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The Porsche 959 is a sports car manufactured by German car manufacturer Porsche from 1986 to 1993, first as a Group B rally car and later as a road legal production car designed to satisfy FIA homologation regulations requiring at least 200 units be produced.
The twin-turbocharged 959 was the world’s fastest street-legal production car when introduced, achieving a top speed of 197 mph (317 km/h), with some variants even capable of achieving 211 miles per hour (339 km/h).
During its production run, the 959 was considered as the most technologically advanced road-going sports car ever built, and forerunner of all forthcoming sports cars.
It was one of the first high-performance vehicles with all-wheel drive, providing the basis for Porsche’s first all-wheel drive 911 Carrera 4 model.
Its performance convinced Porsche executives to make all-wheel drive standard on all turbocharged versions of the 911 starting with the 993.
The twin-turbo system utilised on the 959 also made its way to future turbocharged Porsche sports cars.
In 2004, Sports Car International named the 959 number one on its list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980s.
Development of the 959 (originally called the Gruppe B) started in 1981, shortly after the company’s then-new Managing Director, Peter Schutz, took his office.
Porsche’s chief engineer at the time, Helmuth Bott, approached Schutz with some ideas about the Porsche 911, or more aptly, a new one.
Bott knew that the company needed a sports car that they could continue to rely on for years to come and that could be developed as time went on.
Curious as to how much they could do with the rear-engined 911, Bott convinced Schutz that development tests should take place, and even proposed researching a new all wheel drive system.
Schutz agreed, and gave the project the green light.
Bott also knew through experience that a racing program usually helped to accelerate the development of new models.
Seeing Group B rally racing as the perfect arena to test the new development mule and its all wheel drive system, Bott again went to Schutz and got the approval to develop a car, based on his development mule, for competition in Group B.
Porsche developed an existing engine instead of creating a new one from scratch.
The powerplant was a sequential twin-turbocharged flat-six engine DOHC 4 valves per cylinder, fuel fed by Bosch Motronic 2.1 fuel injection with air-cooled cylinders
and water-cooled heads, with a total displacement of 2,849 cc (2.8 L; 173.9 cu in), about half a litre less than a contemporary 911 engine.
It was coupled to a unique manual transmission offering five forward speeds plus a “gelände” (terrain) off-road gear, as well as reverse.
The engine had originally been developed for the “935/78 Moby Dick” race car and then been redeveloped slightly for the short-lived Porsche Indy Car and several other projects before being modified a last time for use in the 961, the 959’s racing counterpart.
The water-cooled four-valve cylinder heads combined with the air-cooled cylinders and sequential turbochargers allowed Porsche to extract 450 PS (444 hp; 331 kW) @ 6500 rpm and 500 N⋅m (369 lb⋅ft) @ 5000 rpm of torque from the compact, efficient and rugged power unit.
The use of sequential twin turbochargers rather than the more usual identical turbochargers for each of the two cylinder banks allowed for smooth delivery of power across the engine speed band,
in contrast to the abrupt on-off power characteristic that distinguished Porsche’s other turbocharged engines of the period.
The engine was used virtually unchanged, in the 959 road car as well.
To create a rugged, lightweight shell, Porsche adopted an aluminium and Aramid (Kevlar) composite for the body panels and chassis construction along with a Nomex floor, instead of the steel floor normally used on their production cars.
The vehicle’s weight of 1,450 kg (3,197 lb) helped to achieve its high performance.
The 959 also featured Porsche-Steuer Kupplung (PSK) all-wheel-drive system.
The Porsche 959 was actually produced at Baur, not at the Porsche factory in Zuffenhausen, on an assembly line with Porsche inspectors overseeing the finished bodies.
Most of Porsche’s special order interior leather work was also done by the workers at Baur.
The 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show was chosen for the unveiling of the Porsche Group B prototype.
After the first two prototypes, the bodywork was modified to include air vents in the front and rear wheel housings, as well as intake holes behind the doors.
he first prototype receiving those modifications was code named “F3”, and was destroyed in the first crash test.
The road version of the 959 debuted at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show as a 1986 model, but numerous issues delayed production by more than a year.
The car was manufactured in two levels of trim, “Sport” and “Komfort”, corresponding to the trim with more creauture comforts and a more track focused trim.
In 1992/1993, Porsche built eight more 959s assembled from spare parts from the inventory at the manufacturing site in Zuffenhausen.
All eight were “Komfort” versions: four in red and four in silver.
These cars were much more expensive (DM 747,500) than the earlier ones (DM 420,000).
The Porsche 959 S was a package available to the 959 “Sport” that increased power output to 515 PS (380 kW; 510 bhp) with a top speed of 339 km/h (211 mph) as tested by Auto, Motor und Sport at Nardo in 1988.
In 1984, however, three 911s modified to 959 specifications (due to the requirement that Group B cars be based on production cars with at least 200 built) were used in the Paris-Dakar Rally, with Jacky Ickx the prime motivator.
The “Gates 959” is an infamous 959 owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Bill Gates bought his 959 before the model had Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency approval.
The “Gates 959” was stored for 13 years by the Customs Service at the Port of San Francisco, until regulations were changed to allow “Autos of Interest” to be imported with limitations on their use.
Gates helped pass the “Show or Display” law.