It was spring of 1964 when ten-year-old Alois Ruf Jr. first heard the rumbly growl of a Porsche 901 prototype that would ultimately become the sound track to his life. He was in the passenger seat, driving along the autobahn on the way to a fair with his father, as the iconic Porsche whipped by at 100 mph, and young Ruf saw his future.
The auto-enthusiast gene was something he inherited from his father, Alois Sr., who founded AUTO-RUF, a service garage in Pfaffenhausen, Germany, in 1939. As soon as Alois Jr. learned to crawl, he played in the garage; once he accidentally fell into a waste oil container and had to be rescued. His father began the company’s affair with Porsches in 1963, when he discovered a mangled Porsche 356 on the road. By the time Alois Jr. was a teenager, he was tinkering with the Porsches his father serviced out of his garage. But he was most taken with the commanding performance of the Porsche 901 prototype, the car that evolved into the iconic 911.
As his fascination with early Porsche race cars grew, Alois Jr. wanted to push the limits of restoration, and make distinct cars inspired by the original 911s. After his father’s death in 1974, Alois Jr. took control of the family business. The company released its first modified Porsche in 1975. As their output and sophistication increased, RUF received the coveted Manufacturer Certification from the German government in the early eighties, assuring their position as a burgeoning small car company. This title set RUF apart from ordinary tuner shops—RUF is considered an actual car company, and every RUF car has its own VIN (vehicle identification number). (The company is entirely separate from Porsche AG, which is based in another German town, near Stuttgart.)
Over the past three decades, RUF Auto has enchanted Porsche enthusiasts with advanced renderings of the 911, which, to Ruf, is still the quintessential automobile. The development is inspired by Ruf’s extensive collection and knowledge of vintage Porsches. He has a small team that works doggedly on development, teasing the boundaries of speed and sophistication. “I am biased, of course. My whole life has been influenced by the 911 Porsche,” says Ruf. “Everything in my life has pivoted around that car. When I heard the sound of that engine, I got goose bumps. I’m continuously pursuing those goose bumps with our cars.”
The smile in his voice is evident when he speaks of his most-prized creation—the 1987 RUF CTR, a twin-turbo coupe nicknamed the “Yellowbird” by Road & Track, immortalized with a cult following on the Gran Turismo video games. “My personal favorite is the Yellowbird,” Ruf says. “This car was a big breakthrough for us that really put [us] on the international map. It was a car that made headlines all over the world and still does. It exists 27 million times in video games. All the kids are playing with that—and the grown-up kids are playing, too.” Yellowbird shattered top-speed world records at the Nardo racetrack, reaching 342 km/h. RUF has since qualified for government-regulated safety ratings and emissions.
The newest incarnation of the RUF automobile on the streets is the 2011 RUF RGT-8. At first glance, the car has the basic aesthetics of a dressed-up Porsche 911, but under the hood, it’s a totally different story with a 4.5-liter aluminum V-8—a lighter, faster engine capable of moving from zero to sixty mph in less than four seconds. It’s an understated yet raucous sports car, and everything that embodies RUF. Car & Driver described it as a hidden gem at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show.
“When I heard the sound of that engine, I got goose bumps. I’m continuously pursuing those goose bumps with our cars.”
– Alois Ruf Jr.
Most recently, RUF introduced the Rt 12 R coupe, swathed in the colors of the German flag. The Rt 12 R is capable of 730 hp and is available in both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and includes a standard integrated roll cage and a ceramic brake system.
“What influences me is the gaps that I see that can be brought back,” explains Ruf. “To bring back some of their values from earlier times, to build a car where the driver is in charge of everything.”
What defines a RUF car is technological advancement. The company unveiled the first German electric automobile, the eRUF, in 2008, followed by the eRUF Roadster in 2009, which has a maximum speed of 250 km per hour. Now RUF is aiming for larger volumes, increasing from 30 cars a year to 100. “We are still a small volume manufacturer, but it would help us a little bit to cover all the high R & D costs; we have ambitious development plans,” Ruf explains. The company is also working on manufacturing a complete motor.
Ruf cars are “for the owner to drive—not just for being seen in.”
– Robert Schneider
RUF owners are a dedicated bunch, and include well-known car enthusiasts such as Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. “RUF is, as we see it, taking the Porsche product to the next level,” says Robert Schneider, sales director for RUF Auto US. “Ruf has his own style and styling element of what he does with the cars that are very recognizable. They are extremely understated. They’re simple and usable. They’re for the owner to drive—not just for being seen in.”
Tamara Warren has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Forbes, Automobile, AutoWeek, and Delta Sky. A Motor City native, she edits Gotryke.com and lives in Brooklyn.