Luftgekühlt 6: Reimagining The Air-Cooled Porsche Car Show

Text and photography by Dave Tormey

Given its rich automotive history, idyllic year-round weather, and plethora of automotive events, one might argue Los Angeles, California is the car culture capital of the United States. On any given weekend in the area, there are multiple events for enthusiasts to choose from: car shows, cars and coffee events, and cruises. However, despite the city’s diverse mix of car culture both old and new, the formula for most car shows remains the same: parking lot + cars + trophies = car show. While there is nothing wrong with that tried-and-true formula, the creators of Luftgekühlt have managed to break the mold and create a unique automotive experience—one which has attracted Porsche enthusiasts from all around the world to Los Angeles each spring.

Most event organizers adhere to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” policy when selecting a venue, whereas Luftgekühlt founders Patrick Long, Howie Idelson, and Jeff Zwart have made a tradition out of selecting a new and different venue each year. A few months out from their Los Angeles event, they announce a date, but shroud the location in secrecy. This only adds to the excitement and anticipation surrounding the event. People’s imaginations run wild thinking of possible locations, but it isn’t until just a few weeks before the event that the location is finally revealed and attendees can stop guessing and start making travel plans.

As some of you may remember from last year’s coverage, the Ganahl Lumber facility provided a unique backdrop that left many spectators—myself included—wondering how they could they possibly top this?! After all, how many venues could there possibly be in Los Angeles that could grow with the popularity of this event, and provide the same unique atmosphere previous locations had offered? This year, the Luft staff took us on a journey through parts of Hollywood’s history and allowed attendees to explore the iconic movie sets of Universal Studios Backlot, which is typically reserved only for movie stars and amusement tours.

I am an East Coast native, and I have never taken a tour of the Backlot, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that last year’s event left a lasting impression on me, and I was grateful to get a ticket to this year’s event before they sold out—spectator tickets sold out a couple of weeks before the event, which left many people scrambling to find a spare ticket. When I arrived at Universal Studios, the line to enter the event stretched down the street.

As I made my way onto the property, I could feel an excitement in the air, and a building anticipation for what was to come. Despite this being the sixth installment of Luft, it was clear Patrick, Howie, and the team had managed to create another new and exciting experience.

Like previous Luft events, there were no judges, no cars roped off, and no placards obstructing attendees’ views. The event staff gave special consideration to lighting, colors, and surrounding vehicles—just like in the movies, they carefully placed each vehicle throughout the set.

Now showing: a 1969 Porsche 917K. One of the first scenes to catch people’s eyes when they entered the Backlot was this Gulf-liveried 917K, with Adam Carolla’s famed Dick Barber Hawaiian Tropic 935 adjacent to it. These two iconic racers, paired with the Western Marquee backdrop, really set the tone for the event.

While the anniversary of the 964 chassis had been celebrated at last year’s Luft, this year marked the 50th anniversary of the 914. There was a serious collection of 914s in attendance!

There was rain in the forecast all week, but that did not stop the massive crowds or priceless cars from making it out to the Backlot.

Thankfully, it only rained for a few minutes early in the afternoon and then attendees were able to continue enjoying a typical sunny Southern California afternoon.

Every car has a story, but with large crowds and so many cars in attendance, it sometimes feels like those stories can be lost in the hysteria of a car show. The Luft staff considered those this year, and the morning of the event they launched, which is a searchable database that included photos, details on the cars, and even the owner’s Instagram. In addition to the database, the Lufgekuhlt staff took it a step further for a select few cars in attendance that they called Storyline cars. They posted detailed write-ups on these Storyline cars so everyone could fully appreciate their rich history, and why they had been selected for unique parking spaces.

These are some of the unique backdrops and scenes throughout the backlot… I’ve tried to think of another venue where you could be walking down a New York City block one minute and then find yourself in a Western scene the next, and I don’t think one exists. It’s rare enough to be given the opportunity to walk the backlot sets without any cars, but when the Luft team added this specially curated collection of Porsches it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Universal offers tours of the Backlot, however, you have to stay on the trams throughout the tour. I can only imagine what onlookers on the tours thought as they passed by on the trams throughout the day and got a glimpse of hundreds of unique Porsches and thousands of spectators.

