The scene was a bit surreal, hundreds of matte-white wind turbines spinning furiously in the Palm Desert gusts. Tearing down the 10 from Palm Springs to LA in this Emory Special speedster felt like a scene from a movie, and thus began my trip to Luftgekühlt 6.
This was the first Luft event that I have attended, so I had only heard about how mind-blowing it was for Porschephiles. It would be interesting to see how the west coast event would differ from the east coast Das Renntreffen shows that I had attended the last 3 years.
The idea for going out to Luft was a confluence of business and pleasure: I would get the chance to not only see an incredible assortment of Zuffenhausen’s finest work, but I could meet several individuals that I currently did or wanted to do business with. This is how I rationalized it at least. Since it would take place on the same weekend as Mother’s Day, I first had to gently get clearance from my better half. With a minor eye roll, she said “yes, go do the trip, it’s fine.” Normally, “fine” is not a word we husbands want to hear, but she was sincere in her acquiescence, so I was clear for departure. I kept rolling it around in my head, checking out available Airbnb bookings as well as Porsches that I could potentially rent on Turo for the 5 days I would be in and around LA. The clincher, however, was when my client and friend, Larry, heard that I was thinking about going and was planning to rent a car. Without hesitation, he offered the use of his Emory Special Speedster which resides in Palm Springs at a German specialty shop. I thanked him and said, “no, I couldn’t possibly impose on you with that unicorn,” but Larry insisted, saying, “you HAVE to…. pick it up in Palm Springs and drive it everywhere while you’re out there!” As I’ve gotten older, I have adopted a mindset that after demurring an initial offer, if a friend insists on something, it’s fine by me, I will gladly accept…and so I did.
I immediately went about booking my flights and narrowed the lodging option down to a “charming cottage” in Pasadena, close enough to LA and many show-related activities, but easily accessible to the Angeles Crest Highway, and a special drive that I had in mind, were I ever to find myself in LA behind the wheel of any Porsche, but especially one with the significance of an Emory build. More importantly, this Pasadena rental had a private driveway where the speedster could be safely parked. Plans made, it was just a couple of weeks until the flight out west.
Travel day and I fly to Palm Springs to step out into a perfect spring desert evening, dry and mild… man, I could live in this climate. A brief overnight at a rundown Days Inn, and I Uber over to OMAG Automotive where I meet Ludwig, the proprietor. We immediately hit it off and after a tour of his shop, I walk up to the Emory Special, where a technician is giving it a final once over, checking tire pressures and oil level. It is gorgeous and looks like 1960’s southern California meets Stuttgart; t-shirts, cigarettes, the smell of gas, leather, and oil squeezed into a tight metal package begging to be wrung out. I get in and whew, the bucket seat is narrow, hard, and seems unforgiving, but after firing up the 2.25 liter, built 4 cylinder and getting it out on the road, the seat is surprisingly comfortable. And the sound…. it’s deep, burbling, LOUD, but it doesn’t drone at all. It takes me all of about 90 seconds and 3 turns to feel what is so special about The Special. This is going to be a week like none other.
I head west on 111 to the 10, onward to the 210, but then I drop southward to Hemet, looking to pick up 74 which will take me by Lake Elsinore and onto a stretch of great twisty road and beautiful scenery. I pull off at a turnout high above the lake and take the first of many pictures with the Special as the star. My first stop today will be in Huntington Beach at BBi Autosport, a performance shop that also houses Innovative Pro Design, maker of CNC machined intake plenums for Porsches. I’ve connected with people at both companies through LinkedIn and Facebook years ago, but I want to put a face to the names since we are growing our own aftermarket performance offerings at my 2 shops back home. One of the BBi guys opens the gate for me to pull into their parking area and the first thing out of his mouth is, “Is this a real one?”, pointing to the Special. Yes, it’s real and it’s fabulous. Greg Martin, head of IPD meets me and asks the exact same question. I will hear this several times in the next few days.
Greg takes me around both facilities, and we talk Porsche, custom builds, and performance parts. This place is spotless with several GT3RS’s, GT3’s, turbos, and a couple of project cars of various lineage. Greg and I exchange some promo materials and I’m going to let him get back to work, so it’s time to head up through LA for Pasadena. I arrive at the Airbnb, the first time for me using this app, and it’s exactly as advertised. For the next few days, the driveway will hold the Emory Special, and a Prius and Tesla belonging to the young couple who own the front house and rent out the cottage. One of these things is not like the others.
