There was an obvious irony to Luftgekühlt 6. Somehow an event devoted to the gravitas and authenticity of the air-cooled Porsche era took the spotlight among the Universal Studios back lots in Hollywood which is made up of facades cleverly designed to reflect almost any time and place. Essentially, a land of make believe, ideal for a bit of air-cooled magic…
At every turn, decades of Porsche history took up temporary residence in front of fake fronts, such as hotels, a city hall, a theatre, “red brick” walls, brownstones, an opera house, a general store, a bank, a church, and advertisements. An entire city block facade, four stories high, showed doors and windows in only two dimensions bordered the event.
But it worked. Hundreds of historically significant race cars, custom creations, safari cars, low production specials, and just good, honest examples of period correct showroom stock – it all found a home with the common thread of the Porsche air-cooled engine. Rust, patina, wear, dirt, cracks, and age were more of a virtue than clean and bug-free. Some cars arrived in transporters while others were driven from enthusiast garages to be a part of the fun. Some attendees came from the surrounding Southern California region. Others made extended road trips or flew into Los Angeles from across the country and the world. Oh, how it worked.
Luftgekühlt has ridden and fuelled the wave of air-cooled Porsche popularity since its launch in September 2014. Uniquely, the event is a wandering gypsy pop-up. It has no physical home.
The inaugural event was a modest affair in Venice, California with 40 invited cars and an informal gathering of friends that spilled out into the surrounding streets. An eclectic combination of surf shop, art gallery, and motorcycle shop – Deus ex Machina – provided the venue. In other words, an urban setting very reflective of its Venice neighbourhood.
The second edition followed in March 2015 with a bigger space in Culver City at Bandito Brothers, a multimedia collaborative space. Luftgekühlt 2 confirmed that there was a community who appreciated the common bonds of what makes Porsche cool, but don’t care about champagne flutes or ropes and barriers or how many zeros comprise a car’s value.
Luftgekühlt was not just a random weekend gathering – it became a happening. The proof came a year later in April 2016 at a furniture factory in Vernon, an industrial section of Los Angeles. Lines of cars waited outside the gates to join a few select cars that had been selected to be displayed. The industrial setting oozed unpolished visual interest. Porsche 356 outlaw customizer Rod Emory brought several of his creations. Additionally, two Singer Porsche 911 models were on hand. Gunnar Racing sent several interesting cars from Florida. Jeff Zwart brought his original 1949 Gmünd Porsche. A few race cars scattered in with the road car crowd. A white Safari 911 project was commissioned and auctioned at the event, forever now associated with the Luftgekühlt spirit. If the show inside the gates was impressive, the sheer volume and quality of the hardware in the overflowing parking lots only turbo charged the event experience.
Thirteen months later, Luftgekühlt 4 enjoyed a larger industrial warehouse space at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, near Long Beach. The larger space was necessary to accommodate the event’s growing popularity. A design vision was more apparent as colourful backdrops, carefully arranged cars, wooden platforms and other very intentional design touches cultivated the experience.
Cavernous indoor space protected a stunning selection of amazing Porsche history. The quality increased by several orders of magnitude and car carriers now delivered race cars and other rarities. Porsche 911 and 356 variants filled the display parking lot while an indoor display area featured Le Mans race history, Paris-Dakar pedigree, low production, custom projects and time capsules. Puddles and water beads, courtesy of an early morning rain shower, enhanced the photo opportunities. This was not a white glove concours event. The nearby parking lots were filled with hundreds of Porsches that weren’t officially in the show but certainly added to the sense of community.
Location secrecy became a tradition which increased anticipation and interest. Once announced, Luftgekühlt 5 quickly became an event that couldn’t be missed when it took over the Ganahl Lumber Company in Torrance, California in April 2018.
Ganahl turned over the keys to the property at the close of business on Saturday and the team worked through the night to transform the lumberyard into an assortment of feature displays. Hundreds of owners drove their air-cooled Porsches into the lumberyard and joined the previously selected cars on display, which included Porsche 917/10, Gmünd Coupe, a 550 Spyder, Singer, 911 SC/RS, 911 R and on and on. Good music, sufficient space to accommodate a large crowd without feeling crowded, a bright sunny day and the visual elements for a photographer’s dream made an unforgettable day.
Luftgekühlt travelled to Europe for two 2018 dates in Oxfordshire, England and Munich, Germany. Both were distinctive but the spiritual home for the event is really Southern California with the extensive community of Porsche owners, drivers, customisers, and enthusiasts. California remains one of Porsche’s largest markets in the world.
With extreme secrecy, the May 2019 date for Luftgekühlt 6 was announced without a venue. Owners were invited to apply without knowing the location other than the Los Angeles area. In early April, the Universal Studio back lot venue was announced and tickets went on sale. Space was limited and the event sold out quickly. “Sold out” meant that some had regrets and could only watch from afar. “Quickly” meant in under 48 hours.
On Saturday morning, hundreds of cars and thousands of people converged on the gates of Universal Studios. The unique venue provided the challenges of remote parking, security lines and shuttle buses. The upside, however, was an unparalleled, exceptional venue. The team carefully placed display cars around the back lot in the early morning hours, with the special cars presented in complementary locations.
The orange #2 1970 Porsche 914/6 GT race car took up residence in front of Engine Company No. 2, clearly matching the two number 2s. The car is one of three factory entries that ran in the infamous Marathon de la Route at the Nürburgring in August 1970 and finished third overall. It came from the Revs Institute Collection in Naples, Florida and is authentic. Engine Company No. 2 fire station with its red brick façade, stone trim and enormous wood red double doors is obviously not authentic.
