Friday, September 21, 2007

September 2007 Dream Car of the Month - Porsche 959

Well since last month's car was the Ferrari 288 GTO, why not spotlight it's contemporary and arch rival the Porsche 959. The 959 was produced from 1986 to 1989. Development started in 1981 as a study of the future of the Porsche 911. It was decided within Porsche that the best way to go about developing and testing the new car would be through a racing program. They decided that Group B racing was where they would focus their efforts.

Porsche began with an existing racing engine and went from there. The racing version of the car was designated 961 and used a 2.85 liter flat 6 cylinder, twin sequential turbocharged engine. The cylinder heads were water cooled and the block was air cooled. This engine was capable of over 600HP fully tuned in the race car and was connected to an advanced all-wheel-drive system that could vary power to the front and rear wheels. The body was made of aluminum and kevlar keeping weight to a minimum. The 961 prototype made it's debut at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show and was an instant hit.

Paris-Dakar Rally Car

The 961 however never made a big impact on the racing world. The Group B road racing class switched to a rally class killing any hopes of a Ferrari 288 GTO - Porsche 961 showdown. Porsche briefly considered entering the 961 as a rally car but decided it wasn't worth it. They did however enter 959 spec 911s in the 1985 and 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally. In 1985 all three cars failed to finish but in 1986 the Porsches finished 1-2. In 1986 the 961 made its debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans finishing first in its class and 7th overall. The following year it was back but failed to finish. That was all she wrote for the 961.

Thanks to homologation rules, Porsche had to design and build a certain number of street legal cars to qualify the racing version of the car. When the Group B series folded, Porsche focused on making the most technologically advanced sports car ever. About 226 cars were built for public consumption and designated 959 which debuted at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show as a 1986 model. The major differences between the race car and the road car were that the road car had an automatic ride height adjustable suspension where the race car had a fixed suspension, the road car had hollow wheels that were sealed to the tires and contained air and a tire pressure monitoring system, and the road car "only" produced 444HP. Even so, weighing only 2917lbs, the street legal 959's performance was seriously impressive. The car could hit 60mph in 3.6 seconds and the quarter mile in 11.8 on it's way to a top speed in excess of 198MPH.

The first 959s were delayed a year and deliveries did not start until 1987 instead of 1986. The cars price was set at $225,000US but it is claimed that it cost Porsche twice that amount to actually build each car. The 959 however was never made legally available in the US due to the fact that Porsche refused to give 4 cars to the NHTSA for crash testing. Several cars did make it to the US via the "grey" market. Two such cars belonged to Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen who both had their cars sit in impound after they were shipped to the US due to them not being legal for use. Because of this Bill Gates was instrumental in helping pass the "Show and Display" law which removed the crash test requirements and only required the cars to pass emissions standards as they were when the cars were new.

The 959 influenced and paved the way for the future of Porsche's venerable 911 sports car. It started out as a design study to determine the future viability of the rear engine layout and became legendary. In 1991 the 964 model 911 became the first 911 to be available with all wheel drive, the same system used on the 959. By the 993 generation 911, Porsche decided to make all wheel drive standard on all 911 turbos. They also introduced twin turbos for the first time in the 993 turbo. The 993 was the generation of 911 most influenced by the 959 as noticed by the overall design which was very similar in appearance to the 959 and is considered by some to be the best 911 ever produced. Even the current 911 Carrera 4 and Turbos use an all wheel drive system derived from the one used in the 959. The 911's very existence to this day and foreseeable future may be thanks to the developments made in the 959 program.

Today 959s are very rare throughout the world, even more so here in the US where they were never officially sold. When they do appear on the market they command prices of around $1millionUS. I remember being a kid when they first came out and the leaps in technology and performance that they made propelled them to almost mythical status. Truly one of the greatest sports cars ever built.

1 comment:

prashanth sidharth said...

u forgot to mention...the best looking porsche from the rear..