It’s hard to know where to start when writing about a car like the Porsche 959, because for its time, it was just so advanced and leagues ahead of its rivals. Launched in 1985 at a time when the British motor industry was busy imploding, the 959 was billed by Porsche as the ‘Car of the Future’, a supercar with its origins in the humble 911.
The brainchild of Porsche Board Member for Research and Development, Professor Helmuth Bott, the concept was first introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1983. The development of a 4WD model was sufficiently advanced at this time for an Allradantrieb 911 Cabriolet concept to be shown publicly as an undeveloped prototype called the ‘Group B Studie’. It was an attempt to gauge the public’s reaction, but it had conceived with racing in mind as the prototype’s body had smoothly contoured outlines and rounded surfaces that were to be echoed in later generations of the 911.
Realising that they would not find the required 200 racing customers for homologation of such a vehicle, the new car had to be flexible enough to be raced and rallied, and it should also be practical enough for everyday use. In the words of Helmuth Bott, this vehicle had to fall between a ‘production car and a racer’. Although the 959 is to all intents and purposes a road car, it has its origins in the world of motor sport. Changes in the racing regulations in the mid-1980s permitted greater flexibility in the development of standard-looking vehicles for circuit racing in the Group B class. The Porsche engineers set about building a new race car based on the 911 but utilising a 4-wheel drive layout with the possibility of also being adapted for normal road use.
Based on the 911, the floor pan of the 959 was re-engineered to take the 4-wheel drive layout and revised suspension, while many of the body panels were fabricated from aluminium and fibreglass-reinforced epoxy resin. The rear body section and engine lid was integrated with the large rear spoiler and lifted as one unit while the aerodynamic body was designed as a no-lift body shape. The front headlamps and fenders were reminiscent of the 1983 high performance 911 Turbo Coupe ‘Slant Nose’ which was itself a variation of the awesome 935 racer from the late-1970s. What a pedigree!
Technically, the 959 was quite unlike anything anybody had ever seen before. Fitted with twin compound turbochargers, the 2.85-litre boxer engine in the roadgoing 959 developed a whopping 450bhp and could reach 196mph (315km/h). For those wishing to acquire one of the 292 cars made, there was the small matter of parting with DM420,000. As is fairly typical for the Stuttgart manufacturer, the engineers could never resist making a more powerful, limited edition model. Known as the 959 S (Sport), just 29 of the total production left the factory with a more powerful specification, the power output having been boosted to 515bhp.
Whereas the normal aim with automobile aerodynamics is to achieve a minimum coefficient of drag (Cd), the other important criterion in the development of the 959’s bodywork was to ensure the avoidance of lift (coefficient of lift – Cl). Due to the anticipated very high top speed of the 959, the drag coefficient was kept at 0.31 while careful body detailing ensured a zero-lift factor, essential for stability at high speeds. The remarkable result of this extensive development is a vehicle which has virtually the same down force whether travelling at high or low speeds.
Even today, the 959 is regarded as a milestone vehicle, being packed with engineering innovation and technology which at the time, was unheard of. Helmuth Bott regards the 959 as one of his favourites, as it was his dream car which he took from concept to fruition.
The difference between the models is significant in that the Sport develops 65bhp more than the Komfort model, and is much lighter too. The 959 Sport boasted a full, leather-wrapped road cage with four-point racing harnesses and cloth upholstery, instead of the leather upholstered 959 Komfort. Mechanically, it boasted a more conventional coil-over suspension and was stripped of the 959 Komfort’s air conditioning and stereo. This helped the 959 S come in at approximately 220 pounds lighter than the 959 Komfort.
At the Paris Retromobile on 8 February, a spectacularly maintained and preserved 959 Sport (chassis #WP0ZZZ95ZJS905011) will be offered for sale by RM Sotheby’s. Chassis #011 is just the eleventh 959 S built, and was purchased new by noted California Porsche dealer and racer Vasek Polak’s son, Vasek Polak Jr. Polak picked the car up personally from Stuttgart and drove the car around Europe before returning to America. In the day, 959s were not delivered new to the United States, as they were not compliant with United States Department of Transportation importation laws or emissions standards. However, Polak and one of his friends managed to find a way to import the car to the United States.
Parting with the car some years later, Polak sold his 959 S to a noted collector who later sold the car in 2008 to a Porsche collector based in Switzerland. The car recently spent six months at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, where it was on display in a special exhibit of Porsche supercars, celebrating the launch of the 918 Spyder. Having never been modified from its original format, even still retaining its original paint, this 959 S must be one of the finest examples of this true engineering masterpiece, in the world.
- 1988 Porsche 959 Sport
- Chassis #WP0ZZZ95ZJS905011
- One of just 29 built
- Purchased new by Vasek Polak Jr.
- Just three owners from new
- Guide price: €1,500,000 – €2,000,000
- 515bhp, 2848cc DOHC horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine with twin KKK turbochargers and Bosch-Motronic Electronic Fuel Injection, six-speed manual transaxle, four-wheel independent suspension with double wishbones and coil-over shocks, and front and rear ventilated disc brakes
- Wheelbase: 2270 mm
For further information, refer to the RM Sotheby’s website here
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: RM Sotheby’s