It’s almost poetic to have pulled into the RUF Automobile headquarters in Pfaffenhausen, Germany for my meeting with the Ruf family in a Mercedes AMG GT Black Series — another record setting car, albeit one that couldn’t be any more different from the approach the Ruf family takes when building automobiles. Parked across from the original record-setting 1987 CTR “Yellowbird”, which was out for a television shoot, the juxtaposition was serendipitous.
While the big German manufacturers are resource-rich and in a perpetual arms race for performance, Alois Ruf Jr. trades in ingenuity, emotion, and principle. When I sat in the CTR Anniversary prototype with Alois Ruf Jr. for a drive, I didn’t know how much horsepower it made. I didn’t know how quickly it went from 0-60. It didn’t matter. And it still doesn’t. And I still don’t know the answer. That’s the point.
When you walk into the RUF front office and garage, it’s like a time capsule. It reinforces that the superficial stuff doesn’t matter. You don’t need a big shiny glass headquarters — it doesn’t make a car faster. It’s about the cars and how they make you feel above all else. Ruf means building it your own way, and when you stick to your principles, the end result is a success because of how you feel. It’s what Ruf has been doing for over 80 years. But like Alois Sr. did with his son, Alois Jr. and his wife Estonia — who have run the business for nearly 50 years — are now grooming the next generation to take over, namely their daughter Aloisa.
A driver, mechanic, and photographer, we asked Aloisa to share her story visually through her photographic work, which evolved into a bigger collaboration with Highsnobiety. Throughout this, we spoke about her experiences growing up in the garage, and her ideas for the future of RUF.
When we met at the workshop, you gave me the full family backstory that isn’t widely published. Can you elaborate on it a bit?
The company was founded as a service station called “Auto Ruf” in 1939. The petrol station is outside the workshop to this day. One day, there was a car accident with a man in a Porsche 356. My grandfather and father took him to the hospital and he was distraught that he might not be able to afford to repair the car, so my grandfather bought it right then and there and he and my father restored it.
Then one day, my grandfather and my father drove to Munich in that car. I don’t exactly remember the reason why they drove to Munich that day… a gentleman knocked on their window and said, “can I buy this car from you? I have the money in cash.” And then my grandfather looked at my dad and said, “You think he actually has this many marks in cash?” And then the guy was like, “Yeah, come pull over, pull over.” And they sold the car right there. And for that time, it would have been very, very unusual for something like that to happen. But my grandfather then realized what the definition of ‘car crazy’ is. Because cars were just considered to be something to move you places, to get you places. Yes, you could get joy from them. They’re beautiful. But he never looked at cars as making money…
Not a business or real passion?
He had the passion for them, but he never considered it as being a business really because at the same time, he was working on developing a hydroelectric power plant. His mind was just in a different place. His focus was on something else. He said, “Oh my goodness, we fix the cars anyway. We love cars.” That’s basically how it started.
Was your grandfather also a trained engineer?
I don’t think you told me that part about the power plant.
Oh yes. So that’s actually my grandfather’s life project and what he always wanted to do was to build a hydroelectric power plant, and fixing cars was just a passion besides that. He always said “big money comes from electricity.” He was working in Russia in electricity plants during the war. So that’s what he was surrounded with. I think he brought back a lot of that knowledge, and that I think influenced him a lot.
And then came the light bulb moment of “Oh, I can make money repairing cars.”
Yeah… and driving a 356 in Munich, that’s not something that my grandad would always do, just casually drive to Munich like we do today. It was a Sunday drive they were doing to enjoy the car, because they knew they couldn’t keep it.
Was that their very first experience with Porsche?
I think, yeah. For my father.
Having grown up around all of this, it’s just your family and their family business. At what point did it click for you that “oh, my family name is iconic in this particular world”?
There were three experiences. First, I think I was 12 years old. I was in a ski lift with my dad, and my dad took off his ski goggles to look at his map. He was fully masked, you could only see his eyes, and then the gentleman in the ski lift looked at him and said, “Are you Alois Ruf?” And my dad goes, “Yeah, why?” And I looked at him thinking ‘why?’ And then he’s like, “Oh, I drive a 964. I’m such a big fan of your work.” And my dad was like, “How did you even recognize me?” And I was like, “Oh, it was your nose.” I was just poking fun at him. This is the first time I thought, “Okay, that’s odd.”