The Western Theatre marquis heralded the Luftgekühlt event and date as the feature attraction. Parked beneath the marquis on the north side of the theatre was Bruce Canepa’s Gulf Porsche 917 K-017/004 that likely earned the honours for most photo opportunities and social media postings. A red Le Mans Porsche 935 with extensive racing history at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring, once driven by Paul Newman and now owned by Adam Carolla, took up residence around the corner underneath the similar signage on the adjacent street. The theatre may be better known for its role in the Gremlins movie but the only monsters attending the theatre at Luftgekühlt were those born in Flacht.
A towering brick wall façade surrounded dozens of Porsche 914 variants in every colour and configuration, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 914. Four-cylinder and six-cylinder, racing and road spec, historically significant and less unique, stock and fully modified – fifty years of Porsche 914 was arrayed and celebrated. Hurley Haywood circulated amongst the crowd and checked in on the former race cars, particularly the iconic orange Brumos #59.
The 964 family populated a different neighbourhood framed by a “brick wall” up the street. RS America, Carrera 2 and 4, Carrera Cup, RS and more – a Porsche factory production brochure. Against the backdrop of the “brick” wall, an array of 964 vehicles of various colours circled a rare Ruf Yellowbird Porsche strategically placed on a low lumber pedestal. The vibrant Yellowbird attracted more than its fair share of cameras and eyeballs.
The 50-year anniversary theme also extended into the only indoor display space with focus on the 917. Three 917 Spyder variants were tucked inside Stage 747. One would have been sufficient to anchor any car event in the world, but three positioned together was an indulgence. Bruce Canepa’s team brought a pair of 917 Spyders. Chassis 917/10-017, red with yellow trim, was run by Gelo Racing in Europe in 1973. Chassis 917/30-004, presented in white, was built in 1974 but never raced in period. The Revs Institute sent 917-028, better known as the Porsche 917 PA, to claim an honoured spot in the middle.
Across the lot in Western town, early 356 and 911 examples lined the streets of the old west. The wooden store fronts that served as backdrops for many, many Westerns provided weathered patina to match cars with their own patina and significant mileage. M.J. Stuartson, the Clothing and Dry Goods storefront with signage advertising the Largest Stock and the Lowest Prices in the West, had no stock or low-price tags, but set the tone for the street. The Bayside Porsche 962 run by Bruce Leven welcomed visitors to Western town as the fastest garbage truck in the west.
Western town led guests to Mexican town. Bruce Canepa’s white Porsche 935 straddled the border between the two. Adobe fronts, a water fountain, cactus and sandy terrain established the dusty environment suitable for safari and rally cars of various shapes and sizes. 911 versions with European rally, Baja desert, Pikes Peak, and safari configurations joined a 356 that could have run in the Carrera Panamericana to fill out the Porsche presence in Mexican town.
One of the most popular settings was the town square edged by shrubbery and well equipped with picnic tables. Guests enjoyed a bite to eat and an adult beverage or two at picnic tables provided for the event, accompanied by a beautiful blue 1965 Porsche 911 coupe – the earliest 911 on the property. Courthouse Square is probably best known for its headline role in the apogee of the Back to the Future movie where a DeLorean harnesses energy from a lightning strike on the clock tower to jump three decades into the future. Appropriately, the clock remains fixed at 10:04pm.
Across from the City Hall and clock tower, Porsche Classic converted an old gas station into a Porsche air cooled service station. Custom Porsche signage, Porsche classic gear and a borrowed pair of 356 coupes (one complete and the other in bare metal). Little touches, such as the vintage racing posters in the windows, completed the look as friends old and new mingled with the Porsche classic team.
The 1981 Le Mans winning 936 from the Porsche Museum held court at the intersection of New York Street and Embassy Street. Just up the block across from a pack of 993 turbo variants, a white 911 R sat atop a wooden platform. A 911 R would be unique enough but this was 911 R-001, the car that claimed long distance records at Monza in 1967.
Other gems graced New York Street – a black 959, 964 Turbo and Carrera RS siblings in ruby stone raspberry paint, and a trio of Singer 911 examples. Further up the avenue, Rod Emory 356 specials lined the curb. In particular, Emory’s custom 356 RSR project teased on social media exerted gravitational pull on eyeballs and cameras. Jerry Seinfeld’s rare orange Porsche 934 turbo anchored the top of New York Street. Walking the length of New York Street past the brownstones, office buildings and retailers was worth the price of admission alone.
The Luftgekühlt magic includes so many stories, so many photo opportunities, so many kindred spirits, so much history, so much creativity, and so much secret sauce that binds it all together. There is no map, no guidebook and no defined way to absorb it. In fact, some nooks and crannies were easy to miss for the incurious. It was physically impossible to take it all in. At some point, walking past cars that would typically warrant hours of appreciation almost felt disrespectful.
Organisers Patrick Long (of Porsche factory driving notoriety) and Howie Idelson (of design and go-karting experience) strike the right mix, find unique venues, and have people begging to bring their cars. Creative artistry from the mind of Jeff Zwart organises themes and settings to best highlight the cars. No doubt others help behind the scenes as well. The budget for ropes and barriers to separate cars from guests is zero. Cars are curated but not separated. At most, security staff at Luftgekühlt 6 prevented interference with the usual business of Universal Studios.
Luftgekühlt 6 will be difficult to top, but that’s been the assessment after each prior edition as well. In all, rumours suggested in excess of 360 cars and 5000 attendees descended on Universal Studios for a day of pure, undiluted air-cooled German goodness. And that can’t be faked!
Written by: Kevin Ehrlich & Mary Fischer
Images by: Kevin Ehrlich & Bioreconstruct