There are only a few people in the world that love Porsche 911s as much as Alois Ruf does, or know as much about them as him. This modest and amicable German may be 66 now, but he is still full of energy and still has the hands-on approach to running his small company located in Pfaffenhausen, a brief drive on the west of Munich. Nowadays, he travels the world to maintain cordial personal relationships with his privileged clients in the Far East and the US, enjoys a grand collection of sportscars and a loving family at home, but life wasn't always easy for him. He was raised in the post-World War II Germany, in the times so tough that the garage lead by his father was actually de-tuning VW Beetles (the default and possibly only choice for Germans at the time) so they would consume less fuel. When his parent passed away in 1974, the then 24-year-old Alois Ruf Jr. was thrown in at the deep end, but he took over the business to develop it into the most famous and respected Porsche specialist in the world.
Alois Ruf is now a wealthy mature man, but none of his love for the 911 has faded. While we catch him at his company's HQ, he's about to leave for his next transcontinental flight, but when he sees through the office's window the characteristic silhouette running down the street, he falls silent and follows it with his eyes. Seeing a 911 here isn't really anything unusual. Apart from the tuning house, Ruf has a huge authorized Porsche service station on the other side of the street. The place has seen no less than several thousand cars being serviced or modified. But after all these years, he is still just as fascinated by the legendary German sportscar as he was in 1964, when he saw it for the first time, when the car still named then Porsche 901 flew beside him and his dad on the autobahn. He still remembers that moment well, as this was an encounter to define his whole future. From that moment on, he decided he would devote his life to this one car. Now he's one of very few people outside Porsche Museum in possession of this rare and priceless pre-911 sportscar.
2016 Porsche 911
Alois Ruf started making 911s go faster in 1977 and he quickly became rather good at it; his designs were so advanced and went so deep into the core of the cars' construction that he was recognized in Germany as a standalone car manufacturer with the right to give his own VIN numbers already back in 1981 (1988 in the US). The 911 which he owes everything came out in 1987. It was the Ruf CTR (for Group C Turbo Ruf) that you should know by the name of Yellowbird, be it from the title of the world's fastest street legal car (212,5 mph in 1987!) or from the infamous "Faszination Nurburgring" movie clip in which the yellow Ruf piloted by a guy in a white t-shirt, denim trousers and slip-on shoes drifts fearlessly on some of the most dangerous corners in the world. You have probably attempted the same in some of the Playstation games, where Ruf cars became famous first for filling up the space after the missing Porsches, but soon attaining cult status.
The Yellowbird had its successors, named CTR2 and CTR3, that pushed even further the idea of what the 911 could be (a 777 hp 236 mph mid-engined hypercar, as it turns out). But to my mind, the car that carried on the success story of the Yellowbird was Ruf Rt 12 (the twelfth turboed Ruf). The basic 911-based creation that premiered in 2004 still used the ordinary Carrera body (back in 1987, Alois Ruf learned that his car would go faster if the bloated Turbo body was swapped for the narrower stock body, producing less drag), still had more power than anyone would dare to ask for (650 hp pumped from a 3.8-liter twin turbo boxer) and yet it was rarer than hen's teeth. The successful model saw its continuation in 2009 with the introduction of the 685 hp 224 mph Ruf Rt 12 S, and its ultimate development in the form of Rt 12 R in 2011.
Rt 12 R could be easily regarded as one of the best 911s in human history, if only it didn't share so little with its donor car. Each of the Rs starts its life as a Porsche 997.2 Turbo, but as is the case with each of Ruf creations, when it comes to Pfaffenhausen, it is torn apart, injected with some of the Ruf magic and then built up into a completely different beast. Even the heart of the Ruf car - Rt 12 R's engine - doesn't have anything in common with any of the period Porsches. Despite similar displacement, it's not powered by the 9A1 3.8-liter boxer it started its life with, but with a custom Ruf design that took a year to develop from the Rt 12's predecessor, 996-based Rturbo 590 engine. The changes start at the intake stage: Rt 12 R's powerplant boasts a bespoke cast alloy intake manifold and larger throttle body. The gas-flowed cylinder heads may bear some similarity to the Porsche design, but the dedicated Mahle pistons have a slightly smaller stroke (102.7 vs 102 mm) and they're combined with new titanium con-rods and custom camshafts. The Variable Turbine geometry technology, still relatively new at the time of 997 Turbo's introduction, was swapped for twin fixed-geometry KKK turbos. When the Ruf's work is done, 1.3 bar of boost is enough to introduce this 911-based car to the Veyron and Enzo league of performance.