Then the second time, it was actually a beautiful, beautiful experience. I was flying from Monterey to LA after Car Week in Pebble Beach. After we landed, this young chap, he was 25, he approaches my father, we’re all really tired. And he was like, “Oh my God, Mr. Ruf, I’m so honored to have been in the same plane with you. I would love it if we could take a picture.” We were all like, “Oh my goodness, okay.” So he’s like, “Yeah, yeah. But I have to change shirts.” The gentleman opens up a suitcase, takes out a RUF shirt, and I took a picture of them, and that’s when I realized, oh, okay, this is…
We forget, it’s not something that we think about a lot or I think about a lot necessarily. And it’s really nice to see how people around the world follow my father’s legacy and what he does and appreciate it.
What was the third experience? You said there were three.
Yeah. It’s really funny. The third experience was in New York. And we were in the Metro… underground. You know how filled they can get. And right across the Metro, the same thing happened, a gentleman recognized my father and he just went, “Oh my God, are you Alois Ruf?” My dad was like, “Yeah.” He was a bit scared. He thought somebody was going to steal from him or something. And he’s like, “Yeah, why?” He’s like, “I drive a 993.” And he was yelling it through the train. It was just crazy to see.
Do you feel like recently more attention has been brought on RUF? With the current rush to the market for older Porsches and as a more mainstream audience is diving into the history of Porsche, which RUF is obviously a really big part of, has it had any effect of more people becoming aware of what RUF is?
No, I mean car aficionados have always been there and they’re petrol crazy. But what I have been realizing and noticing a lot is through social media, things spread like wildfire in the most fun and coolest ways, putting us together with people, for instance, like you guys. But that’s the thing that happens with passion, you fall quickly and you fall hard. And I feel that’s what happens when you start to go down a rabbit hole. There’s so much information now available.
I can only have the reference of my father’s stories, but back in the day you could look at the magazines and be like, “Okay, that’s crazy.” But now one person posts about the car and then two people repost it and then another car spotter finds it. And then they’re like, “Who owns this car?” So there’s this constant sharing of what we’ve been up to. And I feel that’s also allowed the world to get a better insight of what we do and who we are. And I feel that’s been triggering a lot of people to be interested.
Seeing what you’ve seen and what you’ve grown up around, and now being an adult with your own passions beyond the business and the cars, is there anything you would do differently? What do you see as the future of building the brand beyond cars? We discussed people appreciating your father’s legacy and your grandfather’s legacy. What would you do when it becomes your legacy?
I feel excited. I’m very eager because I do have big shoes to fill, but I’m not planning on trying to fill anything. I’m trying to go my own way, but at the end of the day, I’m a product of my father and my mother and of all of the lessons they taught me, and I can’t wait to bring that into the business. I still have so much to learn. I still have so many hundreds of cars to work on and to learn them and inside out.
And I never really see myself… I don’t like the word ‘taking over.’ My idealistic vision would be to work alongside my parents and alongside my father, which is what I already do. My ideal vision is to sit next to him and give him my opinions. We create cars together. To work hand in hand, instead of taking something over, because I feel for some reason, that always sounds very harsh and… it’s something that has to grow within and I have to grow into the company in that aspect. And like I said, I have so much to learn.
Of those lessons you allude to, does one resonate as the most important you carry with you? What are the things that most inspire you about your father?
I have a couple points, I look up to my father in every single way, actually, but to be more precise, his calmness and the way he can balance everything. No matter how many plates are burning [sic] at the same time, he’s very calm and very peaceful, and he’s also an optimistic person. And I think that’s what I love. That’s why I’m also very optimistic. Because you can always accentuate the positive.
There’s a funny joke that comes from the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian.” The guy gets a flat tire and someone says, “Oh my goodness, you have a flat tire you can’t drive anymore!” And then the guy responds, “Oh, the tire’s only flat at the bottom.” And my dad likes to repeat that to me whenever I get into moods that I think that world is over or something. He always manages to say something witty like that to put a smile on everybody’s face. Another thing I really appreciate about him is that he takes his time for everyone, and some people might criticize him as always running late, but that’s because he takes his time for everyone. He doesn’t rush with anything.
