This Is What It’s Like To Own A RUF Yellowbird
Photography by Ted Gushue
I don’t need an excuse to write about a Porsche. I do it all the time. I Instagram them. I talk about them ad nauseum. I get into fights in our comments section with readers who assert that we’ve become Porschelicious. That’s all fine—but I don’t care who you are, what your stance is on Porsches, or yellow birds for that matter—when you see a RUF Yellowbird in the flesh, you stop what you’re doing and pay attention.
Tim Pappas is an accomplished racing driver, and is the principal of the Patrick Long-staffed Black Swan Racing. We’re gonna be profiling a few of his cars over the next couple weeks, but this one pretty much takes the cake.
Ted Gushue: Tell me the story of how you first came upon the Ruf “Yellowbird”.
Tim Pappas: Well, my oldest friend, David Lloyds, saw the car listed for sale on someone’s website, and he thought of me because he and I are both huge Porsche fanatics and he knew that I loved that car. We used to talk about cars all the time before we could drive, and the Yellowbird was one of the first cars that we both agreed was crazy. I called the seller’s broker talked to them. It’s an interesting car because the original owner was the Ruf importer for the U.S. for a brief period of time and a very good old friend of Alois Ruf. When they were building these cars, he wanted one. Of course, it wasn’t easy to get one into the US because of the legal process, but they figured it out, and so for the longest time, this was the only “Yellowbird” in the US.
The original owner bought the car in Germany, and he did a bunch of driving events in Germany and then brought the car into the US sometime in ’91 or ’92. The car was a little bit infamous because he used to go and do lots of track days. I’ve got a friend who was driving at Roebling Road in a Porsche 935. The original owner was driving this car. Roebling has this sweeping turn that goes onto the front straightaway, and the sweeping turn is flat, and the straightaway is so long and it’s so fast. When he saw the picture of the car he said, “Man, I could not pass that car in the 935!” It is just that fast!
The car did a lot of track days, and over the years they made it a pretty good track car. It came from Ruf with racing seats, and harnesses, and the full roll cage, and all the lightweight aluminum bodywork. They had added a transmission cooler and rear brake cooling. They changed the ring and pinion because, of course, you didn’t need the car to go 215 miles an hour. They put a shorter ring and pinion in it. They put a fuel cell in it. And then he just did tons of track days.
He had two sets of wheels, and the great thing was that he really loved the car. So, even though he did a ton of track miles in it, he took good care of it, maintained it properly and kept all of the stock parts. When I bought the car in 2012, we basically just took it completely apart, down to the bare chassis and rebuilt everything, put everything back to stock, rebuilt all four corners; suspension, brakes, engine, gearbox, put the fuel system back to stock, took out the transmission cooler that they had added, put the original ring and pinion back in, we had all the gears reworked—but no changes from what Ruf had delivered.
The restoration didn’t go overboard, it was not upgraded with turbos. When we sent the turbos back to Triple K, they were like, “Hey, we can change the cartridges and make them even better!” I just elected not to do any of that stuff because it was like a purity mission, although it was not a preservation class one-off ’50s Ferrari, right, where having the original paint mattered to me. To me, it was like I wanted this car to be absolutely dead-ass perfect, like it’d just rolled out of the factory.
Bernie Van Hamond, one of my racing mechanics, helped oversee the project. He also works in the construction industry. He’s a project manager but he’s been racing forever. I’ve been racing with Bernie since 2007. He’s an unbelievable car builder because he’s so meticulous and so organized. We were constantly on email with Ruf to get parts and pieces and asking questions like, “How is this supposed to look?” The muffler was a wreck, so we had to completely rebuild the muffler. I mean, just so much stuff. It was amazing how helpful they were.
TG: Is that has something to do with the fact that Ruf wants to preserve their legacy and their legend?
TP: I think it’s partially that, but it’s also that when you meet Alois and when you understand what their whole philosophy is, you realize that they’re just such Porsche fanatics, and like all Porsche fanatics they want it to be done right and they love to collaborate with people. Which is why you see Ruf now doing restoration work on an early ’64 911 or a ’73 RS Carrera. I mean, he just does everything, restorations, service. He’s got factory authorized service for Porsche as well. He’s doing a ton of stuff, but they helped us immensely.
TG Describe the drive.
TP: Well, I think what’s so amazing is, for a torsion bar car the suspension is spot on. It’s so good! The chassis is so balanced. You can drift the car, you can hold it in a drift. It’s really, really stable. It changes direction well. It’s not as pushy as some 911s that you’ll drive. The weight of the car, the big reduction in weight with aluminium bodywork, and all the lightweight stuff that they’ve done, no sound-deadening and all that, the car is really light. It has a ton of power, but with twin fuel injectors, twin turbos, electronic engine management, the car is actually very quick on the boost. It doesn’t have the old air-cooled, single turbo, miles of turbo lag, but it still has a satisfying kick in the ass, as you felt.
TG: What’s the car capable of in its current setup?
TP: Well, top speed it’s capable of 215. I’ve never run it on a quarter mile. The fact that it has an aluminium roll cage, most of the drag racing clubs won’t allow it. I think it’s a high 10 second quarter mile car at probably 145-ish. I mean, it feels that fast. Maybe it could be a tick off of that. It’s just the inherent slop in that gearbox that would slow it down a little. You can’t really slam it, like you can a current generation manual gearbox. It’s one of the most satisfying 911s to drive because it has that air-cooled feel but mixed with performance that…
TG: …rivals most super cars today.
TP: I mean, it will absolutely annihilate a 993 Twin turbo. Just completely smoke it because it weighs 1,200 pounds less.