Blame it on John Clinard. A long-time Ford representative, Clinard faithfully produced the original Cars & Coffee for years with purely noble intentions. Benefiting from the Southern California climate, as well as the region's extensive and diverse car culture, Clinard leveraged his connections with automakers and various local communities to run a casual, year round, weekly gathering that would go on to set the standard for car shows around the globe.
On any Saturday at the Irvine, California offices of Ford and Mazda (they share a parking lot, coincidentally), you could count on spotting uncommon rides. A Ferrari Daytona, that Facel Vega from the Paris motor show, the latest R Gruppe hot rod. These events were as democratic as they were magnificent. All marques were welcome, but duplicate models were discreetly discouraged. Admission was free for all. No merch, definitely no sponsors, and decidedly no doo-wop. The only things you could buy: drip coffee and humble doughnuts.
Clinard and his band of volunteers had created an inclusive event that has never been equaled in modern car culture. It was a magical time in the SoCal car community – but alas, it could not last. As Clinard’s Cars & Coffee was winding down, a victim of its own success, Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, and his partner, designer Howie Idelson, took the idea one step further: a Cars & Coffee specifically for their friends who share enthusiasm for air-cooled Porsches.
It was the right idea at the right time. Air-cooled Porsche enthusiasm was just taking off, and it served to propel Luftgekühlt from its humble beginnings to this year’s fully orchestrated production. Now we have staggered, scheduled arrivals, mandatory bus transportation, and a $45 admission ticket.
For its sixth annual iteration in Southern California, Luftgekühlt landed at the Universal Backlot, a venue that is nearly unfathomable for a car show. It’s an active location for a host of productions you’d recognize from film and television, including the Hill Valley town square from the unforgettable Back to the Future series.
Word on the street is that for the 2019 event, Luftgekühlt accepted roughly a third of the vehicle applications it received and the selections were made to demonstrate diversity – well, at least among air-cooled Porsches. Special emphasis this year was made for the long-underappreciated 914.
The Universal Backlot provided a canvas for vintage Porsches unlike anything previously seen. Upon entry, attendees stumbled upon was a street scene graced by a set of Singer-restored 964s. Dig a little further and you’d find Matt Farah’s Safari 911, with a fresh coat of dust from a recent shoot, placed on a set that looks eerily familiar to fans of HBO’s Westworld.
Luftgekühlt offers a level of access above and beyond its contemporaries. Unlike more formal car events, none of the Porsches were flanked by stanchions, including the pedigreed Porsche 935 race car driven by Paul Newman at Le Mans that was purchased a couple of years ago by Adam Carolla for well north of $4 million.
The atmosphere is more street party than car show, with food trucks, coffee and beer stations, and a DJ spinning some pleasing modern tracks. Naturally, multiple merch stops were there to sell Luft-branded gear. Not surprisingly, Porsche was also present in an official capacity, with Porsche Classic taking over the gas station in the Hill Valley square. If the company was slow to admit the existence of the air-cooled cult, and it was, you cannot say that it is not making up for lost time.
Rod Emory, noted 356 hot rodder, had a number of his Porsches in attendance and some of his more subtle work is simply gorgeous. The notion of a 356 with modern power, brakes, and suspension is eternally appealing. His latest 356 RSR, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired in my mind despite endless praise from the Luft cult. It’s an example that underlies the general premise of this show; not every car on display is to everyone’s taste.
C.J. Wilson, the baseball player who now races Porsches and sells them through his own dealership, brought a pair of air-cooled wonders down from Fresno. His righteously subtle 964 RS was overshadowed by his 993 GT2 with is monstrous wings and track-ready stance.
Perhaps for the sake of the aforementioned diversity, show organizers permitted entry to a very non-original 993 Speedster-like machine that would look more at home on the set of The Fast And The Furious IX than down the row from a pristine 993 Carrera S. It was placed, appropriately, next to a 964 that had suffered the RWB treatment.
Luftgekühlt and vintage Porsche tastemaker Magnus Walker are a match made in gauche heaven, but neither Walker nor any of his cars could be found at this year’s event. The absence didn’t go unnoticed by many of the Porsche faithful, who had paid major-league ticket prices and expected major-league people.
Oh yes – that $45 ticket. It was necessary. Had Luft offered complimentary admission in the spirit of the old Cars & Coffee, a venue like the Universal Backlot and open access to these delightful Porsches would simply not be possible. This is the price you have to pay to closely experience some of the most interesting air-cooled Porsches in history.
Year after year, Luftgekühlt continues to grow, with increased attention, more ticket sales, and a number of official and unofficial pre- and post-Luft parties. If you kept your ear to the ground, you could have spent the entire weekend in Los Angeles carousing with your fellow Porsche enthusiasts.
How long can it last? It depends on how much you buy into the idea that the aircooled era was a Golden Age for Porsche. The 356 and 911 were aspirational, mechanically interesting, and satisfying to drive. Events like Luft serve to remind modern Porsche fans that there is more to the marque today than SUVs and wait-listed, limited edition 911s. You can look at it as a celebration of heritage, or as a stunningly off-brand admission that the old cars are better than the new ones. Either way, you’ll want to get your Luft 7 ticket well in advance.