The sensation is exquisitely, queasily uncomfortable. Your pupils have dilated like a crazed cartoon character while your chest is tightening more than would seem medically advisable. Try not to think about the 850bhp that is propelling you forward – hurling more like – or the damp runway that clearly hasn’t been swept since the last Cold War ended. Ignore the nutter on the superbike, pulling wheelies, who is trying to goad you into racing. He doesn’t stand a chance. This is a Ruf Rt12R, after all. No, just keep doing what you’re doing and remember that at some point you may want to brake. But not yet. Okay, that side wind came out of nowhere.
‘IT’S A SORT OF MIX TAPE OF INDUCTION ROAR, EXHAUST HOWL AND ROAD NOISE. EPIC’
‘THERE ARE FASTER CARS, BUT FEW THAT BATTER THE SENSES IN QUITE THE SAME WAY’
‘IT’S BLISTERINGLY FAST BUT NOT IN THE LEAST INTIMIDATING, AS LONG AS YOU CONCENTRATE’
How fast is fast enough? You don’t want to look like a yellow belly before handing over the reins to the hotshoes. Just how much is 300kph in old money, anyway? Divide by eight and multiply by five… Oh, right, yeah, 187.5mph is plenty. Time to breathe again. Time for a coffee break before exercising the next four cars, decaf obviously.
There are not enough adjectives that can amply describe just how mind-bendingly fast this car is, but then Ruf is more than just another modifier of Porsches. This tiny, family-run business doesn’t so much strip 911s to the bone before re-engineering them as to the marrow. It’s a marque in its own right, one that is rooted in Alois Ruf and others’ creation, his father having established the firm in the small Bavarian town of Pfaffenhausen in 1939. What began as a general garage had by the ’50s taken on a BMW concession, but it was the arrival of a Porsche 356 in the workshop in 1963 that fired the second-generation Ruf’s imagination.
Every Porsche 911 Ruf from CTR to 850bhp Rt12R + the best of the rest
Scroll forward to 1981, and Ruf made the leap from tuner and restorer to constructor, the German Federal Vehicle Office certificating his firm’s status as a car manufacturer even though its models conspicuously shared DNA with a somewhat better-known brand. In April 1987, Ruf Automobile entered supercar lore after Road & Track set about establishing what was the fastest production car in the world. The Ruf CTR beat all-comers in the test at Ehra-Lessien, with drivers Phil Hill and Paul Frère repeatedly breaching the 200mph barrier. The canary yellow demonstrator earned the nickname Yellow Bird and it stuck: CTRs have been referred to in aviary terms ever since. The car clocked a best overall top speed of 210.6mph, only for Auto Motor und Sport to up it to 212.5mph at Nardo a year later. It bested the likes of the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959 along the way, also managing a 0-100mph time of just 7.6 secs.
Production cars were based on the 911 Carrera 3.2 rather than the regular turbo variant, due in part to it being marginally lighter and more aerodynamic. The Group C Turbo Ruf (CTR) boasted aluminium doors, bonnet and engine cover, which saved about 200kg over the donor car. Physical differences amounted to chunkier glassfibre bumpers front and rear, a pair of intake ducts above the slightly wider rear wheelarches to aid airflow to the intercoolers, shaved rain gutters and groovy 935-style door mirrors. Engine displacement was teased out to 3366cc (from 3164), while twin turbochargers were added along with a DME fuel-injection set-up similar to that found in the Porsche 962 sports-prototype. A bespoke five-speed gearbox completed the mechanical makeover.
Just 29 CTRs were purportedly made by ’90, the practice being halted by the combination of a dwindling supply of bodyshells and tougher emissions regulations. About 20-30 cars were later supplied by customers for what became an aftermarket conversion. Which brings us to today and Bruntinghthorpe Proving Ground on a monochrome morning. Fortunately, ‘our’ 1988 example is finished in the sort of eye-watering hue more redolent of the previous decade. As such, ‘Kermit’ endears itself in an instant, the Tupperware add-ons complementing the familiar outline rather than detracting from it. Inside, it’s much as you remember any 911 from the era, the spindly A-pillars and dashboard layout being unmistakable, even if the figure-hugging seats and VDO-made instruments are pure Ruf.
