Story and photography by Andy Gaunt.
I shake my head. How the hell did I wind up in this situation? It’s 7pm, the day after Luft, I’m in the passenger seat of a tow truck as we race up the Angeles Crest Highway and I’m going to miss my flight home…
My weekend in LA is nearly over before it begins. A last-minute decision to make the journey over the Pacific for Luft 6 seems to have brought with it an unsurmountable challenge; tickets. The event has been sold out for a week already. I find cheap flights easily enough but even a solitary ticket to Luftgekühlt is going to require some hunting. Reaching out to the world via Instagram brings many messages of support. But wishes of, ‘Good Luck Mate’ aren’t going to cut it with the good folks manning the gates at the Luft 6.
So, I reach out to Drew from 911Cooled. Drew’s been running his passion project for nearly two years, with regular video content and quality merch. We’ve had some email back and forth over that time and, given his extensive coverage of the LA Porsche scene, I decide to contact him in the hope that he might have a line on a ticket. Initial news isn’t good, he says. Over twenty people have reached out to him already and he has no extra tickets, nor does he know of any. He promises to put me at the top of the list if something comes up and puts the call out to his large following on Instagram but with no tickets seemingly available – by any means – I go to bed that night feeling less than optimistic. Next morning, I awake to a single sentence message from Drew on Instagram, ‘I found one.’
A nice bloke named Mark has bought his ticket only to be told he has a graduation to attend on May 11. Bad news for him, great news for me! With the ticket sorted, I book flights and start counting down days. In the lead-up, when I mention to someone that I’m flying to LA for a weekend to attend a car show – let’s just say I encounter some scratching of heads…
The flight is fine – Qantas cattle class, leaving 9am Friday morning, arriving in LA at 6am Friday morning. After clearing customs, I grab a coffee (when going to a big US chain, skip the lattes and just go for Americano) and wait for my buddy Kale, who’s arriving on a Virgin flight just behind me. Kale’s a great dude who I drive with often. So, I know that hanging out with him for a weekend will be good fun. Plus, he spends a lot of time in LA so he knows the town well, making him a very handy travel companion.
Kale arrives and we jump on a shuttle to head for a hotel near the airport. Here he collects his hire car – an Audi R8, sourced through Turo. The car looks stunning but presents a problem when it comes to luggage. So, we begin the slog up LA’s freeways with me literally pinned to the seat by Kale’s extremely heavy suitcase.
The main goal on Friday is simple – stay awake. We cruise the PCH to Bill’s Malibu Kitchen (made famous by Spike Feresten on his Spike’s car Radio podcast). No Spike, Zuckerman or Seinfeld to be seen but we do have an interesting chat on the porch with the former editor of Surfer magazine. We also chat to a Porsche enthusiast who, having seen my Luftgekühlt tee, strikes up a conversation. With jet lag taking its toll, I give up the fight to stay awake at around 8pm. I don’t care – let the night pass. The next morning will bring Luft.
In case you don’t know, Luftgekühlt started a few years back – the brainchild of Porsche Factory Racer, Patrick Long and his buddy, Howie Idelson. The idea? A car show to tell the story of air cooled Porsches. Hence the name Luftgekühlt, the German word for Air Cooled.
Wanting to avoid the standard cars and coffee concept of cars simply parked in rows in a car park, the choice of venue each year has become a huge part of the Luft story. Previous venues include a modernist furniture warehouse, a lumberyard and of course, Deus Ex Machina. The idea is that the venue helps tell the story of these cars – all meticulously curated – and presents them in an interesting way, creating a gallery effect. Combining this with great tunes and plenty of food to give the event a relaxed vibe where you just want to hang out. It works. This year’s venue is one out of the box – the Universal Studios Backlot. This isn’t the theme park – it’s the small city where films and TV shows are filmed. And the Luft team have secured the whole thing.
Now in its 6th year, Luft is a well-oiled machine. My ticket means I’m in the 8am arrival wave. A quick Uber ride from West Hollywood to Universal Gate 2 and I’m greeted with an epic line up. I roll my eyes, wondering if the day is going to feel like we’re being corralled through an airport. I needn’t worry. Obligatory security checks done, they load us onto buses to transport us to the back lot. I sit on the bus for a few minutes with a building sense of anticipation. Then, with a squeak of its brakes, the bus stops. I climb down the stairs and immediately hear the voice of Willy Wonka singing in my head, “…there is no world I know to compare to pure imagination…”
Three Singer 911’s greet me, their exquisite lines looking perfect against the city street behind them. I dive straight in, initially strolling around, just taking in the entire scene. Arriving at 8am, many of the cars are still rolling in, so the sounds and smells of air cooled Porsches echo off glass buildings and concrete.
