Between Two Lenses: The Luftgekühlt 9 Experience

Photography: Mike Maravilla

  • Since 2014, Luftgekühlt (“Luft”) has been the definitive air-cooled Porsche event to attend, meshing the brand’s history with unique venues and modern car culture.
  • The event (and the brand itself) is supported by Porsche racing driver Patrick Long, Creative Director Howie Idelson, and renowned photographer Jeff Zwart.
  • The ninth annual installation took Luftgekühlt to the Bay Area to repurpose a disused Naval base on Mare Island as its latest event backdrop.
  • Luft 9 was a unique opportunity for two of our editors, Sam Du and Mike Maravilla, to take on the event from unique perspectives.

Luftgekühlt (or “Luft” as it’s more affectionately called) believes in doing things differently. In its ninth year, it’s not a brand that needs any introduction, but I’d imagine finding new ways to wow the insatiable troves of automotive enthusiasts that flock to Luft from every crevice of the globe is increasingly difficult. But Luft finds a way. Frankly speaking, the event is not just about cars as we’ve said before. Sure, the whole thing revolves quite crucially around the air-cooled Porsche phenomenon, but trust me, once you’re there the cars are really only a part of the overall impression.

The founders, Porsche racing driver Patrick Long, Creative Director Howie Idelson, and renowned photographer Jeff Zwart, all have diverse tastes, and that clear dichotomy is allowed ample breathing room at Luft. I imagine that’s part of the reason why the event continues to dazzle. After all, Porsche hasn’t made an air-cooled car since 1998.

So when Sam and I had the opportunity to visit Luft for its ninth consecutive gathering, we decided to embrace that same ethos. We went there at different times with different gear and certainly a very different set of eyes to tell the Luft story in our own way.

SAM DU

This is a public service announcement for anyone who isn’t a certified Porsche classic connoisseur. Yes, Luftgekühlt is an air-cooled Porsche car show, but you don’t have to know the difference between every 914, 904, and 962 out there (don’t worry I’m one of you!). Don’t get me wrong, I love Porsches, especially the many generations of the iconic 911, but I grew up around ‘90s and ‘00s Japanese and European sport compact cars. The Porsche crest always felt a bit out of my price range, so far out that I still don’t think I would buy one today even if I had the money (no promises…). 

But like I said, this doesn’t mean I’m not a Porsche fan though, especially when nearly a thousand of them are brought together under one roof (in Luft’s case on a frickin’ island), which is why I was more than eager to visit this year’s Luft 9 show on Mare Island, California. 

The event welcomes any car enthusiast who can appreciate a well-curated and visually-stimulating show with a production value that’s second to none. Venue, venue, venue, and I can’t say enough about how a venue makes such a big difference when putting on an event of Luft’s proportions. No Luft show takes place at the same location and this year’s destination at a former U.S. Naval base and shipyard made for the most insane setting and backdrop. It’s been said that Luft shows make everyone a photographer, and as a person that used to shoot car magazine features 2-3 times a month, I can confirm this. 

Every time I stumbled upon a new car on display at Luft, there were so many angles that wouldn’t let me put my camera down, whether a car was parked in an alley against a brick wall, positioned on a platform inside an enormous abandoned warehouse, or just chilling by the water bayside. There was beauty all around, and as a photographer that knows only a thing or two about classic Porsches, it made me love the artistry of Luftgekühlt and more curious to learn more about the vehicles in front of me.

So if you don’t think you’re really a big enough Porsche guy or girl, don’t worry. You’ll still leave in awe, inspired, and with more photos on your phone or camera than you planned. That I promise you.

MIKE MARAVILLA

It’s 7:53 am and we’re in a Tesla inbound for Mare Island. For maybe the first time, I was thankful that the car didn’t make any noise because I was able to enjoy the sonorous sound of air-cooled magic swirling around us as we grew nearer to the base. Sorry, let me take a step back. Mare Island, the host venue for Luft 9, is a disused Naval base that has, since the mid-90s, been a private-funded preservation and restoration project — which doesn’t sound too far off from the entire air-cooled Porsche scene.

Anyway, nothing quite prepares you for the venue’s scale. There are cars literally everywhere. While plenty of cars are parked shoulder to shoulder against the adjacent waterfront, some were isolated like beta fish inside entire ship-making buildings. Others were tucked discreetly away in dimly lit corners or grouped underneath gargantuan jib cranes. The longer you walked, the more you discovered. The interplay between automotive art and architecture is fascinating and I’m wholeheartedly convinced that nobody does it better than Luft.

The volume of cars here is deafening (in a visual sense) and it’s surreal to think that prior to the transaxle and water-cooled years, Porsche’s library was almost entirely 911s. Nevertheless, non-911 models like the 356, 912, and 914 still had a deserved place in the spotlight.

The shared grandeur is something that probably deserves more credit. Cars at Luftgekühlt aren’t corralled by generation in any way — they are splayed across the venue’s expansive footprint — and allow visitors to admire model or generational differences with careful consideration.

Mare Island’s size, in a weird way, actually masked the fact that there were so many people there. By contrast to previous years, Luft 9 never felt claustrophobic. As a result, the pressure to take darting glances at cars was removed. The vibe was more art gallery than parking lot car meet and, fairly often, we spent more than 20 minutes soaking in certain cars from a distance alongside amassments of others.

While it definitely seems like Porsche can’t put a foot wrong, events like Luftgekühlt continue to perpetuate the brand as an aspirational marque. There’s an aura here that affects everyone. The adjoining brewery members stood outside, beers in hand, marveling at the sight. Crossfitters (is that a word?) paused their burpees to stare at the voluptuous backsides of 930 Turbos. It was a trip.

Part of that is because the cars themselves are downright beautiful and transcendental to drive, they always have been. But the other is that they are so tantalizingly close to us. Nearly all of us either yearn for our first Porsche or, for current owners, there’s another one (or two) that we are hypnotized to own in the future. Hell, add up all the mods on your car now and you’d probably be in striking range. Don’t listen to all the GT or PTS discourse; trust me, even the standard fare is worth sampling. Going to an air-cooled event is a refreshing reminder that, pre-996, there was no such thing as a GT3.

It also is a welcomed site to see cars with five or six figures of mileage. Sure, there were cars that were trailered here (keep in mind some of them are older than our parents), but so many more traveled on their own steam with decades of their own stories in tow. And that’s probably the real lesson. Luft has managed to harness and collect the magnetism of transportation, liberation, art, and humanity here. It’s for that reason alone that the event can live on, even when we don’t.


Check out our previous coverage from Luft here: Luftgekühlt 4 in Los Angeles, Luftgekühlt 5 in Los Angeles, Luftgekühlt 6 at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, and Luftgekühlt 7 in Indianapolis.


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