Every Porsche 911 Ruf from CTR to 850bhp Rt12R + the best of the rest
What’s more, it’s hard not to fall for any car that has a sticker warning you not to exceed 300kph. Fire it up and the flat-six sounds grumpy, requiring a few blips in order to stop it from stalling. It eventually settles to what might euphemistically be described as a thrum. It sounds more competition tool than road car. As you cruise around off-boost while waiting for the temperature gauge needle to rise, there are no histrionics. The gearchange is perhaps a little unyielding, but you soon acclimatise.
And then you wake the turbos from their slumber and a rather different picture emerges. There are faster cars than the CTR – some of them are grouped together here – but few batter the senses in quite the same way. It’s hard to discern which revs in which gear equate to what speed because you’re too busy trying to keep it in a straight line; watching the rev counter and boost gauge becomes somewhat secondary. While notionally packing 469bhp at 5950rpm, you would swear that it was more. Power is delivered with a kick. And then a head-butt.
Acceleration builds with brutal menace, the popoff valves chirping for all their worth. It’s utterly surreal and equally addictive.
Fortunately, the 300mm ventilated Brembo brakes work effectively, but it is an understeerer. This isn’t a car in which you should slacken your commitment, but it’s hard not to back off a little. Do so, and the nose tucks in, but ease off too quickly and it will rotate in an instant, as an experienced racer in our party discovers later.
Spectacular oversteer is available on boost when exiting a bend. It isn’t to be recommended, though – the sort of thing you try only the once unless you have poor impulse control.
Then you step aboard the ’94 3.8 BTR, which is something else entirely. Powered by a 3.8-litre, single-turbo flat-six allied to a six-speed manual ’box, it’s packing 370bhp at 5500rpm, which might lend the impression that it’s a bit on the tame side. It isn’t. As with the CTR, it is lighter skinned than the car that bore it, although its aluminium content also includes the wings. There are also revised springs and dampers, 18in lightweight alloy wheels as well as cross-drilled and vented disc brakes front and rear.
Inside, it’s more of the same, with leather-clad Recaros and a speedo that reads to 360kph (225mph). It’s comfortable, even if black-on-black is a bit funereal. Like the CTR, the BTR is utterly docile off boost, the difference here being that it’s forgiving when pressed hard – all things being relative. The rev-counter needle snaps around the dial in an instant, the front end rising ever so slightly under load. The transmission, with its short shift action has a tiny amount of low-speed shunt but is beautifully precise at speed. The BTR is a joy to drive, and not in the least bit intimidating so long as you concentrate.
Yes, it feels a little soft in comparison with its forerunner, but it is hardly alone in that. The BTR is still blisteringly quick. If the factory bumf is to be believed, it can sprint to 125mph in 12.9 secs and on to a top speed of 198mph. It’s still pulling hard at 150mph, but, tellingly, it doesn’t wander. It hasn’t been stiffened to the point that there’s no suspension travel, either. The chassis isn’t overwhelmed, nor does it feel twitchy in the slightest. Corners of all flavours can be negotiated extremely quickly as long as you don’t lift your right foot suddenly. The uprated brakes also work well without any hint of fade – regardless of how many times you call upon them to save you at silly speeds.
Such was the popularity of the 964-based car that it has never really gone away. Ruf will still make you one, as illustrated by the RCT Evo 2 pictured here. The difference these days, however, is that the base conversion is also available for a variety of body styles rather than just the coupé, with convertible and even Speedster models being offered in narrow- and widebodied configurations. ‘Our’ car is mechanically much the same as the BTR, the difference being that it packs 425bhp at 5800rpm – and those extra 55 horses certainly make their presence known. It feels faster, but otherwise it remains benign, even when driving somewhere near your own – if not the car’s – limits. There’s little in the way of a safety net here – no get-out-of-jail-free electronic doodads to bail you out should you get into trouble – but you would have to do something stupid to get there in the first place.
