Retrospective>> 959:the First Porsche Supercar

For the past few days, I've been thinking about exactly what the term "Exotic Car" really means. First of all, it should be made of unobtainium — that is, an exotic should be ultra exclusive and rare. Sightings of these cars should be few and far between.

Secondly, they should shatter barriers of performance and technology. There should be kit on these super-expensive cars which has never been seen before and may take years or even decades to filter down to normal, everyday cars.

And finally, and perhaps most important of all, they should inspire. Car fans around the world, both young and old should look at exotic cars and aspire to one day own such rare and beautiful works of rolling art.

If I run back through the cars that inspired me in my younger years, I'd have to pick this car: the Porsche 959 as one of the cars at the top of my list. In the mid 1980s this car was all over the top US car magazines like Road & Track and Car & Driver. It was a truly ground-breaking machine. No auto manufacterur had previously attempted to pack so much high-tech, cutting-edge technology into a high performance, low volume GT. Motor Trend magazine called the 959 "the fastest, most technologically advanced sports car in history."… and they weren't exaggerating!

Back in the late '70s, Porsche had a little bit of a problem. Their flagship model, the 911 was starting to become a bit of an aged dinosaur and was thought to have reached the end of its production life. What more potential could be extracted from such a compromised chassis layout? The company introduced the front engined 928 with the thought it would become Porsche's new flagship model, but it was not a success. A new direction was needed.

Thankfully Porsche's head engineer at the time, Helmuth Bott had a pretty clear idea of what to do. In 1981, he approached the company's new Managing Director, Peter Schutz with a clear road map for the development of a high tech AWD 911 concept. He also recommended they build the car to the new for 1982 Group B competition rule set for low production run, two seat GT cars. It would provide an ideal test arena to develop their new AWD systems.

Now most of you will associate Group B with the famous rally cars of the mid 1980s, but it's worth remembering, at its inception Group B was intended for GT racing too. All you needed to do was to homologate 200 low volume road cars and you were in business. With this production run in order, 20 evo competition models could then be readied for both road race and rally events.

Porsche debuted their "Gruppe B" concept car as early as 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show.

The specs at the time, were astounding. Porsche poured everything they had learned about production sports cars into the 959 to produce the ultimate 911.

The first thing you'll notice in the above photo is, what at the time was the most advanced AWD system ever seen on a production car. Labeled "Porsche-Steuer Kupplung (PSK)" it could dynamically alter the torque distribution between the front and rear wheels dependent on driving conditions and accelleration. This was integrated with a new technology: ABS which was based on wheel mounted speed sensors and the Bosch Motronic engine computer.

Suddenly the speed of the 911 (a car known for its tail happy handling characteristics) was accessible to the average driver. No longer was it going to throw you off the road at the first sign of a high speed throttle lift.

Let's have a look at the engine….

Interestingly, the 959 used a rejigged version of the 935/82 engine first seen in the Moby D-i-c-k 935 and later adapted for use in the 956 and 962 race cars among other motorsports programs.

Displacing 2.85 Liters, it featured water-cooled heads and a trick sequential turbo system. A single turbo was active below 4,000 rpm; the second turbo gradually phased in as exhaust-gas flow increased toward 4,000 rpm, marrying low speed tractability with top end power. Suddenly the "on-off" power characteristics of early turbo Porsches was tamed and smoothed.

The twin intercooled engine developed a then heady 450 bhp. It was enough to propel the 959 from 0-60 in an astonishing 3.6 seconds. The car could accelerate to a top speed of 197 mph or 317 kph. At the time this was like visiting the moon… Until the arrival of the Ferrari F40 a few years later, the 959 completely reset the goal posts of supercar performance.

Here we can see the prototype being wind tunnel tested in 1982. The car cut through the air with a drag coefficient of just 0.31 and was fabricated from start-of-the-art Kevlar and FRP composites with some use of alloys for the front lid and doors.

