Patrick Long and Howie Idelson started Luftgekühlt on a lark. In just two years, it’s become the Porsche show. How’d they do it?
I used to have this policy that I would wake up before 5:00 in the morning for just four things: airplanes, motorcycles, race tracks, and cross-country drives. Then I had kids, and I stopped sleeping altogether, which threw the policy out the window. (Parenthood is nothing if not throwing a lot of policies out the window.)
Kids almost force you to like early mornings. Partly because you’re there anyway, and partly because, once you get in the habit of rising early, you enjoy it more. Which is how, last April, I ended up in Los Angeles at dawn on a Sunday, grinning my head off. Partly because I was in a hot-rodded 1968 Porsche 912 on an empty freeway, headlights splashing across six vacant lanes, ripping toward downtown. Partly because the sun was rising, and LA sunrises can be a pinkish glow that’s hard to hate. And partly because the 912 sounded like a bag full of hand grenades and sex.
The car belonged to an Anaheim Porsche tuner named John Benton. Benton specializes in four-cylinder Porsches. I was thus in a caravan of other four-cylinder Porsches, from Anaheim to an air-cooled Porsche show called Luftgekühlt. Benton invited me to drive his car to Luft because he is a nice guy, and I said yes because who says no to a thing like that?
In German, Luftgekühlt means « air-cooled. » In American English, it means an annual LA Porsche show run by 35-year-old Le Mans winner Patrick Long and his partner, Howie Idelson. Luft is a pop-up, its address floating and announced just weeks prior to kickoff. For 2016, that meant a style-heavy industrial space owned by furniture maker Modernica, producer of the original Eames chair. The previous two editions took place at LA motorcycle haunt Deus ex Machina and the facility of production company Bandito Brothers.
The whole thing began two years ago as little more than a barbecue for friends, and Long and Idelson wanted to avoid the anal-retentive stereotype of cars on a green. The result is now hundreds of cars deep, and less show than stylish Porsche knock-around, with rusty and patinated cars, an espresso bar, and a photo studio run by noted Porsche macher Jeff Zwart. Like a lot of things that have an appeal you can’t put your finger on, Luft just kind of works. It also handily circumvents the traditional Porsche-gathering stereotypes, all of which you know by heart and most of which aren’t any fun.
Why run an interview now from an event that happened back in April? Simple: August holds California’s annual « car week, » one of the largest formal gatherings of vintage cars in the country. Monterey and Luft are opposite ends of the obsessionspectrum—old and new, formal and casual. As Monterey ramped up, we decided to look at a discussion I had with Long and Idelson as their event wrapped up. We talked Porsches, stumbling into event planning, and how to build a laid-back gathering of car freaks half by accident.
Sam Smith: You started a car show from scratch. It’s not like there aren’t a lot of car shows. Or Porsche shows, even. Why’d you do this?
Patrick Long: [Laughs] I think we’re asking ourselves that question.
Howie Idelson: Uh, yeah, exactly. We just. . . we like cars, we like people, we like putting cars and people together. [Laughs] We like to party.
SS: Deep answer. [Laughs]
PL: I just thought we could do a car event that was a bit more cross-pollination—getting places like [Modernica] exposed to car people, and then people that come from the venue to see the car culture that we all see. Just kind of getting people together.
SS: How do you guys know each other?
HI: Go-kart racing.
PL: Yeah, 25 years ago. I was his age. Howie was, um—
PL:—and still is a legend. And a pioneer in the karting world, not only from a driving standpoint but from a design standpoint and from an innovation standpoint. He was a guy that I looked up to when I was racing in Southern California. [Looks at Edelson.] You’re probably tighter with my dad than you were with me.
PL: We just have stayed connected, and we kept meeting through projects in the car world, from the design and from the practical side of, the athletic side of, like, for instance, collaborating on an Oakley driving shoe. Howie was doing all the design drawings himself, and Oakley, being a long-time supporter, was like, « Hey, go meet with Howie for coffee, and you guys get this shoe grilled out. »
HI: That’s when we first started talking about putting on an event.
PL: I’d roll in with the latest 911 that I just found. I was, like, « Dude, we gotta do it. We gotta do an event. » And the culture at Deus [ex Machina, the motorcycle shop] in Venice [Beach, at the first Luftgekühlt] was a big part of that inspiration. That place on any given Monday has so much cool factor between automotive, motorcycle, and kind of surf-West Coast culture. It’s just a great meeting of Australian chill.
HI: Surf, motorcycles—
PL: Books, art.
HI: Yeah, that was a lot of the inspiration for this.
PL: Just pepper in some Porsches.
SS:The interesting thing about every Luft to date—the crowd is a lot more varied, culturally and age-wise, than you’d expect. And bigger every year. Hundreds of Porsches, hundreds more parked on the street outside. Was there a plan to any of this, or were you just kind of winging it?
PL: We don’t even know. We definitely did not expect the numbers. This is a big place. We thought we had space to fill. That’s the irony.
HI: Yeah. We focused on how many cars we could fit in here, and we probably parked double the amount. And then, outside, there’s—we thought we’d get everybody inside. Obviously, we underestimated.
PL: We never really had an expectation other than doing something different than the traditional car show. I think just trying to break down that stigma and those walls. You know, you want to create little curated areas, but you don’t want to create separation, and you don’t want to have anybody that doesn’t feel included. It’s that part of it, I think, that we have to keep bringing to it. But there are other people who do a great job at that—it’s just we’re kind of doing it in our own west L.A. style.
HI: I think the venue is what we’ve always stuck to. That was the principle. The venue had to be right, and then we built a show around that. So that means, when the next venue comes, then we build the show.
PL: One of the principles in Luftgekühlt One—it was so small. The first show we did was, I think, 40 cars. So there, we wanted to tell a story for someone who has never heard the term « air-cooled Porsche, » that would tell the story in 40 cars. So, every car was pre-chosen, preselected, and they were just friends.
It was just people, part of the community of when I started collecting these cars. And then, so many people came to us, and they were, like, « What you did, that’s what we want. But we want to be included. We want to be involved. »
So that’s what we’ve always tried to do, is make this interactive. But that is a large challenge, especially when we get the support that we’ve had. I mean, making the user part of the event is the logistical challenge.
HI: And the local part of the event, as well. It’s not a parking lot.
PL: It’s not a warehouse.
SS: It’s not the Ramada at 3:00 in the afternoon.
HI: Yeah, the location is paramount.
SS: There’s something you guys have landed on here—making something inclusive that typically hasn’t been. It feels friendlier and warmer than the average club event—this isn’t the kind of open environment you think of, when you think Porsche people. It’s more like what the marque clubs were like in the Fifties and Sixties.
HI: One of the things we’ve really tried to focus on is the driver, and the people that drive the cars. When you look at that, it’s so diverse. I mean, from the guy who has scraped together a little bit of money to buy an old beater, and he loves that thing ’til the end of the earth. To the guys that have big collections of cars. And they coexist so well because the passion, they arrive at the same place with the same passion.
PL: It’s like a hardcore sporting fan or a hardcore someone who subscribes to a religion. It’s not really about, you know, the wealth or the socioeconomic background. It’s like, « Hey, we’ve got this common thing that we really dig, so let’s go to this event and get rowdy. »
Special thanks to John Benton and Benton Performance for the loan of his excellent 912, a car he’s owned for over two decades. Fifteen minutes after meeting me, he tossed over the keys, asked if I’d driven a 901 gearbox, and then walked off. Also, he told me to whale on it.
It should go without saying that John is good people.
Source: Road and track