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Monday 14th August 2006


RUF RT12

Dial R for more Pork -- Eric van Spelde drives Ruf's latest 911

Alois Ruf with the RT12
Alois Ruf with the RT12

Sometimes, demonstration runs give a somewhat different experience from what you were expecting. The first few hundred yards on the passenger seat of Ruf’s Rt12 certainly made an impression – even though they were covered at little more than walking pace…

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In terms of grabbing one’s attention, there’s not much to compete with a wide-bodied 911 sprayed in a particularly fetching shade of Smurf Blue, at least not against the decidedly rural backdrop of Pfaffenhausen in the Bavarian Allgäu region – essentially one main street, a church and a train station that looks like it hasn’t changed much from the days of the Königlich Bayerische Staats Eisenbahnen.

The sense of anticipation is heightened when the car rolls out of Ruf’s workshop, emitting a hollow, metallic and ever so slightly uneven bark from two discreet, but still man-sized tailpipes, and the author lowers himself into the snug racing bucket seats. Deep A-pillars, neatly trimmed in black Alcantara, indicate the presence of a rather substantial roll cage. So far, everything has indicated a highly-strung and uncompromising beast, something that may be fantastic on the Nordschleife in the hands of a gifted driver, but hard work on the daily commute.

Subconsciously, I prepare myself for a sensory attack of brutal proportions and am at the same time somewhat relieved that this time I am not the one who’ll be causing the mayhem.

Roller coaster

But no. Although the Ruf Rt12 is equipped with a manually operated six-speed gearbox rather than Tiptronic, the driver doesn’t touch the clutch pedal when he moves the gear lever to first. His right foot isn’t doing anything either. Does the car stall? It doesn’t even as much as hesitate.

Without any drama at all, the car just moves with the tach registering the same 900 rpm. “Even your grandmother couldn’t stall this car”, says our driver. And to prove his point he shifts to second, again without touching a pedal. The Rt12 just proceeds to go a bit less slowly. And then he repeats this trick in third, fourth, fifth and sixth. We’re doing 39 km/h now, according to the LCD readout at the bottom of the speedo, with the engine still at idle speed and not complaining in the least. It’s almost a throwback into the pre-war days when the act of swapping cogs was still one that required fairly serious effort, and thus a super-flexible engine that minimised the need for gearshifts was considered an essential quality for Grand Tourers at the upper end of the spectrum.

We’ve left Pfaffenhausen well behind now, still without any throttle input whatsoever. But that’s about to change now. The loud pedal gets buried and the Rt12 picks up its skirts, getting faster as we go faster in true roller coaster fashion, the hallmark of a turbocharged installation. Only one normally has to be in the right gear in relation to road speed, while this car simply has no wrong gears.

Full-bore acceleration from idle speed in top merely allows you to savour the growing intensity as the revs build. Drop down a cog or two, though,  and you’ll be getting your sensory attack alright. With 650 hp and  642lb-ft of torque on tap, the road ahead is gobbled up in short, clean, savage lunges which can see you hitting the far side of 150mph on the shortest of stretches, helped by the fact that you can drop the hammer when exiting A-road sweepers seemingly pretty much from the moment you hit the apes. A couple of left-right combinations on the Landstraßen around Pfaffenhausen are dealt with at the kind of speeds normally reserved for places that feature large run-out zones and gravel traps, the car feeling reassuringly solid and stable, yet more eager to change direction than a car weighing over a tonne and a half has any right to being.

The legend

Which, of course, all serves to underpin Alois Ruf’s vision of  ‘a supercar that you can live with every day.’ It all started in the early ‘60s when young Alois fell in love with the Porsche 911 – after having been overtaken by one in his father’s 356 on an Autobahn in a downpour. The love affair has lasted to date, and from the mid ‘70s – when the existence of Porsche’s hallmark design seemed to be threatened by several factors, the advent of a generation of front-engined, watercooled Porsches being one of them – resulted in an impressive bloodline of modified versions.

It started relatively harmlessly, with a Carrera RS 3.0 that got special interior equipment to Alois’ own design, a headlamp washer system and roof aerial, and got more serious with the Ruf Turbo 3.3 of 1977 that featured an engine displacement increase to 3,243 cc, a five-speed Getrag transmission and some changes to the bodywork, and four years later the General Federal Bureau of Motor Vehicles certified Ruf Automobile GmbH as an automobile manufacturer in its own right – not bad for a rural independent garage…

The first car to bear a Ruf chassis number was the BTR of 1983, but it was the CTR that appeared another four years further down the line, that put Ruf on the map of the world’s most exclusive sports car manufacturers. This lightweight 911 evolution based on the ‘narrow body’ Carrera shell and sporting a 469 hp twin turbo 3.4 litre engine, achieved a legendary status among sports car aficionados around the world largely through two events.