The attention to detail didn’t stop at the venue or car selection. One of my favorite parts of the event was the careful consideration for how cars were staged throughout the venue. It would be easy to just file cars into place first-come first-serve, but the Luftgekühlt crew takes an almost museum-like approach to showcasing the cars, by taking advantage of the unique backdrops and unlikely scenes to create picturesque views everywhere you look.

This gas-station mockup in the Courthouse Square was converted to be an air-cooled Porsche tribute just for Luft. It featured a stunning Porsche Classic restored 356 at the gas pump, and a bare metal 356 in the process of restoration by Porsche Classic in the garage.

Along with the 356s, Porsche Classic displayed some of their Classic products that are still available today to help keep your classic Porsche running for years to come.

A selection of RUF 911s was located on the other side of the Courthouse Square.

The Porsche community is a diverse one, rich in history, and Luft celebrates a little bit of everything aircooled, from this final production unit 550 Spyder in all-original condition, to modern reimagined Singers, the Guntherwerks 993, and even Nakai-san’s RWBs. There is something for the purists at heart, the hot rodders, and everyone in between!

In addition to the 550 Spyder being showcased indoors, this year, a bit of drama was added with low lighting and a large hand-painted backdrop behind this (from left to right) 917/30, 917 P/A Can-Am, and 917/10.

And on the other side of the room was this beautiful Speed Yellow 964 Turbo S in front of a Pirelli tire mural.

As you made your way away from the more urban settings of New York Street and dimly-lit indoor space, the setting quickly changed to that of an old Western as you crossed over James Stewart Ave. A very fitting space for some of the outlaws and older 911s, some more original while others showed a little patina.

000 photographer and co-host of Overcrest Podcast, Kris Clewell, drove his 1972 911 T all the way from Minnesota to LA for Luft. No stranger to cross-country road trips, Kris has documented a few road trips to California in his Albert Blue T, and recently shared his trip to RennSport Reunion in 000 with an article titled Take the Car. Checkout the #takethecar hashtag on Instagram to see some of Kris’ travels, as well as others who prefer the experience of the open road.

This is the last factory-built Porsche 935, which was campaigned in IMSA competition by Bruce Canepa from 1979 to 1982.

Although this beautiful 356 1600 C was originally sold by Culver City Porsche Cars North America in 1965, it just arrived back in the US after spending the last 20 years in Europe. I loved the lightweight wheels, rollbar and other race-spec additions. So I was happy to learn it has some power to back up its race car looks, with a race engine developed by Performance Developments in Costa Mesa outputting 200 horsepower. This thing must be a blast to drive!

The sets continued to evolve from a Western cowboy scene to Mexican-style architecture and cacti, featuring retired rally cars, and Safari 911s parked right at home in the dirt.

This Andial-powered Turbo 964 is one of Jeff Zwart’s personal Pikes Peak Hill Climb cars, which he drove to his first class win in 1994.

Today, much of the surge in popularity of Rally-like Porsches can be attributed to race car driver Leh Keen’s, The Keen Project Safari 911s. This year’s event featured the one and only Turbo Keen Project car, as well as Matt Farah’s Casis Red Safari.

Sandwiched in between the Safaris was this tastefully modified Sahara Beige 911S. This color paired with the gold mesh wheels and plaid Recaro seats was an awesome combination.

And across the way from the tastefully-modified 911S was this interesting Targa, which featured snow tracks in the rear and fixed skis in the front. I’m told these can be swapped out for traditional wheels and tires. I’m not sure what the full story is with this car, but if you check out the owner’s Instagram it sure looks like he has fun with it!

Back on New York Street, Jerry Seinfeld’s Porsche 934 Turbo RSR was one of the Storyline cars. Many 934s were converted to 935 spec in-period in order to be more competitive, and only a handful have been converted back. Jerry’s was recently restored by Canepa Motorsport to street specs. The Porsche 934 gets its name from being essentially a Porsche 930 built to FIA Group 4 rules.

