The RUF CTR 'Yellow Bird' Is the Greatest 911 Porsche Didn't Build

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
Driving the RUF CTR 'Yellow Bird'Lisa Linke
porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
Looks like a 911, right? But the Yellow Bird is all Ruf, including the VIN plate.Lisa Linke

As human beings, we all recall moments of the past that changed the trajectories of our lives—memories of physical connection, tragedy, triumph, and awakening. When I got my driver’s license in New Jersey at age 17, my mother was cresting the peak of the Reagan economy. She soon bought a 964-gen 911, and she loved that car more than she loved me. The keys were off-­limits. But now and again, when she wasn’t looking, I’d power the car on S-turns right past the local police station. That Porsche changed my life.

This story originally appeared in Volume 22 of Road & Track.

In the immortal words of my hero at the time, Navin Johnson: “Well, if this is out there, think how much more is out there!”

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
So there’s no doubt, the Ruf logo adorns the brake calipers, the wheels, and the ignition key.Lisa Linke
bruce meyer
Bruce Meyer “This thing is wicked fast. It astonished the world when it came out.”portrait by marina de santis

Not since 1990 had I climbed into a 911 of that era when I met Bruce Meyer at a Shell station at the base of Angeles Crest Highway in L.A. Many readers know Meyer as the founding chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum and a friend of Road & Track who occasionally shares his rare rides with us for driving and photo­graphy. On this afternoon, he rolled up in his 1989 Ruf CTR “Yellow Bird,” and its striking profile and paint hit me like an electric shock. Today we would be motoring into canyons with substantial elevation changes and daring switchbacks in a Ruf reminiscent of that first 911 I drove as a teenager.


Only the Ruf is that car reimagined to the outer­most limits of performance and style.

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
While we may have broken the speed limit, we didn’t reach the CTR’s 211-mph top whack.Lisa Linke

Ruf itself has called the CTR “undoubtedly one of the most famous cars ever made.” Naturally, the company would have such an opinion. But the fact is, among Porsche nerds and even many casual fans, that is undeniably true.

Meyer took the wheel first so he could demonstrate the tricky dogleg gear shifter and talk me through the car’s provenance. It is VIN 1—as in, the first production CTR ever made, circa 1989. The CTR began life as a white G-body 911 shell. In the Ruf shop in Pfaffenhausen, West Germany, Alois Ruf Jr. and his band of Deutsche Oompa-­Loompas built the car with so much original vision that it could not retain a Porsche VIN and got a Ruf one. So that there’s no question about it, the Ruf badge adorns the gauges, the calipers, the seats—almost everywhere the eye turns.

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
These gauges won’t measure the speed of your pounding heart.Lisa Linke

“He designed his own car,” Meyer explained as we climbed the canyon peaks. “It’s a narrow body because that gives you more speed, about 10 mph at the top end. It has Porsche 935 side mirrors for aerodynamics. He took the rain gutters off and added twin turbos. I’ve run at Bonneville many times, and it’s strange how those little things can matter so much, like rain gutters, like sideview mirrors. Those things slow the car down.”

Ruf technicians started with a 3.2 and bored it out to a single-overhead-cam 463-hp 3.4-liter flat-six with a turbo and an intercooler for each bank, with dual exhaust cannons poking out the back flanks. The techs added a fuel-injection system originally designed for the Porsche 962 race car. They replaced the body panels with lighter aluminum pieces and fiberglass bumpers and widened the rear fenders to accommodate meatier tires on 17-inch Ruf wheels. The company even built its own five-speed transmission.

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
Above the 3.4-liter boxer-six sits the CTR logo: C for FIA Group C racing, T for turbo, and R for Ruf.Lisa Linke

A huge part of this car’s legacy is the reaction to it when it appeared in 1987. Ruf already had an impressive reputation. Starting as a simple service station under Alois Ruf Sr. just before World War II, it evolved and morphed into the world’s premier Porsche tuner shop, ultimately under the direction of Alois Jr. When the prototype CTR debuted, R&T included it in its “World’s Fastest Cars” feature in the July 1987 issue. That CTR’s yellow paint moved the staff to give the car a nickname: “Yellow Bird.”

Competing against the hottest machinery of the day—a Ferrari 288 GTO and Testarossa, a pair of Porsche 959s, a Countach—the CTR conquered, hitting 60 mph from a standstill in 4.0 seconds and topping out at 211 mph. Soon after, a test driver named Stefan Roser lapped the Nürburg­ring on camera in a CTR, setting an unofficial lap record on the Green Hell. The resulting short film, Faszination on the Nürburgring, became a sensation and is still on YouTube. Our sister publication, Car and Driver, once called it “the Debbie Does Dallas of car videos.” If you’re too young to get that reference, do not Google it. You almost certainly know the CTR anyway from its presence in video games, most notably, the Gran Turismo series.

