BUY­ERS’ GUIDE: PORSCHE 959

Ini­tially de­vised and ho­molo­gated for Group B ral­ly­ing, the Porsche 959 be­came a show­case for Porsche’s tech­ni­cal am­bi­tions and was by some some mar­gin the most ad­vanced car on sale, when launched in 1987. Val­ues have ebbed and flowed, but the 959 is now

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Porsche’s ’80s car of the fu­ture

Ex­perts warn us that in­vest­ments can go down as well as up, and few clas­sic cars have demon­strated this more clearly than the 959, Porsche’s first road-go­ing su­per­car, launched in 1987. Its new price was a not in­con­sid­er­able £145,000 (about £370,000 to­day), but that had un­der­es­ti­mated the mar­ket for the 292 cars to be built, and as soon as de­liv­er­ies be­gan spec­u­la­tors were ask­ing – and get­ting – £500,000 and more.

You saw their ad­ver­tis­ments in The Sun­day Times and Au­to­car, but the prof­i­teer­ing ended when the UK col­lec­tor car mar­ket dra­mat­i­cally crashed in 1990 as the econ­omy en­tered re­ces­sion. You could then al­most not give a 959 away, and even a decade later in 959 fea­tures 911 & Porsche World was es­ti­mat­ing that the top value was around £95,000, com­pa­ra­ble with a new 911 Turbo.

Now though, 959s are once again white hot property. In its Paris auc­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2017 RM Sotheby’s sold one of the rare Sport mod­els for €1.96m (about £1.75m), and de­spite the cool­ing of clas­sic val­ues shifted a Kom­fort model for $1.16m (£880,000) in Ari­zona in Jan­uary 2018. Much of that price growth has oc­curred in the last five years.

Most are locked up in se­cure col­lec­tions, hav­ing cov­ered min­i­mal mileage and still in near new con­di­tion (although cars do de­te­ri­o­rate in th­ese con­di­tions un­less prop­erly main­tained). So for in­vestors, es­tate in­her­i­tors and any­one else with six fig­ures of spare cash, here’s what you need to know about this most charis­matic Porsche.

DE­SIGN, EN­GI­NEER­ING

Porsche built the 959 to go ral­ly­ing in, but it came to be a show­case for the com­pany’s en­gi­neer­ing prow­ess rather than ful­fill­ing its mo­tor­sport am­bi­tions. De­sign work be­gan in 1981 and the fin­ished prod­uct ap­peared

six years later. It was based on the 911 plat­form, but al­most ev­ery part of it was be­spoke, mak­ing it eas­ily the most tech­ni­cally so­phis­ti­cated car among its Group B con­tem­po­raries. For ho­molo­ga­tion pur­poses Porsche had to make avail­able a min­i­mum of 200 road cars for sale, but of course the sud­den ax­ing of this ex­treme World Rally Cham­pion class on safety grounds robbed it of pur­pose. Two hun­dred cus­tomers lodged their DM50,000 de­posits.

Its 2.85-litre en­gine (a ca­pac­ity to com­ply with mo­tor­sport reg­u­la­tions of the time) was based on that from Porsche’s 956 en­durance racer, and very dif­fer­ent to the reg­u­lar 3.2-litre 911 Car­rera 3.2 unit. It fea­tured twin, se­quen­tial tur­bocharg­ers and water-cooled cylin­der-heads with four valves. Five ra­di­a­tors cooled the oil, cylin­der head water and the turbo air.

Out­put in road trim was 450bhp (al­most dou­ble that of the Car­rera 3.2), but an op­tional fac­tory up­grade of larger tur­bos and remapped ECU saw that rise to 550bhp. Power was trans­mit­ted through a six-speed gear­box and per­ma­nent four-wheel drive trans­mis­sion (to be used in sim­pli­fied form in 1989’s 964 911 Car­rera 4).

The right-hand side of the steer­ing- col­umn housed an ex­tra stalk, tak­ing the trans­mis­sion through four modes: “Ice”, “Wet Road”, Dry Road” and “Trac­tion”, hence the driver could ex­am­ine the road ahead, pick the set­ting and ac­cel­er­ate, com­fort­able in the knowl­edge that the most suit­able front/rear torque split had been se­lected. And a dial to the far right of the in­stru­ment panel showed the per­cent­age front/rear torque split cur­rently de­ployed, and also the per­cent­age lock­ing of the rear dif­fer­en­tial.

Front and rear sus­pen­sion were a dou­ble wish­bone set-up, with dash­board ad­justable damper firm­ness and ride height, while the brakes were from Porsche’s mo­tor­sport parts bins (among the few com­po­nents not specif­i­cally de­signed for the 959). Other ex­am­ples of the ex­otic, cost-no-ob­ject na­ture of the car are the tyre pres­sure sen­sors built into the valve caps, and the unique, hol­low-spoked, 17-inch al­loy wheels, wear­ing 235/45 front and 255/40 rear tyres.

