In 1986, as the 911 rolled persisted as one of the world's favorite sport cars, Porsche unveiled another variation on the theme, the 959. Development had begun as early as 1981, and the idea was to build a showcase of all Porsche could achieve. The 959 became the car that would carry Porsche into the next evolutions not only of its flagship, but of every car the company would build for the next 20 years.
The 959 employed height-adjustable suspension, a trick all-wheel-drive system that kept it tractable just about everywhere, antilock brakes, and a zero-lift aluminum and carbon body. Power came through an air- and water-cooled 2.85-liter derivative of Porsche's trusty flat-6, urged on by sequential twin turbochargers that spooled smoothly over the rev range, unlike the Porsche turbos of yore.
With 444 hp, 369 ft-lb of torque, and a 6-speed transmission to put it all into motion, the car was fast, quick, agile, and everything else it was supposed to be. Zero to 60 mph in less than four and a top end on the leeward side of 200 mph.
Production numbers vary, but Porsche built somewhere between 200 and 337. Two trim levels were available: Komfort and Sport. Komfort offered air conditioning, power windows and seats, rear seats, the aforementioned height-adjustable suspension, a right door mirror, and sound insulation. The Sport trim lacked all of those items, as well as the 110 pounds they weighed.
Road-going cars were priced at about $250,000, though sellers had no problem finding people willing to pay more. The motoring press couldn't help but drool over it, either. Mel Nichols of Automobile called it more thrilling than anything he’d ever driven, concluding, “I love it most because it gave so much and asked for so little.”
The 959 never made it to America in period, as Porsche saw no need to waste any of them on federal crash tests. American owners either kept them to drive in Europe or they finagled them into the country and put them on display. Recently, exhaust conversions and modified computers have allowed owners to legalize their cars for the street, but most are used sparingly, if at all.
The 959 rarely ran in the FIA’s short-lived Group B rally class, either, except at the Paris-Dakar Rally, where it failed to finish in January 1985, and where it scored a 1-2 victory in January 1986. A 959 modified for the long, high, 24-hour speeds of Le Mans—the 961—finished first in class and seventh overall there in June of the same year.
That was it for competition, and it was enough. The world’s biggest stages for two very different tests, with decidedly similar results.
Even today, the 959 holds a special position in Porsche lore. If nothing else, it solidified the company’s role as a leading innovator in the car-building business. And the four generations of 911 since its brief stint are indeed this car.