s 911.
Additional instrumentation in the centre of the dash includes an orange oil pressure warning light, a brake balance adjuster, fan, and a dial for altering the mixture from rich to lean, so you can make it richer to keep the engine cool on a racetrack. In lean mode it almost delivers top performance, but probably between 3 to 5 is the ideal set up. In rich mode an advisory light will always be on, indicating it’s running too rich. Over on the left are the green and yellow emergency lights and switches.
So let’s take a ride. I’m on the road that winds from Pfaffenhausen into hilly Swabian countryside, and at first it feels a bit nervous, but when I emerge onto a broader road, suddenly it’s planted, urging me “let’s do it”. It’s obviously very light, so power-to-weight ratio is excellent, and it has very wide tyres so grip is good, though there is a little bit of tramlining on the bumpier surfaces. There’s no power steering so to acclimatise I slot into 2nd gear and go hard into some tight turns to get a feel of its roadholding. It sounds fantastic. Even stationary it sounds like a race engine, raw and roaring, like a riot going on, and up at 8,000rpm (where Alois takes it to in every gear during a demo run) it is positively cacophonic!I’m feeling all the bumps in the road as the suspension is pretty firm, and there’s a little bit of a shake in the straight-ahead, though the steering feels pretty delicate. The car is weaving and bobbing and I’m letting it do its own thing.
It’s like a Peperoni: a bit of an animal. Under fierce acceleration I’m really feeling the power of the 3.4 engine, and it’s tramlining a little which makes me reluctant to feed in a lot of power. But on smooth A-road it starts to make sense; very powerful and pulling strongly in every gear, and also I’m not getting the twitchy behaviour. I’m following Alois’s example, flat-out in every gear, not quite bold enough to reach the 8K red line, and with that 6th ‘bonus’ gear to enjoy. Through the bends I keep the revs pretty high as well, between 4- and 5,000rpm, though it can also do docile, and in the Maypole villages I can drive perfectly well at lower revs.
There’s also the paradox where I think, “right, I’m in a 1972 car here, so it’s behaving like a nimble ballet dancer on points, despite these big wheels and tyres, but then I change gear and it’s like I’m in a late 3.2 Carrera, but because it’s a souped-up 3.4-litre engine there’s that raft of extra speed on tap, so it’s giving out several mixed messages, and that ambiguity is exciting in itself. You need at least a day or so with any ‘new’ car to get accustomed to its foibles, but it’s not long before I’m feeling much more at one with this 3.4 RSR doppelganger. I take a positive line and drive it with a firm hand, and it’s a combination of me telling it what to do and also giving it its head a little bit. I’ve tried it on a variety of rural Bavarian A- and B-roads, hilly and flat, though not ventured onto the autobahn. It’s probably not an autobahn sort of car, though it would be interesting to do a Yellowbird and see what speed it is capable of. In any case, it’s a fabulous thrill machine, eager to rev, nimble in the turns once I know what to expect, and definitely user-friendly on broader, smoother blacktop. Alois has realised a dream. ‘For people who like to have a car that is light, an engine that loves to be revved, and a manual six-speed gearbox, I would call it a fun driving machine with no compromises.’
No questioning the imagery and the period race record. The RSR is the 911 idol par excellence, and that’s why it’s everyone’s target backdater. Alois Ruf’s take on it demonstrates that a recreation incorporating more modern systems can be achieved on a contemporary platform as well. Go on! Enjoy that yearning frisson in the pit of your stomach. You want one, don’t you? No need for a time capsule: just head for Bavaria.
It’s by no means a new project, unlike his 911-powered 356, but the recent emergence of the 2.8 RSR replica demonstrates another facet of Ruf’s endless prowess. ‘In fact we built this car over 20 years ago, and it had to be secret because this was not our vogue in terms of what I was doing at that time, it was only for my personal taste. We have been doing this stuff all the time,buildingcars for customers based on a newer chassis in the shape of the old 911, and right now we are building a series of ten cars in the RCT series, which is interesting because the current RCT is a 964-based car.’
Riding the retro rush is not Alois Ruf’s style. But he is a pragmatist, and ten orders for copies of the RCT,taken on his stand at Geneva this year, demanded an immediate response. Three have already been delivered, with two under construction. He has a busy restoration operation rebuilding clients’ cars, but now the classic market is proving just as lucrative as the modern Ruf line-up. ‘I happened to show my RCT at the Geneva show and it became the star. But this stuff was always in our portfolio, and this “RSR” is a perfect example of that. It was finished around 1994, and ever since then it has just been in my collection. I never wanted to show it because I thought this is not of such great interest, it’s something that is way past, and we were always focussed on producing our new stuff.’
‘This Bosch Motronic 1.2engine management is a derivative of the CTR Yellowbird system, which was originally a motorsport engine management system from the early days, so it’s already a classic, but it’s a novelty for the RSR engine because back in the day they all worked with mechanical fuel injection, so this car is a mix of newer stuff combined with older stuff, in the shell of the original ’73 car.’
‘So you can see that the current fashion for backdating by referencing classic features in a more modern car is nothing new to us; it’s always been available, but we have not promoted it. We didn’t know that the market would be so strong, though it was one of our services, that we could fulfil individual desires. We once built an F-programme 911 Speedster with a long-bonnet on a 964 platform. So these mixes are always available and they are nothing new to us.’
There are several reasons for this wave of nostalgia that makes people fancy the older air-cooled cars more than modern water-cooled models. ‘It’s mainly because of the history,’ asserts Alois. ‘You have written a book, and there are many other books that reflect the history of Porsche, and people look at these books and they say, “oh, I wish I could have that car, this was the coolest car!” And I think it is also a little bit of an epidemic thing; people say, “hey, this guy has good taste, he has a good idea,” and they follow a trend. Look, Porsche is marketing their old 1970s Martini T-shirts from the 917 days, and look how crazy people go, you go to an event and every second guy wears one of these, and now you can even buy a team quilted jacket, so it is all shooting in that direction, focussed on the halcyon days, the first Le Mans win and all that. And again, people are reminded at historic events that, “ah, my uncle had that car, oh I wish I could have that,” or it was their father or grandfather, the car they grew up with, and suddenly people in their 40s and 50s have the desire to own these cars. The money is there, and beside all those personal interests it makes a lot of sense because these older cars hold their value and even increase. Something like an SC, which was really the bargain basement 911, is about €25,000 now, and a good one is maybe even €35,000. It’s the market, and if somebody has cash he says, “I might as well put it in a car because that’s a good investment.”
‘And that’s because when you open the book and you see how many cars were produced, you realise there were only 300 of that model and there were only 400 of this one, and people used to say the biggest hype of all 911s was the ’73 RS 2.7, but there were only 1,500 cars, so those 1,500 cars are now so rare that the market is in the range of €800,000, so others say, “well, ok, I may not be able to buy a ’73 RS, but let’s buy a ’67 911S, there were only maybe 3,000 or so of those. It’s all about niches. Take a ’67 911S Targa: there were only 400 or 500 cars, and somebody says,“this is a good investment,” and away they go. At the recent Monterrey auction where Ferraris were going up in $1m bids, there was a ’65 911, a very mediocre restoration, that made $308,000 in no time. An RS went for $800,000. It’s really amazing when you see it going on, and it gives you the feeling that people who are sitting on cash want to convert it into a classic car, because it’s a sure investment. They don’t always get locked away in an air bubble. In America the real collector trucks the car across the country from one show to another, and there are some that want to drive them. I would always want to drive my car, because it needs to be driven; you have to feel the vibration.’ And with Alois, the vibrations are always good.