Thursday morning and I have arranged a visit to Rod Emory’s shop today. Heading to North Hollywood, it’s uncharacteristically overcast and cool for LA, but I don’t much care. The top is down and unless it rains, it will stay that way. Pulling up to the facility in North Hollywood, the sliding steel door is pulled open in front of me, without my even sounding the horn. The Special’s exhaust tone is unmistakable, and the gentleman opening the gate for me is Chris Greenwood, one of Emory Motorsports designers. It turns out, Chris cared for this exact car back in the mid-2000’s after it was completed. He knows this car inside and out, and he is clearly happy to see it again. Chris generously spends an hour giving me the grand tour, the shop floor, the parts building, and we end up in the office area, where Rod’s first build sits side by side with the John Oates build, a 1970’s 930, and a 904 Carrera GTS. This is some hallowed ground here. Rod’s new Emory RSR build is still in a flurry-of-construction stage, and due to be unveiled at the Petersen Automotive event in just over 24 hours. I see Rod shuttling between clients and the shop floor, but he steps out midstream to give me a few moments of his time. They tell me they’ve been working 24-hour days for a while now, getting this build ready, and Rod is looking like he keeps moving so he won’t pass out from lack of REM sleep. Everyone is gracious, but I know they have miles to go before they’re done, so it’s thank-yous all around and I excuse myself. I head to Pink’s Hot Dogs on La Brea for lunch and as luck would have it, snag a parking spot smack dab in front of the joint. The Emory sitting in front of this LA institution looks like a scene out of a movie, and Pink’s lives up to the hype, the chili dog is good. Next stop: Newport Beach for a Porsche party at the home of Kevin Lynch.
I want to beat mid-afternoon traffic, so I drive to Newport Beach early and have a couple of hours to kill. I see a Ducati dealership, so I swing in for a look. Turns out this is Ducati’s flagship West Coast dealer and the place looks the part. PCNA might want to consider hiring away Ducati’s apparel designer, their merch is stunning, and I buy some shirts to take back to the family. I head to Kevin Lynch’s home for the gathering, and the Special draws plenty of attention as I wheel a U-turn and park in front of the house. A few people walk over, some of whom I know from Miami. One of them asks, “is it real?”
Kevin Lynch knows how to host a party. The drinks are flowing, the food is top notch, and you can’t put an empty plate down without it disappearing within seconds. I haven’t met Kevin before, but we have several mutual friends, so introductions come easy, and he is a most gracious guy. A true Porsche fanatic, in addition to his day job he has a foundation called Wolfpack 901 that works to place young people into the automotive trades, specifically technicians. This is a cause in the automotive industry that I am personally involved with, so the drive down to Newport has now become doubly valuable. Kevin and I agree to stay in touch and explore where we can cooperate to address the dire shortage of young technical automotive talent.
Outside, the lineup of cars is impressive, but there are only a couple water-pumpers. It is Luftgekühlt weekend after all. Many pictures are taken, social media posts are made, and dusk is descending, so it’s time for me to make the long trek back north. Like most California drivers, I rely on Waze and Google maps to plot the most efficient course. This one takes me up and out east to 57 and away from the dreaded 405. It’s a circuitous route, but it’s all driving at speed, no stop and go thankfully. It’s late, it’s dark, and I pull into the driveway as quietly as possible, shutting the engine off and coasting to a stop before I get between the houses and wake up any babies or senior citizens.
Friday is a particularly special day. Today, I am meeting a fellow Chicagoan and PCA member Nate and his friend Ben, and we will make the drive from Pasadena, heading west on the 210, to the 2, Nate and me in the Emory, tailed by Ben in his BMW. The 2, AKA, the Angeles Crest Highway, beckons with an incredible 45-minute drive up to Newcomb’s Ranch, a roadhouse-style restaurant where there is a regular Friday morning breakfast meetup of Porsche drivers. Nate and Ben are as stoked as I am. This drive is a goal that I set down for myself a couple of years ago, but I assumed that if I achieved it, I would be behind the wheel of a rental car, hopefully, a Porsche of some kind, but likely a Nissan Maxima or a similar Hertz fleet vehicle. Never did I imagine that I would be making the drive in a hand-made, 356 custom build like this Emory. It’s pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming time. The only thing that wasn’t a dream was the 50-ish degrees and misting drizzle, that was real. It was not going to dissuade us, however, and I must hand it to Nate, he was the trooper as well…. There is no heat in the Special. We did the drive top-down. Even in a gray mist, the view was not to be restricted by a top over our heads, and I kept it moving at a smart enough pace that the drizzle largely coursed over the top of the windscreen and missed us entirely. The cold, however, was a bit more pervasive, and my hands were yearning for that steaming mug of coffee by the time we reached Newcomb’s, but oh my, was it ever worth it! Meeting and talking with a great group of drivers, some of whom I knew from Instagram pages, a few of which I knew from Das Renntreffen shows, and then an original 1962 356B Super 90 pulls into the lot. It’s my friend Pamela from Chicago! Pamela is a wonderful lady, a member of PCA Chicago region, the 356 Registry, Midwest 356 Club and SoCal 356, she drove her coupe from Chicago, alone, and was accepted in Luftgekühlt as a display car. Her OTHER 356 belonged to her mom, which, incredibly, she was able to track down and repurchase. You meet the most interesting people through Porsche, its ability to unite people is singularly unique. First, you fall for the car, then you fall for the people involved with the car. Here I am, 2000 miles from Chicago, and I’ve connected with Nate and Pam, and we all will soon meet up with John Westra, another Chicago region member and racer.
