XCAR: Porsche 959: Posterchild of the supercar renaissance
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XCAR: Porsche 959: Posterchild of the supercar renaissance

10:10 /

If you had posters of cars on your bedroom wall when you were a kid, chances are the Porsche 959 may have been among them. The 959 could be called Porsche's first supercar and its innovations can still be seen in modern 911s.

[MUSIC] Today is one of those days. One of those days that you're not quite sure is real or actually happening, because that is a Porsche 959, one of, in the grand scheme of things, not that many made. And I got a key. The 959 story begins all the way back in 1982, when Helmuth Bott approached Porsche MD about the 911. He had some ideas and thought they needed to go on it. Well, on a new one at least. Bott wanted to build a sports car Porsche could rely on in future, so thought all wheel drive would be the way to go. Knowing that motorsport helped developments along somewhat, he approached to brass and suggested they enter the then very popular Group B. The right people said yes, and he got to work making his four wheel drive mule into a racing car. The car's engine wasn't to be all new, but one that was lifted from the 935 racer. It was a 2.85 liter twin turbo-flux six with 444 break horse power. The turbos were in sequence rather than parallel. Meaning that turbo-like was, in theory, a thing of the past. It's body was a mix of aluminum and Kevlar, so the weight stayed as low as possible. Though it stilled the scales at nearly one and a half tons. Its aero was made to ensure there was no lift and the street car got a variable ride height to help keep the car as stable as possible. [MUSIC] Race car engine aside, the 959 prototype had something pretty special. Four wheel drive, PSK or Porsche-Steuer Kupplung, shuffled the power around the car's wheels as and when it was needed. It could have up to 80% pushed to the rear. Now, I know that may sound a bit old hat now, you can get it on a small family car, but. Back in it's day, it was quite something. The Group B Concept appeared in 1983, wowing the crowds of Frankfort Motor Show. In 1985, the full production car was unveiled with the release promised for 1986. At the time, it was the fastest production car on the planet, putting it at the top speed of a 195 miles per hour. Sport models could hack 197. Norta 62, was apparently dispatched in 3.7 seconds. [MUSIC] In all, there were two versions on offer. The comfort and the sport. The comfort had. Things in it, things like aircon and anything electrical. Well, the sport lost pretty much all of that, and 100 kilos, it was supposed to be a featherweight killer, just as Porches early Lemons cars had been. The performance is simply staggering still. Hook it up from second to third, and it just goes, it kicks you down the road. Angrily shouting and making an incredible noise. Of course it's got that engine, and oh, my what an engine it is. Now I wanna talk about these two stage turbos, cuz the idea behind it was the little turbo would get it all going nice and quickly, then the big turbo would carry it on. So you get just one big wave of torque. Now, what actually happens is you start off going very quick. Then the big turbo happens and ooh. Oh it's fast. It just picks up speed instantly. You're gone. Bang. That's something I'm not really used to. I don't think anyone is used to anymore. Because now turbo technology has moved one. But this is one of the blueprints on how to get cars shifting. Mentally fast. The clutch is incredibly heavy as is the gear box, it's very, very mechanical, you do have to force it into each ratio. You have to work for your supper and while some may view that as quite bad, it's of its age and frankly it works staggeringly well. It feels really good, you feel incredibly involved and engaged with the car. The brakes, again. Very, very, heavy. Very little assistance as you would expect for a car from this particular era. But in the breath you do get lots of lovely, lovely feedback. You know exactly what is going on, a lot of feel through the pedal. The steering is delightfully weighty, something you don't get much anymore and the feedback you get through it is. Well, it's awesome. It really, really is good, you can feel everything through your fingertips, properly. And this car is pretty much mint. Everything on it has been lovingly restored and looked after by the guys at the Porsche museum. This car is a museum piece. I'm looking down at the odometer while [MUSIC] It's done a little over 4,600 kilometers. That's not much. And I've put about 100 of those on. So I've left my mark on the car. That's good. While group B was ideal to start with. Its shift towards rallying put Porsche off it, somewhat. Rather than compete, Porsche got on with making the best road car it could. Until 1984, that is, when Jackie [UNKNOWN] Porsche hard enough to enter three 911s, modified. To 959 spec in the [UNKNOWN] car. Which it won. Full running specs 959's entered in 85 and in 86. 959's finished first and second. Not bad. A road race variant, the 961 appeared as well. It's even entered [UNKNOWN] in 1986. Scoring a class victory and seventh place overall. This car's legacy as well as being a poster car for people all over the world it still is today as well as it's incredible performance as well as it's victories and stunning effort on the world's race stages and rally stages and the fact that it proved that you could have a 911. With four wheel drive in it. Admittedly, the PSK system was simplified for the first Carrera 4, and then completely switched out for the one after that, because while it was brilliant, it was very expensive and very, very complicated. It showed that you could still have fun in a 911 with all four wheels driven. Is a it's a beautiful piece of engineer and a stunning piece of design and testament to that is the fact that several times today. People stopped just to have a chat to have a look at it. It just got people and they love it for it. And I don't blame them all our troubles [UNKNOWN] just wanting to have a look cause he knew exactly what he was looking at. And he told us that his dad used to work at the factory around the time that 959 was being developed and apparently his father on the day he went to buy his wedding rings took a 959 and he doesn't remember that day because he went to buy the ring he was gonna slip on to his everlasting loves finger, no. He remembers that day because he was driving a nine five nine. [INAUDIBLE] but don't tell your wife. The power this car has over people, it is the highlight of people's days, the highlight of their years. Hell, for some people it's the highlight of their lives. I'm never gonna forget the time I spent. This car. I'm so incredibly lucky to have done it. For me, the 959 was always a special car. I loved it to bits when I was a kid. I remember seeing it, just as countless other people did, and falling in love with it. At the time I wasn't really a fan of the 911, but hell, the 959, it just did it for me. It just did it for me. It got me in a way that very few other cars did [MUSIC] This car is part of a set which summed up 80s excess. It was the fastest, the greatest, the ultimate Porsche. It used to go toe to toe with Ferrari F40s, Jaguar XJ220s and the like. It set the paradigm for the supercar renaissance. It's one of the world's true greats and an innovative one. At that. The 959 versus Ferrari F40 schoolyard battles were a precursor to those that happened once again in the nineties and are happening right now with the 918 Spyer, McLaren P1, and Ferrari LaFerrari. Each time there is a big supercar renaissance, Porsche's always there throwing its high-powered hat in the ring. The 959 was it's first big go, and what a way to do it. It's been a genuine pleasure to be able to drive the 959 even for the briefest of moments. Because it's very much of it's era. It's very fast and consequences, well, who gives a damn about them? Nowadays, yeah, manufactures are making very fast cars. But, they also have something else in mind- - - efficiency. And that's all well and good, I'm not knocking that. Every now and then, don't you just wish manufacturers would chuck out all the eco stuff. As big, as fast and as silly as possible. I know I do. [MUSIC]

Alex Goy is XCAR's Cars Editor. He loves all things on four wheels and has a penchant for British sports cars - the more impractical the better. He also likes tea.

Nick Wilkinson
Video Producer / XCAR

Nick Wilkinson is XCAR's Producer, so can either be found huffing serious quantities of exhaust fumes armed with a camera or making a montage of some kind. His background is in video, and as a film and motorsport nut finds himself in heaven most weekdays

Drew Stearne
Content Director & Editor / XCAR

Drew Stearne heads up the XCAR team and has spent the last 7 years producing content for CNET, GameSpot and many other CBS Interactive sites. He's equally obsessed with fast cars as he is with filming and photography, if he isn't involved with one, he tries to make sure he's involved with the other.

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