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It is easy to think of supercars as the automotive equivalent of supermodels. Incredibly beautiful, exclusive, seductive, and notoriously hard to live with, supercars are inspiring things unique to their time and remembered long after they are gone. Fascinated by their design and power, people tend to forget that supercars are often very dangerous to drive, with ill-handling characteristics, minimal driving comforts, and dubious reliability. Just like the supermodels are often pretty ordinary girls underneath all that makeup and glamour.
However, there is one supercar that eludes such comparison. Not because it isn’t beautiful, incredibly advanced, fast, and exclusive but because it had sublime handling, everyday usability, and remarkable durability. I would call this supercar a true superhero since its qualities are legendary, and its capabilities are well beyond what an average supercar from the period could deliver. This car influenced the whole industry and will be remembered as one of the most forward-thinking models in automotive history. Yes, I’m talking about the iconic Porsche 959.
The 959 was conceived at a very peculiar time for Porsche as a company. Back in the late 70s, Porsche was getting ready to phase out the venerable 911 due to slow sales and replace it with the ultra-modern 928 as its primary model. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but in the early ’80s, the famous brand from Zuffenhausen desperately needed something that would create a buzz and put the company back into the spotlight. With the new managing director, Peter Schutz, at the helm, Porsche was open to new ideas and looking for a way to rejuvenate the current 911 series, which was in production since 1975.
The 911s from that period were criticized for problematic handling (especially in Turbo models, which were called ‘Widow Makers’), significant turbo lag, and stability at high speeds. Porsche engineers envisioned a new model that would address all those issues but still keep the 911’s design and signature features. At the same time, in 1982, FIA introduced the legendary (and extremely crazy) Group B rally class, which allowed manufacturers to develop and race almost semi-prototype cars with drivetrain layouts, engines, and chassis architecture not widely available to the general public. This gave birth to a class of extremely fast, advanced, and pretty complicated racing machines that became instantly popular with racing fans.
As a company deeply rooted in motorsport, Porsche recognized Group B as the perfect arena for their new experimental car. The technical requirements were ideal, and Porsche engineers could test all the advanced features they wanted in action. Luckily, most of the components were already there, and flat-six, dual overhead cam engine was sourced from 956 racing cars but enlarged to 2.8 liters to comply with Group B specifications.
Interestingly, in order to kill notorious turbo lag, almost synonymous with their 911 Turbo models, engineers developed a very advanced sequential twin-turbo setup that used one turbo for lower engine speeds and both for higher engine speeds. The Porsche 959 was the first car ever to implement this design successfully, and it didn’t only significantly reduced the turbo lag and resulted in instant throttle response.
The second most notable and advanced feature was the all-wheel-drive system that Porsche called PSK (Porsche-Steuer Kupplung). Having an AWD layout was one of the initial requirements since engineers wanted to avoid problems with handling and traction, which are very common on 930 Turbo models. The PSK was designed to provide up to 80% of power to the rear axle under hard acceleration but switch power from axles when it notices the wheel slip and change in surface. Even though Porsche experimented with semi-automatic before, engineers decided on 6-speed manual transmission for this car.
Since the 959 was envisioned as a “super 911,” the designers took the basic 911 shape. Still, they modified it to accommodate a more complicated engine, a different drive train layout, and a newly designed and unique aerodynamic package. With recognizable front fascia, sloping roofline, and silhouette, the 959 is unmistakably a Porsche but wide fenders, different bumpers, an all-new rear end, and a wider and more aggressive stance gave the 959 its own identity. More importantly, the new design, along with the specially developed aerodynamic package, gave the 959 impressive high-speed stability, which was also one of the imperatives from the get-go.
Engineers knew that all that new technology would result in unwanted weight gains, so they totally ditched the pressed steel 911s were usually made of. Instead, the body panels were made of Aramid (a type of Kevlar), and the floor was made out of Nomex, a special type of strong and heat-resistant steel. This way, the 959 kept its weight down at a reasonable 1,450 kg but had impressive torsional rigidity and chassis strength. In a relentless quest to save a few grams, Porsche also developed unique magnesium alloy wheels, which were hollowed out for weight savings. Originally 18-inch wheels were used on prototypes, but production models had 17-inch rolling stock.
The general automotive public first saw Porsche’s revolutionary new car in late 1983 at Frankfurt Motor Show. The vehicle was by no means finished, but people were intrigued by the new model, exciting specifications, and racing intentions. It was the company’s only premiere that year and a much-needed publicity boost for the brand. Implementing such advanced systems and testing numerous components proved highly time-consuming, and the first pre-production model was shown two years later, in October of 1985. However, even though Porsche finished the development of 959, the actual production didn’t commence until late 1986 due to countless production difficulties.
Interestingly, the 959 wasn’t built at Porsche’s factory. Instead, it was assembled by Baur, a company specialized in producing bodies for BMW and Audi, but under the careful eye of Porsche specialists. This was because 959 had specific body materials, which required an extraordinary production approach that standard assembly lines in Zuffenhausen could not accommodate.