A sudden roar announced the arrival of the Gunther Werks 400R, which parks at the far end of the lot. We walk over to get a closer look at this carbon fiber beast, the project car I had seen on static display 2 years ago at SEMA in Vegas. Carbon everywhere and the meticulous attention to detail convey what a great driver this must be. We take some iconic pictures, suitable for framing, and gather up for the drive back down to civilization.
The rest of Friday is occupied with visits to a few North Hollywood shops and vendors. L.A.Dismantlers, a Porsche boneyard of recycled parts waiting to be repurposed and put back into service on someone’s project car or daily driver. Esposito Porsche Repair, where owner John Esposito bounces among 3 buildings and through the open-air courtyard area with numerous 911’s in various states of restoration and repair. Geez, these southern California shops have it so good, being able to work outdoors almost year ‘round…. I am envious. John came to Pamela’s aid yesterday after her 356 had a clutch cable failure. Pam had called me asking if I had any suggestion for repair. I put her in touch with Sara from LA Dismantlers, who told her to give John a call. Amid the pre-Luft craziness, and preparing for an open house at his shop, John took the time to flatbed Pamela’s coupe to his shop and replace her clutch cable, which was down to 2 strands of wire! Once again, the Porsche network of great people gets it done, and John has bought himself loads of good karma. I hit him up for a recommendation of my own and John refers me to a nearby tire shop. I’ve picked up a nail in the Emory’s rear tire and I must get it patched before heading to the Petersen Museum tonight for their Air Meets Water, pre-Luft event, where the Special is entered as a display car.
An hour later, tire repaired, I head for Beverly Hills to meet up with Nate and Ben at the W hotel bar where they are staying. The valet in front takes one look at the Emory and says, “I will just leave it right here sir”. Good idea, especially after he sees me make my de rigueur, contorted exit from the car. With the top up, entering and exiting the cockpit demands yogi-like flexibility, of which I am in short supply. I stay for a quick club soda, then head out for the 5-mile, 30-minute, LA traffic-clogged jaunt to The Petersen. Arriving at the parking complex, the deep burble of the Emory’s exhaust turns more heads than a GT3RS, which of course it would since it seems as if the country’s entire allotment of GT3RS’s has been sold and lives in SoCal. They are like Prius’ at O’Hare airport they’re such a common sight. I pull in next to a line of original 356 coupes, about 50 yards away from Rod Emory’s new 356 RSR turbo build that he will unveil tonight for the crowd. I park next to Pamela’s Super 90. Old and new, stock and wild outlaw side by side here, it is a most unique assortment.
Saturday morning, it’s the southern California weather that I remember, 75 and sunny, and time for the show! Parking situation being extremely unclear at Luft, I leave the Special in my Pasadena driveway and grab a Lyft. He drops me at a nearby In-N-Out where I have a burger for breakfast, then I walk to Universal Studios Gate #2 and enter the show. Shuttle buses take everyone to the backlot area, where we step off into streets that are immediately recognizable from motion pictures, television shows, and even commercials. The dramatic backdrop was unable, however, to overshadow the immense and varied assortment of Zuffenhausen’s best. Where does one even start?
We enter on the charmingly named “MODERN N.Y. STREET” and I see an Oak Green Metallic Ruf with a luscious green interior that looks like something you would see (and take note of) on any modern New York street. Almost immediately, however, the scale of this show unfolds, and I realize that I must take a more planned approach, or I will risk missing a lot. So I head straight back to ROYAL CRESCENT DRIVE, which resembles a street of London rowhouse facades that you only realize after looking at an angle, are just paint on a flat wall. From straight-on they look like real buildings. There’s a mint green 911 RS, and next to it is my friend Pamela’s 356, which abuts a Minerva Blue ’79 930 with an incredible matching blue leather interior. Dear Lord, this car is beautiful, and the owner stands nearby, ready to tell me all about it! I have a special place for 930’s, being that an ’88 was my first ever Porsche. After a pleasant chat about the 930, I proceed down the street and it’s one unique 911 after another, interspersed with an occasional pristine 356. The duration of this show is already impressive and I’ve only seen a fraction of it.