The biggest change in the engine's character still comes from the single mass racing-spec flywheel. Rt 12 R may sound rowdy because of it and it may be a little bit tougher to live with on a daily basis, but the way it delivers its fantasy performance numbers is nothing short of sensational. You don't spot the turbo lag here; honestly, there's no time to spot anything. After a few seconds of relentless acceleration pushing you back into the seat so hard that it makes your breathing difficult, Rt 12 R is immediately cruising at the speeds unthinkable to a mere mortal. Such is the easiness with which this mighty boxer juggles with physics that the speedo turns into the least credible part of the whole car. One part of the brain tells me it'd be rather unwise to break the 200 mph barrier on the two-lane road in the normal rural traffic, with the remorseless German Polizei possibly lurking around the corner. However the other rationalizes that the power, grip and braking reserves are so huge that it'd be as effortless as strolling down a boulevard road. With the virtually instantly available 750 hp, Rt 12 R always delivers more than the driver asks for, but it never feels overpowered. There are some tuners that offer 911 conversions and may promise even 1200 hp or so, but none of these cars is so polished, so complete, and so fast in real world as Ruf.
The key to Alois Ruf's success is that these unparalleled speeds his cars can achieve are nothing more than a side effect of the painstaking work he puts into his engines' design. For him, the performance numbers in themselves are as important as the regularity of achieving them. Ruf's test driver would often tell an anecdote when he participated in a maximum speed competition held at the Nardo oval track. Some of the biggest names in the automotive industry had sent their cars in sealed trailers and had a legion of mechanics on the spot to fiddle with car settings and monitor their condition. By contrast, the Ruf's driver had brought the car from Germany on wheels, ate a sandwich while looking at the other guys regulating tire pressures and duct-taping the body gaps, and then went on a run to win the whole event. And reaching the maximum speed is not a one-night stand for Ruf's cars; even in the US there are some Ruf cars with documented 150 000 miles of intensive and problem-free use.
As Rt 12 R still maintains everyday functionality by keeping comfortable (Ruf's author design) seats, luxurious carpeting and extensive equipment including a/c, infotainment and nose-lift system summing up for a 3295 lb. weight, it's not as focused or light as the contemporary 911 GT3 RSs and GT2 RSs, but it's still impossible to fault anything about the way the car handles. Be in no doubt, this is still an extreme ride, armed with carbon-fiber body parts, polycarbonate windows, professional fixed Ohlins dampers with uprated bushes, and, last but not least, 19" center-lock lightweight OZ wheels wrapped around barely legal Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, 245/35 ZR 19 in the front and 325/30 ZR 19 in the rear. And then there's the gearbox. With the arcade-game style double-clutch units now seemingly obligatory in the supercar world, Ruf still offers the manual alternative and it's good to see that the clients choose it. There's no denying that the manual will be a bit more tiresome to use in traffic and, more importantly, will add a few tenths of a second in the 0-60 mph time column, but the strong physical bond formed with the car by sensing its mechanical vibrations through the gearlever is priceless and, indeed, virtually extinct in the performance cars segment.
Rt 12 R is a car easy to fall in love with. It's possibly as ideal as a 911 can get and asking for more would be just rude, but human nature is ungrateful and will always eventually reveal its greedy side. Don't blame Ruf's clients. That's what's called progress. When the totally new 991 generation 911 was premiered, Alois Ruf had no other option but to listen to his patrons and deliver what they deserved. That means the Rt 12 R successor is still the very same car at heart, but with all the parts cranked up to eleven. The RtR, as it is now known, is still powered by the same legendary "Mezger block" engine grown to 229 cubic inches, while its body is adorned with the identical 997 GT3 RS-sourced huge rear wing mounted onto the ducktail engine lid as well as signature air intakes located on the top of the fenders behind the rear wheels, mimicking the solution first found in the famous Yellowbird. But the new motor is significantly more powerful (802 hp plays 750 hp, 730 lb-ft vs. 693 lb-ft), while the body now manifests its power and exclusive status far more openly than ever before.
