The Porsche 959 was living and very expensive proof, that the 911 had a future beyond the 1980s. GQ motoring ed Dieter Losskarn ticked his personal bucket list after spending an exhilarating day in one of the most important cars ever made.
Photography: Sarah Dulay
In the mid-1980s the iconic 911 was doomed. Porsche was producing 924s, 944s and 928s. All of them with engines in the front. The days of the 911 were counted. But customers were still buying them. And the Porsche CEO in the 1980s, an American by the name of Peter Schutz, didn’t like the idea, that the 911 was set to be succeeded by the V8-powered 928. Legend goes that he went to the office of Porsche engineer Professor Helmuth Bott, where he noticed a chart on the wall that depicted the ongoing development trends of the top three lines: 928, 944 and 911. With the first two options, the graph showed a continuous rise in production for years to come. But for the 911, the line stopped in 1981.
He grabbed a marker off Bott’s desk and continued the 911 line across the page, onto the wall, and out the door. When he came back in, Bott stood there, grinning. ‘Do we understand each other?’ he asked. And they did. So the legendary 911 was saved by a man drawing a line on a wall with a marker.
Porsche engineer Helmut Bott was convinced that the 911 was the brand’s DNA and he and his team started creating a car that turned out to be literally 20 years ahead of its time. A piece of motoring history. The first ever hyper car, the 959, featured components never used in sportscars before. From a computer-controlled suspension with variable ride height to all-wheel drive, from a six-speed manual gearbox to a twin-turbo, a Kevlar/aluminium composite body, weighing just 1450 kgs, an integrated roll cage, variable torque, run-flat tyres with a tyre pressure monitor and magnesium wheels with hollow spokes. All unheard of in the mid-1980s, more space ship than car. And financially this project went completely out of control.
All 292 cars were hand-built. It was the ultimate 911. Shaped by the wind, albeit with creature comforts like aircon and radio. Bill Gates couldn’t resist this technological marvel. His one was stored for 13 years by US customs, until it was finally legal to be imported into the States. Obviously Don Johnson had to have one. Boris Becker wrecked his shortly after purchase on an Italian highway. Austrian rock star Falco of Amadeus fame had one too, and kept it on those twisty Alpine roads.
With around 200 000 US-$ at the time, the car was extremely expensive, but didn’t even cover half of what Porsche invested in it. That’s why you find a note in the Porsche Museum next to the exhibited, silver 959 saying: ‘Only 292 cars built – the most expensive promotional gift in company history’.
Only loyal Porsche customers got one of the much sought-after sales contracts. And some couldn’t resist selling them off straight away with a 100% premium. They were blacklisted for life from ever getting a limited-edition Porsche again. Most buyers couldn’t wait for the delivery of their dream car.
One of the 292 lucky owners-to-be got his pearl-white car with the number plate S-JE 1122 months before everybody else. Why? Family connections. Dr. Wolfgang Porsche drove the first 959 on the roads around Stuttgart. At the time, I was an apprentice at a publishing house there and determined to make this my very first motoring piece. A spin in this 959 with the man whose car was bearing his name.
I pulled it off. And I can still recall the feeling of going beyond 300km/h on the German autobahn. 450hp catapulted this beast up to an incredible top speed of 319km/h. Mind-blowing at the time.
I can’t recall what Wolfgang was telling me with his soothing Austrian accent while blasting across the tarmac, but I remember little things, like the classical music playing the background. And the second, larger turbo kicking in at 5000rpm.
Now, 32 years later, I am standing in the basement of the Porsche Museum in front of this particular car. I am allowed to sit in the driver’s seat. But unfortunately the car doesn’t run. It was standing too long. I see that it only clocked 24 143 kms in the last three decades.
But luckily my disappointment is short-lived. The Porsche Museum owns two perfectly restored 959s and their stunning stone-grey one is ready for me. After a short introductory drive with Porsche Museum workshop boss Kuno Werner, who is visibly concerned about the well-being of his baby, I am allowed to hit the road.
And I am glad now, that I waited a couple of decades to move from the passenger’s to the driver’s seat of this wild ride. In my younger days this could have turned out badly.
The 959 kicks you down the road, the acceleration is simply staggering. I remember the words of Walter Röhrl., who thinks the 959 was one of the best cars he has ever driven. ‘Don’t go off the gas, when you go around a bend, otherwise the car goes backwards’. I try to constantly feed the power. And I am holding on when the second turbo kicks in at 5000rpm. What an experience. I am shaken and stirred. And I return the Million-Euro baby unscathed to the Porsche Museum.
So what’s next after this epic drive? Well, the 959 was followed by two more Porsche hyper cars, the Carrera GT and the 918 Spyder. And while there is no 959 in South Africa, both the other two Über-Porsches are here. And they live very close to Kyalami racetrack…
Engine 2.8-l. flat-six twin-turbo with a 6-speed manual
Power 331kW (450hp) and 500Nm
Top Speed 319km/h
0-100km/h 3.7 seconds
Price 210 000 Euros (in 1986), beyond 1.5 mio. Euros now, if ever one of the 292 becomes available.
In 1992/1993 Porsche built eight additional 959s from spare parts found in the inventory at the manufacturing site in Zuffenhausen. Those were absolutely identical to the 1987/1988 models. And while the 284 previous ones were sold at 420 000 German Marks each, the additional eight ones – in white, red and black – were 747 000 German Marks each.