A true supercar of the 1980s, the Porsche 959 was created by the German car company to comply with regulations for FIA homologation. The 959 was a part of what many fans deem the Golden Age of rally racing, Group B. To satisfy rules for racing the 959 in Group B, Porsche needed to make at least 200 street-legal units. The result was the fastest road-ready car in the world at the time. Porsche ended up making 337 of these cars between 1986 and 1989.
Development of the 959 goes way back to 1981 and redesigns of the 911 sports car. Leadership at Porsche wanted to test out a new all-wheel drive system and figured Group B rallying was the place for it. Development in race cars often leads to the successful creation of new sellable models, so it was a good strategy for the company.
The designers of the 959 used an already-existing, six-cylinder engine rather than creating a new one from scratch. It had a slightly smaller displacement than the contemporary 911 engine, but it was turbocharged and generated a huge 450 horsepower. The engine was linked to a six-speed manual transmission and the car was driven by a technologically-advanced all-wheel drive system.
The body of the 959 was also designed for speed. Using aluminum and Kevlar, Porsche created a lightweight powerhouse, weighing in at just over 3,000 pounds. The design also included aerodynamic considerations to further increase the car’s speed. The result was that the 959 topped out at 195 miles per hour, the fastest speed of any production car at the time that it came out. Acceleration was also impressive with the ability to reach 62 miles per hour in just 3.7 seconds.
In spite of its origins as a rally car, the 959 never really made an impression in the Group B circuit. It failed to finish three races and finished first and second in just one race. Porsche was never really serious about winning with the 959. The main motivation for creating the model, and where most of the money went, was in developing new technologies for road-ready, production sports cars.
Getting the 959 into the U.S. legally in the 1980s involved pushes by Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Gates’s car infamously sat in customs for 13 years before he could legally own and drive it. With so few 959 models made, and with a limited number brought to the U.S., they are rare and desirable collectibles today.