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Imagine being in Ferrari and Porsches' shoes in the late ‘80s, and investing herculean amounts of engineering and resources to build iconic cars like the F40 and 959. Then, when it comes time to have your respective high-horsepower pride and joy put through the wringer against all of your fellow legacy automaker rivals, you get swept away by a small tuning shop in rural Germany.
Adding insult to injury, the car in question was a boosted, widened, lowered, and lightened G-body Porsche 911 with an eye-wateringly bright yellow paint job sprayed on for good measure. That small shop is RUF Automobile GMbH, the car was the infamous Yellowbird, and that wasn't the last time it made serious waves in high-end performance tuning.
For over five decades, RUF's been building high-performance machines that take Porsche sports cars' strengths—such as power output, handling, and engagement—and develop them to truly monumental levels. And recently, RUF allowed me into its headquarters in Bavaria, Germany, to learn more about its history and take a tour of its facilities. Here's what, or rather who, RUF is and how the company has established itself as an authority in the high-end tuning sector.
RUF's connection with automobiles goes back to 1939 in Pfaffenhausen, Germany, where Alois Ruf Senior opened a single-pump service station known as Auto Ruf. Fun fact: pumping gas is still a part of the brand's business, and in the same exact location, albeit with quite a few more services, as well as pumps.
Ruf's fascination with Porsche was that of a chance encounter with a crashed Porsche 356 notchback in 1963, as Senior had established a tour bus company after World War II, and while transporting customers around Bavaria, witnessed a 356 lose control, exit the road, and crash.
After ensuring the driver was OK, he brought the damaged steed back to his shop for storage and instantly took a shine to it. He then bought it from the insurance company and took his time restoring it to factory fresh. This started Ruf on the path of opening a Porsche-specific service shop which quickly caught on around Germany as the place to go for any degree of maintenance, including the painstaking task of reshaping Porsche bodywork of the era by hand.
The Next Step
Alois Ruf Sr. passed away in 1974, at which point his son and current owner, Alois Ruf Jr., took over the business. Sr.'s involvement in all things automotive had a profound impact on Jr., and when combined with a strong interest in motorsports, Jr. decided to add becoming a proper Porsche hotrod shop to the brand's services.
Beginning in 1977, RUF's first move was modifying the 930 Turbos to produce 300 horsepower, thanks in part to stroking its engine to 3.3 liters. This became what was dubbed the Turbo 3.3.
Then, 1978 saw the introduction of RUF's first high-performance naturally aspirated 911, the SCR, which was essentially a lightened and modified 911 SC. The 911 SC had come from the factory de-tuned by Porsche at the time due to the Gulf oil crisis, but RUF managed to crank out nearly 40 more horsepower. In addition to upping the performance, RUF added a limited-slip differential and updated the bodywork with a whale tail spoiler, brake cooling ducts at the front, a chin spoiler, and wider wheel arches to accommodate the wider wheels. Racing bucket seats and harnesses were thrown into the mix, and the end result was an SC that achieved similar performance metrics as a factory Porsche 930 Turbo.
German automotive magazines raved about the naturally-aspirated performance of the SCR, which helped catapult the Pfaffenhausen firm into the status as an authority in molding 911s into fast, reliable, quality performance machines.
What’s wild is at the time, Porsche was thinking of retiring the 911 altogether. But it was this strong, renewed enthusiasm for the chassis that convinced the Stuttgart brand to keep it around. So, you can thank RUF for all of the epic tiny-prancing-horse machines that we have nowadays, like the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
Two Crucial Follow-Ups
The next vehicle that RUF debuted was the Gruppe B Turbo RUF, otherwise more commonly known as the BTR, in 1983. The most important development of this new model was that it had its own VIN number, as RUF began receiving unfinished bodies in white directly from Porsche, hence it now added small-scale manufacturer to its curriculum vitae.
This is an important distinction to make, as builds have started as either bodies in white, customer's pre-bought examples that go under the knife, or entirely RUF-branded creations like its latest CTR Anniversary and new SCR.
The BTR, however, started life as a factory Porsche 930, had its turbocharged engine's displacement increased to 3.4 liters, and worked over to produce 369 horsepower. This enabled it to reach 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, 100 mph in 9.6 seconds, and a top speed of 190 mph. It was available in both narrow and wide body variants and came with a custom, more free-flowing exhaust, focused performance suspension, Recaro seats, racing harnesses, bodywork to match, and more. It was also, technically, the first vehicle to come equipped with 17-inch wheels off the factory floor.
What followed is perhaps RUF’s most widely recognized offering: the CTR. Dubbed the Yellowbird by photographers who snapped shots of it on-track for Road & Track in 1987, the specs were incredibly impressive, especially when the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959 were the legacy manufacturer options to beat.
The 2,500-pound CTR possessed a 3.2-liter turbo-six that made 463 horsepower, did 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, 0-100 in 6.7 seconds, and reached a top speed of 211 mph. To accommodate its performance and speed potential, the body was revised and sealed in sections for better aerodynamics, NACA ducts were added to the rear quarter panels for better cooling, and stiffer suspension was added, as were massive Brembo brakes. Like the BTR, it too had 17” wheels under its arches, but was hooked up to a special RUF developed-and-built five-speed transmission. Amongst a laundry list of other improvements was an integrated roll cage for increased chassis rigidity and occupant safety, too.
The CTR is truly the stuff of legends, and its wild character is immortalized in the company's Faszination auf dem Nürburgring, a video that thoroughly demonstrates its immense performance. The original CTR is widely regarded as the original model to fully embody the brand's goals of being beautiful, functional, well-thought-out, and above all engaging.
