Porsche 959 History


An engineering tour de force of awe-inspiring power and ability, the 1987-88 Porsche 959 was the "everything car" enthusiasts dream about -- the one that can do it all.

Motor Trend aptly termed this 911-based uberwagen "the fastest, most technologically advanced sports car in history." Said Car and Driver, "The 959 can accomplish almost any automotive mission so well that to call it perfect is the mildest of overstatements." No less amazing, it remains a performance and technical benchmark even now.

More than just the "ultimate 911" to that point, it was the ultimate roadgoing Porsche, the sum of all Zuffenhausen had learned about production sports cars in its first 40 years. No wonder the Porsche 959 was such a towering achievement or that it pioneered features that have since become commonplace.

 

Porsche 959
Porsche 959s were built between 1987 and 1990 and had a $225,000 price tag.
 See more pictures of the Porsche 959.

The 959 originated with the fully finished and evidently producible "Gruppe B" prototype unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt Auto Show as Porsche's entry in the new Group B racing series for factory-experimental cars. Two years later, also at Frankfurt, Porsche announced that a production version, designated 959, would be sold to meet homologation requirements.

Production was limited to 200, and all were spoken for within weeks despite an otherworldly price of around 225,000 U.S. dollars. Still, Porsche lost a bundle on every one, as actual unit cost was estimated at a cool $530,000.

That was evident from even a cursory glance at the specs sheet. Though it used the 911 wheelbase and a similar inner structure, the 959 was strikingly different. Distinctions began with a lower body reshaped for good surface aerodynamics and with a profusion of ducts and vents for controlled airflow through it. Aero considerations also dictated a bellypan covering the entire undercarriage, except for the engine.

Dominating all was a muscular, ultra-wide tail topped by a large loop spoiler. The results: a drag coefficient of 0.31 (creditable, if not the lowest around) and -- the big news -- zero lift. To save weight, the doors and front lid were made of aluminum, the nose cap of polyurethane, and the rest in fiberglass-reinforced Kevlar.

Five-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels wore low-profile Bridgestone RE71 tires specially developed for the Porsche 959 (and chosen over a Dunlop design, which raised eyebrows, as Porsche had not previously sanctioned Japanese rubber). Though heroically sized at 235/45 fore and 255/40 aft, the tires were only V-rated, meaning safe for up to 149 mph -- curious, as the 959's claimed maximum was nearly 40 mph more.

Hollow wheel spokes (first used on Porsche's 1980 Le Mans racers) provided extra air for the tires and a smoother ride. There was no spare, because the tires were designed to run flat for 50 miles after a blowout. Another innovation was electronic sensors within the wheels to warn of pressure loss.

Porsche 959
The Porsche 959 featured lower-body air ducts and an ultra-wide tail.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see:

  • Porsche new cars
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  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2008 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

Porsche 959 Design

The Porsche 959 engine was masterful even for Porsche: a short-stroke version of the 3.3-liter 911 Turbo unit with twin overhead cams per bank, four valves per cylinder, water-cooled heads (air cooling continued for the block), low-mass titanium con rods, and twin KKK turbochargers. Crossover pipes and bypass valves afforded "sequential" turbocharging. Only the port blower was active below 4,000 rpm; the starboard unit progressively phased in as exhaust-gas flow increased toward 4,000, thus marrying low-speed tractability with top-end power. Despite modest 8.3:1 compression, DIN horsepower European was a heady 450.

Porsche 959
With a 450-horsepower "boxer" six, the Porsche 959 had incredible handling.

Putting all that power to the ground was a unique full-time four-wheel-drive system with a six-speed gearbox, basically the contemporary five-speed Carrera unit with an extra-low first, ostensibly for off-road use (and thus marked "G" for Gelande -- terrain). Power was taken aft in the usual way.

Drive forward was by a tube-encased shaft to a differential using a multi-plate clutch in an oil-filled chamber. Varying clutch-oil pressure determined the amount of front torque delivered, so no center differential was needed, though a locking rear diff was provided.

Torque apportioning was selectable via a steering-column stalk controlling four computer programs and a full-automatic mode. "Traction" locked the front clutch and rear diff for maximum pull in mud and snow. "Ice" split torque 50/50 front/rear, while "Wet" provided a 40/60 division that progressively increased to the rear on acceleration. "Dry" also offered a static 40/60, but could vary that up to 20/80 in all-out acceleration.

