The Porsche 959 was designed for ‘Group B’ racing, a new category for factory-built experimental cars, and the racing prototype was unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt Auto Show. Porsche had only just initiated the homologation production when the class was abandoned. By then, the company was gripped by a different ambition. The new twin-turbo, all-wheel drive machine, based on the heart stopping 911, was to be the ultimate road car, representing the acme of Porsche’s 40 years of achievement in technology and design.
On its first appearance, critics stopped just short of genuflecting. Motor Trend, reduced to humble simplicity, pronounced it the fastest, most technologically advanced sports car in history’. The 959’s impressive looks owe nothing to aesthetic choice. Its shape was determined by the need for zero lift.
Every curve, duct and vent was subordinate to performance, including hollow-spoke wheels and the extra-wide tail with the loop spoiler. Drivers, used to correcting the 911’s lethal tendencies on corners, were flabbergasted at the 959’s apparently effortless self-correction, even at very high speed.
The twin blowers delivered a smooth and relentless torrent of power, and the miraculous complexities of the 959’s engineering ensured that the explosive thrust transferred to the road with no roll and no lift. Yet in town, it behaved like a choir boy, singing sweetly and quietly. Mere money couldn’t buy you one. You had to be an existing Porsche owner, promise not to sell your 959 for at least six months, and (irrespective of wealth, power or position) come to Stuttgart in person to collect it.
Production was restricted to around 230 cars, all pre-sold at the 1987 price of US$225,000. Each car in fact cost Porsche around $530,000 to build. Best of all, everyone felt they had gained by the transaction — and that alone makes the Porsche 959 an extraordinary car.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Germany
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1987 (until 1988)
ENGINE: 2,847 cc Boxer Flat Six
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 197 mph (317 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 3.6 seconds
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The ‘chosen few’ whose applications to own the Porsche 959 were successful included Danny Sullivan, the winner of the Indianapolis 500; Herbert von Karajan, the conductor; the actor Don Johnson and Martina Navratilova. Another tennis champion, Boris Becker, was rejected, in Porsche’s words, as ‘too young and inexperienced’.