Firstly, it established a world speed record for production sports cars in the hands of racing driver Paul Frère achieving 339.8 km/h at Volkswagens Ehra-Lessien test track, and then bettered it with a top speed of 342 km/h (213 mph) on the Nardo high-speed track in a supercar shootout, leaving things like a Ferrari F40, an AMG-Mercedes and a works-tuned Porsche 959 eating its dust. “Among all the assembled exotica, our ‘Yellow Bird’ – as it was christened by the press on the spot – looked like a frog, frankly”, remembers Alois Ruf. “But the frog went rather well nonetheless…”

And then of course, there was the Ruf promotion video Faszination, in which the world was introduced to the otherworldly skills of a certain Stefan Roser, drifting the Yellow Bird along the Nürburgring Nordschleife in seemingly impossible angles, leaving a trail of smoke and burnt rubber behind him over pretty much all of the 20.8 kilometres. It was considered essential viewing for anyone who fancies himself a bit as a driver by Performance Car magazine – after having seen it, even the most testosterone-fuelled and big-headed of would-be Schumachers would certainly see the error of their judgement…

Like the old days at Zuffenhausen

The development of Ruf cars, of course, closely followed the state of things 911 at Zuffenhausen, the 930, 964, 993 and 996 iterations all getting the Ruf treatment resulting in even faster and more driver-focused evolutions in which the customer traditionally has a large scope for tailoring to his/her individual needs and tastes. The 997-based Rt 12, available with drive on the rear wheels or on all fours, with engine power ranging from 530 to 650 hp, marks the twelfth evolution of Ruf converted Porsche turbos.

In collaboration with Studiotorino in Turin, Italy the RK Spyder, a limited-edition model loosely based on the Boxster (for instance, of all body panels including bumpers, only the left front fender is OE Porsche) has been developed, while the 997-based R Kompressor is the latest creation from Pfaffenhausen.

“We’ve been thinking about using a mechanical supercharger on the 911 engine pretty much since the mid-Eighties”, says Alois Ruf. “The problem we had experienced so far with such an installation, using a radial compressor coupled with planetary gears, was that we couldn’t find a suitable drive belt – which now has been solved in collaboration with a drive belt supplier that has come up with a special, high-tech belt.”

Defining Ruf

So – what defines a Ruf  - in other words, suppose that you could drive a car blind folded, which are the driving characteristics that would make you immediately aware that you’re driving something out of Pfaffenhausen rather than Zuffenhausen? “Our raison d’être is that we can offer our customers simply more Porsche than Porsche themselves can”, answers Ruf.

“The Porsche 911 has always been the superbly engineered, reliable, comfortable workhorse for day-to-day usage among sports cars.  Without at all compromising this high level of usability – we have customers that have clocked up to 400,000 kms on their Ruf cars so far -  we take this workhorse and give it performance at a level with the most highly-strung and impractical supercars that you can buy. Then there’s the level of bespokeness and customer input that a manufacturer on the scale of Porsche, who are right now closing in on an annual production of 100,000, simply cannot offer anymore.”

“Ruf today breathes the same atmosphere as Porsche did in earlier times, when special projects and one-offs would be handled by Werk 1.”, adds Norbert Grabotin, who is responsible for sales in Germany and came to Ruf after a twenty-year stint in Zuffenhausen.

“We are still very much a family business, and on contrast to the way major OEMs – including Porsche – work nowadays – 80 to 90 per cent of the content of a Ruf vehicle is still created in-house. A new workshop trainee will work in all our departments before he’s allocated his regular work place. We don’t expect an engine builder to be able to do a perfect bodyshell preparation – but we want him to know what it’s like to do.”

Apart from the 35 new Ruf vehicles that are built on a yearly basis, the company converts another 120 existing customer cars, has an in-house restoration department and does regular servicing and repairs on all Porsche cars.

“Our Ruf models are the flag-bearers of our company – but we are there for all Porsche drivers, no matter the model or age of their car”, insists Alois Ruf. “Now that here in Germany, the ‘traditional’ Porsche dealers are rapidly disappearing in favour of large and to a point faceless outlets, surely it’s good to know that there’s another option where the passion for Porsche cars and everything the marque stands for, is shared and understood.”

Driving the R

With these words, it’s about time to experience the Ruf touch from the driver’s seat. The R Kompressor development car, based on a 3.6 litre 996 Carrera, is at my disposal. The supercharger conversion will be available for all 996 and 997 Carrera models, and in this case yields 410 hp with maximum torque at 325lb-ft. Apart from the belt-driven supercharger, the engine gets a new intake system with the liquid cooled intercooler units neatly integrated into the manifolds, different intake valves, high-flow catalysts and of course a new engine management calibration. That aside, ‘my’ car also sports Ruf-spec springs and dampers. The exhaust, however, is factory standard on this particular car – surprisingly so, as I can’t remember any ‘cooking’ 996 emitting such a deep and purposeful bark.

Throttle response seems completely unaffected by the forced induction gubbins, no doubt a result of keeping the intake tract short and with as little internal air volume as feasible. What’s definitely different is the sheer urgency with which the R Kompressor heads for the horizon in any gear. Very refined is the power delivery too, part-throttle yielding exactly the response the driver solicits. It’s brutally fast, but at the same time it feels completely manageable and useable at all times.

Personally, I always had the watercooled, non-specialist 911 versions down as something of a compromise – probably the best all-in-one car out there for those who can’t be bothered to run a portfolio of cars, but not necessarily the most exciting thing to roll out of ones garage on a Sunday morning. But after having visited Pfaffenhausen I’m sure with Ruf’s input, a Porsche can be all things to all men.

Or at least pretty darn near…