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RUF CTR- The Record-Breaking Yellowbird

2017 RUF CTR and 1987 RUF CTR Yellow Bird 001 DREW PHILLIPS
2017 RUF CTR and 1987 RUF CTR Yellow Bird 001

It’s the year 1988 and one yellow 911 dethroned the magnificent Porsche 959, becoming the fastest production car in the world by a margin of 15 mph! How did that exactly happen? Well, although it looked like one from afar, that infamous yellow 911 wasn’t exactly a Porsche- it was a RUF CTR to be precise.

RUF Was Always Driven By Passion

So how exactly did one boutique family-owned company dream up, engineer, and produce a 911 which outran Porsche’s pride and joy, the 959 hypercar?

The answer lies in the fact that RUF had close bonds with Porsche since its early days.

2017 RUF CTR and 1987 RUF CTR Yellow Bird 001
2017 CTR and 1987 CTR Yellow Bird 001/ Source: RUF

The company was founded in 1939 as Auto RUF by Alois Ruf Sr. At its inception, it was a repair shop that later expanded its business to include a gas station, with Alois Sr. even experimenting in making his own cars and busses from the ground up. 

The pivotal point for this family-owned business arose in the 1960s when Alois Ruf Jr. took an interest in Porsches. Alois Jr. began servicing Porsches and restoring them, establishing the foundations of the company as we know it today. Upon his father’s sudden passing in 1974, Alois Jr. took full control over the business, prompting a new chapter in the company’s development. At that time, the company had only three employees in addition to the 24-year old Alois Jr. who took command as CEO.

The passion for Porsches drove Ruf to go beyond services and restoration. Alois Jr. used his expertise and resources of Porsches and funneled that knowledge into transforming and improving 911s. By then, Porsche 911 was already a well-established sports car deeply rooted in touring, endurance, and rally racing, so the demand for a high-quality aftermarket car was hitting record heights. However, rather than just offering selected enhancements for their customers’ cars, Alois Jr. chose to design a comprehensive package.

Alois Ruf Jr
Alois Ruf Jr – Source: RUF

The First RUF

The first RUF masterwork came out in 1977, having started its life as a 911 Turbo. The 3.0-liter flat-six of the 930 was boosted to 3.3 liters by increasing the bore of the engine. With the new, larger pistons and a specially developed 5-speed transmission, the pioneering RUF 911 was a formidable force of a car.

In future years, Alois Jr. experimented with both turbocharged and naturally aspirated Porsches, also perfecting its 5-speed manual transmission design.

The development of the RUF 5-speed was a big development back in the day because the factory 5-speed manual transmission unit from the 3.2 Carrera couldn’t handle the extra power of the turbocharged Porsche 930 flat-six. So, until Ruf solved the issue, the 930 owners were destined to use the transmission that was one gear short of reaching the car’s full potential.

RUF CTR was Alois’ Magnum Opus

The story of the CTR began with another record-breaking creation named the BTR. As with all other of its cars, it was a fully transformed Porsche 911 which originated as a bare 911 chassis and finished up being the car that dethroned the famed Lamborghini Countach LP500 S. With a limited production of only 20-30 copies, it became the fastest production car in the world per Auto Motor und Sport magazine’s test in 1983. 

BTR / Source: Mecum

During this time in history, the BTR was not only the fastest production car in the world but also the first car to break the 300 km/h barrier. Its 374 horsepower 3.3 liters flat-six propelled the car to 190 MPH (305 km/h) The secret weapon was, of course, Alois’ custom-built 5-speed transmission with the perfect gear ratio for achieving the said speed.

The BTR held this record with pride until 1987 when USA-based Road & Track magazine tested the Porsche 959 Sport. Porsche’s halo car was just two miles shy of hitting the 200 MPH mark, which set the challenge for Alois to break the 200 Mph barrier.

Unlike the Countach LP500 S which was a final evolution of what was essentially a raw old school V12 1970s supercar, the Porsche 959 was fresh, modern, and groundbreaking.

In the late 1980s, it was at the forefront of the new zeitgeist, where cars were developed with more precision and where all resources focussed on the latest technology. The 959 was not just a car of today, but a car of the future.

An Engineering Masterpiece

In creating cars capable of reaching these speeds, clever engineering was more important than brute strength. Luckily, Alois had the knowledge, the wit, and the resources to make his dream a reality.