Just when you think you have Ruf sussed, you get into the CTR-2, which represents another evolutionary leap. Previous models had been relatively unadorned, having little in the way of styling trinkets relative to the donor cars. By the mid-’90s, however, it was clear that customers wanted greater differentiation between a stock Porsche and something that cost considerably more. When this car was built in 1997, it cost DM446,200 (c£172k) against DM278,875 for a ‘cooking’ 183mph 911 GT2. This Ruf, at about £500,000, is three times as much as a nice GT2.
Nevertheless, the CTR-2 followed the mantra that form should follow function, despite appearances to the contrary. For example, the air vents sunk into the sides of the rear valance have a small raised leading edge. At high speed, this creates a partial vacuum extracting air drawn through the intercoolers. Then there are the small details such as the door mirrors that have the same glass area as standard 993-series items, but the cowlings are noticeably smaller and thus create less drag. Perhaps the most obvious change is the substantially larger engine cover, which in effect spans the entire width of the car.
Then there’s the engine, which was based on the twin-plug 3.6-litre 993 unit, but boasting an extra 200cc and running an 8:1 compression ratio, twin KKK turbochargers, TAGtronic engine management and a lot more besides. Factory figures from the period claimed 520bhp at 5500rpm and 505lb ft of torque at a relatively modest 4800rpm. The result is a car that is incendiary fast, as in 0-60mph in 3.6 secs, traction permitting, and capable of an 11-second quarter mile. As for the top speed, ‘over 340kph’ was quoted in the promotional literature.
Once inside, it’s much like any other 993 of the era, although the 400kph speedo is no idle boast. At pottering speeds, it’s not threatening. The six-speed transmission is a delight, the Rufcalibrated spring and damper set-up soaks up the worse of the airfield’s many bumps, and it will pull from as low as 1000rpm in top at 30mph with only the slightest caress of the throttle. When you do dig deep, suddenly you’re much further down the road than you were a second ago. The four-wheel-drive set-up ensures that it just hooks up and bolts. It’s like the CTR, only without the sense of impending doom.
Sadly, limited seat time ensures that handling impressions are slender. It turns in well, corners flat, for the most part, and the brakes – 360mm carbonfibre discs front and rear – are seriously powerful for their vintage. It’s a car that you would love to spend time with, exploring its capabilities. Clearly it has many, but it shrinks into the background compared to the Rt12R.
While in essence a 997, it’s merely a Rizla-thin veneer. From the deep gaping maw that passes for a front spoiler intake, to the carbonfibre rear aerofoil, this is a bespoke device. Beneath the skin, Ruf did away with the active damping of the Carrera S, and replaced it with its own ‘passive’ arrangement. It retains MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear set-up, but it’s fully adjustable for stiffness – plus the ride height can be raised or lowered by up to 50mm. This is just a thumbnail sketch of the vast number of mods involved here, relative to the donor vehicle.
Then there’s the engine, a hand-built 3824cc flat-six that is only loosely rooted in the Carrera S unit. The pair of KKK turbos are similar to those found on a standard turbo of the period, but boost pressures and revolution speeds are Ruf-specific. To date, 13 cars have been made, and this is one of only two that aren’t all-wheel drive. Given that the base model packs 560bhp, and ours has almost 300 more, that’s a lot to ask of the spray-painted rear boots. In theory, this ‘R’ edition is capable of 219mph, but if rumour is anything to go by, it’s a wee bit faster than that.