When the 959 finally reached its first customers and motoring journalists in late 1986, it opened a whole new chapter for Porsche and showed the world that it was well worth the wait. Compared to the rest of Porsche’s lineup, the 959 was miles ahead in technology, design, and performance. The road-going model delivered an impressive 450 hp from a twin-turbo, flat-six 2.8-liter engine, reaching 100 km/h in a remarkably quick 3.7 seconds and with a top speed of 318 km/h. All of that made it the fastest production car in the world, a position that the 959 kept for several years. However, what was even more impressive was the vehicle’s stability at high speeds, effortless acceleration, quality, and user-friendly nature of this beast. The 959 had self-leveling hydraulic suspension and rear seats, making it as comfortable and practical as the ordinary 911 Carrera. Yes, it was (loosely) based on 911, but it didn’t have any flaws while keeping all of its virtues.
Initially, two versions were offered, both with the same power output. The “Komfort” version was a standard model with a 450 hp engine, but the 959 S (Sport) was a more extreme and slightly lighter model. In a failed attempt to sell the 959 in America as a race car (avoiding an expensive homologation process), Porsche presented the S model with race seats, no rear seats, a factory-fitted roll bar, more straightforward suspension setup. Also, for S models, Porsche offered a significant power upgrade, resulting in 503 hp delivered to all four wheels, a slightly better acceleration figure, and a higher top speed. Apparently, only 29 customers decided on that option.
As you would expect, the base price of the Porsche 959 was astronomical, and the base price in 1987 was $225,000, which is around $630,000 adjusted for inflation today. Compared to the standard 1987 911 Carrera, the 959 cost about eight times more! The enormous price of this project, so many advanced systems and components, and the meticulous production process ended up being the reason why the 959 was never homologated for the US market. Due to the exchange rate between the US dollar and Deutsche Mark, Porsche would lose a significant amount of money on any 959 sold in America, and it would cripple the company’s finance. Interestingly, despite being sold in the UK, no RHD version was ever offered.
Although the Porsche 959 was conceived to race in Group B, the racing class was cancelled by the time the car’s development was finished. After a string of fatal accidents in 1986, FIA decided to put an end to what has become an extremely expensive and insanely dangerous racing league. Even though the fans will always consider Group B as a pinnacle of rally sport, everybody agrees that the speed levels of those over-boosted machines were beyond safety standards and rally stages and that it was a question of time before something disastrous happened. Porsche entered the racing version of the 959 in 1986, 24 Hours of Le Mans but had no luck.
However, despite the fact that the 959 never raced in Group B, it still managed to have a short but stellar racing career. Porsche engineers knew that the racing improved the breed, so they entered a prototype version of the 959 into the 1984 Paris – Dakar Rally. Amazingly, they took 1st place in this gruesome event, showing that the 959 construction and mechanics are spot on. Seeing that the car would not be finished in time for Group B, Porsche again entered the 959 in rally endurance races and managed to repeat the success, winning the 1986 Paris – Dakar event.
The first production examples were delivered to the customers in 1987, and from the start, Porsche’s production plans were to complete the FIA’s requirements for Group B homologation. This meant producing at least 200 examples, but Porsche managed to sell 292 customers cars. The production concluded in late 1988, but those 292 cars weren’t the final number. The overall production numbers are somewhat higher, and if we count racing cars, pre-production examples, and prototypes, the complete run of Porsche 959 was precisely 345 copies. Interestingly, the last ones were produced by special order in the early ’90s, using leftover parts and components. Those eight cars are somewhat different from the standard run by upgraded suspension and few custom touches. They were also much more expensive. Due to the 959’s exclusivity and sublime driving dynamics, it is no surprise that celebrities snapped it up. The original owners of the 959 included Marina Navratilova, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bill Gates, whose 959 was kept for 13 years by US Customs before he finally took possession. The high price was one of the limiting factors; Porsche wouldn’t sell the car to anybody with the money and took some time to check the potential customers before allowing the sale.
The 959 is an immensely important car for Porsche for its history, ethos, and philosophy. It wasn’t just the first road-going supercar this company ever made, but a technological tour de force car industry hadn’t seen before. The 959 defined Porsche’s mechanical excellence, signature design language, and relentless quest for perfection, performance, and quality. It reshaped how car fans think about supercars, and it became the first car that could cruise happily at 300 km/h on Autobahn and quickly cross the Alpes in the heavy show. It might arrive too late for the Group B party, but it won important races and showed the world how good the original idea was. However, the 959’s most important role was to save the 911 and show that the concept of a sports car with a rear-mounted flat-six engine still has much to offer to the world. Today, over 30 years since the last 959 came off the production line in Karosserie
Baur, we can see that 959 did just that and how influential it became. Today, all 911s are turbocharged, have adaptive suspension, and most have an all-wheel-drive, meaning that all modern 911s have a bit of 959 spirit in them.
PORSCHE 959 FAQ
Why is the Porsche 959 so expensive?
The main reason for the Porsche 959 being so expensive would be its rarity: only 337 cars were produced. Next to that it contained groundbreaking tech and innovations and it was a very capable car that won several races.
What is the most expensive Porsche 959 ever sold?
This was the unique 1985 Porsche 959 Dakar. It was sold for 5.94 million dollars.
How many Porsche 959 Where Made?
Porsche produced only 337 units of the 959, including 37 prototypes and pre-production cars.
What is today’s price of a Porsche 959?
Depending on the state of the car, they trade around 1.5 to 2 million dollars.
How much did the Porsche 959 cost at launch?
If you hade the chance to buy one at the launch, you’ve had to pay your dealer $225,000.