Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em, Get to Know the R Gruppe
What would entice you to wake up early on a Saturday morning and stand in the rain on a small side street in front of an auto salvage yard? What would make you want to come back and do that every month? For the members of the Porsche R Gruppe, the enticement is a little bit about cars, and a little bit more about the owners of these cars.
Formed as a result of a magazine article and a couple guys with common interests, the R Gruppe is an invitation-only classic Porsche car club with membership focused on the early 911 (1963-1973). The cars on display this particularly dreary Saturday morning spanned the range of early 911 model years, but as the club’s “Dictator”, Cris Huergas would tell you, the cars are only a part of what makes the group special.
In April 1998, Porsche Excellence magazine featured Cris’ lightweight modified 1969 911S along with his 1974 911 Carrera and three other early 911s owned by his brothers. Shortly after this article appeared, Huergas was contacted by Freeman Thomas who had been working on an early Porsche of his own and was impressed with Huergas’ build. The two spoke on the phone for several hours and out of the conversation (and a few subsequent in-person meetings) came the realization that there wasn’t really a car club for the type of car they wanted to build and drive. Since there was no car club for the hot-rod Porsche, the idea for the R Gruppe born.
The club doesn’t have any written requirements for membership, but is generally limited to early Porsche 911s—long-hood Porsches built through 1973, prior to the US introduction of impact bumpers—that have been modified with a “sporting” purpose and owners that exemplify the R Gruppe ethos. Huergas noted that, “just having a nice car doesn’t guarantee membership.” He said that prospective members are encouraged to attend events and get to know the group; if there’s chemistry prospects might just earn their membership.
In 2000, a year after the club was formed, Huergas and Thomas organized a meet in central California for the club members from Northern and Southern California to meet up. Only expecting about 30 cars, word had quickly spread and nearly 100 modified Porsches showed up to a small hotel in Cambria. The meet was ultimately a success and everyone had a great time…subsequently, the group was also asked to not come back to the hotel. While there wasn’t a possibility for a reunion meet at the same hotel, the R Gruppe has since held its annual Treffen (German for meeting) on the mid-coast of California for members from around the globe.
It was quickly realized that the group could grow out of control if a cap wasn’t placed on membership. Since that time, membership has been limited to around 300 worldwide and to maintain good standing within the club, members are expected to make efforts to attend events when they can. People who join just so they can get an R Gruppe badge and then don’t show up to events don’t last long with the group, who are protective of the membership and the group’s identity.
Over the years, the club has earned a reputation for being overly exclusive and arrogant, but to Huergas, the exclusivity is there to maintain the camaraderie of the group, without which it would just be a group of guys with old cars, “the spirit of the group is in the people, not their cars.” Despite this forthrightness about the membership, a 2010 article in Automobile Magazine sums up outside opinions of the club. (Click here for the link.)
“…the organization has become a lightning rod for haters from all four corners of the car world. To the august Porsche Club of America, R Gruppe is populated by a bunch of yahoos with no respect for tradition. To the hard-core racers who dominate the Porsche Owners Club, R Gruppe is full of poseurs who’d rather look fast than go fast. To early 911 aficionados who haven’t been invited to join the club…R Gruppe is a gated community reserved for arrogant snobs. To high-dollar collectors, R Gruppe provides a prescription for replicars and fakey-doos that cost more to build than they’re worth on the open market.”
Even if other clubs hold a less-than-glowing opinion of the R Gruppe, that didn’t seem to prevent a number of non-members (myself included) from showing up at European Auto Salvage Yard in Emeryville, CA, on a grey morning early in April. The Bay Area R Gruppe members meet at EASY every first Saturday of the month to hang out, talk shop, and show off their latest modifications.
The members I met were convivial and happy to talk about their cars, from a rare and recently restored 1968 911S to a 1973.5 911T CIS that’s still undergoing its own restoration. Among the members’ cars, you’ll find Porsches of every vintage and people wandering from one curb to the other ogling the cars. It’s a monthly car show that isn’t really a show, hosted by a club that seems to be the antithesis of all the other Porsche clubs out there…and the R Gruppe wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photography by Jonathon Glazebrook