Brand addicts in search of extreme Porsches should travel not to Zuffenhausen but to Pfaffenhausen, home of Alois Ruf, Jr., who has been manufacturing low-volume Porsche hot rods since he took over the business from his father in 1974. With no love from Porsche, Ruf has created such memorable driving machines as the 1987 CTR “Yellowbird” plus today’s awesome 777-hp CTR3 Clubsport and the RGT-8 powered by Ruf’s bespoke 550-hp eight-cylinder engine. Since other Rufs cost between $314,000 and $769,000 in the U.S., the Boxster-based Ruf 3800S looks like a bargain at $132,895. A Cayman-based coupe is available for $6800 more.
The 3800S benefits from a simple heart transplant that mid-engine proponents, but not 911 purists, champion. Sitting on more than fifty brand-new 911 engines that have been replaced with his own motors, Alois Ruf made a virtue out of necessity, tweaking the 911’s 3.8-liter flat-six and fitting it to the Boxster S. Sounds clever, except now the parts manager is stacking brand-new Boxster engines.
Although the 3800S is a Boxster S with a Carrera S Kraftwerk wedged between its hind legs, Ruf also installs heavily modified front and rear bumpers, all-black wheels and bigger tires, stronger brakes, and tauter springs and dampers. The 3800S cannot be sold as a Porsche, so it’s available with an extracost seven-speed RDK gearbox, carbon-ceramic RCCB brakes, and active suspension management dubbed RASM. The Rs stand for Ruf, one more thorn in the side of Porsche, which eyes this operation with profound skepticism.
There’s no reason for the customer to mistrust the work of the renowned Bavarian tuning shop. The conversion to 3800S is commendably solid in concept and in execution. A new free-flow exhaust, which sports four prominent tailpipes, is primarily responsible for the 20 hp and 7 lb-ft jump. The 911 Carrera S also donates larger front brake discs (13.4 inches in diameter) straddled by fire-red calipers and twenty-inch wheels shod with slightly wider tires.
The 3800S eclipses the Boxster by a substantial margin, but is the open-top Ruf also quicker than a 911 Carrera S droptop offered for similar money? The 420-hp mid-engine Porsche accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 4.1 seconds, which makes it 0.6 second quicker than a manual 911 cabrio, and its 186-mph top speed is an academic 1 mph slower. The difference in fuel consumption is equally negligible. Such a 911-vanquishing Boxster is something the powers in Zuffenhausen and Weissach would never let happen.
Does this thin on-paper lead translate to the open road? To find out, we spent a day in the hinterlands of Pfaffenhausen, where corners abound and where the law is intimately familiar with each of Ruf’s five demonstrator models. Even though the 3800S sounds like a 911, it still drives like a Boxster. It is better balanced, more playful, nippier, and commendably stable on the straights but full of bumblebees at the limit. The Carrera is more black or white, more emphatic, and yet more benign when pushed hard. This steroidal Boxster wants to be treated with care. The additional 105 hp and 66 lb-ft of torque make its larger footwear break away more aggressively. Its RSM (Ruf stability management) lacks that highly desirable in-between setting.
The 3800S calls for even quicker reflexes with RSM deactivated. Communication between steering and throttle is more of a shouting match than a dialogue, and the speed window is more in line with that of any rear-engine Porsche. The means with which to induce understeer, oversteer, or a four-wheel drift can blur and overlap. Small variations in driver input can result in major changes of vehicle attitude. Exciting, yes. User-friendly, less so. Is a 3800S a better buy than a Carrera S cabriolet? Yes. It is quicker, more special, and more demanding to drive. Is it worth twice the money to upgrade from a Boxster S to a 911-engined Ruf? Probably not. The 315-hp ragtop is so sweet, smooth, and special that all it takes to narrow the performance gap is the optional PDK. From Ruf’s model range, it’s more worthwhile to drive one of the crazier efforts that leave the donor car well and truly grumbling in the dust.
- Price: $132,895/$139,695 (convertible/coupe)
- Engine: 3.8L flat-6, 420 hp, 332 lb-ft
- Drive: Rear-wheel