All this was accomplished via the Bosch Motronic engine computer used in conjunction with the wheel-mounted speed sensors of the new antilock braking system (developed with WABCO-Westinghouse) -- a first for a rear-engine Porsche. This apart, the brakes were stock 911 Turbo, albeit with larger front discs.

The suspension departed sharply from the 911 by employing double wishbones all around, plus twin shocks and concentric coil springs at each wheel. The shocks in each pair had separate damping roles; both were computer-controlled according to vehicle speed, with a choice of "soft," "firm," and "automatic" settings.

A computer chip also managed a novel, hydraulic ride-height system offering three levels of ground clearance -- 4.7, 5.9, and 7.1 inches -- plus automatic lowering as needed from about 95 mph for improved fuel efficiency and aerodynamic stability.

The Porsche 959 was built in two forms: a "Comfort" model with air-conditioning, electric seats and windows, 911-type rear seats and the ride-height feature; and as a "Sport" version that deleted those items to weigh 110-130 pounds less. Though the Sport was the one given out to most journalists -- doubtless because it was just a little bit faster (carrying 6.1 lbs/horsepower versus 7.1) -- the differences in performance proved slight.

Porsche 959
The Porsche 959 "Comfort" model included A/C and power seats and windows.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2008 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

Porsche 959 Performance

"With rocket-sled acceleration and the highest top speed we've ever measured, the 959 stands alone at the pinnacle of production-car performance," Car and Driver declared. "If that sounds like hyperbole, how does a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.6 seconds strike you? Or 100 mph from rest in just 8.8 seconds[?] The 959 devours the standing quarter-mile in twelve seconds flat [at] 116 mph." Top speed? With boring regularity, C/D and others matched the factory claim of no less than 195 mph. All this in the late 1980s!

Porsche 959
The Porsche 959's sequential turbocharger kept one blower dormant at low speed.

Perhaps more impressive, the Porsche 959 was as docile in town as any 911, at least as quiet, and so stable on the highway that 100 mph felt more like 60, even in driving rain. Cornering was a revelation.

As British writer Mel Nichols observed: "At different times, I lifted off when near maximum power, and all the car did was tighten its line neatly at the front. There was no way that tail -- so deadly in these circumstances in a [normal] 911 -- was going to come around. . . What I liked was the clarity and accessibility of the handling that went with it." A virtual absence of body roll helped mightily, as did the twin-turbo engine's smooth, seamless, relentless power delivery, though one scribe reported an "explosion" of thrust once the second blower cut in.

Life at the pinnacle can be difficult. Troubles with the drive system and brakes, and Porsche's insistence that this amazingly complex supercar be absolutely right, delayed initial 959 deliveries by over a year. Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, Ferry's youngest son, got the first one in April 1987, by which time it was clear that the run wouldn't be finished for another year still.

One reason was agonizingly slow assembly. Because the 959's construction was too involved for even Porsche's usual methods, a small shop was set up to build the cars virtually by hand from numerous custom-fabricated components.

Meantime, rich-and-famous folks everywhere scrambled to be among the few chosen for 959 ownership. Tennis star Boris Becker was refused (too young and inexperienced, Porsche said), but not tennis player Martina Navratilova, Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan, actor Don Johnson, and orchestra conductor Herbert von Karajan.

Having the money wasn't enough, however. To qualify, you had to be a Porsche owner and promise not to sell your 959 for at least six months. You also had to be willing to travel: Sales and service were handled only from the Stuttgart factory.

You were out of luck entirely if you lived in America and drove on public roads. Porsche reneged on a promise to certify 959s to U.S. standards, and a later plan to sell 26 as "racers" through driver/dealer Al Holbert was stymied by Holbert's death in 1988. So even the wealthiest and most influential Americans could only dream of owning this engineering marvel, the car that had won the grueling Paris-Dakar rally not once but twice (1984 and '86, in competition 961 trim).

Although exact production is hazy, 959 assemblies totaled about 230, including development prototypes and racing 961s. Needless to say, each was a blue-chip collectible even before it left the factory.

Though it might seem otherwise, the 959 was more than just an engineering exercise. As Nichols noted at the time, "[T]he good news is that...other Porsches will gain the 959's technology and degrees of its prowess." He was right. The all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 arrived just months after 959 production ended, and later 911 Turbos became 959s in all but name -- and price.

But the 959 was one-of-a-kind, and still is. It was one of those undeniably great cars that comes but once in a lifetime, and that's why it will always be revered.

Porsche 959
Total production of the Porsche 959 was about 230, including racing 961s.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2008 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911