Porsche 959

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Prototype F9 - A Unique Example

United KingdomVehicle Location: United Kingdom

The stakes couldn’t have been higher. The technological advancements in the 1980s through the developed use of turbocharging saw motorsport and road cars catapult forward in terms of pace. With the race to 200mph in full swing, road and race cars alike saw power jump into the high 300s, 400s and beyond. After the launch and success of Ferrari’s 288 GTO in 1984 with innovative, lightweight composite body panelling and a turbocharged powerplant offering both high power and torque, every year brought faster and faster variants.

When Ferrari started production of the 288 GTO in 1984, Porsche had been in Africa with its 953. A naturally aspirated 911 with a manually adjustable four-wheel-drive system, designed specifically for the task but as a testbed for various systems, the car took victory at the Paris-Dakar rally. In terms of the technological race, Ferrari’s GTO was virtually stationary compared to Porsche’s efforts.

This victory at Dakar marked a significant achievement for Porsche. The future of the 911 was in doubt already with the creation of the 924, 944 and 928 suggesting Porsche would ditch its roots in favour of a more traditional front-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout. Despite an internal battle over the future of front-engined over rear-engined layout, the win enabled chief engineer Helmuth Bott, to continue the development of a secret, ‘Super 911’. If it were to be the last ‘911’ instalment, it needed to conquer all; on the road, on the race track and even the rally scene too.

In the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and ensuing crisis, which lead to slowing down of technical development; motorsport regulations were changed to form Group B. This ‘no-limits’ motorsport was created to once more inspire technological innovation in all aspects of automotive research and development. Porsche were keen to get in the action, developing the 953 into the 959 with the addition of twin turbochargers; the FIA regulation stipulated 200 production cars would be needed to comply. The ‘Gruppe B’ concept was first shown in 1983, the 959 prototypes were built in 1985 and the first customer cars weren’t shipped until 1987. This meant that after Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresta’s fatal crash at the 1986 Tour de Corse, by the time the cars were in customers hands, the era of Group B was over.

Whilst the 959 has long stood as Porsche's response to Ferrari's 288 GTO, the original supercar and arriving two years before Ferrari’s iconic F40, it was a very German approach to speed. Unlike the 288, it introduced technological features that were unheard of in the automotive market and provided an excellent platform for Porsche to prove their engineering mettle. In addition to its world-beating performance, the 959 was not only very in keeping with the marque’s design language, but most importantly it was usable on a day to day basis.

Bott had earmarked 29 911 Turbo 3.3s to form the basis of the 959 prototype and pre-production cars. The engine shared very little with the 930’s turbocharged 3.3-litre flat-six. Instead it was more closely related to that of the 956 & 962 race cars – water cooled cylinder heads and dual, sequential turbochargers. An extensive array of motorsport-grade parts saw the 959 benefit from titanium con rods, forged alloy pistons and Nikasil-lined cylinders.

Powered by an all-alloy 2.85-litre flat-six, the 959 generated a peak power output of 450hp.In ‘Komfort’ specification, this was already 55bhp more than the 288’s 394bhp.In ‘Sport’ trim, the 959 produced 510hp, or over 100 bhp more than the Ferrari. Whilst the Komfort was good for 197mph,Porsche claimed the Sport would eclipse that speed by just 1 mph.True to form, that claim was rather conservative and in reality, the Sport would reach 211mph.

The intricate four-wheel-drive system featured a complex computer-controlled torque split, helping deploy its power and resulting in a 0-60 sprint of just 3.9 seconds. The 959 was a technological tour-de-force; ABS brakes, tyre pressure sensors, adjustable ride height, hollow-spoke magnesium wheels and a six-speed (5+1) gearbox. This was all offered with the expected Porsche luxuries-not least a totally usable Porsche interior. These innovations would later become mainstays in the automotive industry, later showing that Porsche’s engineers were years ahead of their time when developing the 959.

The 959 was built using the standard 911's galvanized steel body shell but with composite Kevlar reinforced plastic wings, rocker covers, roof panel, and an aluminium bonnet and door skins. Compared to Porsche's other ventures in the 1980s, particular attention was paid to aerodynamic efficiency in the 959, including a flat bottom, resulting in a 0.31 coefficient of drag (compared to the same year 911 Turbo, which scored a 0.40 Cd).

The transmission had six forward gears, although at the time Porsche did not have a homologated ‘6 speed’. Instead the gearbox in the 959 was a more traditional 5-speed, with an additional low range 1st gear. Each wheel received ventilated disc brakes with hydraulic assist and ABS. The transaxle tube included Porsche's PSK variable-centre differential, which managed the torque divisions between the front and rear axle. A second PSK was fitted in the rear axle to work as a form of limited-slip differential. This setup allowed the driver to adapt to road conditions by selecting between 'traction,' 'ice and snow,' 'wet' and 'dry' settings. The 959 even featured the world’s first run flat tyres, Bridgestone’ RE71 Denloc.