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
Tiny, aerodynamic sideview mirrors are just like the ones on the Le Mans–winning Porsche 935 race car.Lisa Linke

“I remember reading that Road & Track story in 1987,” Meyer said. “I could never have imagined, ever in my wildest dreams, that I would be a custodian of a CTR. I did not read that story thinking I wanted a CTR. I just thought, Isn’t that thing awesome?!

Meyer’s car spent most of its life in Japan before it was sent to Ruf for an engine overhaul and cosmetic refreshment. That is where Meyer found it about five years ago, and he was able to buy it from the Japanese owner. Ruf built only 29 original CTRs, so the fact that this is VIN 1 (the first car built after the prototype that appeared in the 1987 R&T story) makes it just about priceless. The C in the name stands for FIA Group C racing, the T stands for turbo (two of them), and the R for Ruf. Not all the CTRs came in yellow, but all wear the moniker “Yellow Bird.”

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
Curvy canyons with massive elevation changes—perfect driving territory for the 1989 CTR.Lisa Linke

After an hour of driving, Meyer did what my mother never would: Hand me the keys. That instantly made my heart pump harder than the idling flat-six behind me. This car is all original, save for a coat of paint and new tires. I was advised to ease onto the driver’s seat carefully to avoid scuffing the 35-year-old black leather. It’s one thing to drive a priceless car like this on super-challenging roads; it’s another to do that with the car’s owner sitting next to you. One reviewer wrote of a CTR, “Suffice it to say, it’s quite easy to get it sideways under power.” We were driving on cold January roads. What could possibly go wrong? Everything.

I dabbed the accelerator and felt the engine crackle in my spine. The car and I had contretemps before I could even engage first gear. I’m a short guy, and when I pulled the seat close enough to get comfortable with the pedals, that long-throw dogleg shifter banged up against the seat. I had to move back so I could engage first, which meant I was now throttling onto the road with arms fully stretched to reach the wheel. Full-body contortion was required to reach the clutch. I could sense Meyer’s unease almost as much as I could sense my own. But after a few corners, I left the car in third gear and let her have it.

a man and woman in a yellow car
Meyer: “Don’t crash my priceless car, please!” Baime: “I have insurance. It’s all good.”Lisa Linke

The turbos sucked in air with audible gulps as the CTR started eating up pavement. The tach’s needle arched across the gauge, reaching for the 6800-rpm redline. Entering a switchback, I touched the brakes, easing the Pilot Sport Cup 2s in while avoiding piles of stones on the pavement that might kick up and chip the yellow paint. As the calipers engaged, the full competition harnesses grabbed hold of my passenger and me, and then it was back down on the gas into another straight.

Make no mistake: This is a vintage car. Anyone who has driven a modern Porsche knows that extraordinarily powerful computing mechanisms can make even novice drivers feel superhuman and secure. The 1989 CTR requires the right inputs at the right time, with no electronic devices between driver and machine. You have to feel out the idiosyncrasies. In other words, the car wants to get to know you a little better before getting down to business, which suits me fine.

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
The interior is all original, from the black leather to the comp belts.Lisa Linke
porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
The first production Yellow Bird spent most of its life in Japan before its current owner brought it stateside about five years ago.Lisa Linke

Two-hundred-plus mph wasn’t on the menu today, but bursts of acceleration coming out of tight corners were, and that’s all the CTR needed to prove its elite athleticism. Just like in the first 911 I drove, the low center of gravity and the engine hanging out the back gave the sensation of cornering on railroad tracks with little of the body roll you would feel in most other sports cars. On straights, the 408 lb-ft of torque rocketed us forward as a grin spread equally as fast across my face. What went wrong? Nothing.

By the time beer o’clock arrived back in town, I was able to put the CTR experience into perspective. This was yet another memory that would change the trajectory of my life. I felt the distinct desire to own one of these 29 cars, and that I’d do whatever it took to make that happen. Rob a bank? Why not?

porsche 911 ruf ctr yellow bird
Ruf made only 29 of the first-generation CTRs after the original prototype.Lisa Linke

Meyer offered some advice. He is a man who started out selling newspapers on a street corner and bartending in Tahoe, a man who once survived a helicopter crash into the ocean. “If you want to be happy in life,” he told me, “start with low expectations. If you can modulate your expectations in life, you’ll always be happy.”

Screw that! I want a CTR, and I want one now.

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