Directly next to Jerry’s 934 was one of the most talked-about cars of the weekend: Rod Emory’s latest creation that he calls the 356 RSR. Inspired by the 935 and early RSR cars, and built for the owner of MOMO, this one-off twin-turbo Emory Special is part 356B and part 964. It features hand-crafted removable nose and tail bodywork, and one of the new Emory-Rothsport 4-cylinder engines, which uses twin-scroll turbos and Motec engine management.

Custom MOMO center-lock wheels and Pirelli tires keep this car mostly planted, while the MOMO buckets and harnesses keep the driver secure.

This isn’t just any 911 R. It is the first production 911 R, and one of 20 lightweight racecars Porsche produced. It weighs in at less than 1,800 pounds, and set five world records in 1967 when it was driven for 96 hours straight at Monza. After researching, I learned that during the span of the race, it covered 12,480 miles at an average speed of 130.77 MPH.

This 1981 Porsche 936 swept the field at LeMans in 1981 with Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell behind the wheel.

This 1952 Porsche-Glöckler 356 Roadster wearing #44 is constructed with an aluminum body, making it the only one of its kind in existence. Like the earlier Glockler-Porsche 550’s, this one features a full belly pan below the Porsche floorpan and has an air intake low on the nose for an oil cooler. Small air intakes on each side of the nose brings cool air to the front brakes. It was designed from the outset with a removable coupe roof with flush-fitting windshield, side windows and rear glass for minimal surface drag. The low windshield integrates with the body. At various times both magnesium wheels and knockoff steel wheels were fitted; the steel wheels, like the rest of the Glockler-Porsche, were drilled for lightness and brake cooling.

Like last year, the shadows and lighting quickly changed throughout the afternoon. This Project 935x is owned by Rod Chong, former Creative Director at Speedhunters, and now Deputy CEO of RoboRace, the creators of the world’s first autonomous racecars. The 935x is his latest project and came together just in time for Luft with the help of the guys at Race Service, and it was finished off with a hand-painted livery by Ornamental Conifer.

Restored by Canepa Motorsports, this 959SC features cosmetic and performance upgrades, resulting in 800 horsepower from its twin-turbo flat-six. Other modifications include new wheels Canepa has had remanufactured in the original 959 styling, with a larger 18-inch diameter to open up tire availability. Directly next to the 959SC was another car, restored recently by Canepa Motorsports, and perhaps my favorite car of the day. This 993 GT2 wore a shade of blue I had never seen before—Sunoco Blue—and featured an 800-plus horsepower built engine.

As people started to board the shuttle to head home and car owners started to leave, I was presented with a unique opportunity to capture some of the cars without the crowds.

I also discovered several cars that I somehow missed earlier in the day, like this 1955 Pre-A 356, which had sat in a shipping container since 1979 and was on display in as-found condition.

While I have seen some Porsche tractors before, I had never seen one like this. With the orange paint and wheel covers, I thought for sure it was modified. It turns out this Porsche P312 was one of just 200 examples built in 1953 and 1954 for use on coffee plantations in Brazil. The aerodynamic design was created so the tractor would not damage the plants while working in the fields.

I was happy to revisit the RUF CTR ‘Yellow Bird’. Crowned the world’s fastest car in 1987 by Road & Track magazine, CTR #001 achieved a top speed of 211 mph at the Ehra-Lessien test track in Germany.

As I made my way back to the shuttle, ready to call it a day, I walked around the corner and saw this 993 GT2 perfectly situated on one of the side streets without another car in sight. This was a scene you would never encounter in New York City, or any other city for that matter, but at Luft anything is possible.

Road & Track said “Luftgekühlt 6 Was the Most Ambitious Car Show In the World” and I whole-heartedly agree. While most event organizers resort to venues that have hosted car shows before, the Luftgekühlt team has continued to separate themselves by taking the road less traveled. With a new venue each year, and a different group of cars, each event feels like a not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Like the Porsches that Luftgekühlt so gracefully showcases, the show’s organizers have managed to remain true to their roots over the years, while continuing to improve and reimagine the car show experience.