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R-Gruppe interview with Co-founder Cris Huergas R Gruppe

1. How and when did you start the R-Gruppe?

It was a telephone discussion with co-founder Freeman Thomas wherein we discussed how many people he knows in So. Cal that are into hot-rodding early 911 and how many of the same people I know here in Nor. Cal. From that point, we came up with the idea of how we could bring the two factions together for a big gathering somewhere between L.A. and S.F.
2. Who came up with the R-Gruppe name and what is behind it, what is the meaning?
When Freeman and I first talked about a club name, I came up with a number of names, one of which was “Type R Gruppe”. I felt that it was a fitting name since we both have a fascination for the ‘67 911R but by the same token, I wasn’t 100% in for naming the club and referencing the 911R since no one we know or will belong to the club has a real ‘67 911R. When he came upon that name, he dropped the “Type” and went with “R Gruppe” and what convinced me to give into it was his reasoning that it rhymes with “our group,” which was the motivation behind the two of us getting together and bringing two groups of early 911 enthusiasts from both ends of California.

3. Did you ever think it would be as popular and sought after as a group as it has become?
I thought that we could capture a good segment of the early 911 owners out there who are not into the originality but more into the performance aspect of the car. It never dawned on me that there’s a very large segment of them out there who can get into the sporting aspect of the car and not be so concerned about keeping it stock or original. It was sort of a “non-conformist” group of guys who wants to get together with those who share and understand the logic behind making their early 911 acquire a more sports purpose attitude.
4. What did it take to become a member in the early days? How about now?
In the beginning, you had to know someone in the club to get in. It’s sort of a way to get introduced to the club through someone who was already a member. I sent a message out to the membership that I want prospective members to be involved and participate. It’s also important that they leave their egos behind. Hence, my “no egos allowed” policy. A message to everyone that there will be no prima donnas or ego maniacs in the club who will boast about how special their cars are over the others, how much they spent on it or how rare it is. I always told people that when they become members of RGruppe, whether they own a rare 73 RS or a 67 911R, when it’s amongst other normal hot rodded R Gruppe type cars in our gatherings, they’re all on equal grounds. We don’t put them on a special pedestal or showcase them on a centerpiece. A mildly modified 73 911T is just as special.
The same rule applies nowadays. We make it a requirement to invite prospective members to attend an event, get to know our members and see if they feel like they can “fit in”. It goes both ways, it allows prospective members to see if they can get along with the club members and vice versa.

5. How many members are there?
We have put a limit of 300 members on our roster. The reason for this is to make it more manageable and exclusive to those early 911 owners who wants their cars to have a sports purpose flavor.

6. Is it true you are not really looking for new members?
Not true, though we are not actively recruiting members or promoting membership, we still accept new members but we’ve become more selective as to who will get in. Like I mentioned above, its more important that a new prospective member “fit in” and get along with the club members than it is for someone to get in just because they have a specially built “R Gruppe type car.”

7. What do you see in the future for the group?
Not sure how long this is going to last. I don’t think it’s a trend or a fad. It’s sort of a takeoff of the 356 Outlaws and they’ve been around for a long time and they still have the popularity and the following. R Gruppe will be around as long as there are early 911 owners who take interest in the performance aspect of their cars and are willing to make some changes to give it a more sporting nature.
8. What events does the group participate in?
Though we initially limited our events to social gatherings, these last few years saw a bunch of our guys organizing track events to coincide with our yearly Treffen gatherings. A number of our guys are heavily involved in PCA track events and other club racing. A few of them are also into vintage racing.
9. Are there any R-Gruppe only events?
Our once a year big event is the Treffen which is held exclusively in California. It’s the equivalent of the Porsche Parade but of course on a much smaller scale. This event not only attracts members from the U.S. but also members from the U.K. , Germany, Netherlands, Mexico and Asian countries.
Our local regions also organize their own driving tours, rallies and social gatherings in their respective regions.
10. What is your favorite car in the group?
I have a few but some of the notable ones are Bob Tilton’s silver short wheelbase 68 911L. I’ve referred to it in the past as the R Gruppe poster car. Bob took great pains to do this one just right. Another one is Chris Nielsen’s Slate Gray 67 911 with distinctive blue racing stripes on the hood and deck lid. Both of these cars were recently featured on the front cover of the U.K. based magazine 911 & Porsche World.

Bob Tilton’s 68 911L in Silver with lightweight mods. The black lightweight interior also sports replica Scheel bucket seats and factory style roll bar.

Chris Neilsen’s 67 911 with a 2.7 RS spec motor. Slate Gray with dark blue racing stripes on the hood and deck lid. The red lightweight interior with its lightweight bucket seats and replica factory roll bar gives it a real sports purpose flavor.

Another favorite in the Gruppe is Rolly Resos’ 66 911 “rat rod”. Rolly is an old time So. Cal hot rodder and his rat rod is very distinctive with its unpainted 911R fiberglass fenders, center fill tank, megaphones, vintage decals, Magnesium American Racing wheels and an overall sports purpose image.