Once inside, the basic architecture is pure Porsche, as is to be expected, but with the obligatory Ruf logos just about everywhere, stylish green-on-black instruments and alloy pedals. Such familiarity does lend a false sense of security. This is nothing like any other 911 we have ever experienced. Not that we can tell you what it’s like to drive under normal circumstances because we didn’t really try. The six-speeder shifts with clarity and precision, and the low-speed ride is impressively controlled, but this isn’t really the place to drive slowly.
Acceleration in any gear is ballistic. There is a seemingly never-ending wave of turbocharged thrust. The soundtrack builds with the engine speed, too, a sort of mix tape of induction roar, exhaust howl and road noise. It is truly epic. Scroll back to 2012 and a less powerful variant managed 0-125mph in 9.8 secs. This is faster, and how. The real issue for those experienced with such cars, but still some way off from being driving gods, is how to extract the best from the Rt12R. You can’t. It’s better than you.
As such, tyre-shredding Earl of Oversteer antics are out. Limited time spent on what passes for an infield circuit reveals that grip levels are unbreakable under normal conditions. Even after you think you have pushed the envelope when it comes to front-end adhesion, the Rt12R nails the apex, and then uses its molten rear-end traction to devastating effect on departing a corner. And then there are the brakes: 350mm cross-drilled and inner-ventilated discs with four-piston aluminium calipers. They’re powerful enough to turn your ribs to dust, but with all the feel and progression of steel rotors.
But if push came to shove, it isn’t the car that you would take away. No, that would be the CTR. It isn’t the best car here. It isn’t even the third-best car here, but it is by far the most exhilarating; the sort of weapon that makes you swear and laugh simultaneously, and exit talking 10 to the dozen. You ache for its continued company, even if the CTR does scare the bejesus out of you. Maybe even because it does. That’s all you can ever ask of a supercar, and it is super both relatively and absolutely.
Thanks to Jeremy Cottingham, who is selling all of the featured Rufs: 01923 275500; www.jeremycottingham.co.uk
From top: window-hugging 935-style door mirror; Ruf-badged VDO dials – sticker on speedo warns you not to exceed 300kph; Speedlines (17in here) got bigger over the years while tyre profile shrank. CTR Alcantara-clad wheel in CTR, plus massive side bolsters on close-fitting Ruf sports seats; twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre engine is good for 469bhp, giving a top speed of more than 212mph at Nardo.
From top: it’s basically a Porsche 911 964 Turbo in profile, but with bigger spoilers – its single-turbo boxer isn’t as brutal as CTR; strippedout cabin with basic door pull contributes to 1260kg weight; tiny boost gauge. 3.8 BTR Pared-down cabin of 3.8 BTR features lighter seats with slimmer backs but they’re just as supportive; single-turbo motor was more fuel-efficient thanks to Motronic management but still produced 370bhp.
Clockwise: tell-tales on RCTs include vents in polyurethane bumpers and Cup-Design mirrors; turbo-type rear spoiler was €2847 option; subtle Ruf badging on dials; 18in Speedlines (€3584 new!) RCT EVO2 Familiar five-instrument set in Evo 2, with similar seats to CTR and full race harnesses; still single turbo but dual-ignition on 964-derived flat-six gives it 425bhp at 5800rpm – enough to nudge 200mph.
Clever aerodynamic aids help 993-based CTR-2 to increase airflow through the intercoolers and grip road better; wheel logo a constant, also five-spokes – here with 245/35x19s on front, 285/30s on back. CTR-2 Exquisite green leather in CTR-2, with slimmed down seats and integral rollcage to stiffen bodyshell; TAGtronic helps to push output of twin-turbo 3.6-litre boxer to 520bhp, and a top speed to match CTR.
Beautifully crafted alloy pedals; huge rear spoiler plus large front air dam lend the (loosely) 997-based Rt12R the look of a Porsche Cup racer to match its savage performance: sub-10 secs for 0-125mph. Rt12R Ergonomics meets Ruf madness in the Rt12R, which benefits from the 997 cabin but with better seats; it’s off the scale against its not exactly weedy ancestors, though, with an alleged 850bhp!