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Cars

January 13th, 2018

Porsche in the 1980s was a very different animal from the technological front runner they have become today. Back then they were a small independent car maker heavily relying on their Porsche 911 line of cars. The consensus in the firm, then led by Peter Schultz, was that the company had reached the limits of what the 911 and its inherently compromised rear engined structure could achieve. This was in the heyday of the legendary Group B class in rallying and the Porsche engineers believed this competition could be an ideal testing ground for the company’s new technological platform.

The Porsche 959 was an outcome of this thinking and was initially intended only for use in motorsport activities. The chassis components were broadly based on that of the 911 but the aluminium engine was a highly modified version of the one seen on Porsche’s 935/78 ‘Moby Dick’ Le Mans prototype. Most notable though was the addition of the PSK (Porsche-Stuer Kupplung) all-wheel drive system. The Gruppe B Prototype (it wasn’t called the 959 until the road going version debuted in 1985) was shown to the public at Frankfurt in 1983. In this time however, the increasing fatalities led to the cancellation of the Group B rally class and Porsche were left with an ideal base on which to build what would become the world’s first hypercar.

The Porsche 959’s 2.85-litre engine, in road going spec, produced 444 hp and 369 lb/ft  (500 Nm) of torque. It was a rear mounted twin turbo boxer six and featured an interesting dual-cooling solution that saw the cylinders being air cooled in traditional Porsche fashion, but the heads incorporated water cooling. It also featured dry sump lubrication and a then unique sequential turbo operation. This got the car from 0 to 60 mph (96 kmph) in 3.6s and onto a top speed of 197 mph (317 kmph), the fastest for any production car until then. The PSK all wheel drive system was also exceptionally advanced for the time: it was a purely electronic system comparable to ones found in the present day Nissan GT-R. A six speed transmission specially created by Borg Warner tied everything together. This was also unique in the fact that it featured 5 forward gear and a special “G” gear for off-road driving. A double wishbone suspension was provided front and back. Other notable features included adjustable ride height, adjustable dampers, magnesium alloy wheels and ABS. Most of these were pioneering features never seen on a road car before. The interiors were similar to other Porsches of the era but bettered that of its nemesis, the F40. While the F40 was bare bones inside, the 959 featured all manner of creature comforts like leather seats, a radio, air conditioning, power windows and more.

In its production run between 1986 – 1988, only 337 were built. Even though the 959 was one of the most expensive cars of the time, being sold at US$225,000, it cost Porsche almost double that amount to make them.  This made a longer production run financially unviable, although between 1992-1993, six more examples were built from leftover spares. This mean that the 959 Komfort (the more common luxury variant) seen here and up for auction at RM Sotheby’s Arizona 2018 sale is a real catch, especially given its 8900 miles from new odometer reading.

Calling the Porsche 959 the first modern hypercar is no exaggeration. It featured technology unheard of in road cars at the time, all in a package which made it accessible to everyday drivers. This was quite unlike its contemporary, the F40, which expected the driver to have a certain level of skill to be fully capable of exploiting it. But both these cars are now considered blueprints for the modern supercar. Every supercar since has followed in the steps of these two and built on the ideas and technologies these cars pioneered.

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