Although the basic layout was 911 based, in truth this was a low volume exotic car in every sense of the word. Each of the 113 1987 and 179 1988 models were built in a special assembly area, completely by hand.

It's in the cockpit that we see more evidence of the 911 parts bin. The most obvious difference between the cars is the larger transmission tunnel to house the drive shaft assembly.

Porsche engineers took as much time as they needed to ensure all
aspects of the car were as technically perfect as possible. It wasn't until 1985 that the production car was announced, and then a further two
years until the first customer deliveries began.

This photo illustrates the difference between the normal 911s and the 959. It looks like a mid 1990s 993 prototype next to the old 930s. You can even seen traces of the current 997 model, thus underlining the deep influence this car had on all subsequent 911 models.

I'm sure most of you know about the history of the Group B rally cars.

What was conceived to be a formula for both high-end rally and GT cars soon became very
rally-centric and saw high budget, high tech rally machines being
de-engineered for road homologation.

Porsche decided not to get involved with this doomed formula and instead set about converting the 959 for an assault on the Paris-Dakar Rally.

The 1985 version of the car was naturally aspirated and put out a merger 230 bhp. The rally itself was a bit of a disaster with all three cars retiring from the event.

For 1986 the full turbo engine setup was installed. Now 370 to 450 bhp was on tap and the cars took home a memorable 1-2 Paris-Dakar victory.

Desert success aside, Porsche's natural stomping ground has always been Le Mans…. Porsche had to bring the 959 out to La Sarthe didn't they?

Enter the type 961, the single 959 based car, converted to full road race spec. It featured high down force bodywork, race suspension and a Group C derived race engine.

Power was 680bhp at 7800rpm, which pushed the 961 to a top speed of 205mph down the famous Mulsanne Straight.

The car had an amazing debut at the 1986 Le Mans race, finishing an incredible seventh overall against a field of sports prototypes.

For 1987, a year after the full collapse of Group B, the 961 again returned to Le Mans, this time with Rothmans sponsorship.

It was running a credible 11th place, when gear selection problems caused it to crash out of the race.

And that was it for the 961. Without any clear race category or opponents to compete with, the car was retired back to the Porsche museum.

Western culture has their BC – AD time measurement system and by the same token you could break up the lineage of the 911 into pre and post 959 eras. Pretty well every technical innovation seen on this car has made its way on to the regular 911s.

From the styling cues which informed the 993, the AWD system implemented onto the Carrera 4 and Turbo models, ABS, water-cooling, aerodynamics, suspension and engine management systems- this car gave the 911 a new lease of life and ensured it's survival into the 21st century.

And for that we should all be thankful!


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Great read, great pics!

What a oh my...legendary!

In the end, isn't it a bit what Nissan tried to do with the GT-R nowadays?

PS: The Gruppe B is madness on wheels.


I have some nice memories of this supercar, working at Scania in the mid nineties they had a open house showcasing this car, it was awsome to say the least. Looks, peformance, innovation, and quality the pinnacles of Porsche.


A face only a mother could love.

Really I think the aerodynamics detract from the style of the car quite a bit, the 911 is a beautiful car but the 959 is not. Very impressive feat of engineering nonetheless.


Awesome article Rod! there's so much history about this thing that i never knew! Also i had the impression that it was from around the same time as the 993, so i'm VERY surprised to see that it's a full decade older! amazing


The steering wheel on the stock version is pretty much THE UGLIEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN. Daaaamn...


That was a really great article.

Great work.


Nice article overall, but why the negative 928 reference? The 959 had nothing to do with the 928 -- their missions were totally different. They made the 928 for 17 years; that's a successful car to me. It will be likely be successful again when they reintroduce a front-engine coupe again in the not too distant future.


The 928 reference was simply to highlight that Porsche expected the 928 to take over from the 911 as their top model.


