The Porsche 959 went down in automobile history as the “Über-Porsche”. For this car, journalists invented the word “super sports car”, and many car enthusiasts regarded it as the most fascinating sports car of the last century. The technical innovations of the 959 proved groundbreaking and it emerged as a harbinger of future automobile construction. The combination of advanced technology, racecar performance and practicality for everyday use was unique, making the 959 unrivalled for its time. It’s not surprising that today the 959 holds a very special place in Porsche history and is one of the most sought-after collector’s cars.
Yet the 959 project also had its downsides. Like the costs, the development schedule spun out of control and type approval problems initially prevented the vehicle getting acceptance in major markets. Despite the astronomical basic price of 420,000 Deutsche Mark, the 959 proved to be a losing proposition for Porsche. The development costs allocated to each car lay at around one million DM, prompting the R&D Board Member Helmuth Bott to call the 959 “the most expensive promotional giveaway in Porsche history”. The only people to make money with the 959 were speculators, who resold the vehicle, sometimes commanding millions of DM in profit. When the US dollar crash took Porsche by surprise in 1987, the 959 was one of several costly reasons for the company running into financial difficulties and why the bold visionary CEO, Peter W. Schutz, was forced to step down.
Today, however, with the hindsight of three decades, the positive effects of the 959 project outweigh the negatives. Like a fixed star, the 959 radiates over the marque and has become the benchmark for subsequent high-performance sports cars such as the Carrera GT and 918 Spyder. After all, with the 959, Porsche demonstrated that Ferry Porsche’s vision of the perfect sports car is future-proof. Many of the ideas and technologies featured in the 959 have been transplanted into subsequent generations of sports cars. The 911 series 964 and 993 have benefited enormously technologically from the experiences gained from the 959 project, and its design language proved no less inspiring for the rest of the Porsche model range. Prime examples that may be mentioned here are the electronically controlled all-wheel drive of the eventual 911 Carrera 4 models and the twin-turbocharger that is still used today. Detail solutions such as the tire-pressure monitoring system, dampers and ride-height control system or hollow-spoke alloy wheels with central locking also found their way via the 959 into sports car design.
The most important effect of the 959, however, may possibly have been the positive effect on the public’s perception of Porsche. At the time of its unveiling in 1985, Porsche was not regarded as the most innovative brand in the industry. Since the introduction of the second generation 911 in 1973, the nine-eleven had only received very moderate developments and the transaxle models reflected the zeitgeist of the seventies more than modernity. In the first half of the 1980s, the high sales figures in the US market with its enormously strong dollar as well as the sales success of the Porsche 944 still concealed some of the model policy mistakes made in Zuffenhausen and Weissach. In order to shrug off its somewhat old-fashioned macho-marque image, Porsche ultimately had to respond actively.
With the presentation of the Group B concept in 1983 and the (almost) production-ready 959 two years later, Porsche was catapulted into the limelight. The many innovations and performance data of the 959 were so visionary that the small sports car manufacturer, Porsche, stood at the center of attention at the biggest media event of that time, the “100 Years of the Automobile”. A convincing 1-2-6 for the Porsche 959 at the 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally amplified the effect. Like a counterpoint to Germany’s “Waldsterben” at that time, the 959 embodied the future of the automobile and the ultimate idea of a sports car. As never before, prominent buyers were eager to belong to the handpicked circle of lucky customers to own a 959 – this added significantly to the positive appeal of the entire brand.
Even after decades, the appeal of the 959 has not waned. This is also regularly reflected in Porsche’s marketing activities. In 2001 as part of the teaser campaign for the launch of the Cayenne, the company used an image of a 959 at the Pharoahs Rally for worldwide print advertisements with the slogan: “We’re currently working on a five-seater version of this idea”. In another ad, the 959 was presented together with the Cayenne under the heading “Porsche DNA”. And even today, the 959 topic has lost none of its appeal. In 2015, when the Porsche Museum paid tribute to the 30th anniversary of the model with its own special exhibition, even the Zuffenhausen tradition-keepers were positively surprised by the large number of visitors. Porsche not only looks after its own 959 cars within the museum collection, but also the vehicles of private collectors. The specialists at Porsche Classic have more than 2,300 original parts for the 959 in stock. Each year, around 30 Porsche 959s are maintained on site, with services ranging from comprehensive maintenance to collision repairs through to full restoration. Ultimately, every roadworthy Porsche 959 is a rolling brand ambassador that keeps the myth of the super sports car alive and thriving.