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Behind the scenes at Porsche's Rennsport Reunion 7

The biggest Porsche festival in the world, in the year that Porsche celebrated its 75th birthday... didn’t disappoint

Published: 14 Mar 2024

Sometimes, carefully curated preconception can turn out to be narrow-minded prejudice wrapped in a slightly less offensive winter jacket. An easy trope for a gathering of Californian Porsche enthusiasts had me imagining a lot of middle-aged white guys with crayon grey 911s, possibly all with toothy, too-white veneers. Polos, cargo shorts and New Balance trainers for that smart/casual vibe, a Porsche cap that flags weekend allegiance, ready for posh-people’s BugJam.

And yet, turning up to Porsche’s Rennsport Reunion VII in Monterey, I’m about 85 per cent wrong. There are still plenty of too-perfect teeth on offer, but this celebration of 75 years of Porsche’s existence is anything but the middle of the road, luxury brand show-off that I half expected.

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The first five minutes will have you slack-jawed. This is basically Goodwood Festival of Speed populated entirely by Porsche products, a flat-six Burning Man. Any event that makes a 959 look both humble and commonplace is on a different level entirely – one that has you looking for the best colour of 959 is off the charts. Note to self, Bruce Canepa’s ‘reimagined’ (read: perfected) 959 SC is the poster child’s regrown hero. The rows of modern 911 Cup cars are barely worth eye time, and the strength in depth is what’s most interesting. Porsche people are... eclectic. And so are the cars.

Photography: Jordan Butters

There are cigarette packet Rothmans Le Mans 956s prowling next to Brumos 911s and Kremer 935s. Vintage 356s variously customised either for race pace or style, all buddied up with early 912s and lots of serious looking 914s. Which sounds oxymoronic, but the caged, raspy sounding 914 racecars aren’t the jokey punchlines you might imagine, and they look like they’re constructed from the tinfoil you get wrapped around a KitKat. There are 550s and Carrera GTs, 918s and a pretty little ’66 906 Carrera 6 that looked like the antithesis of modern complexity.

And of course there are 911s – of every type, colour, width of wheelarch and span of wing. Air and water, luftgekühlt and wassergekühlt. Restomods and racecar-mods, ultra valuable historic pieces with hen’s teeth RS badging, daily hacks with million-mile odometer readings. My personal favourites were the Safari 911s, some pristine as newly minted Dakars, one a mud-brown Targa (the worst possible base car) with a lift, big tyres, a cooling system that appeared to be cobbled together from PC cooling fans and wheelarches sawn off at the hip. The wheelarches were actually uneven side-to-side, the car apocalyptically thrown together, but it spoke of many glorious hours of adventure. The scars on that car spoke loudly of use and abuse, of stories well told.

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But it doesn’t stop there at Rennsport. Mitigate the immediate sense of wonder and you can get gloriously geeky. If you’re going to have a tilt at a one brand automotive Glastonbury, three-quarters of a century of varied back catalogue at least gives you a broad church from which to preach. There are flat fours, flat sixes, V6s, V8s both flat and V, V10s, a flat 12, even two and three cylinder diesels in the Porsche tractors on display. And that’s not counting the modern stuff, that ranges from hybridised units to full electric.

The recently minted 911 GT3 R rennsport (note the deliberately uncapitalised ‘r’) warbles past on the way to the pitlane for some demo laps, all 140dB casually unrestrained. It’s very, very loud, and the derestricted 4.2-litre boxer develops 612bhp – up from the GT3 R’s 557bhp – and revs out to 9,400rpm. There will only ever be 77 of them... and they’re already sold out. Only the bonnet and roof are the same as the regular GT3 R, and the wing is massive. That bit apparently echoes the 935/77 Brumos Porsche that raced at the Daytona 24-hour race in 1978. Though you have to a squint a bit, even if you can reference the inspiration across the way.

The Mission X is here, a glimpse of Porsche’s electric hypercar future, all four motors and possibly 1,500bhp of it, glaring from a pit garage. And everywhere you look there are smiling faces and incredible cars. Standing at a junction, unicorns will casually trot past. A member of the Porsche family heading out on track in the first ever Porsche – a 356 Roadster – a car that’s usually entombed in a temperature controlled museum environment, a car worth more than my soul. A Kremer 935, whose tiny counterpart actually started the Tamiya model building business, chugs and chunters as it waits for a completely standard and yet immaculately restored 968 to cross the road. A Carrera GT sails past and nobody really notices. You kind of don’t know where to look.

But despite the metal on display, the people really are the thing. It’s a friendly, open, welcoming atmosphere, heavy on the mutual appreciation. Racing drivers mix freely with the public, and there’s no hierarchy of Porsche-ness – everyone seems to be there to have a good time, get up close and personal with machines you rarely see outside of your TV. One make car shows can be terrifying. There will be people that know everything about a marque, and by ‘everything’ I mean quirks of manufacturing between model years that are only known by one specific trim fitter’s psychotherapist. A casual enthusiast might be regarded as a foppish dilettante.

But at the Reunion, you meet people like Chad and his son London, co-parenting an off-road race Cayenne with Baja-style lifted suspension, a pair of mounted spares nestled in the rear hatch and an interior modelled on the jewel-like textures of Mexican hand- woven blankets. These two aren’t the usual polished Porsche conscripts, they’re way, way cooler than that, but they’re outliers who appreciate the engineering and the performance above all else. “Plus, Porsches? They’re just... sexy,” says Chad, with the kind of easy honesty that means he doesn’t need to reach for a pretentious answer. He just knows what’s good.

Then there’s Mark Donohue who tells a wonderful story about driving the very 917/30 Can-Am car that his late father raced, the pressure of the waiting crowds, the brutality of the delivery and the very touching realisation that “this is what my father used to see and experience”. The kind of connection you can’t buy, and that is also utterly unique.

And amongst all of this entire fortunes are flailing around the track in uncompromising proximity to other multimillion dollar cars. One suspects that the ‘demonstration’ laps were supposed to be racecar sedate, but no one seems to have informed the drivers, who merrily hammer the cars around Laguna Seca lap after lap. One or two are brought in after barrier contact, patched and bandaged with gaffer tape and just sent back out again. Race teams will do race team stuff no matter what the patient.

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Nearly three days later, it’s still not boring. And that’s the mark of something special. If you’re going to have a birthday party, you don’t invite people and then make them watch through the windows of your house. You invite them in. And that’s what Porsche does here; it involves the fans. The people who buy the cars, use the cars, race the cars. It inspires the next generation by honouring those that went before, paying homage to history that’s rich and deep and animate. This is a birthday party done right, and if I get the chance, I’ll be there in 2028 when Porsche celebrates its 80th.

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