Luftgekühlt is a one-day car show — of sorts — only for air-cooled Porsches. From afar, it appears as an “in-crowd, secret-handshake” event meant only for the most socially well-connected Porsche owners. The 2021 edition was held nearby in Indianapolis, IN, in September. My son Max got the bug to go, so I went along for the ride, not feeling this would be much to shout about.

But it was.

Another “car corral”

We selected our Polo Red 1967 911S Targa for the three-hour drive. It was a good fit in a parking lot full of owner-driven Porsches. We enjoyed walking among them, discussing the cars we saw. Some were bone-stock, some modified, some mid-restoration, some with unusual wheels. Most had no notes on the model or year, but a few had owner-supplied descriptive placards.

We took our time, assuming that, like other numerous Porsche events we’ve attended, the parking lot would be a big part of “the show.” We expected that we’d then enter a building to look at a few race cars from the Porsche Museum and see whatever else the organizers had gathered.

But off the edge of the parking lot was a side street with a metallic silver 904 GTS parked at the curb. We could just see it from where we stood. There were no barriers around it and no signs either. How odd, we thought. We had to investigate.

It was not a museum car, but a car that appeared to have been driven. It was casually parked, as if the owner had just dashed into a nearby coffee shop to grab a fresh brew for the road.

Setting the scene

The 904 induced us to explore the area further. We were in the “Bottle District” in Indianapolis, just east of downtown, named for the old Coca-Cola bottling plant. This revived historic neighborhood has Art Deco buildings and small shops in close proximity to each other, set on narrow streets such as those that are common in many European cities. How marvelous that the creators of this event thought so deeply about the location.

We began to walk amongst the old buildings, front alleys and garages, and we discovered more Porsches. The cars appeared as they might have back in the day, quietly parked at the curb or in small workshops. 

As we went one way, then another, spotting cars that were hidden away in small spots, an idea began to dawn on us. This was as it would have been prior to a Monte Carlo rally, after a practice day at Spa, or at a hillclimb event. Race cars were mixed with street cars as if it was yesterday, a long time ago. In-period, competition drivers and car-company executives rarely took “race cars” to these events. They brought regular street cars instead. This is the sort of scene Luftgekühlt emulates.

But that wasn’t the only curious thing about this event. To make this “car show” work, visitors must wander around seeking out the treasures. There’s no map, just a starting point at the parking lot. You follow the cars and learn to look both left and right at every intersection. It puts you in a different mindset, because rather than having an expectation of what lies ahead, you are required to find what’s there. You are part of the script in a unique place and time with many discoveries awaiting you.

Time machines

The immersive quality of the event induces a feeling of time travel. The vehicles are not neatly lined up on a golf course or in a static museum display. No placards announce the cars, just as there were no placards when these cars were new. To add information sheets on each vehicle would “break the frame” of the show (just as when an actor speaks directly to the audience in a play or film). Make no mistake, Luftgekühlt is a carefully staged — and somewhat magical — show.

Old cars are mixed with newer ones, showing that yesterday and today are quite firmly connected. In a sense, you are in a carefully constructed movie set ready to film a story which took place decades ago. Yet you are also in real space rather than the hollowness and temporary nature of a sound stage. Those are real buildings, not fake facades. And the cars are real, not movie props.

While visiting, you also realize that this is a one-time-only “live” event. A bit like a rock concert, each of the Luftgekühlt productions (there had been six prior, most in the Los Angeles area) is unique and only exists for a single day. It’s amazing how much work goes into a single, exuberant performance.

A new treatment

We love museums: The Henry Ford, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and, of course, the Porsche Museum. But there it’s all laid out for you — the map, the path, the story, the placards. You can learn a lot that way. Here our knowledge was tested.

Coming around one corner, just the front end of an early 356 sticks out from a small garage. What is that? An A-coupe? Drawn to it, we discover a 356A Speedster “barn find,” complete with years of dust intact, weird period wheels and a tired interior. It’s in a small one-car garage and there isn’t much room to walk around it. Sound familiar?

There were “museum cars,” but they weren’t in a museum. Rather, they were placed in the wild like any normal car would be, released from captivity for us to enjoy. That Langheck 917 wasn’t marked in any way to tell what it is. Each garage or dead-end alley presents a new test of your ability to make sense of what you just saw.

You leave feeling this was a day when time stood still; where what happened decades ago continues. People are still modifying cars and building race cars. Many things have changed, yet many remain the same. We were quite surprised at how captivating it was to be a part of Luftgekühlt. And that was the secret, wasn’t it? The visitors to this marvelously constructed scenario wrote their own script.

Could this innovative approach be one way to introduce newcomers of all ages to the joy of old cars? Count us as convinced.

Jim Schrager is the author of Buying, Driving and Enjoying the Early 911, and has written for SCM for over 20 years. Max Schrager is also an SCM contributor; in his day job he is an automotive engineer.

One Comment

  1. Great account of this event. The previous West Coast versions seemed to have gained momentum and support from Porsche enthusiasts, Kudos to the organizers for their work especially during the Covid era. The down side is that these special sites limit the number of attendees and have become sell-outs.