Each of the last six summers Luftgekühlt has galvanized the Los Angeles car scene and sent shockwaves throughout the international car community. For the first five I experienced it with the envious masses; a few days of total Instagram takeover as famous photographers, collectors, and car enthusiasts descend on an unassuming location in the LA area. Like opening presents on Christmas morning they uncover an impossibly rare set of air-cooled Porsches arranged among beer vats or lumber stacks like a Japanese zen garden. For the following week each of the most-bookmarked automotive blogs drops mega-galleries and glowing platitudes.
For Luft’s sixth US outing I saw the show from the other side; as one of the lucky attendees. My mission upon moving to Southern California was to explore LA car culture from top to bottom. Luftgekühlt was a very high value target from the moment I planned my relocation. When tickets went on sale and the venue was announced it spread through Instagram like a juicy rumor. Friends confirmed they had managed to get a ticket and speculated on what was in store. I had no idea how many tickets would be sold but I sensed exclusivity and nearly dropped what I was doing to get online for an 8 AM entry stub to the tune of $65. I instinctively recoiled at the high price for a single day static car event but it would be the best money I’ve spent on an automotive event.
The morning of the show I dutifully rose at 6am, grabbed a backpack of camera gear, and hit the road. After many months of chasing cars in California this was the weekend ritual and it hardly felt out of the ordinary. Just over an hour later and I was pulling into a parking garage in Studio City still feeling calm. Then I spotted a 911 in the structure with the distinctive center-frunk gas cap of a Singer – not a part of the show but merely driven in – and I started to suspect the magnitude of the day.
Along with seemingly everyone I had ever met at a cars and coffee in SoCal, I filed onto the buses that shuttled us deep into Universal Studios and ejected us onto a close approximation of a midtown Manhattan street corner. There were some small differences in architecture that perhaps a New Yorker would have spotted. But to my knowledge no one has ever street parked a Gulf livery Porsche 917K in downtown New York so that was a dead giveaway. For a moment we blinked in the morning California sun, taken aback. Down every street was a glimpse of something impossibly equally as tantalizing as the actual legend sitting in front of us. The brutal silhouette of a 935 slantnose. A row of Emory 356s led by the Outlaw King himself, the RSR. A distant 959 loomed, looking like it had been chiseled out of a block of onyx. The moment of reverie faded, I got my wheels back, and we all launched into action.
The cars were laid out like a sculpture garden. Each Porsche was in harmony with its neighbors and environment. Most of the rarest were “downtown”, arrayed from New York to the Hill Valley clock tower from Back to the Future. Without ever falling into disparate clumps a spectrum of historic racecars, rare production vehicles, and heavily modified restomods faced off in the streets. The parking lots on the outskirts of town were more densely populated: one for the extended 914 family and another for a broad range of 911s driven in. On the wrong side of the tracks was Wild West town, filled with gangs of rally and safari cars having stand-offs on the dirt streets.
We roved the streets, capturing the beautiful sights Luftgekühlt had to offer. I’d like to say our photos were entirely ours but the layout of the cars was so conscientious I have to give some credit to the event organizers. Each angle and vantage was curated with minimal distractions and maximum impact. I can’t say it was impossible to take a bad photo at Luft 6 but with one of the free Leica loaner cameras in hand any show-goer with the intent to leave with a few good shots would have been satisfied.
The hours ticked by on Doc Brown’s clock tower and the 10 AM ticket holders joined the fun, filling the streets. But well before the crowds got oppressive the flow of people slowed. The grounds weren’t claustrophobic, the lines for the bathrooms were mercifully short, and food was readily available. We had to wait for people to wander by to make good photos but as a spectator it would hardly have been an issue to simply enjoy the cars. Just when a large event ordinarily grows tedious and we all get a touch of agoraphobia we realized that we were truly having a good time; the show was pleasant and effortless. Even a rain shower was immaculately brief, just long enough to make polished paint pop but without leaving clothes damp.
The afternoon turned the light golden and dripping like honey, activity slowed, and the show wound down. I was struck by the contradiction that I was both utterly satisfied with the event but also would happily have spent hours longer there. It was as close to a perfectly executed car show as I could have hoped for.
Car shows have provided a pleasant day and cherished memories for a few hundred participants for generations but Luftgekühlt still feels fresh. Luft was built for photography and social media, it was built to be shareable. The experience it provides isn’t just for the attendees; it’s for the millions who follow along on blogs, Instagram, and YouTube. It provides media outlets irresistible content, semi-professional photographers like me their set of the year, and even the average attendee will have smartphone shots unlike anything they’d take at a crowded Cars and Coffee. The ripples this content bomb sends out into the car world made Lufgekühlt an instantly recognizable brand and that is why it’s the future of the car show.
Keep scrolling for the full Luftgekühlt 6 gallery and follow me on Instagram @merriman.motors for more!