RUF CTR. Night drive in the terrifying mutant 911. Ruf Justice. We head out into the night in a Porsche 911 Turbo breathed on by Ruf. Buckle up and hold on – this one’s going to be scary. If you thought a standard 1980s Porsche 911 Turbo was scary, then this 500bhp red-hot poker turns the adrenaline up to 11. Buckle up and get ready for some… Words Rob Scorah Photography Jonathan Jacob.
It’s a little unnerving – dropping down into the snugly caressing high-backed Recaro bucket seat, and fingering the wide, heavy-duty black TRS harnesses with their thick metal castings. One thought keeps nagging: if a fairly meagre, standard Euro-seatbelt and a less-restraining leather sports seat were good enough for the standard 300bhp factory 911 Turbo, what the hell have they done to this one to warrant all this? And then we notice the half roll cage in the rear too.
Get the Ruf CTR fully engaged and you’ll want a long horizon.
The rest, apart from a few trim details and a set of devil-red dials is fairly standard. Well, as standard as any of the flat-nose 911s were. Actually, that’s where the complications begin. Look at that nose – there’s a chunky little badge in place of the Stuttgart shield. Ruf.
Alois Ruf and his team had turned to tuning 911s, especially Turbos, in 1977. Ruf used bigger engine bores, higher compression ratios and modified exhausts to increase power by 20 to 50%, depending on the car. Each ‘edition’ pushed the 911 performance envelope.
Underneath that wide de rigueur Turbo whale tail is Ruf’s own 3.4-litre version of the hallowed flat-six. When it left the workshop in Pfafenhausen, the car was rated at around 408bhp. It underwent further modification in the UK and, with the help of a bigger turbo and better exhaust system, is now capable of around 550bhp. Suddenly a normal 911 Turbo feels a bit under-stacked.
The thick clunk of the harness buckles feels very reassuring. Enfolded by all this track-biased paraphernalia, we’re not sure what to expect when we turn the key. The engine barks into life in familiar 911 voice – an immediate chatter of rapping valves, semi-simultaneous cylinder firings, thrumming belts, induction gulps and grumbling exhaust. It’s louder, and there’s something more hollow about the sound, more metallic. And at the back of it all, a faint burble that warns that this really isn’t a standard 911.
It moves of emitting an exaggerated 911 din – noises from God knows where. The 1950s-style truck drivetrain whine, the impolite belches and, overlaying it all, the of-key singing voice of a girl intoning above the other racket. No matter how many 911s you have driven before, there’s always a minute where all you do is listen and smile to yourself, hoping it doesn’t grenade. God bless air-cooled. The tractor noises live mainly below 2000rpm and are the Porsche’s way of telling us that we’re out of the meat of its power band.
It chugs if we’re hesitant. If we stall it, dip the clutch immediately and it relights itself instantly. Best to push on a bit and swing the tacho needle a little higher where the girl’s voice sings louder to overcome the clatter. At first, the gearbox is notchy, and giving the faint impression (probably wrong) that it’s slightly of set from the north-south alignment. To about 3000rpm (the domain of the girl’s voice) it is modestly brisk. Second and third are directly opposite one another and provide a quick flick to keep the car moderately on its toes without getting into big power.
Porsche gave the Turbo a four-speed ’box, stating that the components of the five-speed weren’t beefy enough to handle the torque loads. Ruf, in conjunction with Getrag (using parts from the racing 935’s box), gave its machines a beefed-up five- or even six-speed transmission.
We find we’re using the gearstick a lot in this car, sometimes to keep out of the turbo’s way on slower roads. But a quick glance at those thick black harness straps tells us that this is not how things are meant to be.
A stronger push on the light throttle and the white-on-red tacho needle arcs around its dial. The engine noise thickens into a guttural snarl and the car quickly picks itself up and bounds forward. This change in poise and the thick wedge of torque thrust around 3600rpm are something to savour. Such is the difference in grunt that the uninitiated might think that is the turbo kicking in, but it’s a universal 911 trait. It’s something to induce quickly with a four-three or three-two downchange, playing the power curve to punch the car forward. We feel quite edgy and slick doing all this until we glance in the mirror and glimpse the black shadow of the ducting in the flared rear wheelarches behind. We see the wide, wide profile of the tail. We haven’t felt the turbocharger kick in yet.
