RUF CTR - the story of the yellowbird

Ruf ctr "yellowbird" - this is your life

4y ago

Once upon a time I found myself hating the Porsche 911 for what I now realise were all the wrong reasons. My disliking was primarily based on some of the people who own them - those that are made up of 83% aftermarket parts, have high-visibility straight-out-the-bottle skin, use the Porsche brand as an aphrodisiac to allure cheap women hungry for wealth, and couldn’t care less about the car’s heritage. Hating something because of the people who own it however is one of the stupidest reasons in the world anyone could ever have for hating anything!

I really rather like the 911 nowadays - perhaps because it's changing so much, and people never know how good something is until it's gone; perhaps because I won't let the cheap orange owners' mar my opinion on it. But for whatever reason, I like Porsche's! There, I've said it!

Despite this newfound love for the brand however, I wouldn't buy one. For if I had to choose one 911 to own, I wouldn’t bother looking at anything in the modern range; I’d take a look back to the 80’s - the era that spawned my favourite 911. That said, it's very difficult to explain why I like it; especially when you consider that it isn’t strictly a Porsche. What it is, is that famous tuned RUF - the wonderful CTR, more commonly known as the Yellowbird.

As I've already stated, the Yellowbird isn't actually a direct creation from Porsche themselves - it's a modified version of a the 1987 911 3.2 Carrera, which was designed to replace a modified version of the 1983 930 Turbo. Back in the 80’s, the 930 Turbo (the name of the original 911 Turbo) much like today, sat at the very top of the 911 performance hierarchy - a fact that was hardly surprising when you looked at the statistics.

It had a 3.3L Turbo Flat-Six that chucked out 330BHP. Since the engine was directly over the rear wheels, great traction off the line helped it get to 60mph in 4.6 seconds, and 100mph in 11.5. Flat out you'd be doing 171mph.

The 930 Turbo was perilously close in terms of performance to the speed king of the era - the Lamborghini Countach LP400 - which managed to become the fastest car in the world with a top speed of 179mph. RUF therefore decided to eek some extra oomph out of it, and in doing so, they created what is today a sadly forgotten widow-maker: the BTR.

The first thing they addressed, naturally, was the engine. With the stroke increased to 3.4 litres, and a bigger turbocharger, power went up to 370BHP. But that wasn’t enough: RUF stripped the interior of its ‘unnecessary’ GT bias, and the weight plummeted by nearly 400lbs (180kg), to around 2,600lbs (1,180kg). This meant that even though the 0-60mph time was only a tenth quicker than the standard Turbo - at 4.5 seconds - 100mph came up in just 9.5 seconds! And because of all their performance enhancements, the top speed went up to 186mph, making it in 1983 the fastest car in the world...briefly, because Ferrari released the 288 GTO the following year, which did 188mph. Ferrari’s achievement may’ve swiftly swung all the attention off the German - but if people could forget the speed of the BTR so easily, all the therapy in the world wouldn’t help them forget the handling. 

To cope with the extra power, RUF fattened up the tyres, fitted their own suspension, and added bigger brakes. But because all the lard they’d removed had come from the middle and front of the car, what they’d actually done was focus a higher percentage of the weight distribution to the rear. This meant that despite the fact the tyres had done what you might call a “Claire from Steps”, if you turned into a corner with slightly too much enthusiasm, the heavy engine would slingshot the rear of the car round, as though it thought it were competing in an Olympic Hammer Throw event. If you wanted a modern 911 to handle like that, you'd have to replace the rear wheels with those found on a skateboard (now there's an image!)

Some said the BTR handled “predictably”, and yes, it was very the same way that if you were to put a loaded gun to your head and pulled the trigger, it wouldn’t take a crystal ball to forecast the outcome. RUF however were not put off by the faults in their masterpiece, and went back to the drawing board to etch a newly modified 911. Instead of using the 930 Turbo to start with however, they opted to modify a 3.2 Carrera due to the fact it had a more aerodynamic body. And it 1987, the CTR was born.

The critical question with the CTR was regarding what RUF had done to try and ensure it didn't handle with such viciousness. Yet they approached the modified process with their new car in much the same fashion as they did with the BTR: they'd lightened it, down to 2,535lbs (1,150kg); and they'd fitted their own suspension and braking system. The CTR however did feature one rather drastic enhancement: after increasing the displacement of the engine once again to 3.4L, RUF bolted on 2 turbochargers instead of 1, which subsequently made it more powerful than the BTR to the tune of 100BHP…oh, and they'd also narrowed the width of the front tyres by 20mm down to 215 section, and kept the 255mm rears. And that was, pretty much, the main extent of their ‘improvements’: an alternative remedy akin to curing a tickly cough with a bottle of laxatives; think about it - you wouldn't dare cough thereafter!

