Showpiece of the Week: Porsche 959

By any standard, the 959 was one of the most significant cars to ever roll from a Porsche production line. It was a contemporary of the mid-engined Ferrari F40 and much heavier - yet it was faster, rarer and certainly no less famous than Enzo's final sign-off. It was ostensibly built to go rallying in the furnace of Group B, but its legend was sealed in homologated road car format, where it was not only considered the quickest street-legal production car at launch, but also the most technically advanced.

It had its innovative all-wheel drive system to thank for both virtues. Computer-controlled, hydraulically operated multi-plate clutches were destined to become all the rage in the decades that followed, but in the early eighties the technology was positively space-age. The PSK (Porsche-Steuer Kupplung, since you asked) setup didn't require wheel slip for its torque to move dynamically, which meant that the 959 could pre-emptively split drive between front and rear as the conditions demanded.

It was a level of sophistication that delivered what seemed like outlandish performance. With 80 percent of the power deployed rearward, the 959 was capable of hitting 62mph in 3.7 seconds. It had a sub 12 second 1/4 mile time, and - if you went for the upgraded output option - it would comfortably exceed 200mph. The source of the power was no less state-of-the-art than the drivetrain which deployed it. The twin-turbocharged 2.8-litre flat-six was originally built for racing, too, and developed 450hp (at a time when the 911 (930) Turbo produced only 300hp).

The engine didn't share much with its sibling either. For a start it was partially water-cooled, dry-sumped and featured a host of exotic materials in its construction, including titanium conrods. Its dual KKK turbochargers were made to function sequentially for better response, and could summon 296lb ft by 2,500rpm, with 369lb ft arriving at 5,500rpm. Mated to a bespoke Borg-Warner six-speed manual gearbox, this delivered enormous drivability - but it didn't prevent the flat-six from revving to 8,000rpm either.

Porsche wrapped the lot in that inimitable body; 911-like (not least because it shared that car's platform), but distinguished by that dramatically flared rear end which exceeded even the Turbo's width by 2.5 inches. To keep weight down, the manufacturer used aluminum alloy for some of the body parts, as well as Kevlar composite. The 959's styling owes as much to a wind tunnel as the designer's pen though: stability at speed was the primary requirement, with the engineers determined to eliminate aerodynamic lift. Alongside an adjustable ride height function, they achieved an ultra slippery 0.31 drag coefficient in the process.

In total 337 cars were built, with eight more added in the early nineties. It was later claimed that Porsche lost a six-figure sum on every example sold - despite wearing a circa £145k sticker when new. But the lessons learned during its development were colossal and directly influenced not just the subsequent generation of 911s, but also the future engineering preferences of the entire firm. As a result of its talismanic status, its values remain prodigiously high. This being PH, there is a choice of five available in the classifieds, with this 1988 Comfort-spec German example up for 850,000 euros at Coys. Classic cars do not come in a more modern format.

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Comments (42) Join the discussion on the forum

  • JMF894 11 Jun 2018

    Teenage poster boy stuff but I'll have a F40 thanks.

  • green911 11 Jun 2018

    Surely to correct comparison should be to the 288GTO

  • Mave 11 Jun 2018

    green911 said:
    Surely to correct comparison should be to the 288GTO
    Why? The 959 and F40 were contempories, from mid / late 80s through until early 90s.

  • clonmult 11 Jun 2018

    green911 said:
    Surely to correct comparison should be to the 288GTO
    Nope, that was a few years ealier (3-4 years before?).

    It was all F40 v 959 in the magazines back in the day.

  • Gecko1978 11 Jun 2018

    I thought the quoted top speed was 197mph which while for a time the fastest road car meant it was eclipsed by 201mph F40 even though the F40 was a far less sophisticated car. Had the porsche been first to do 200mph I suspect it would have been the poster car of the 90s.

    personally I would rather have this over an F40

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