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Ruf CTR first drive review: Stretching the new Yellow Bird’s wings

Thirty years after the original Yellow Bird surprised the world, I drive Ruf's prototype tribute CTR.

Louis Yio/Ruf

Like many people my age, I first saw the name Ruf in Gran Turismo, plastered across a car that kind of looked like a Porsche 911, but wasn't. Many years later, I rediscovered Ruf in the infamous Faszination video on YouTube, and that original 1987 CTR, known as Yellow Bird, has been an object of obsession for me and many other car enthusiasts ever since.

You can imagine my excitement, then, when Alois Ruf Jr. very kindly asked me to drive the prototype of his reimagined, modern-day Yellow Bird.

The new CTR is many things, but a Porsche isn't one of them. The 1987 CTR was based on a narrow Porsche Carrera body-in-white and then extensively modified from there. The new CTR, however, is built on a bespoke carbon-fiber chassis with front and rear subframes made from high-strength steel. It doesn't share a single body panel with the Porsche 911, or any other car for that matter.

The carbon-fiber tub and body panels were designed by legendary car designer (and Porsche enthusiast) Freeman Thomas. Thomas is credited with working on such iconic designs as the Volkswagen Concept 1, which eventually became the production New Beetle, as well as the original Audi TT. He also founded R Gruppe, a little club for folks who like to hot-rod their classic Porsches.

Ruf's design brief tasked Thomas with finding a way to make the CTR easier to drive, despite having tons of power and being incredibly lightweight. Keeping in the spirit of the original CTR, Thomas was asked not to make the car appear extremely wide or overly muscular.

The new CTR is six inches wider than its forebear, though Thomas managed to visually conceal this by increasing the width of the door panels, in order to avoid the big-haunch appearance typical of turbo Porsches. The modern car is a few inches longer, too, though it's all found in the wheelbase, hiding the length in the doors, so the front and rear overhangs remain unchanged.

With 710 horsepower and a curb weight of just over 2,600 pounds, the Ruf CTR is truly worthy of being called by its famous forebear's name.

Louis Yio/Ruf

The body features a number of other tributes to the original car, including the traditional Ruf shaved rain gutters, ventilated bumpers and NACA ducts. New touches include engine air intakes built into the rear quarter windows' trim.

Ruf's bag of tricks doesn't end at the body. The CTR features pushrod-actuated inboard suspension built by ZF/Sachs that significantly reduces the amount of unsprung weight and allows for much finer damping control. The car also makes use of massive -- 380mm front, 250mm rear with six-piston and four-piston calipers, respectively -- carbon ceramic brakes, which almost feel like overkill on a car that weighs just over 2,600 pounds.

The CTR's 3.6-liter flat-six engine comes from Porsche, mated to a Ruf-designed, seven-speed manual transmission. The twin-turbocharged engine produces a staggering 710 horsepower, but honestly, that's not the most interesting aspect of this machine. Rather, it's the seamless and smooth way the power is delivered. The car is surprisingly easy to drive, and incredibly forgiving. With its heavy clutch pedal and the symphony of whirrs and whistles coming from the wastegates behind your head, you could be forgiven for thinking this new Yellow Bird feels like an old 911.

The man behind every Ruf built since the mid-1970's, Alois Ruf Jr.

Louis Yio/Ruf

It takes effort to steer the CTR at slow speeds but once moving, that old adage about driving a 911 over 25 cents and being able to tell whether it was one quarter or two dimes and a nickel starts to make sense. This is a car that communicates its intentions clearly and without malice.

The brakes are a little grabby while cold -- a stereotypical trait of big, ceramic stoppers -- and though the clutch takes real left-leg effort, the seven-speed transmission is a pleasure to use. It feels more precise than Porsche's early seven-speed efforts, and unlike that 'box, the Ruf's seventh gear isn't an overdrive for efficiency. Only in its top gear can you achieve the CTR's ridiculous 225-mph top speed.

For all its ferocity, the CTR is incredibly civilized in traffic -- perfectly sorted and shockingly easy to live with. It even has a couple of electronic safety nets for drivers who overestimate their talent behind the wheel. Antilock brakes are especially welcome, given the grabby nature of the ceramic units and the car's low weight. The CTR has traction control, though remember, this is still a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car with 710 horsepower. Things can definitely go wrong in a hurry if you abuse it with ham-fisted nature, but its limits are nigh-unreachable on a public road.

This car is larger in every dimension than the 964-era Porsche 911 on which its appearance is loosely based, but it hides its size well.

Louis Yio/Ruf

How does the new CTR contend with the legacy of its very famous and universally loved namesake? In some ways, it doesn't. The new Yellow Bird doesn't feel like it wants to kill you every time you give it the boot, and it doesn't run so rich that it reeks of gasoline when it drives by. It's a modern car with modern construction and a modern engine. It gives you nearly the full experience of the original CTR with only maybe 30 percent of the "I could kill you at any second" factor.

Of course, if you're the kind of oligarch who has nearly a million dollars to spend on a very fancy reimagined Porsche, you're weirdly spoiled for choice these days. The Ruf CTR Yellow Bird certainly presents a compelling case against Singer and Gunther Works creations, not necessarily as something better, but rather, something different, with a history all its own.

No matter, the CTR isn't built to appease the wishes of potential buyers. Alois Ruf commissions cars a specific way, that do exactly what he wants. Lucky for me, and for any of the lucky few who buy in, Mr. Ruf has absolutely exquisite taste.