This extrovertic a trend that first could be seen with the evolution from a clean and no-nonsense CTR3 to the overtly dramatic CTR3 Clubsport, festooned with many spoilers, additional air inlets and carbon fiber ornamentation. The RtR's exaggerated wide hips (additional 3.15 inches in the front, plus 4.73 inches in the rear) contradict with the values of discipline and efficiency that brought Alois Ruf to the position he holds now, and I have a feeling they're not entirely to his taste, but, even in objective terms, the new design is more menacing and makes the whole car look more special. It's still 100% Ruf: the vintage-looking front bumper with the two round holes on the sides feeding cold air to the brakes and the central rectangular air inlet are a clear nod to the Ruf BTR (the Yellowbird's predecessor), while the new plus-size wheelarch extensions are high quality examples of automotive craftsmanship, carefully hand-beaten from steel in the rear and formed from carbon fiber in the front (just like the frunk lid and the roof). So you'd better not try your drifting acts in a tight space as the body parts cost a little fortune on their own.
But even next to the look-at-me RtR, the older Rt 12 R still keeps its irresistible charm, tacitly suggesting it is on its best way to become a future classic. Its GT3-inspidred front bumper with extensive front splitter provides exceptional aerodynamic qualities, and while its body looks modestly narrow in comparison to the RtR, it still possesses an imperious stance. The modifications may not be big, but, thanks to those little details, anyone remotely interested in cars will instantly know there's something very special about this classic Ruf.
While Rt 12 R's looks may win our "best of the show" award, in objective terms, RtR is a huge step ahead of its predecessor. Numbers don't lie: while the 997-based Ruf was extremely fast, the newer car is atomic. Deploying 802 hp on its four wheels, RtR sprints to 60 miles in 3.2 seconds, but it doesn't really benefit from the huge power surplus until it reaches the speed of 120 mph and higher. It's unthinkable that anything can be faster than this; also because of the way the tires fight with the forces they're exposed to. Although the wide body allows for the extreme Pirelli Pzero Corsas, which measure 265/30 ZR20 in the front and 345/25 ZR20 in the rear, the car can still feel nervous when the right foot has any contact with the fast pedal. Its nervousness was probably caused by the unfavorable conditions (during our test drive, the tires and the roads were very cold, with the air temperature around 40 Fahrenheit degrees), as there's nothing to complain about the way the flat-6 boxer builds is power.
RtR is still a raw car, with the clutch and brake pedals hard to operate, or is it just me spoiled by the synthetic nature of the modern supercars? With the specifically developed KW suspension, the car surely knows what to do with all that power on the corners, keeping the tracks as the award-winning contemporary 911 Turbo does. The extremely wide (and therefore heavy) front tires probably deprive the steering system of some of its wonderful precision, but the agility can be brought back by speccing RtR with the rear wheel drive. Yes, that's right: As with any of the Ruf models, the clients can opt for any drivetrain combination they wish, be it all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, automatic or manual gearbox. This is a surprising move from Ruf, giving him a clear advantage over Porsche. The Zuffenhausen legend doesn't limit the stock 911 Turbo to the PDK and AWD configuration without a reason, though, as the rear-wheel drive RtR would help the 911 to quickly bring its widow-maker status back. The 4x4 system keeps the handling predictable on all sorts of bends. As one would expect, the drivetrain is Ruf's own design, in the case of Rt 12 R dating back to the 911 996 base. With a rise in the performance numbers, the RtR's brakes grew accordingly. There was little wrong with the advanced ceramic discs measuring 15 inches in the front and 13.5 inches in the rear, but the fun in the new Ruf is brutally interrupted by possibly the largest disc brakes ever fitted in a road car. They now boast full 16.1 inches in the front and 15.4 inches in the rear.
Rt 12 R and RtR are two pieces of automotive genius, always delivering twice as much as the driver would ever dare to ask. But it's not only the world-class driving experience you get that makes these cars so great, especially given that you need someone very skillful (or insane) to get to their limits. It's the complete package, including the long-lasting durability of these extreme powertrains (still not a given among high performance tuners) and the maniac precision levels of everything that Ruf's does. His attitude can be perfectly seen in the cars' interiors, where the high quality Porsche parts blend with the just as caringly finished Ruf details, making the whole driving experience even more special. No wonder that, despite the astronomic 400 000 USD price tag for the Ruf RtR, all of the ten specimens scheduled for production are already sold out. The Ruf cars are collectibles that can be treated more as investments, given that this Rt 12 R is worth only a little less than a brand new car and both Rt 12 R and RtR will fetch the same value in a few years' time. They're just investments that are bloody brilliant to drive.