Look out for a long stretch of blacktop, bite your lip, and from a lazy third gear, flick forward to second with a snatch of throttle. Watch the white needle jump through 4000rpm then push quickly and smoothly down on the pedal.
The guttural snarl broadens and flares, giving way to the saw-toothed roar of a Merlin aero engine. Punctuated by the wastegate whiplash hiss and snatched exhaust bark of every gearchange, it spirals up in an instant as we push on the power. The car blasts on even faster; the sucker-punch blow of the midrange torque hugely reinforced by the afterburner thrust of the turbo. It seems to lose all weight, though not poise or grip, and simply rockets down the road.
We really don’t know where the needles on the dials are. If you look anywhere other than a long way ahead – beyond the melting road markings, blurred lights and bending lamp posts – then you’re deeply unwise.
At this point the Ruf 911 disappears through its own dark looking glass into a realm all its own. It’s a world somewhere between where ‘normal’ supercars live and where ghostly 935s run a knife-edge balance on the banked curves of phantasmagorical Nűrburgrings.
Incandescent with noise and electro-magnetically alive to every input, the Ruf sears across the tarmac. At speed, it answers all of its controls with a remarkable sensitivity. Nothing goes unnoticed by the car. Small throttle changes alter the pitch and attitude immediately, steering corrections push the unseen nose this way and that. It’s by no means unstable, it’s just that it ‘feels’ us – and us it – like virtually no other car.
As the road begins to arc, our mind goes again to that great wide tail, a potential pendulum that controls the whole attitude of the machine. We can simply brake hard for a bend, feeling our shoulders thrust against the thick black straps as the huge discs clamp to bring the speed down. Or we can take a more wily 911-like approach.
Coming towards a curve, the merest inflection of throttle lift-of sends a slight ripple through the chassis, lifting the tail infinitesimally and sending the weight to the nose. Engine popping on the fleeting overrun, the front wheels dig in and take the turn. Back on the power – smoothly – the weight goes back to the rear. Time to feel the side of the Recaro seat suddenly present to hold us in the bend.
Lift-of for whatever reason and that tail will go light again – either digging the nose again or, if too much, slipping the back out. Likewise, too much power will slide the big back tyres that are impatient to get ahead for the fronts. Do this badly and you’ll end up facing backwards. Where other cars would soak up in exactitude in sloppy tolerances, a 911 Turbo – at high speed – would punish.
But we feel more secure exploring these regions in the Ruf than a standard Turbo. Maybe the suspension is a little more finely tuned – gas-filled Bilsteins and all that – but it’s down to that closely stacked five-speed transmission and a generally smoother (Ruf-mapped) transition to turbo boost. The stock four-speed can pull some harsh tricks, especially when trying to balance the car in the golden power band, or when the standard turbo thumps in the middle of a tricky bend. More cogs means we can better manage the force and the stance of the car.
With the Ruf we can rock those two-three-four changes to keep the revs up – but not too far up that we get into full-on afterburner. Even with the marginally insane 911 driver, this thing shouldn’t really be allowed to get its freak on unless the corners have gravel traps. Looking at the concrete curbs of the dual carriageways, this doesn’t look like the place to get too creative.
But others might disagree. At a meeting of dual carriageways at a roundabout, there’s the sudden bark of a stainless steel exhaust and, in a filmic Fast and the Furious moment, a silver Nissan GT-R appears, the overhead lights strobing over its high gloss bodywork. For a moment the two cars are side by side. Each driver glances at the other machine before the Nismo legend peels away and accelerates into the night, its raucous wail rising into the dark sky. Now those things are serious machines and it suddenly makes us think of the way performance cars have gone – all those ‘advances’. But would we want one over this? No way. It’s nothing to do with brand snobbery. In fact there are many performance icons, from back in the day as well as modern, that pale beside this hot-rodded 911.
It’s not about out-and-out performance figures – that’s for kids playing Gran Turismo. It’s about the way a car moves and feels, the feedback and sensations it imparts. Very little matches the sublime cacophony of a 911 – not just at full chat, but throughout its power cycle.
The Modern Classics view
In terms of dynamic range and abilities, most cars have nowhere near the ensemble of moves, poise and posture that this turbocharged, rear-engined machine can deploy. This thing will keep you wired but, after this, a Ferrari 550 Fiorano feels like a 1970s Pontiac Trans Am, and the Nissan GT-R seems as remote as if you’d been driving it wearing a deep-sea diving suit.