Fluctuating Finances

In the mid-1980s, Porsche was in trouble, big trouble. At the time they were a relatively small, independent company and as such - they would reportedly lose the same as the asking price of nigh on £150k, for every single 959 built; a car that they would in fact struggle to sell at all. The 959 was a fascinating feat of engineering, not least for a business struggling so heavily at the time, its arguably a miracle the project was seen through – even going the other way in 1987 when Porsche reluctantly built the production version and curtailed production in 1988 after just 292 examples.

Porsche simply could not afford to give four cars to the United States for their crash testing requirements and as such lost the ability to federalise the 959 for the U.S. market, Porsche’s biggest and most important market globally. Nevertheless, the 959 was not lost on U.S. enthusiasts and collectors and there were some efforts to import a modified Sport into the U.S. for track use only, but it was the efforts of Bruce Canepa’s persistence – 10 years in total – before he managed to push forward new federal regulations that would allow low volume production cars younger than 25 years old and not initially produced for the U.S. market into the country on a ‘show or display’ basis.

The Prototypes

According to Jurgen Lewandowski, there were three classes of prototype 959. 12 of the earliest ‘F’ series cars were built and classed as Prototype vehicles. These were followed by 7 ‘V’ series Pre-production vehicles and were very similar to production specification; the final 10 ‘N’ series Pilot vehicles enabled Porsche to ensure quality control was met during early build. These were the 29 3.3 Turbo chassis number cars.

Each of the ‘F’ series cars were easily identifiable, built in different specifications, painted different colours in period, and built to perform different roles during testing. Some of the lower-numbered F cars received more visually different bodywork but only 3-4 of the 12 are believed to still exist.

From the 12 ‘F’ series cars, a number of these were tested to destruction, both in crash testing and literally driven until the drivetrain and engine were no more. It is extremely unusual for any such cars to survive, with Porsche well known for destroying all prototypes other than those kept locked up behind hallowed doors.

For a prototype to escape, and to end up in private hands, is nothing shy of remarkable.

F9

Of the twelve original prototypes built, F9 was one of just three Sport prototypes. Each of the cars were uniquely identifiable, developed in a range of colours and trim specifications. Chief engineer Helmut Bott had earmarked 29 ‘930’ Turbo chassis’ to form the basis of the prototype cars and as such, F9 falls within this.

As a higher ‘F’ number car, it is cosmetically closer to production specification yet still with a multitude of developmental parts. It was used (and documented) by Porsche to test the transmission of the car, journeying to Sweden and Nardo, Italy along with some testing at Weissach. Noticeable differences on the car include the very much hand-fabricated exhaust, the Comfort-specification interior, a number of differences to the switchgear including 4wd lever, singular wing mirror and a number of hand-finished exposed surfaces. The dyno readout in the file suggests this car sits between a Comfort and a Sport at 480hp.

Along with its sister car F7, F9 was by common knowledge ‘gifted’ to US Porsche importer Vasek Polak to express their gratitude at the significant volume of cars he had sold. The cars arrived in his ownership on July 12th 1988. The reality of the ‘gift’ however, was recalled slightly differently from Polak’s side – with both cars having to be purchased from Porsche – as non-runners- and a strong agreement put in place that the cars were not to be driven or sold. The cars weren’t able to be registered in the US, getting in on ‘Display purposes only’ and show at Polak’s headquarters.

Around 1991, the display import restrictions expired and duty was liable for the 959s in the United States. Not keen on the idea of paying duty on two cars that didn’t run, the cars were loaned to the Matsuda collection in Hakone, Japan, going on display for 6 years.

In 1997, as the 959s were returning to Europe for restoration, Polak unfortunately passed away in California after complications following on from a high-speed crash in his 911 Turbo S. His estate was split and sold and in Europe, the cars were sold to private owners.

Purchased by its most recent custodian at the Brooks auction in 1998 for 668,000 French Francs or (just shy of £70,000), the car would join a large and prominent collection of the marque. The car had arrived from the auction without any keys or paperwork and only after much persistence and correspondence with Porsche on behalf of F9s new owner, especially as they could not identify the locks from their records, was the matter resolved.

Most recently, F9 resided in Austria, where it was road-registered and restored to running order. Cosmetically retaining the bruises it earned during its near 60,000-kilometre testing regime, this wonderfully unique, wholly irreplaceable example of the true turning-point Porsche has recently found a new home through DK Engineering.

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  • Porsche 959
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  • DK Database ID: #1390

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