Merry Band of Misfits

The members of the R Gruppe in California have been indulging their special passion for Porsche for twenty years—and neither the weather nor other people’s opinions make a shred of difference.

California, 2019, Porsche AG
The R Gruppe has become a subculture.
Cris Huergas, 2019, Porsche AG
He’s member number 002 and one of the community’s founders.

The initial contact. Calls back and forth. And more soon join in—five more aficionados in the ranks. One of the first members is Jeff Zwart (011), a race-car driver and good friend of Thomas’s. Zwart drove some rallies and on the track, but his true métier is the mountains. He scored multiple class wins in the legendary Pikes Peak International Hill Climb; few have driven the 156 turns over an elevation gain of nearly 1,500 meters, up to the clouds, so often or so rapidly. Twenty kilometers in well under ten minutes.

The R Gruppe takes shape. In homage to the 1967 Porsche 911 R, they purposely opt for the German Gruppe rather than “group.” Fitted with a 906 Carrera 6 engine, it’s the R Gruppe’s cult object and role model for admission to the group: all Porsches up to 1973. If the enthusiasts have a motto, it’s this: “Never forget what a sports car was built for—sporty driving.” Coming from Huergas, it sounds like a mantra.

Hunter Simms, 2019, Porsche AG
Hunter Simms has belonged to the R Gruppe for two years.

The first Treffen—not “meeting”—is held in mid-2000 at a small hotel in Cambria, California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The initiators expect thirty cars, tops. Some one hundred Porsches show up. Then, as now, neither the cars nor the members are what you might call mainstream. They have to be cool, somehow, like McQueen’s turtleneck in the Bullitt Mustang or the overall appearance of Magnus Walker, fashion designer and author of Urban Outlaw. There are only ever three hundred members. That’s the limit. It’s not about exclusion; it’s a question of cohesion. “The R Gruppe isn’t just a club,” explains Huergas. “It’s a brotherhood.” To keep things lively, it has to stay active. Anyone who doesn’t actively participate is shown the door. The next in line—there’s a numbering system—takes their place.

In truth, the R Gruppe pioneers expected interest in the community to taper off at some point. By now it’s clear, however, that they’ve become a subculture. It could easily be ten times the size, even though—or perhaps precisely because—it’s by no means universally admired. Some in high-flying circles can’t stand them, regarding the group as a gaggle of wannabe race-car drivers. Others pooh-pooh the group for its unwillingness to adhere to the regulatory finer points of established owner clubs. Still others sniff that the cars are cheap replicas. Huergas can only laugh at the critics. He says, frankly, “I don’t give a damn.”

California, 2019, Porsche AG
Being a member of the R Gruppe means driving—in all weathers.
European Auto Salvage Yard, 2019, Porsche AG
The former salvage yard for Porsches is now the meeting place of the R Gruppe.

It’s not easy to make fun of Jeff Saccullo (750) or his 1960 Porsche 356—he usually beats you to the punch. Saccullo is quick to joke and laugh at himself. He calls his 356 his “warthog—it’s just ugly,” he says. But he loves it all the same. Or more accurately: because of it. Saccullo doesn’t hold back with the gibes himself, particularly toward those who don’t drive in the rain because their cars would get dirty: “What is wrong with you guys?”

Steve Hatch (746) pulls in just as the heaviest downpour of the day is upon them. Commotion and applause greet his arrival. They hadn’t expected him to show up, or more precisely, to pull his car out of the garage. Built in 1970, Hatch’s 911 is a beauty, a marvel in orange that one would sooner expect to see in the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, with a painted sunset and a gentle sea breeze completing the scene. And Hatch did in fact wonder if he should venture out—not because of the miserable weather, but because he wasn’t entirely sure whether the windshield wipers work. He had never used them before. Neither had the previous owner. The old boy obsessed on perfecting the car, and even read Hatch the riot act once for having the temerity to wash the Porsche with water. With ordinary water, yet! “He’d probably drop dead on the spot if he knew what I was doing here today in this weather,” Hatch laughs. Be that as it may, the windshield wipers are purring like a cat.

California, 2019, Porsche AG
Eighteen classic Porsches part the waters on the road.
Rick Spinali, 2019, Porsche AG
Rick Spinali has the Number 720 a Porsche 912.

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