by John Baeke

Contributing Writer

On May 19, a Saturday, I was waiting in the movie theater lot for my family when I heard the unmistakable sound of a vintage Porsche, followed by another.

You see, for most of its history Porsche AG of Stuttgart, Germany, has powered its sports cars with air-cooled, opposed-cylinder, low-displacement but high-revving motors. This combination yields a marvelous note, instantly identifiable by any motorhead.

Looking up, I saw an entire squadron of these cars parked behind the Buellton Marriott. My family would have to wait. I had stumbled upon something much more important.

Though not the stuff of concours judging, this early 911, with spare tire and suitcase atop, was right at home at the R-Gruppe meet.

Strolling over, I found no fewer than 165 of these speed machines. Sitting beside one beautiful red example was a large gentleman in a wheel chair. Turns out he was a Vietnam vet, a former Teamster and a veteran of the New York Jets.

And he was a proud Porsche owner, the perfect person for me to chat with. He explained that this was the annual gathering of “our group,” with they call “R-Gruppe.”

I consider myself quite well in touch with all manner of car happenings, but I had no awareness of this one.

The vet explained that R-Gruppe celebrates the wild, odd, modified, even ugly, Porsche 911. “Trailer queens,” he warned, should stay away — far away. And in surveying the gathering, I knew he was right. I doubt there was a can of Simonize to be found.

I inquired about the “Treffen” (German for “meet”) and was told that R-Gruppe alternates its annual three-day meets between a northern and southern site. When I asked if the organization had a website, he replied, “Yes, but you can’t get on. It’s a secret site.” Hmmm. Had I just uncovered the deep state of Porsche?

I then asked what activities R-Gruppe did on the weekend, and he said, “R-Gruppe don’t organize dam nuttin.” Members are free to decide how to spend their time. They are glad to wing it, touring the rolling wine country, visiting tasting rooms and local eateries. They seem quite proud that nothing is pre-arranged; sort of an agenda-on-the-fly, and apparently that disorganization works just fine. Everyone was having a great time. What they didn’t have is a judged concours.

As with most European manufacturers, different models of Porsche motorcars are identified by a confusing array of alphanumeric designations. Any newbie talking with an R-Grupper will need a glossary, as 911 Porsche-speak is laced with terms like 901, 902, 912, 923, 930, 934, 935, 964, 993, 996, 997 CTR, E, L, R, S, RS, RSR, T, GT and on and on. I found if you just nod a lot, R-Gruppers will think you understand what they are talking about.

If old cars could talk: At 50-some years old, this 911 would have stories to tell.

For the most part, R-Gruppe celebrates only the Porsche model 911, the car whose quirky shape has remained mostly unchanged for 55 years. That day I saw all variations, from desert rally cars to high-speed endurance racers to grandma-grocery-getters. Strangely, the uglier the car, the more beautiful.

Walking around R-Gruppe, I sensed that these car owners were a group of weekend outlaws, with Steve McQueen and James Dean as their heroes. They talked tough and tried to look bad-boy, but underneath the torn jeans and t-shirts their CEO creds were peeking out.

They were really no different than me. They were a bunch of like-minded guys and gals who use their mutual passion for vintage Porsches as an excuse to occasionally get together in some beautiful spot to renew friendships and forget about everything else. While I was there, I saw them hold an impromptu auction on the sidewalk to benefit some of their less-fortunate members. Ultimately, philanthropy, not trophies, is the thread that binds most car clubs together.

It was my good fortune that I was able to enjoy a few moments of R-Gruppe’s final day, ending a meet that officially never happened.

Dr. John Baeke of Solvang has been writing about his lifelong passion for cars since 1977.