Since the inaugural event in the Deus Ex Machina parking lot in 2014, Luftgekühlt has played a sizeable part in the recent proliferation of classic Porsche culture. What started as a tight-knit crew of Porsche-o-philes getting together to share their appreciation for air-cooled models has now grown into one of the can’t-miss automotive events of the year — not just in California, but nationwide. People drive thousands of miles, and some even fly in from abroad for this one-day celebration of the nicht wasser Porsches.
One might think an event that features a very specific segment of cars from one brand would get repetitive and stale, but when it comes to Porsches, it’s all about the details. Each choice or modification an owner has made, from steering wheel to shift knob to bumpers to suspension setup, is carefully considered. One needs to have a keen eye and walk the show multiple times to fully appreciate the diversity of cars on display. 911s are the dominant model at Luftgekühlt, though 912s, 914s, and 356s are well represented too. This year also featured a handful of rare race cars including a Gulf 917k, a Le Mans-winning 935 K3 and some 959s, one of which hung out in the rain without an umbrella.
Now, I don’t own a Porsche — I’m in the “one day soon” crowd, squirreling away funds for a car with a golden crest. But fortunately, I’m connected to a Porsche collector who is quite liberal with the keys.
With a light but steady rain falling from the dark early morning sky, I headed south in an immaculately restored Slate Grey 1965 911 bound for Luftgekühlt. My breath was visible in the cold cabin. Its skinny tires allowed the 2,381-pound car to sway over the wet pavement. The flat-six didn’t want to give all 130 of its horses, but I was elated. This was the first iteration of the 911 — a model that has retained its core design elements and stayed true to its original purpose, all while pushing the sports cars envelope.
It is an honest car, a pure marriage of excellence in engineering and design, and I cannot adequately express my gratitude for having been given the opportunity to experience it.
After spending an entire morning discussing cars, cameras and watches with friends old and new, I couldn’t have imagined my day could get any better. But I was informed that a 1958 Speedster from the same collection as my morning ride needed a driver for the return trip. When it came time to depart, I couldn’t get into the car fast enough. The narrow split windscreen and domed hardtop make for a cabin unlike any other that I’ve been in, like driving a pillbox with a mid-century modern interior. The seats are hard metal buckets covered in leather, and at five-foot-ten I had to be close to the steering wheel in order to comfortably reach the offset pedals; the throws between gears are longer than this sentence. I absolutely loved it.
With the pedal to the floor, the 70 horsepower inline-four sings a beautiful rumbly bass note familiar to any Subaru owner who has had a hole in their muffler. Compared to the ‘65 911, the ‘57 356A is quite rudimentary, though the beauty is in its simplicity. Still, I’m surprised to say that I actually preferred it to the 911.
Regardless of which era of Porsches strikes your fancy, Luftgekühlt will not disappoint. From the 1951 Le Mans class-winning 356 Gmund Coupe rebuilt by Emory Motorsports to a 959 that ran in the Paris-Dakar Rally, there are grail-status cars beautifully displayed everywhere. As Chad McQueen, son of Steve, said after Luft 3, “It’s heaven for a Porsche guy.” With Luft 4 in the books, heaven is an understatement.
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