And your mother?
And about my mother is that she is very fierce and very strong and she doesn’t take no for an answer. And I like that a lot. And she’s also very, very bubbly and sometimes filterless. She says things exactly how she feels and that has always been very advantageous for us.
That just goes back to what I said about the refreshingness of the company being so authentic. It’s actually all just a function of the people. It’s good that she’s that way.
Exactly. Yeah. I look up to her that way, everybody likes to bite their tongue for good reason sometimes, but-
Nobody wants a bullshitter either though.
Exactly. She’s very straight as an arrow. And I like that about her.
You’re passionate about photography, a creative person, with a sense of aesthetic that you appreciate, which I feel drives a lot of what you do. How are you excited to integrate those outside passions into the business of RUF?
By simply combining it, by doing some really cool merging. And the things that we’ve been touching on right now, what we’re doing with you guys at Highsnobiety, go more in that, not necessarily commercial, but to do more fun projects like that, more creative projects that are a little bit outside of the creativity specific to building a car.
If you propose a new idea to your parents, how do they typically receive it? Are you very comfortable saying, “Hey, I want to do this and this is why I want to do it.” I suppose you’re not really going to propose anything that’s going to be off. Because you know it, it’s you.
We have a lot of mutual respect for each other. I respect their opinions, they respect my opinions, and that’s very cool in that aspect. I remember when I was 6 years old, I redesigned the RUF logo. I just did a pink drawing of the RUF logo, and I said, “We have to make it pink.” And they actually sat down with me, “Oh, we’ll take it into consideration.” So never have any of my ideas been unwelcome.
Do you have any kind of opinion on how you see brands engaging with a female audience right now? Is that something you think about in terms of “Do I, Aloisa, as a woman have a responsibility to also ensure that other women know what we’re doing?” Even just as a passion of yours, not necessarily from just a commercial perspective.
The more women in any industry, I think that’s just very empowering. So I think that’s always something good. For the dynamics of things, I always believe that it goes naturally. If somebody’s naturally passionate, as any driver, any person, no matter she/he/they/anything, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. If you can share the passion, you share the passion. There’s fun in everything. But at the same time, I do understand that it’s very rare to have females in the automotive industry. Yes, I do notice that all the time, but I only notice it when something specific happens or when somebody makes a comment about it.
In what sense? Do you have an example?
I went to drive a Rally and took my best friend with me. She appreciates cars, but she doesn’t really have anything to do with cars. She was my co-driver. We started in the morning, we drove, and at lunch somebody starts making a toast and says “To the only female driver!” I was like, “Oh God, I didn’t realize.” Generally, it wasn’t even something I thought about. But the effect was I had some nice chats with some women that were passengers of their husbands or boyfriends or brothers and all of them were like, “Oh yeah, I actually want to drive too.” And I thought that was pretty cool…that they see me drive and think they want to be more than a passenger next time is empowering.
Some of my friends ask me, “Oh, can you teach me how to drive stick shift?” It’s the little things that I think are really cool. We have to break out of this small-minded thinking that only men can be in a certain industry and only women can be in another certain industry. I really appreciate that there’s more motion in that coming. I think so.
If you weren’t who you are, as Aloisa Ruf… do you think there’s a scenario where for someone like your friend, or for the wives of those men who were at that rally, that it could be harder for them to integrate into those experiences in those communities than it is for you?
I feel like it’s all a personality thing. You absolutely have to break out of your comfort zone to show up to some of these events, and really it’s all a personality thing, because I know some really, really cool women that are also my age that are so car crazy and go to these events and stand up and people know them and are in these circles and I think that’s so cool. I feel it’s all in the confidence that people carry and, of course, I was brought up in it, so I’m very grateful that I got to have that confidence of always being introduced to new people in that environment, so I’m sure it must be more difficult, but the car world is very open for new faces and is very welcoming of people that are genuine and like cars. I think if somebody is a genuine car aficionado, and with any name, they can make great friends that have great fun. Because that’s the thing at the end of the day we’re there for.
The RUF Automobile x Highsnobiety collection is available now at the Highsnobiety Shop.