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The fascinating history of the Porsche 959

In the 80s, Porsche wanted to demonstrate its level of technology through a car never built before. This is the story of the Porsche 959, the fastest car in the world suitable for everyday use, the Dakar and Le Mans.

There are many automakers and a few supercars, but few have the pedigree and character of Porsche. Probably none, actually. The 959 is a clear example of this.

It was 1982 and Peter schutz He had been president of Porsche for a few months. One day, the brand’s engineer, Helmuth Bott, came into his office with some ideas about a new 911 and technological innovations such as four-wheel drive to put to the test in an environment as competitive and demanding as Group B of the World Cup. of Rallies.

Close Enemies: The Porsche 959 and the Ferrari F40 in the hands of Richard Hammond.

Schutz approved the project and there began the history of the prototype called Porsche C29, which would later be called Porsche Gruppe B Prototype and eventually it would end up as the Porsche 959, the most advanced production vehicle of its time and one that marked a turning point for the Stuttgart brand’s history.

One car for everything

Although the original idea was to use the car as an excuse to get the FIA ​​homologation of B Group and compete like this in the World Rally Championship, the 959 soon began to develop with two main ideas in mind:

It had to be usable on a day-to-day basis, both for driving and for comfort. It had to become the fastest production car in the world.

Thus, Helmut Bott began to work on a chassis of the Porsche 911 to which a body sculpted in the wind tunnel was incorporated and which was built in exotic materials such as kevlar and different types of plastics.

The sharp lines of the 911 were softened and complemented by faired wheels and underbody coatings, allowing the designers to achieve a coefficient of drag (Cx) of just 0.31, which guaranteed an exceptional top speed.

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But it had to be accompanied by a powerful engine, choosing the 6-cylinder boxer biturbo block from the 956 of Group C that debuted with a triplet in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1982.

With an initial 2.6 liters and 640 hp, the engineers took pains to make it more tame but without losing competitive capacity, raising the displacement to 2.8 liters and establishing a power of 450 hp. The all-aluminum block of this engine featured innovations such as sodium-filled exhaust valves, dry sump lubrication, and titanium connecting rods.

Not only that, because the 959 was the first Porsche to incorporate liquid cooling, also having two KKK two-stage turbochargers, which had a double intercooler and were managed by a Bosch Motronic electronic injection system.

Bruce Canepa, one of the greatest connoisseurs of the Porsche 959, tells us in depth about it.

To complement all this, the Porsche engineers selected a five-speed + G gearbox (Gëlande, ‘field’ in German, a kind of gearbox for uneven terrain), associated with a system of all-wheel drive with viscous differential and multi-plate clutch that made possible a torque distribution from 40/60 to 20/80.

Plus? Yes, there was more. Magnesium wheels and tires runflat specifically designed for the Porsche 959 by Bridgestone, they were controlled by a pressure monitoring system -all a novelty on the market- and mounted on a variable height suspension (between 180 and 120 mm, the latter mandatory from 160 km / h) with double shock absorber per wheel, superimposed triangles and coil springs.

In short, a technological marvel that showed the way to many manufacturers and that, as often happens with everything vehicle ahead of its time, did not have the deserved recognition in the market.

Competition before sales

With such complexity and ambition, Porsche could not help but repeatedly delay the launch of a vehicle that had become a bottomless pit of money and development.

With so many postponements and technical innovations progressively incorporated, the initial objective of competing in the World Rallies it eventually fizzled out after the Group B regulation was canceled in 1986, although at least Porsche achieved resounding victories during its evolutionary process.

The Porsche 959, winner of the 1986 Dakar.

And, as part of its preparation for the rallies, Porsche paid attention to the Paris Dakar and entered a 953 derived from the 911 in the 1984 edition, which he won. Already in 1985 it was 959’s turn, although none of the registered units was able to finish the test and even one of them ended up burned.

In 1986, on the other hand, the Porsche 959 was made with a resounding double headed by René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne. When the abolition of Group B was confirmed, Porsche could have chosen to definitively cancel the project, but instead decided to push ahead and reconvert the Dakar car into a competition vehicle for the category IMSA GTX of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

As a result, the engine regained power to deliver the initial 640 hp, lowering the overall weight to a mere 1100 kg. The result? victory at the hands of René Metge and Claude Ballot-Léna in its class in the debut of that same year 1986 and seventh position of a general commanded by another Porsche, the 962C of Derek Bell, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Al Holbert.

Go to market

Finally, after years of development, resounding victories in competition and huge amounts of money invested, the Porsche 959 went on sale in 1987 with a starting price of 420,000 marks (about 215,000 euros) and two versions available: Komfort and Sport.

The former featured leather seats, air conditioning and all kinds of luxuries, while the latter was more focused on performance and dispensed with equipment to become the fastest production vehicle in the world. And he succeeded, albeit for a short time, since the Ferrari f40 he would snatch the throne from him shortly after, although with a much simpler and more austere bet.

The curiosities of the Porsche 959

Without a doubt, the 959 was a very exclusive and special car of which only 288 units were officially manufactured. Some of its curiosities, such as the G gear incorporated into its gearbox, the fact that it was the first water-cooled Porsche vehicle or the first production car with runflat tires and tire pressure control we have already discussed them previously.

But the 959 hides many other stories, like that of the completely golden unit or the six units not counted, but built.

The second prototype of the 959, called Gruppe B.

The first of these was commissioned by an Arab sheikh in 1989 and had gold paint, alloy wheels and tailpipes (the exhausts were gold, literally), as well as brown and beige upholstery or the Sheikh family coat of arms on the steering wheel, door panels, floor mats and gear stick.

The other six unofficial units of the Porsche 959 were commissioned by a millionaire from Macau which allowed the brand to recoup part of the investment by paying double for each of them from the spare parts of the units initially destined for the US market.

That is another of the curious stories that surround the Porsche 959, as the authorities of the North American country requested four units to conduct its own crash tests, something the German brand refused to do.

The luxurious interior of the Porsche 959 allowed four passengers.

This prevented the landing in the United States of the 29 units initially destined for that market, until Bruce Canepa, Mike Allen and Bill Gates They got the approval of the so-called ‘Show and Display’ law in 1999 that allowed the Porsche 959 to enter the country, although not its use on the open road.

There is no doubt that the Porsche 959 is one of the most unique and iconic sports cars in history, as well as one of the most advanced and fastest. It did not succeed in the market, but it has a place of honor in the Olympus of the four wheels.

TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Porsche 959TypeSportyBodywork2-door coupeConfigurationLength 4,260 mmWidth 1,840 mmHeight1280 mmWheelbase2270 mmBrakes Front and rear ventilated disc with four-piston calipers (322 mm and 305 mm)The V6 biturbo engine, installed in the rear of the Porsche 959.