Shedding excess weight was paramount in creating a new record-breaking 911. Surely, the 930 Turbo seemed like a logical choice for a foundation, but he opted for a naturally aspirated 911 Carrera 3.2 body shell. The reason behind this move was the fact that a naturally aspirated 911 weighed less than the 911 Turbo, allowing further weight savings to be easier and less costly to achieve. The lower drag of the 3.2 Carrera body also helped carry out better aerodynamic results right from the start. 

2017 RUF CTR and 1987 RUF CTR Yellow Bird 001
2017 RUF CTR and 1987 original Yellow Bird

Thanks to using fiberglass bumpers and aluminum panels, Alois cut another 200kg of weight to a total of just 1,150kg, but that was merely a start. In addition to making the shell as light as possible, it was also re-engineered to provide optimal airflow.

The front and the rear bumper weren’t the only significant aerodynamic enhancements, because the car was outfitted with more drag efficient side mirrors squeezed to the side windows. Even the rain gutters on the roofline were shaved off to make the car sleeker. By completing the body from the ground up, Alois was ready to power the new engineering marvel.

1987 RUF CTR Yellow Bird #001

Years of perfecting, revising, and revamping the 911 powerhouses came together in another masterpiece of a flat-six. They increased the stroke and the bore of the factory-spec 3.2 liters to 3.4 liters, further enhancing it with the Porsche 962-derived fuel injection system.

The next milestone was forced induction, an essential way of dramatically increasing power back in the days. The six banger got a twin-turbocharged system fitted with two longitudinally mounted intercoolers. Thanks to it, the vehicle produced 469 horsepower at the rear wheels and could accelerate from 0–100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.1 seconds.

Again, the power was transmitted to the rear wheels via an in-house gearbox unit. The 5-speed gearbox had an adequate gear ratio and a dogleg layout for maximum track performance in the hands of the most skilled drivers.

The CTR was a no-nonsense speed machine, fully focused on performance. A large portion of interior conveniences was removed in favor of track-focused features. Instead of two comfortable seats and a rear bench, there were lightweight Recaro bucket seats optimized for five-point strapping and an integrated roll cage. Curiously, the original 001 Yellowbird has air-conditioning installed.

Finally, the car was clad in high impact yellow with custom 17-inch five spoke Speedline wheels. The CTR Yellowbird was thus born.

The name CTR actually comes from Alois Jr’s guiding force, which was to make a road-going variant of the Group C Porsche 962. So, CTR translates to (Group) C, T(urbo) R(UF)

Having been built from the ground up, the CTR got its own VIN numbers, meaning they were officially recognized as a car manufacturer rather than just a Porsche 911 tuner. Originally they manufactured a run of 29 Yellowbirds for the most discerning customers. Apart from the aboriginal run built from plain bodies bought from Porsche, RUF offered CTR conversions out of standard 911s brought by customers.

RUF CTR on the road was unlike any Porsche

For people lucky enough to drive these thunderous machines, the car was an epiphany. It wasn’t the first time that an independent company improved and enhanced an already superb car, but the CTR was in a league of its own.

A true analog supercar, the Yellowbird was a wild beast and a true challenge even for experienced drivers. Taming the cars wild nature in anything other than a straight line run required exceptional bravery and quick hands and feet, but rewarded its pilots by offering a thrilling driving experience.

The sensation of driving the original RUF CTR Yellowbird can hardly be described in written words, but it can be brought down to one: Faszination. Coincidentally, that was the name of a 20-minute video showcasing the cars potential on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, arguably the most demanding track in the world.
Faszination on the Nürburgring – The CTR “Yellowbird” Source: YouTube

This video propelled RUF to automotive stardom as it was perfect promotional material for the company. There, Alois presented his company as a group of fun-loving ‘fools for cars’ who still took their job extremely seriously. 

However, the true highlight of Faszination was the raw onboard lap of the track where a silent driver wearing nothing but a plain black T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans effortlessly passed every single vehicle on the tourist lap.

Thanks to this run, we could see what it really took to control the yellow beast still in its prototype stage. To achieve the perfect flow through the corners of the Nordschleife, test driver Stefan Roser mixed lightning-fast foot coordination with a mix of delicate precision and controlled force upon the steering wheel. What looked like a dance from the outside was in fact a battle between an extraordinary man and an overwhelming machine.

The record-breaking run happened on the Nardo test track in 1988 where Auto Motor und Sports journalists achieved the top speed of 211 mph (342 km/h). That way, the RUF CTR Yellowbird became not only the fastest production car in the world but also the first one to break the 200 mph barrier!

