Free Birds

Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you can not change

Lynyrd Skynyrd

The air is cold and the sky bright enough to see the screeching Panavia Tornadoes blasting at 3000 ft above your head. It’s 9.00 am and it’s a very exciting morning in Pfaffenhausen, in Bavaria Germany: the Ruf Factory is already operational and there’s the sound of engines and machinery at work all around. The wind would force you to raise the collar on your jacket, tuck your hands into the pockets, shrug your shoulders like an owl and just stare at the yellow cars before you. Is there a better way to start your day? Rise and shine, happy people!

Not one, but two Ruf CTR’s are parked in the small parking lot in front of the main entrance. One is the new Anniversary, while the other is… well, the original one. It’s the start of one of those days where you know that sometimes meeting your heroes will not be a disappointment: you’ll know that on this day, you’ll be coming home with one of those memories you’ll cherish forever. 

As you might have guessed, this Escape was special as we headed out for a drive with the two Yellowbirds, something that possibly has never been done before. Put it this way, if there was a car combo that you should drive before dying, this is most likely the one. 

Ruf is like a candy store for petrolheads. Proper geeks come here in pilgrimage as this place has represented 80 decades of obsession and dedication to the cult of Porsche. Founded in 1939 by Alois Ruf Sr. the Company was born as a small repair shop located in Pfaffenhausen. The connection with Porsche was made around 1960, when Alois Ruf Sr.bought a wrecked Porsche 356 and repaired it: although the car was sold later on to a gentleman in Munich, the Ruf shop became the go-to Porsche shop for Southern Germany. This part of the business, dedicated to provide official technical assistance to all things Porsche, is still owned by the Family and it’s still in operation to this day. 

Thanks to the knowledge acquired and to the familiarity with Porsche, Ruf rose to prominence as one of the most respected tuners for building even more driving-focused 911’s. With the first model introduced in 1978, the SCR, it wasn’t until 1983 that Ruf become a true car manufacturer with its own VIN.  Thanks to the subsequent BTR, (Group B Turbo Ruf) a lightweight and stripped-down turbocharged model producing an astonishing 369 bhp, the little shop in Pfaffenhausen became even more renown across the world.

But as history books will tell you, the real breakthrough for Ruf as a manufacturer came in 1987 with the CTR (Group C Turbo Ruf), perhaps the Company’s most famous car to date. Nicknamed the Yellowbird by the photographers during comparative high-speed tests on the Ehra-Lessien proving grounds due to its unique bright yellow color, the CTR and its 463 bhp 3.2 litre flat six claimed an astonishing 340 km/h top speed. What’s more, a video of the car (titled Faszination Nurburgring) showing the Yellowbird driven by Ruf test driver Stephan Roser unleashing its potential and smoking the rear tires on the Nordschleife, made a whole generation fall in love with cars.

See it this way: the Lamborghini Countach wasn’t the only poster car of a generation…

Therefore, the Ruf name was etched into the legend: considered to be way more than just a tuner but a true manufacturer, it became even more widely recognized by the press and the petrolhead community. 

For us, anything with the Ruf badge and especially the whole CTR line up stands for everything that’s made for pure driving enjoyment. In other words, never expect that a contemporary manufacturer could produce nowadays the cars you see in Pfaffenhausen. 

And so, by the grace of Ruf, we, Escape on Wheels were granted a day with the original and contemporary Yellowbird. Call us lucky if you like…!

The original CTR was actually based on the Carrera 3.2 and was fitted with its own 5 speed gearbox and unique twin-turbo engine. See it as a 934 with a license plate strapped on and even today looks like the absolute business. From the 17 inch wheels to the giant naca air ducts at the rear, this car tells you a whole story. Look closely in the engine and trunk bays and you’ll see the welds and the trace of the specific work that had been done to it. No drip rails and an integrated Matter roll cage were distinctive technicalities of the CTR as well as the slight widening of the rear fenders. The 3.4 litre engine deriving from the 3.2 Carrera unit was completely re-worked and equipped with a Bosh Motronic ECU developed jointly with Ruf. The fuel injection was derived directly from the Group C Porsche 962 and adapted for road use while the 4-piston calipers brakes were developed with Brembo. 

A peculiarity of the CTR was its suspension set-up, which was tuned by using weight scales on each wheel to measure the right amount of weight on each wheel with more precision. 

In many ways, it was the extreme car that some enthusiasts wanted Porsche to build and it was even better in many areas. It was made for driving and nothing else. The Yellowbird has now more than 140.000 km on the odometer and it’s no show piece. It’s been used and at the hands of our chauffeur, Marcel Ruf, who knows it very well, it’s the ultimate sportscar that you always wanted to drive: usable but focused enough to be used daily. With the boost selector set to maximum, it’s able to spin the rear wheels even in 4th: light-footed and agile, it’s still capable of making mince-meat of most supercars of today.