Luft is perfect. Perfect! 356’s hide in alley ways, a 917 sits conspicuously in front of a theatre, Adam Corolla’s 935 is parked in front of a hotel, looking completely at home. A perfect blue 901 sits on the lawn in front of the clock tower from Back To The Future, Ruf turbos line the street where Marty McFly once rode his skateboard. A flock of 914’s sits in an open inner city parking lot space, fanning out around a few special examples on plinths. The city streets, meticulously built to look like a real urban centre, create the most perfect backdrop against which these cars can sing. It’s as though a real city has been shut down for a day, cleared of any vehicles, then filled with eye candy Porsches.
Jeff Zwart, famous car ad director and Pikes Peak winner has done an exceptional job developing the layout, juxtaposing cars against backgrounds that are often unexpected but always make for the perfect photo. For example, the Rubystone 964 Carrera RS positioned across the road from a Rubystone 964 3.3 Turbo makes for a hundred different, great camera angles (just check Instagram). Rod Emory’s latest twin turbo 356 creation wows as does Jerry Seinfeld’s 934 race car. Best colour of the day goes to a 72RS in eye popping hellgrün.
Having roamed the city streets, I realise I’m not done. The old west and New Mexico sets are also teeming with amazing cars. Matt Farrah’s Safari 911 sits beneath a Cactus and 911 race cars line the dusty streets. Jeff Zwart’s Pikes Peak winning 964 sits in front of Four til Four’s pop up coffee kitchen. I stare at it a little too long.
Photography is tricky – trying to get a shot of a car while waves of people stroll by to look at it or photograph it means patience is required as is a ready trigger finger. I reach the conclusion that telling the story of this event through pictures means including the people and photographers who are such a part of the event.
I’ve walked the lot more than once, and set out to meet some people I’d wanted to connect with. Meeting people I’ve had contact with via Instagram or people who are ‘car famous’ is a hoot. I meet the owner of my favourite 964 build and chat about the very tasteful modifications he’s made. Everyone is up for a chat, linked by a shared love of this marque. In my two years of Porsche ownership I’ve been struck by how open and welcoming the Porsche community is. My pre-conceived notions of snobbery and pissing contests being long since proven wrong, I’m happy to see this isn’t just the case in Australia. It’s a part of the Porsche culture everywhere.
Before I know it, there’s a new line forming – the line to leave. I’m not quite ready. In fact, I want to move into this city permanently. It has everything! Food, a service station, cinema, office buildings from which I can run my business and the greatest cars in the world. But the event has a hard 3pm finish time with the sets being scheduled for use in production the very next day. So, with a final close up look over the three Singers that greeted me when I arrived, I climb onto a bus and drive away from paradise.
On the way back to our West Hollywood Airbnb, I have one stop to make. We turn off Sunset and find our way to a leafy Hollywood street where my hire car for Sunday is waiting. Not content to rent a ‘small compact’ or Mustang I’ve decided to keep the Porsche experience going. Hence it’s a lovely, slate grey 991 Carrera that greets me. The perfect weapon to tackle the famous Angeles Crest Highway tomorrow morning….
Sunday dawns sunny and warm. A half hour blast along the freeway gets me acclimatised to the left-hand driving position and brings us to La Cañada Flintridge at the base of the Angeles Crest Forest. A quick stop to meet Bruce and Pete (a few Aussies in a cool SC) and Ben (Kale’s mate, driving a… cough cough …Corvette) and then we’re into the twisties.
What. A. Road!
The Angeles Crest Highway weaves its way through the Angeles National Forest. It’s open, surrounded by deep canyons and – because it’s a National Park, there are no houses meaning no traffic. Around 10 k’s up the hill we come to a road closure. We turn back and came across a red Gunther Werks 400R, parked on one of the ACH’s wide turnouts. We may never see one of these in Australia, yet here it is in the wild. We stop for a quick photo then continue to our detour road.
The disappointment of the ACH road closure quickly gives way to huge smiles as we detour via Upper Tujunga Canyon Road (if you’ve ever watched Matt Farrah’s One Take videos, you know the road). Getting more comfortable with being on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road, I begin to push the Carrera harder. Around tightening radius sweepers, it grips with tenacity, holding its line without so much as a quiver. The PDK shifts are crisp, fast and just noticeable enough to still engage the senses.