At the end of the block, there is an empty lot area that resembles a stickball lot from some 1950’s movie, and it’s ringed with 911’s. The volume and condition of the cars are amazing, as this looks like a Porsches & Pastries morning back home with a good turnout, and it’s at the end of a dead-end block. When you think that hundreds of 911 submissions didn’t even make the cut, well it is overwhelming to think of how many show-worthy cars are out there. I double back down Royal Crescent Drive and walk past little 100-foot-long blocks called “WEST VILLAGE STREET”, “LONDON STREET”, and “WALL STREET”, each containing 3 to 5 cars on them. I kind of expected Wall Street to have only 1980’s garishly painted 911’s on it, but I think the 928 was popular with the Wall Street crowd, and since water-pumpers are verboten here, there isn’t a notable interplay between the sets and the cars.
Turning a corner to reach another large empty lot setting, a vibrant field of 914’s stretches out before my eyes. Wow, this is quite the display, and it’s the only place so far in the show where all assembled models share one badge. This is Luft 6’s “914 Celebration” of 50 years. Maybe it’s because I just acquired my first 914 about two months ago, but this area holds my attention for the next hour. There are a few 914-6 models, a patina car, a line of primary color cars that look like garage queens except that their odometers tell a different story. It’s great that these cars have largely been driven and enjoyed. In the center of the display, on a wooden pallet, sits Hurley Haywood’s 914/6, number 59. Striking.
Leaving the 914’s it’s a short hike up to “WESTERN STREET” and a deceptively small area of buildings that you know you have seen in every western movie you’ve ever watched, but you just can’t place them. Is that the one from Unforgiven, where Eastwood gunned down half the men in Big Whiskey? To see vintage 911’s, 912’s, a few Safari builds, and a 911 converted to snowcat tracks in the rear with skis up front in this setting is, well, it’s a little odd. At the end of the Western town, it’s not a vast dusty plain, it’s the billboard from the movie Jaws – “Amity Island Welcomes You” with a yellow BEACH CLOSED warning, a reminder that these are all backdrops and facades, one picks up where the other leaves off.
Heading back down, I run into Pamela along “NEW YORK STREET” where there is a theater marquee with the Gulf 917 underneath. Directly around the corner is the Newman 935, Paul Newman’s Le Mans ride. Both machines look ready to tear your face off…in a good way mind you. While admiring this pair, a good friend of ours comes walking up, Alvaro Rodriguez, organizer of the Das Renntreffen Miami Porsche event. I’ve been trying to connect with him this week and we kept missing each other, and now, among a crowd of thousands, we randomly meet. It’s a Porsche kismet. Handshakes and hugs, and telling of tales, and it’s off to the last stop, the Courthouse Square from Back To The Future.
This is EXACTLY as I remember the movie, and it’s remarkable, the clock that stopped when hit by lightning, the grassy square, the streets where Biff chased Marty McFly, it’s all here. Porsche Classic has done something very cool with the setting, they have outfitted their crew in 50’s period dress, occupying the old service station directly opposite the clockface across the street from City Hall, and they put a vintage PORSCHE sign on the station. I need to go back and watch the movie to convince myself that it isn’t actually that way on film, for it looks perfect, congrats to Ray Shaffer & crew. They even have a bare metal 356 shell inside one of the service bays. I meet up with Pamela again and we find our other Chicago PCA member, John. We retire in the shade of a nearby tree and recap an incredible Porsche-filled day. This Luft will be difficult to top.
Saturday evening, post-Luft finds the three of us heading to Marina del Ray for a get together at The Motoring Club. Suffice it to say, John and I each had a turn folding ourselves into the back seat space of Pamela’s 356. The Emory Special feels spacious in comparison.
Early Sunday morning and I am still outright thrilled that I have 105 miles to cover before turning the Special back over to Ludwig, its caretaker. The blast eastward on 210 is a mundane highway and the Emory gobbles it up and spits it out with a deep note. It’s funny…this machine is loud, but it doesn’t drone, the exhaust note has been consistently exhilarating through cold damp chills and warm dry desert. It’s an exciting car to slip into, and it envelopes you in a time warp of raw, pure driving. Heading south to the 10 it begins to get more spread out and going through the San Gorgonio Pass, only a handful of the windmills are turning now. The gusts have died down, and I am at the end of this once in a lifetime trip, an adventure that came together at the 11th hour like so many great memory makers do.