The CTR represents the soul and the spirit of Ruf as a car manufacturer. In many ways, our dreams are filled with this kind of cars, where driving-focused means excitement and satisfaction, not compromise and danger. The CTR feels comfortable on the street but connected and well-developed, even to this day.

Ruf is not a marketing agency and this translates into the technical coherence that you see in the CTR Anniversary: it is a true evolution of the original Yellowbird. As we were expecting, there’s much more in this name than just a nostalgic motorcar. As the original represented a step forward in many development areas for Ruf, the new Anniversary is the same: introduced in 2017, it was the debut of the Company’s proprietary full carbon fibre chassis. No parts were carried over from Porsche: this is just pure Ruf in a nutshell.

If there was a car engineered for driving, that could be the CTR Anniversary. There is none of the usual crap we have to put up with from marketing departments with their obsession for pure nostalgia: here engineering is directed at building the car we want as enthusiasts and not the car we think we might need. The Anniversary is a modern day 935: twin turbo, 1.4 bars of boost, 700+ hp and pushrod suspension. In many ways, this could be the GT2 you always wanted to buy… and of course it’s a manual. 

At the moment of our test, our car (which is the actual prototype) was equipped with a brand new gearbox which at the time of our test, it had covered only 50 km. 

On the interior, the Anniversary feels like your typical 911. There’s the same visibility out and the dashboard is reassuringly familiar and almost identical to a classic air cooled 964 or 993. However the difference starts when you rest your feet on the pedalboard: if the Gods of speed would have made a proper pedalboard, this could be it. You rest your right heel comfortably on the bottom of the accelerator pedal and you feel you can reach the brake easily with your toe with the minimum rotation of your heel towards the left. 

Finding the right driving position is easy and reassuring. The CTR carries over the “fits like a glove” mantra of the 911 which makes it less terrifying. Even starting up the engine feels not so different from any GT3 or GT2: despite the carbon fiber chassis was designed with optimal weight distribution, the CTR is still predominantly rear engined. 

You thank Ruf for putting the oil temperature gauge and all the indicators which seem so hard to find in most sportscars today. In normal driving, you’ll be surprised how docile the CTR is: the suspension, although being rigid, they never “resonate” over the bumps resulting in a quite pliant ride. The excellent visibility and the ample front windscreen remind you of how this is a road car first and foremost. Comfort but also daily usability are the keys here. The noise on the interior is quite pronounced but this being the prototype, it’s not a big problem: customers will get more interior noise insulation for sure, so no worries.

With the original CTR rumbling in front of you as you drive you feel a bit special. Driving the cars side to side feels like flying a pair of fighter jets in formation, cruising at low altitude en route to a mission. 

Taking your time and waiting until the oil temperature reaches it optimal figures before daring to floor the throttle and experiencing what the meaning of speed is all about. 

First of all, the CTR Anniversary is difficult. It takes time for you to learn your way round the whole car. How is power-wise? Just think that at 2000rpm in 5th gear it pulls as strongly as if you’re in 3rd at 4000rpm. As you press down, just watch the boost pressure needle swing to 1.4 bars of boost and the  Acceleration is truly a celebration of all things analogical: your eyes are firmly on the road, while all of your senses are all to 11. The car revs so fast that you have to work hard and quick to calibrate your brain to find the most ideal shift-zone to avoid hitting the limiter every time you press on the accelerator. Your eyes have to be planted on the road and you change gears by listening to the engine and following the “rules of good driving” by the book: discipline and all of your experience is required to have maximum satisfaction out of your time with the car. Your “bum-sensor” has to be sharp here: besides having traction control, the car will spin its rear wheels and will rapidly tell you what you have to do: a rapid glance at the instrument panel will tell you that you have 1.4 bars of boost available. 

The car moves around a little, but just enough to give you a clear sensation of what it’s doing. It’s not super-quick in its movements and it gives you a clear feeling of what it’s about to happen. It’s a road car and despite being able fly closely with the Tornadoes flying above your heads, it’s human enough to give you time to think and enjoy the moment.

Nothing else comes close in the world of new cars. It’s light-footed, more rigidly sprung but still soft enough to offer optimal traction on the road and acceptable levels of comfort. No driving modes: here what you’re getting for your money is a car that feels competent in every area and adapts naturally to your inputs without changing its nature. It’s analogic but technologic enough to make you feel like you’re experiencing the best of everything.

Both of these cars fly like their name might suggest. The road of Southern Germany are perfect for these cars: it’s a feast for pure horsepower and a joy to be experiencing them into their natural habitat. 

For us car geeks, Ruf still embodies the joys of pure driving: analogical pleasure that will reming you how proper automotive evolution should be. It’s good to know that in 2019 there is still room for some cars to be flying… like birds in the sky.

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