So, it’s nothing if not a memorable drive. Buying one will be more challenging than driving it – they’re rarer than hen’s teeth in the UK, and when you do find one, there’s going to be serious competition for it. But astonishingly, it’s also great value for money in a market that loves originality. So, if this Ruf is your thing, you’ll pay a little more for it than you will a vanilla 911Turbo.Agood Porsche specialist will happily keep it in fine fettle for you, too.
As for the ownership proposition, the spellbinding combination of ferocity and softness, a delicate balance between rawness and malleability will mean you’ll love every moment you spend with the Ruf. After experiencing this, driving other cars will never be quite the same.
Thanks to: John Holland (johnhollandsales.co.uk) and Owlerton Stadium (owlertongreyhoundracingstadium.co.uk)
Flatnose 911s became popular after the racing 935’s exploits in GT racing – including a memorable victory at Le Mans for privateer team Kremer in 1979. When the Ruf hits 4000rpm, you really don’t want to be in the way.
Interior doesn’t flatter to deceive – you’ll be thankful to be fully strapped in.
‘It’s a world where supercars live and where ghostly 935s run a knife-edge balance on the banked curves of phantasmagorical Nűrburgrings’
‘Incandescent with noise and electromagnetically alive to every input, the Ruf sears across the tarmac’
I BOUGHT AND MODIFIED IT JOHN HAWKINS
As managing director of a Porsche garage, Specialist Cars of Malton, John Hawkins was better placed than most to look after the Ruf CTR. ‘I had it for almost 17 years,’ he begins. ‘It was a very cool thing. Originally, they built it for the firm’s (Ruf’s) accountant.’ Beats a Mercedes-Benz E-class any day of the week!
The car came to Hawkins looking like it does now, but during its time in North Yorkshire the Ruf underwent a few changes. ‘We put a later “bi-plane” spoiler on the back, gave it 993 door handles and teardrop mirrors.’ The 911 was also treated to a set of body stripes and later style Recaro seats. There were changes in the engine bay too. ‘We gave it a bigger turbo,’ Hawkins explains, ‘as well as bigger fuel injectors and a custom-made exhaust system. We polished the valves and gas-flowed the head.’
By this time the Turbo was kicking out some 500-plus horsepower. ‘It was a crazy car; all on or of. There was nothing below 3000, but when you put your foot down it was like somebody had jumped through the windscreen and kicked you in the chest.’ Nice to see nothing’s changed.
WHO IS RUF AUTOMOBILE GMBH?
Nestled in Pfafenhausen, a small village west of Munich, the company was started by Alois Ruf senior in 1939. Initially an agricultural and mechanical repair shop, the business added a tour bus operation and petrol station by the early 1950s. By the middle of the decade, it was turning out Volkswagen engines with a displacement reduced to 700cc.When Alois Jr took the reins in ’74 the relationship with Porsche began.
The first car he modified (1975) was a 911 Carrera RS. It had a special interior, a headlamp washer system and a roof aerial. In 1977 he began to make more serious modifications and built the first Ruf 911 Turbo. As well as having a Getrag five-speed gearbox, the car featured an engine enlarged from 3.0 to 3.3. Power output was increased from the stock 260bhp to 303bhp.
The company wasn’t reluctant to make structural changes either. In 1980 Ruf presented a turbo-bodied targa with a T-bar roof to improve torsional stifness. By 1981, Ruf was building its own five-speed gearboxes. This was the same year the German Federal Bureau of Motor Vehicles certified the company as a manufacturer. Ruf now began stamping its own chassis numbers, and its 3.4-litre turbo cars were handbuilt from bodyshell up. Within the company’s development programme, highspecification wheels and brakes were also manufactured.
Probably a good thing since by 1987 its 469bhp CTR hit 213mph on the Nardo test track. Ruf continues to develop high-powered niche products alongside the factory cars. By 2004 it had built or converted around 400 cars and some 200 uprated 964 engines.
Power c.550bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque c.575lb ft @ 4800rpm
Top speed: 187mph;
Fuel consumption 17-21mpg
Transmission RWD, five-speed manual
WHAT TO PAY