By the time we arrive at the famous Newcomb’s Ranch we’re all smiles and ready for a classic American Diner breakfast. Newcomb’s doesn’t disappoint. Bottomless coffee served by a talkative waitress (who thinks we’re all British) with a huge plate eggs, bacon and hash brown. Bellies full, we decide it’s time to explore ACH a little further, knowing we’ll need to turn back before long to keep my car within the 100 miles per day limit.
Stepping outside we’re all gobsmacked to see the one and only Jay Leno standing in the parking lot, next to his beautiful, black, four cam 356. He’s unmistakeable in his familiar denim shirt. Jay is super relaxed, chatting about his car, about California’s exhaust noise laws and Australia’s hoon laws before posing for photos with us all.
We finish up with Jay and walk to our cars, keen to continue up the ACH. Kale and I both shake our heads, laughing at the way this trip keeps delivering crazy moments. As I lower myself into the 911’s comfortable seat I wonder what more surprises this trip could possibly have in store. Seriously!
My answer comes just a few minutes later. We drive higher up the ACH, really opening the cars up as the low grasses and shrubs give way to pines. Now feeling at home in my 911, I push harder, the flat 6 singing, exhaust popping on downshifts and fresh air pouring in through the open window. I’m living the California Porsche lifestyle dream! Then, rounding a left-hand sweeper, I notice a large rock in the centre of the road. A slight adjustment to my line is all I need to avoid it. However, a much smaller but equally sharp rock sits, awaiting my front right wheel as I change direction. I barely clip it but feel a sharp knock from the front right. The resulting drop in tyre pressure is immediate and the dash warning system goes into overdrive to warn me. I pull into a turnout, switch off the engine and inspect the damage. There’s no other way to say it – the tyre is destroyed. I glance at my phone. No reception. A quick inspection of the 991’s frunk reveals a tyre repair kit, consisting of a can of sealant – hopelessly outgunned by the sizable gouge in the side of my Pirelli.
Bruce pulls up in his SC so I jump in and we head back for Newcomb’s. I allow myself a moment to stop thinking about the tyre and enjoy the sound of the air cooled 3 litre as we head back down the hill. Borrowing the phone at Newcomb’s, I call Turo Roadside Assist. Tow Truck ETA – 45 minutes. The guy behind the bar tells me it’s more likely to be 90 minutes. I glance at my watch – 11:45. My flight doesn’t leave for 11 hours so at least I needn’t worry about running late.
I’ll skip all the details but let’s just say that a combination of incompetence from the towing company, no cell phone service along the entire ACH and a driver who doesn’t know how to search for a location on Apple maps, means we find ourselves driving back to La Cañada Flintridge to find the truck so that I can guide him back to the car.
Which brings us to now. Marco, my El Salvadorian tow truck driver sweats as he grips the wheel on the Hino tow truck tight, doing his best to rail turns. I sit in the passenger seat holding the Jesus handle and looking at my watch constantly.
The sun is dropping as we pull into the turnout just after 7pm. Having left the car over seven hours earlier, I’m relieved to see it still there. Marco loads the 911 onto the truck while I watch on. Kale, who’s followed us up the hill in the Audi R8, glances nervously at his watch. He is now hopelessly late to return the Audi,
“Andy,” he says, “we’ve gotta go.”
I give the 911 keys to Marco and climb into the R8’s passenger seat, before Kale hands me his suitcase to nurse for the remainder of the journey. As we pull away from the turnout, I glance in the mirror at the 911. Maybe it’ll find its way back to the owner. Or maybe it’ll end up in some Costa Mesa chop shop. Either way, there’s nothing I can do about it now.
Kale guns the Audi. 52 k’s of twisties lie between us and the bottom of the hill and LA’s Sunday night traffic. The Audi is spectacular and Kale steers it confidently and skilfully. I hate being a passenger in a performance car but the run down that hill is brilliant, the Audi’s AWD gripping the tarmac prodigiously.
We make it to the car drop off, grab an Uber for the airport – Kale is staying on in LA but has a hire car to collect. As the Uber sets off I look at the clock and the ETA. It’s 9:00 and we’re 45 from the airport. I’m still frantically messaging the owner of the 991, wanting to make sure the car makes it back to him. He messages and assures me it’s safe and sound. That feels like a win. Then another, with the traffic starting to move more freely, I make it to the airport in just enough time to get through security, grab a couple of American candy bars for the kids and walk straight onto the plane.
The cattle class seat feels more comfortable than seems possible as I buckle up. I’m exhausted and only vaguely aware of the plane accelerating for take-off, before I drift off to sleep, dreaming, planning, scheming next year’s Luft pilgrimage.
Believe the hype. Go to Luft. Seriously. Go.