RUF Between 1990 and 2017
Not to overshadow each individual creation that RUF has developed over the past thirty years or so, but there have been many. The BR2, CR2, CR4, RCT, BTR2, CTR2, 3400S, RGT, RTurbo, RT12, RGT, CTR3, and RGT-8 cover most of them, but then there was the RGT 4.2, Turbo R, and SCR 4.2, too. Almost all of them have been based on respective Porsche 911 and Boxster/Cayman contemporaries.
They've also featured naturally aspirated, turbocharged, and supercharged powerplants that are tuned to be far more raucous than Porsche's own doing. And, who can forget the widened bodywork, improved transmissions, tuned suspension, increased chassis rigidity, immensely custom paint and interior materials, and so on?
But two of these are, in my opinion, some of the most significant of this period: the CTR3 and RGT-8.
The CTR3 is quite significant, as its the first RUF to feature almost entirely RUF designed, engineered, and produced bodywork (just the front end is shared, generally, with a production 911), and possessed a chassis produced by Canadian motorsports engineering firm Multimatic. It was also the first CTR-badged mid-engine chassis and featured a twin-turbo 3.7-liter flat-six that put out 690 horsepower and 656 pound-feet of torque. The whole thing is essentially a tube-frame LeMans prototype for the road and weighed in at just over 3,000 pounds. Its design inspiration comes from LeMans cars of the 1960s, but it also looks like the legendary 911 GT1 of the mid-90s.
A newer CTR3 Clubsport debuted in 2012 and possessed a whole 766 horsepower, but had a seven-speed Porsche PDK dual-clutch gearbox bolted up to its engine as its clutch-less option (a manual was also offered), rather than the former's more motorsports-centric sequential gearbox.
As for the RGT-8, it was introduced in 2005 and is based on the Porsche 997 chassis. It's significant due to being the first RUF model that featured an entirely non-Porsche-sourced powerplant: a naturally aspirated 4.5-liter V8 designed entirely in-house. It's a 90-degree V with dry-sump oiling and a flat plane crankshaft that produced 543 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque.
Entirely In-House RUF Creations
RUF hasn’t stopped at tuning Porsche, however, as of 2017, two entirely in-house models have been introduced: the CTR Anniversary and SCR. These both have often been referred to as the "new CTR" and "new SCR." These are designed, engineered, and entirely assembled by hand in RUF's facility in Pfaffenhausen.
And what's most notable about these is they share no major components with any Porsche besides windows and windshield wipers, but rather have carbon fiber body panels (the main skin—the bit that includes the roof—weighs just 12 kilograms), a proper roll bar, monocoque chassis, select motorsports-level suspension bits, engine components, massive brakes, and transmissions that are produced expressly for the brand by select suppliers. No expense is spared crafting them into gorgeous finished products.
Both look fairly similar to each other, though two major giveaways are the choice of spoilers, as well as the noises that each produces. The CTR possesses a twin-turbo 3.6-liter flat-six that makes an astronomical 700 horsepower, whereas the SCR's naturally aspirated 4.0 makes 503.
I had the privilege of riding shotgun in the CTR Anniversary and can't put the experience into words without using a sizeable helping of hyperbole and excitement-filled expletives. The way its turbo-flat-six symphony permeates through every square millimeter of the cabin, its solid-yet-well-damped ride, and the brutal acceleration that comes on brilliantly progressively—it's a dream.
What’s interesting about RUF’s creations is that this isn’t a massive operation you’d expect to churn out such creations. The buildings that RUF occupies in Pfaffenhausen are far from numerous and most of its operations happen in an area that could fit on less than two football fields, which has been slowly expanding since its inception, and on the same hallowed land as the original gas station. Wildly, there's still a gas station on the grounds, albeit with a few more pumps than the single one that earned the family its income in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.
One of my strongest takeaways from visiting RUF is how cottage industry it feels. Don't get me wrong, precision engineering is the name of the game, but the digs in which the company operates have a wonderfully warm and modest charm to them. There are tiny splotches on the paint room floor, 964 and 993 wheels are used as hose reels, and on its walls are posters from every chapter of its existence that instill a sense of pride and tradition. As well as modestness. This isn't some hermetically sealed laboratory lit by ultra-crisp LED panels housed in some boring, neomodernist glass and concrete monstrosity.
It's all clean and very well organized (this is Germany, after all), but it's a proper hotrod shop.
Truly, Who is RUF?
Besides Alois Jr., his wife Estonia co-runs operations, as well as a small sales and admin team led by my tour guide during my visit, the company’s Marc-Andre Pfeifer. But it's important to point out that the employees turning wrenches, forming pieces of metal bodywork, sewing together interiors, and more, also have a hand in what the brand plans, designs, and produces.
Walking through its various buildings you see employees of all ages, which is quite cool—from older, grey-haired gentlemen doing incredibly labor-intense metal crafting on Porsche 356 restorations, to guys in their young 20s assembling brand-new CTR Anniversary engines. And every age and duty in between. RUF prides itself on its workforce being all-ages, and it's important for the older generations to pass their craft skills on to the next generation.
The brand wouldn't be what it is without the skilled craftsmen who plan, design, test, tweak, craft, assemble, and test again, the incredibly cool machines it's produced over the years.
It was immensely cool having the opportunity to take a tour of RUF's facility and learn more about the brand and the people behind it. Everyone was incredibly hospitable and happy to share so much about what makes the brand what it is. One of the biggest names in custom, high-dollar luxury performance vehicles is still at its core a small and humble shop.
And considering the epic creations it's churned out since the late '70s, it's obviously worked quite well.
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