The additional turbocharger's effect on the handling was akin to an asteroid impact's influence on a Richter scale. Every time you turned the wheel, it was like playing Russian Roulette with the Taliban; even if you legitimately survived, they might just decide to kill you for the fun of it anyway. Much like the laxative cough syrup, if you took enough liberties with the CTR, it wouldn’t be long before somewhere, a clothes shop would be selling another pair of trousers. Not only that, but because they’d added another turbocharger, the lag was simply monstrous! It wasn’t as bad beyond the threshold, but if you wondered into a bend off-boost - even if by some miracle the inertia from the engine didn’t make you spin - the second the engine was expelling enough exhaust to make the turbos work, 470 of the most brutal-horsepowers would ensure you didn’t make it through the corner. Of course, lag in heavily turbocharged cars was all part of the experience in the 80’s. Back then, turbocharging was akin to your doctor prescribing you with pills that’d give you the heart of a lion - with the deadly side effect of preventing your legs from working unless you sprint everywhere. Great if you’re an Olympic Athlete; rubbish for everything else.

Having read my elucidative efforts on the perils that curse the CTR, you’ve doubtlessly forgotten how I started by saying it was my favourite 911; now with your memory officially jogged, you’re probably staring pensively at your computer, thinking that only the most insane amongst us could contort logic in the required way to find reason to like it. But if you were to let logic be judge and jury over how you feel about a car, you’re going to miss the beauty in many extraordinary machines - one being the CTR.

Ferrari had stolen RUF’s thunder quickly when they’d released the 288, and in March 1987 they’d also managed to put the F40 into the record books as the fastest car in the world. But RUF-enge is a dish best served cold (see what I did there?)

A few weeks after Ferrari’s landmark record, American magazine Road & Track organised a little Supercar gathering at Volkswagen’s Ehra Lessien testing facility. 9 cars attended, including a Ferrari Testarossa, Lamborghini Countach 5000S, and a Porsche 959. Amongst the vehicular glitterati lay a RUF CTR; it would prove the day the car would cement its now commonplace nickname “Yellowbird”.

As each super-exotic blasted down the 5 and a half mile straight while leaving a jet stream of spray in their wake from the damp surface, they all hit their top speeds. Nothing out of the 80’s establishment managed to crack 200mph. But then, it was the turn of the RUF.

As the car’s dazzling yellow paintwork shot by, it brightened up the drab weather that prevailed at the time. With how fast the car went, the photographers capturing the moment on the day dubbed it “Yellowbird”. People standing in the sidelines wouldn't have gotten much of a glance at the RUF however, as thanks to the 470BHP provided by the Twin-Turbo engine, the top speed was 211mph - making it the fastest car in the world in 1987.

Even by the performance standards of today, it’s impossible to deny that it’s anything other than sensationally fast! 0-60mph takes just 3.7 seconds, and 0-100mph only 7.8 seconds. It must’ve felt like the Millennium Falcon back in the late 80's! But despite the speed, and the fact that it had annihilated the competition at the Ehra Lessien shootout in 1987, it wasn’t until 2 years later that this car was really put on the map.

Thinking of the handling traits I’ve gone to rather troublesome orating lengths to describe, you’d think straight lines were where you’d want to keep the Yellowbird. The absolute last place you’d want to thrash it is on a circuit. But in 1989, German racing driver, Stefan Roser, took a CTR for a shakedown at the most fearsome and dangerous racetrack in the world: the Nurburgring.

You'll have most probably seen the famous video of his lap and thought "that man is a complete lunatic!" Truth is, he was just trying to keep the car under control. Every one of the 148 corners of the 2 laps he did is taken with blue smoke pouring off the rear as he recreates the motoring equivalent of a stunt plane display. But somehow, even though the car behaved like it was in cahoots with the laws of physics to assassinate the driver, a new Nurburgring lap record was set of 8:05 - not a second of which was anything other than perfectly controlled craziness.

This brings me nicely onto my conclusion about the Yellowbird: if you could drive like Stefan Roser, and perform acts of such supreme car control, would you abhor the handling, or would you revel in the fact that you could tame it? That is the paradox of the CTR: it's a Grade 8 Supercar that provides the ultimate test of worthiness for whoever is brave enough to captain it. Those who pass will exit feeling heroic, like a WW2 fighter pilot landing safely after a successful mission; those who fail will passionately berate it, and in their critique conform to the saying “a bad workman blames their tools”. There’s no question the CTR is a difficult car - but if you’re capable, you’ll end up loving all the reasons it gives you to hate it.

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Written by: Angelo Uccello

Twitter: @AngeloUccello

Tribe: Speed Machines

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