The other CTR cars lived up to the famous name

The name CTR appeared again exactly ten years later. In 1996, they unveiled the CTR2, a supercar based on the 993 generation 911 Turbo model. Again, the extraordinary engineering led to spectacular results. One of its key engineering features was an integrated rear spoiler which also doubled as an air intake.

1997 RUF CTR2
1997 CTR2 / Source: Mecum

The next vehicle that was presented was the 2007 CTR3 and it was the most ambitious project to date since it had a 987 Cayman mid-mounted engine layout mixed with a retro-modern body shell which reminisced vintage endurance racing prototype cars.


30th Anniversary Yellowbird was a Perfect Homage

The retromania of the 2010s and the rising interest in vintage Porsches brought out the CTR again. Up until that point, the original Yellowbird disappeared from the collective consciousness and was regarded as an automotive curiosity for anyone but the most hardcore enthusiasts and 911 fanatics. However, thanks to the astronomical growth of the vintage Porsche market, all eyes were on the ultimate 911 and the Yellowbird became a coveted key part of the expanding 911 universe.

CTR Anniversary
RUF CTR Anniversary

Alois Jr. thus decided to mark the 30th anniversary of the Yellowbird’s tremendous run in the most appropriate possible way: by creating the perfect homage to the car which made him a legend. At the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, the all-new CTR Yellowbird was unveiled, followed by unanimous admiration from all over the automotive world.

To a layman or a casual car lover, the 2017 vehicle looked like any other yellow Porsche 911. But, this RUF had to do the least with Porsche. 

Every single part of this car was created in-house. The carbon fiber monocoque chassis is wrapped in a carbon fiber body based on the design of the 964 generation. Even though it looks like the 964, the body has no interchangeable parts. Again, Alois and his team managed to create a featherweight body shell weighing just over 1200kg.

The recognizable five-spoke wheel design was revamped as well, with 19-inch center lock wheels completing a nostalgic look accompanied by yellow Tartan-clad bucket seats and trademark five-dial instrument cluster.

Under the nostalgic whale tail trunk lid sits a Hans Mezger-engineered 3.6 liter twin-turbo flat-six pushing over 700 horsepower and mind-bending 880 Nm (649 lb?ft) of torque thanks to the merits of modern technology. The claimed top speed of the revived CTR homage is 225 MPH (360 km/h) with a 0-62 sprint of just three and a half seconds.

Engine of the CTR Anniversary
Engine of the CTR anniversary

Again the company presented an ultra-limited run with an extra bonus. Instead of the original 29 Yellowbirds, the revisited vehicle was offered in exactly 30 examples.

Analog cars in the Digital World

In 2000, gaming giant Electronic Arts (EA) acquired the exclusive rights to use Porsche in its ‘Need For Speed’ games. That move left the hands of the others tied, as Porsche was supposed to be an integral part of any racing simulation.

RUF came to the scene as an alternative for the gaming world. As you already know, the company was recognized as an outright automotive manufacturer, meaning that EA’s exclusive rights didn’t apply to RUF cars.

RUF CTR video game
The CTR made frequent appearances in video games

That’s how they entered the gaming world and was introduced to a younger mainstream generation of car enthusiasts. The car appeared in ‘Gran Turismo’, ‘Forza’, ‘Test Drive’ and ‘Project Gotham’ series, as well as many other PC, console, and mobile games.

As of 2016, EA no longer has the exclusive rights, yet RUF is still present in many gaming series. A coincidence? We think not.

Why the Yellowbird Matters

Modifying, improving and hot rodding Porsche cars was a trade as old as the factory itself and many famous mechanics have tried their luck in making their own perfect 356 or 911. However, few have dared to build a 911 from the ground up, literally taking a blank canvas and constructing a car that could not only rival but actually beat Porsche in its own game.

Alois himself said that he was sure that Porsche could have done it and could have made the car themselves if they wanted to. However, they didn’t, and we are fortunate to live in a world where Alois did.

Alois’s dedication to details and meticulous approach to enhancing Porsches had a cultural impact in the 911 world. This magnificent build inspired the next generation of enthusiasts turned tuners and Porsche master-builders. From the outlaw-rooted Magnus Walker to sensual Singer Vehicle Design or the unhinged genius Bisi Ezerioha behind Bisimoto, there’s an undeniable dose of inspiration and admiration towards the Yellowbird and its creator.

The story of the Yellowbird is a story of success and development. It’s a story of how one family-owned company evolved from two employees, one apprentice, and an inexperienced yet endlessly enthusiastic CEO into a recognized manufacturer who outperformed the most advanced supercar of its time. That’s why RUF CTR Yellowbird might be the most important enhanced 911 ever created.