69 911E of co-founder Freeman Thomas has the look of a factory built sports purpose rally 911. Note the rear bumper guards delete, 911R muffler, vintage Dunlop racing tires. It’s powered by a twin plug 2.8 high compression motor. It is nearing final completion at Alois Ruf’s Phaffenhausen shop in Germany
11. What cars do you own? Wish to own?
I sold my 69S a couple of years ago and I miss it dearly. Currently have a very well preserved Ivory White with red interior 66 912 that I will probably be converting to a 911. I’m still toying with the idea of doing a semi-lightweight conversion and would like to fit a 2.0 Weber carbureted 911S motor for a power plant. It will also sport some rally mods to it but overall, it will be a touring 911 with some very carefully selected sports purpose goodies. It’s still a couple of years away from completion.
There’s a few examples of early 911s that I would love to own but one of my all time favorite is a 67 911S Soft Window Targa. I envision this model as the equivalent of a 356 Speedster since it’s the closest thing to a 911 roadster.
12. What do you think makes up an R-Gruppe car?
There really are no set rules as to what makes an R Gruppe car. Each R Gruppe car is an extension of its owners and their creativity in building something that adds a sporting flavor to their 911s. Anybody can build their own R Gruppe type car but that doesn’t mean that they are R Gruppe material. It’s the enthusiasm and attitude of the owner that will dictate whether they become a bonafide R Gruppe member. We ask all potential members to attend an R Gruppe event to allow them to get a feel for what R Gruppe is all about. It’s not just the cars that make up the R Gruppe. It’s the camaraderie and friendships that the members build with others that makes this club pretty exclusive in the eyes of many.
13. What are some of your favorite mods to the early 9 series cars? What are your least favorite?
I like cars that project a very sporting nature. I especially like the subtle modifications that enhance the performance and looks that only the true R Gruppe cognoscenti will recognize. It has to have the right look and flavor that when someone looks at it they know that it’s not a poser, but one that has been modified to enhance the driving pleasure.
My least favorites are the big turbo wings that don’t look right on an early 911. I’m also not partial to narrow bodied cars with a duck tail.
14. What is the craziest thing that has happened at an event?
During our first Treffen gathering in May 2000 in the town of Cambria, we booked our rooms in one of the inns that overlooks the ocean. This particular place prides itself as a very ideal place for couples on their getaway weekends. Of course, we didn’t tell them when we booked our rooms that we were a car club so imagine their surprise when their quaint and very quiet setting was loudly interrupted and invaded by a group of hot rod 911s with their loud sports mufflers blaring up and down the road. The manager came out on our first night while a bunch of us were partying in the parking lot and told us to go to bed. We all looked at him like he was crazy for even coming out and telling a bunch of adults to go to bed. They told us the next day that we’re not welcome back at their facility in the future.
There was also another time during our late night party in the parking lot of another facility in Cambria when one of our members decided to fire up his generator to help another member work on his car. This must have startled and woke up the guest at nearby inns. Again the motel manager came out and was livid and tried to tell us to go to our rooms. He went back inside his office in disgust when he realized that no one was going to listen to him and we kept the party going. We did turn off the generator just to appease him.
15. Who is the scariest or craziest driver in the group?
I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that it may incriminate certain members and our good standings in the 911 circles.
16. Who are some of the more prominent members in the group, i.e. who is known in the greater Porsche community?
We have honorary members the likes of which includes Porsche race car drivers like Vic Elford, Bruce Canepa, Hurley Haywood, Bob Garretson, 356 Outlaw founder Gary Emory, Porsche car designer, Grant Larsen and Tony Hatter, famed racing photographer Jesse Alexander, ex-PCA president Chuck Stoddard, world famous cartoonist Howard Shoemaker, 911 engine gurus Gordon Ledbetter and Jeff Gamroth, EASY owner Jim Brazeale, Excellence Magazine Chief Editor Pete Stout and others.
We also paid tribute to the quintessential all time car guy, the late Steve McQueen whom we honored as member #001. The late great Porsche racer Milt Minter was also an honorary member.

The inspiration and motivation that was instrumental in the birth of R Gruppe is this 69 911S that I built into my own version of a lightweight sports purpose 911 with the help of my good friend and fellow founding member, Rodney Chew. I bought it for $5,500 back in 1991 and the modification and conversion to this lightweight configuration was completed in 1995. It was the subject of an Excellence Magazine story in the April 98 issue where it was featured with my 74 Carrera and 3 other early 911s that belongs to my brothers, Romy and Ferdie and Rodney Chew.

The following are various photos taken from our yearly Treffen gathering over the years.

Treffen 2001 held at the Cambria Pines Inn overlooking the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Ducktail cars in procession taking part on a driving tour in the back roads of Cambria during Treffen 2002.

Treffen 2003 was held in Monterey and it rained during our Friday welcoming party. It didn’t dampen the spirit of the event and was further highlighted with the gathering of ten 73 Carrera RS in attendance. One of them is this pristine and freshly restored India Red 73 RS of Chris Roman. Its probably the only time that it has ever been rained on.

Carrera GT was on hand The Hyatt in Monterey was again the site of our Treffen 2005 gathering. A brand new and made available for a test drive to yours truly by its owner who was egging me to go faster while cruising along Hwy 1 in 3rd gear at 110 mph!

The Pelican Inn in Santa Rosa, California was the sight of our Treffen 2006. This short hood 930 was in attendance and belongs to a member from Oregon who unfortunately totaled it a couple of weeks later. OUCH!

Treffen 2007 saw us take over the back parking lot of the Embassy Suite in San Luis Obispo. An early morning shower got the cars wet but didn’t bother its owners when we all took a nice drive to Solvang to join the 356 Club for their event.

—Adam Wright


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