Written by Connor Golden, Photography by Trevor Dalton, Additional photography by Andrew Ritter
Apr 29, 2023
Almost a decade on, Luftgekühlt remains inimitable. Equal parts concours, Cars and Coffee, and art exhibit, the world’s coolest—or is that kühlest?—Porsche gathering usually sells out within a few days, making it the most exclusive event ever held at a lumberyard—or, in the case of the 2017 and 2022 shows, a block of repurposed naval warehouses.
The venues change, but the cars are evergreen. There are only so many varietals of air-cooled Porsches, and Luft has featured them all, some a few times over. But, presenting the expected in an unexpected way is Luft’s greatest trick, and much like the sleek Porsche potpourri on parade, it’s an experience far greater than the sum of its parts.
It only makes sense that the primary team behind this “Car Coachella” is a group of creatives. We sat down with co-founder Patrick Long ahead of Luft 9 to break down this year’s highly-anticipated event, his creative process, and why Luft is finally making space for water-cooled cars.
“Luft is a year-round company that operates with one thing in mind, and that's to create a totally immersive experience that continues to offer unique happenings,” explains Long. Now a semi-retired, highly-successful professional racer, Long co-founded Luftgekühlt with creative director Howie Idelson in 2014 back when Long still spent 10 months of each year traveling the world’s racing circuits as a factory driver for Porsche and various private Porsche teams.
Before it evolved into one of the most Instagrammed automotive “happenings” on the planet, Luft was just another parking lot gathering in Los Angeles. Deus Ex Machina in Venice, CA hosted the first event, cramming an assortment of candy-colored P-cars in its tiny back lot. Turnout was stronger than anticipated, with the show appearing more like a breakfast meet-up between the local 356 club and the R Gruppe crew. Out front, Deus’ marquee board advertised this embryonic Luftgekühlt as a “Porsche Love-In.”
That might as well have been a century ago. “We have tracked our ticket sales in recent events to 48 States and 22 countries,” says Long. Still, even in its earliest form, they knew they were onto something. “That first event in many ways is still what we're doing today,” he remembers. “That’s creating an experience where the cars are art and fill a storyline. When I delivered a list of the first 45 cars we showed at Luft 1, that is what we do today.”
For 2023, Luft 9 heads up north to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, north of San Francisco, only the second “full-scale” show outside the confines of Los Angeles (the first being 2019’s Luft 7 at Indianapolis’ Bottleworks). As usual, attendees can expect top-shelf cars juxtaposed against an incongruous industrial landscape.
“The Mare Island venue is maybe the best venue we’ve come upon for what we do. It just looks cool,” says Long. “It’s the architecture, the landscape, and the layout on this three-and-a-half mile island.” He tells us he’s excited to see the cars in position, citing Luft’s visuals and imagery as its biggest draw. “Imagery is so much of our experience, and I think the energy this venue is going to create will be second to nothing that we've done from a content and subject matter standpoint.”
For Long, finding the right venue is simultaneously one of the most important and challenging parts of the process. “There aren't a lot of venues in the country that are turnkey ready for us in the scale that we want to be. And, our scale is fluid and adapts based on the venue itself,” Long notes. Though it might make things significantly easier, the Luft team still isn’t interested in hosting an event at a banal location most often associated with larger automotive gatherings. “A lot of people have chimed in and said, ‘Well, why don't you go to a baseball stadium and just fill their parking lots with cars? Or why don't you take over instead of a couple of holes of a golf course? Or a racetrack?’” says Long. “And so far, those venues don't deliver us what we set out to deliver. So, we’re not willing to settle.”
Place, car, and curation—the Luft way. The cars are positioned in the selected backdrop with all the care of a top-billed cinematographer, with Long and creative director Jeff Zwart’s impeccable mise-en-scene presentation highlighting Porsche’s evolution and granular diversity. In the midst of this timeline, a central theme breaks out.
This year’s thematic emphasis is on the impact bumper “G-Body” cars from the 1970s and 1980s. “We see the G-body as a pivotal point in the timeline, not only as the longest-running body shape of the 911, ever, but just how much happened in the company from 1974 to 1989,” says Long. “And when you look at G-body cars on the motorsport side, it just opens up Pandora's box to some awesome storytelling.”
Last year’s Luft 8 was the first repeat venue in its history, occupying the same San Pedro brewery and art space as Luft 4. A sign that Luft has run out of ideas? Hardly. Look to this month’s Luft 9 for the next evolutionary leap in the Luft universe; for the first time ever, watercooled cars are getting the official “Luft” treatment in the form of a standalone Sunday event entitled “Air | Water.”
As this new “Air | Water” gathering is separately ticketed and held the day after Luft 9, there remains a clear separation from the luft church and wasser state, but this is still huge. Info surrounding what specific cars will be in attendance is characteristically shrouded in mystery, but this “Act 2” opens the registration book to any Porsche from every family tree and era, “from the Pre-A to the 992, not forgetting the epic transaxle period.” Naturally, Long and his team have whittled submissions down to suit both space and narrative.
The show website promises a “fresh spin of cars and themes,” with cars featuring “two- and four-doors.” In Long’s mind, this extension of the Luft universe has been a long time coming. “As Luft has grown, there's been more activity and more demand for a longer offering, especially with people coming in from all over the country and all over the world,” he says. “Last year, we piloted a Porsche-only parking lot outside the gate, and there were Porsches five rows deep as far as the eye could see. In our mindset, that means there's demand for something beyond just our regular ingredients.”
“I have a different ambition and vision of what “Air | Water” will grow into, and that is a very large single brand experience that is much different than Luft,” he continues. “’Air | Water” is its own living, breathing concept.” A new event, yes, but one with a time-tested approach: look for exceptional curation, spectacular cars, sold-out tickets, limited edition merch, and clogged Instagram feeds.
We’ll see you up there.
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