Celebrating 30 years of the Porsche 959: Setting the bar for supercar technology and performance

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The Porsche brand has been building superbly engineered high performance machines for almost a century and the Stuttgart automaker recently celebrated some major milestones with the 50th anniversary of its iconic 911 model. This year, Porsche racing historians are abuzz with the 30th anniversary of the super high tech and very fast 959.

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Why the 959?

The 1980’s was a pivotal time for Porsche and it looked for new ways to push the performance envelop. Racing has always been the way to test and showcase new technologies and Porsche wanted to build a car that could compete in the grueling Group B rally series. Manufacturers had to build at least 200 ‘homologation’ units to run in the series and Porsche premiered the street version of the 959 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1985.

A really fast rolling laboratory

To say the 959 is high tech is an understatement. Porsche used the 959 program to test its newest all wheel drive system which is now core technology used on current all-wheel-drive 911’s. At the time it was heralded as the most advanced all wheel drive system on the market and could dynamically split torque between the wheels in slippery and non-slippery conditions. Porsche built the new and very rare 6 speed transmission from the ground up and it featured a special off road gear to maximize performance on rougher terrain.

Cutting edge design carried over into the light weight body which was built out of an aluminum, carbon fiber and Kevlar composite. Advanced aerodynamics and a dynamic zero-lift kit created the perfect handling balance for the 959. It could stay on the ground and handle challenging twists and turns even at high speed.

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The 959 enjoys the distinction of being the first twin turbo Porsche which were added to 2.8 litre flat six boxer engine which is a mainstay in current Porsches. Production units have a top speed of 197 mph for ‘Sport’ models and another distinction Porsche enjoys is that the 959 was the fastest production car you could buy at the time. Zero to 100 km/h times came in at an astonishing for the time 3.7 seconds and blistering ¼ mile time of 11.9 seconds.

Some have called this the first true supercar.

The rare gets rarer

Porsche only produced 337 959s from 1986-1989 as its $225,500 base price did not cover half of the actual production costs. In 1992, Porsche was able to build 8 limited edition 959s from spare parts and all were sold to collectors. These cars are now the most sought after 959s and no price estimates exist as none have ever come to market. “Mass market” 959s have seen auction prices reach as high as 250,000 Euros.

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The ‘Gates 959’

Software billionaire Bill Gates purchased a 959 but could not legally import it into the United States. The 959 had never been crash tested and Porsche refused to supply the 4 cars needed for tests to be complete. Gate’s 959 sat in a crate in a customs warehouse in California for 13 years before new laws were passed that allowed the importation of untested vehicles. Watching those cars being smashed into walls would have been painful for anyone who loves cars.

The 959 influence

Porsche needed a platform to test out and improve performance technology and the 959 provided the perfect avenue for development. The PSK all wheel drive system perfected in the 959 found its way in some form to all current Porsche all wheel drive models in including the iconic Carrera 4. As on the Group B car, twin turbo charging found its way into production Porches and created a mini-horsepower war between rival sport car brands. Top end and high performance 911 models all use technology born out of the 959 and which continues to allow Porsche to push the envelope when it comes to sports car performance.

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By Doron Levy Courtesy TheTopTier Digital Media

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