It's 4am, or maybe 3:30 — at this early hour on a Sunday, does it matter? It's overcast and still drizzling as the distinctive metallic blatter of air-cooled flat-sixes echoes between the warehouses that make up the Port of Los Angeles. The smell of fresh rain is quickly overpowered by unburnt fuel pumped out of tailpipes and lemongrass beard oil wafting out of rolled-down windows. Monday through Friday these streets are trodden by semi trucks hauling cargo containers fresh off the ocean; today they're brushed-over by the lithe and nimble movements of classic Porsches streaming in, some from other continents, all coming home for Luftgekuhlt 4.
That's how I imagined it at least; at that point I was still sleeping. Eventually there will be dozens of "short films" posted to YouTube shot on high definition iPhone cameras with filters added in post to make them look like Super8. When the Facebook-bohemian documentarians finally post to social, we can all find out what those early hours of sound and motion were like. It was nearly 10am when I showed up at what has become the must-see event for Porsche enthusiasts. I'm told some people, and even some cars, traveled around the world to attend what started as a simple gathering of Porsche fans and recently has turned into a bit of a cultural phenomenon.
This will be common knowledge to anyone reading this, but the short version of the story goes like this: Two genuine Porsche fanatics started Luftgekuhlt, which translates to "air-cooled," the first half being the only current American Porsche factory racing driver, Patrick Long. Besides his obvious party-planning skills, he also has class wins at Le Mans, Daytona, Petite Le Mans, Sebring, and three ALMS GT series championships on his resume. Howie Idelson is the other half of Luftgekuhlt and lists his profession as Art/Creative Director — you can Google his work.
The idea of Luftgekult is basically Cars and Coffee with an organizational twist. This year's event was held in and around decommissioned military buildings. The parking lots surrounding the buildings were filled with attendees' cars, not unlike any other gathering. Here's the sizzle: inside the "thoughtfully restored wooden warehouses" the Luftgekuhlt organizers had a "tightly curated list of historically significant and interesting cars." If you're unfamiliar, "curated" is hipster-speak for "we picked-out cool things." Clearly these guys know how to leverage all the moving parts of their core competencies in creating synergies to move the needle in the swim lanes of the bleeding edge automotive ecosystem. I thought we were into cars so we could escape pretentious jargon either corporate or hipster — apparently the crossover was inevitable. Did I mention one of the buildings houses a craft brewery and the other an artisanal market for local craftspeople?
The location and "curating" seemed to have an effect on the average attendee demographic. Opening up the Porsche world to different audiences has to be positive, right? Most car gatherings feature the usual cast of characters — read as — middle-aged males, sometimes with their kids, but more likely their dog in tow. This event saw all ages, and believe it or not, some women. Let me clarify as women aren't a rarity at car events, but these were women as attendees and participants, not as objectified props in the embarrassing-to-the-entire-civilized-world practice of "booth babes." A noticeable portion of attendees were millennials, who I'd been led to believe hate cars. These are all good things.
The downside of all this is maybe 30 percent of the people were there to appreciate the cars. There were distinct groups: the first, I am a part of — professional journalists with an obligation to attend. I think every car-journo in California was there and easy to spot; talking, laughing, and actually looking at the cars. In fairness, however, there was an inordinate amount of eye rolling from this group over the carefully manicured patina that's invaded the Porsche world. While the journalists appreciated the cars, I think most were left underwhelmed by cars we'd all either seen or even driven before from numerous other Porsche events — jaded journos are a tough crowd.
Secondly, we had people unable to look at cars directly and instead view the world through the LCD screens. I used to take pictures at shows too, but with only 24 shots per roll it made me more discriminating. We now have memory cards holding thousands of images, creating wannabe lens-men indiscriminately spraying off clicks like Mac emptying the mini-gun into the jungle after the cloaked Yuatja killed Blaine. Cars shows are a horrible place to shoot cars; you can't position them, you have to shoot around fifty other guys, and your angles are limited by other cars. If you really aspire to be an automotive photographer, this is not the place; just enjoy the cars and maybe snap a few pics as keepsakes.
Sadly, a large portion of the crowd seemed to be participating in some sort of narcissistic selfie scavenger hunt. I guess I still don't see the fascination with having a photo of my big fat head obscuring everything. I think the next Luftgekuhlt should be held in a hall of mirrors to make life easier for this group.
The selection of cars in the curated section was predictably impressive; everything from early 356s to a couple of 917s and a 959, (which has coolant lines and radiators by the way), to a line of perfect white 911s representing the timeline of R and RS cars. Again, nothing here that hasn't been seen at Rennsport Reunion, The Monterey Historics, or any number of car museums and vintage races, but there were a great deal of recently devoted "hardcore" Porsche fans that have never and probably will never go to any of those events.
The outside parking lots hosted a stratified cross-section of the current Porsche owner world. There was the R Gruppe with old-school hot rods modeled after Porsche's own Sporting-Purpose ethos. Once the outcasts of Porschephiles for being too non-traditional, have somehow become the conservatives compared to what has recently become the very antithesis of old-school Porsche culture, the haggard rat-rod style — I refuse to call this "Urban Outlaw" because if you haven't noticed, Magnus's cars are looking pretty shiny and manicured these days. While I love cars that are driven and driven hard, the idea of purposely making your car appear battle-worn seems disingenuous to me. Mismatched body panels and vintage racing stickers are the current version of tribal armband tattoos and custom choppers.
This was my first Luftgekuhlt and I think if I had been to previous years, I don't know if I would have made the effort to get to this one. I will say, the organization was far better than most shows I've been to. Parking was relatively easy, and with the exception of a single jackass in an M3, I didn't see anyone doing anything that would endanger future events. I don't know where it goes from here. If Patrick and Howie want to keep it going, it will need to evolve into something bigger. Maybe held at a racetrack or an airport so attendees can see and hear the curated collection move. I don't think it needs to turn into another Rennsport, but maybe something like Porsche's Sound Night at Weissach. Porsches are dynamic cars built for the sole purpose of running and driving; it seems like a shame to only celebrate them sitting idle in a parking lot.