I remember seeing the 959 for the first time! Strangely, it was in LA two years ago. I say strangely because the 959 were never road legal in the US, so my surprise was that higher when I saw one in an exotic car dealership in Beverly Hills. I was so awestruck to see one of my childhood hero cars, that I barely even noticed the race spec Jaguar XJ220's in the back! I


Hey Rod, could we get a high-res desktop of the shot from behind the type-961 (where u can see the motor GIANT turbos and slicks)?

Such a nice car :)


There is something not quite right about the car, but for some stupid reason it makes me love it hahaha


ugly as hell though!


I to am a great fan of the supercars of this era. I was intrigued by the radiator at the front of the car. Is this for the water-cooled heads you mentioned in the entry?

And did the Group B rules of the time allow 4WD?

I would be grateful if someone could clear that up for me.

Great retrospective, the 961 is proper badass!


I love the 959 but don't really have it on my short list of dream cars. There's no denying its importance or what it did for Porsche though. That said, the 961 is one of my favorite "odd ball" Porsche race cars. Please please PLEASE do desktops of the Group B / Stock / 961 image, the rear shot with the engine cover off, and maybe one other? Please? The 961 is a particularly hard car to find decent images of.


Thanks for this article, this is my hero car from the youth, well i was porsche kid back then but this car was outstanding, F40 which i also liked was only hardcore road legal racer but this was proper technology demonstrator. I like even better the purposefull design of the 961.

Someone remember young Walter Rohrl in the wirst pic.


Damn, look at the Battleship on the first pic. j/k, this car is a technological god.


The author is wrong on one point. He says the 928 was not a success, a myth propogated by old 911 air cooled owners who couldn't keep up with the 928, nor afford one. Based on the author's criteria, the 959 was a failure also.

In the last year's one could spend up to $100K on an optioned out 928, much more than most 911s. The 928 was built from 1979-1995, hardly a short life. It won numerous awards including Car of The Year and was highly rated by professional test drivers and magazines. It set the world's speed record for fastest production car. Their brakes are even today swapped over onto many 911 owners cars.

If Porsche had decided to build a hard core street sport version as well as race the 928, it's criticis would be silenced. However, Porsche probably didn't want to alienate its loyal 911 base, even though they new the 928 was a superior car in many ways. The 928 is still alive and well among its current loyal owners and fans, especially those who race them.

18 a unicorn ! Beautiful masterpiece.

The 959, the Ferrari F40, and the ultra rare Mercedes CLK THAT'S rare.


ha.... BB:PW 916 -> Boeblingen

i live there!

i remember i had a model car of the 959...

great car...


We actually own the first or 29 Porsche 959 legally imported into the U.S.

All 29 cars were meant for the U.S. but were returned back to Germany because they didn't meet with DOT approval.

Our car never left the U.S., it originally was placed at an automotive museum not to be driven on U.S. roads.

RSS & Stuttgart Performance was recently contacted to be a part of a very special event coming up next week that you will all eventually see.

In person, it's simply stunning.

Again, anyone in the SoCal area – feel free to swing by anytime to check it out.

SHOWROOM & TUNING CENTER: 714.545.1046 | 1275 S. LOGAN AVE., COSTA MESA, CA 92626


So epic! I have seen one of these on the road. It was in Coventry on a normal day. They kinda blend into traffic nowadays but it set my heart racing when I realised that I was in the presence of greatness. A lovely article on a superb car. Thanks Rod! =)


I loved the 959's as a lad in the 80's. But when I saw one of the original Paris-Dakar (still with scars from the event) works cars at the Classic Adelaide Rally a few years back along with a Safari Rally 930. These things have to be seen to be believed. And the noise is undescribable... even todays 997 Cup Cars can not compare to the rawness of the flat six of the 959!!!


As part of the festivities at the Rennsport Reunion, Porsche displayed a selection of historic 911-based race cars which filled the pit garages at Laguna Seca. Among the bunch was the Rothmans-colored Porsche 961, which I found to be one of the most interesting


Ok let's continues on with our tour of the Porsche Museum. We've already shown you the restoration


The Dakar and RAID rally cars were actually 911s converted to 959 spec, to meet the homologation requirements.