The Porsche 959 was one of the 80’s ultimate supercars and may also be considered as the first car of the supercar species. 959 also stands for the superb technology platform in which the latest technical innovations from the famous Porsche development centre Weissach. The 959 is up there on my dream list of cars to one day drive sandwiched in between the Ferrari F40, McLaren F1, Lamborghini Countach, and Bugatti Veyron.
Some of the technological innovations that made the 1986-89 car so cutting edge started with the powerplant which was a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder boxer engine with an air-cooled block and water-cooled heads, displacing a total of 2.85-liters. The engine was originally used by the Porsche racing team and other high tech components that were an auto industry first included: aluminium forged pistons, titanium con-rods, DOHC, two sequential turbochargers, dry sump lubrication and a BOSCH Motronic featuring digital injection and ignition. In its stock configuration the engine was capable of producing 450hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. All of this power was feed through a unique manual transmission that had a total of 6 forward gears in to form of 5 forward speeds plus a “G” off-road gear, as well as reverse.
Porsches PSK (Porsche-Steuer Kupplung) system developed for and introduced with the 959 was like no other system. Even today it is still regarded as one of the most sophisticated 4WD system ever made because among all the various four-wheel drive designs available, PSK is the only one which can vary the front / rear torque split ratio under normal running condition, while other designs can only reallocate when tire slip occurs. PSK in contrary determines the most suitable torque split ratio by analysing various parameters such as throttle position, steering angle, g force and even turbo boost. The PSK system provided near perfect traction and therefore was not comparable to any other four-wheel drive systems.
The car also featured a lightweight body shell, which saw the use of Aluminium, Kevlar and Polyurethane for body panels as well as a Nomex floor, instead of the Steel normally used on their production cars. Porsche also developed the car’s aerodynamics, which were designed to increase stability, as was the automatic ride-height adjustment that became a first ever available on the street car. The 959 allowed the driver to select a ride height of 12 cm, 15 cm or 18 cm and the adjustable damping also had 3 settings.
To round out the technological innovation designed by Porsche we have to look at the braking system and the tire and rims that transmitted that stopping power to the ground. The cross-drilled rotors used on the 959 were compressed by four-piston aluminium callipers and braking process was controlled by a four-channel BOSCH ABS with sensors on all four wheels. The new innovation called ABS was also a production car first as were the 17inch Magnesium hollow spoke design wheels. These wheels were fitted with surprisingly narrow 235/45 and 255/40 tyres (F40 and Lamborghini Countach had much wider tyres fitted but were rear-wheels cars only) and included pressure control sensors.
Porsche sold the 959 for just a measly $225,000, which was a ton of money back in the mid 80’s however it has since been estimated that each and every 959 cost Porsche $530,000 to manufacture. Only 337 were ever produced and fortunately for us one was filmed by the awesome team of eGarage for us to drool over.
The lessons learned from the 959 project about engine management, aerodynamics, suspension tuning, and 4-wheel drive were what enabled the production life of the 911 to be extended to the present day. Over at eGarage, they’ve put together a brief featurette highlighting one of six pre-production 959s built specifically for the then-head of Porsche R&D, Professor Helmuth Bott. In the video LeMans-winning endurance racer Hurley Haywood explains how the 959 informs the current 911′s high-tech sure-footedness. Curator Don Leatherwood points out why this prototype car is the jewel of the Florida-based Brumos Collection.
We also have the Top Gear tribute that ran back in Season 16 of the show. It is also worth some of your eyeball time.