First production Porsche to top 300 kilometers per hour. On its own, a rather impressive standard to bear, but coupled to the tectonic shift in technology necessary to reach that milestone, the Porsche 959 stands as a true engineering masterpiece. The mythic beast that dominated many a boyhood bedroom poster wall came into being during a strange time in Zuffenhausen. Things were bleak for Porsche's traditional rear engine layout—the 924 and 944 were chipping away at the paradigm—and many wondered quietly how much longer the 911 would remain relevant.
When the 959 went into production in 1986, Car and Driver said "The 959 can accomplish almost any automotive mission so well that to call it perfect is the mildest of overstatements." When compared to the development cycle of other supercars of this class, the 959 is unique. How many Lamborghinis have you seen running in the Group B class of the Paris to Dakar Rally?
The story of the 959 began in 1981, when Porsche bosses met to work out a long-term strategy for their sports cars. the 911 had stagnated, crushed under the twin pressures of the Clean Air Act and outmoded technology (nearly as old as Porsche itself). Investment in the future was necessary for survival. What better way to do than through racing? No area of development would be off limits: an all new all-wheel drive system, sequential turbocharging, kevlar body construction. You name it. The 959 would redefine what what it meant to be a Porsche.
When the car was introduced at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Porsche Gruppe B was an instant super star. Call it the unveil heard round the world. The gauntlet had been defiantly thrown down. In the following year, Porsche's entry into the new Group B class in for experimental factory cars set our young hearts aflutter. The result was no less amazing then the car itself. The rally racing form of the Gruppe B, the 961—with modifications to the damping system, aerodynamics, and all wheel drive bias—finished in top spots in the 1984 and 1986 runnings of the Paris-Dakar.
To accommodate the homologation rules, the 959 was introduced to an eager and affluent public. Technological marvels the likes of which the roadgoing public had never seen were packed into its $225,000 package. The car shared a wheelbase with the Porsche 911, but that's about all. The engine was a short stroke, 2.85L flat six. Very similar in design to the FIA engine developed for the 935, the body of the engine remained air cooled, but the heads gained a water cooling system. The turbo system was designed with a sequential setup, with one turbo operating below 4000rpm and the second introducing additional thrust until redline. The driveline was Porsche's first foray into all-wheel drive and was the harbinger for all Carrera systems to follow. Computer or manual adjustment allowed a shift from 50/50 to 80/20 rear to front. A hydraulic height management system could place the car anywhere from 4.3 inches from the ground, to 7.4. The wheels featured hollow spokes to increase the volume of air in the tires, managing heat and providing a smoother ride. Air-pressure sensors detected tire failure, and run-flats were included. The body was constructed for maximum weight-saving, utilizing materials ranging from aluminum door skins to kevlar roof panels.
The technological tour de force did not disappoint on the street. A 0-60mph time of 3.6 s was easily attainable. More? How about 0-100 mph in 8.6 sec. and a standing quarter in 12 sec?Top speed exceeded 190 mph. Lord have mercy.
Was the introduction of the 959 one of the greatest shifts in supercar thinking to date? Most certainly. The Herculean efforts of the engineering team were deftly translated into a snarling, ferocious product. Even today, supercars struggle to match the capabilities routinely demonstrated by the 959. Legendary would be an understatement. It should go without saying this one should stand the test of time in the Fantasy Garage, but only if you see fit to vote it in first.
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage:
1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928 | Jensen FF | DeTomaso Vallelunga | Audi Quattro S1 | Buick GNX | Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R | Honorary Fantasy Garager: The LS1 Powered Rotus | Lamborghini LM002 | Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe | Ferrari 250 GTO | Bentley Speed Six | Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Raindrop/Teardrop Coupe | Porsche 917 | Audi RS4 Avant | Lamborghini Miura | Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 | BMW E39 M5 | Jaguar E-type | Mercedes-Benz 300 SL | Dodge Charger/Challenger R/T | Toyota 2000GT | Facel Vega HK500 | Voisin C28 Aerosport | Bugatti Type 41 Royale | McLaren F1 | Maserati Bora | Continental MK II | Tucker 48 | Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato | BMW 507