The 959’s body was made in a com­bi­na­tion of al­loy (bon­net and doors), light­weight Aramid and Kevlar com­pos­ites (wings, rear spoiler, en­gine cover and un­der­tray), giv­ing a 0.31 drag fac­tor, slip­pery com­pared to the Car­rera 3.2’s 0.38. But it was, and per­haps still is, a love-it-or­loathe-it shape. With faired in head­lamps and full, smooth nose treat­ment, it can look stun­ning from the front three-quar­ter an­gle, but at the back it’s harder to call the 959 a treat. The mas­sive rear over­hang, plus the huge en­gine cover give it a tail heavy ap­pear­ance, the vast ap­pendage seem­ing al­most to be tacked on to the slender 911 body. That the words, ‘Is it a kit car’ were of­ten ut­tered says a lot about the mix of styles.

In­side, the 959 is a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. With­out us­ing the mir­rors, you can’t see any of the bul­bous, mainly Kevlar add-ons from the driver’s seat, and the ini­tial im­pres­sion is of sit­ting in an ex­tremely well ap­pointed, but nor­mal Car­rera 3.2. There are how­ever de­tail dif­fer­ences, for ex­am­ple the clock gave way to what could be called the 4WD in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, and was dis­placed to the cen­tre con­sole. Weirdly for a 1980s rear-en­gined Porsche, the far left dial in­cludes a water tem­per­a­ture gauge, for the cylin­der-heads. On the trans­mis­sion tun­nel, ahead of the gear lever, are po­si­tioned the switches for the vari­able damper stiff­ness and ride height.

The ma­jor­ity of 959s were fin­ished in Kom­fort trim, in­clud­ing leather and air­con­di­tion­ing, but a re­ported 29 came in Sport form, stripped of the a/c and sound sys­tem, and with cloth trim and a roll-cage. They also lacked the Kom­fort’s driver­ad­justable sus­pen­sion, and were lighter.

All 959s were left-hand drive, an es­ti­mated dozen sold in the UK by Porsche Cars Great Bri­tain. In the ab­sence of a cat­a­lyst en­gine op­tion the car was not of­fered in the US, but a buyer there, Bruce Canepa, en­gi­neered a suit­able sys­tem en­abling per­son­ally im­ported 959s (in­clud­ing, of course, the one be­long­ing to Bill Gates) to be used there.

The 959 was built in 1987 and 1988, but

in 1992 and 1993 Porsche built eight more from left­over parts. Th­ese were all Kom­fort mod­els, four in red and four in sil­ver, and with evolved sus­pen­sion in­clud­ing a speed sen­si­tive damper ad­just­ment sys­tem.

PRICES, AVAIL­ABIL­ITY

The 959 mar­ket is global, and at any one time you might see half a dozen for sale, most la­belled “Price on ap­pli­ca­tion”. How­ever, it seems that the go­ing rate in the UK is £800,000 to £900,000 for “av­er­age” ex­am­ples, but when pris­tine cars from col­lec­tions come up for sale, in­vari­ably at in­ter­na­tional auc­tions, they can fetch well into seven fig­ures.

Look­ing back at what in­ter­na­tional auc­tion­eer RM Sotheby’s has sold over the years shows how the 959 has re-emerged as a top col­lectable. In 2006 at Amelia Is­land in Florida it sold a Kom­fort for $286,000 (£150,500, based on a then ex­tra­or­di­nary £1.90 per dol­lar ex­change!), and in 2010 a 25,800km (16,125 miles) car in Monaco for €210,000 (then £141,900). Au­gust of the same year saw a 1900-mile ex­am­ple go for $412,500 (£257,800) at Mon­terey in Cal­i­for­nia.

In Septem­ber 2012 in London a 959 with just 651km made just £308,000, but in 2013 two cars in the US fetched $770,000 (£513,300) and $737,000 (£491,000). Ari­zona in 2015 saw RM’S first mil­lion dol­lar 959 (£700,000), a 21,600km (13,500 miles) car, and that’s now a guide price for 959s. In early Au­gust 2018 Coys of­fered a 22,000km (13,750 miles) 959 with an €800,000–€900,000 (£713,600–£802,800) es­ti­mate, which did not sell on the day but in a post-auc­tion deal moved at around €850,000.

OWN­ER­SHIP

Clearly, this is not one of our usual Buy­ers’ Guides, be­cause most if not all cars are ei­ther in col­lec­tions or ef­fec­tively on dis­play. None will have cov­ered suf­fi­cient mileage for there to be sig­nif­i­cant me­chan­i­cal or body de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, and any prob­lems that do oc­cur will be be­cause of long pe­ri­ods of be­ing un­used. For ex­am­ple the bat­tery, un­der the car­pet trim in the front boot com­part­ment and not read­ily ac­ces­si­ble, is likely to be in a poor state by now, and hy­draulic pipes may leak. Many of the en­gine com­po­nents are be­spoke and unique to the 959 and there­fore now un­avail­able; in­deed it’s reck­oned that it cost Porsche more to de­velop the 959 than was re­couped in sales rev­enue, but that of course is of­ten the way with ex­otic, low vol­ume sports cars.

The 959, de­spite its com­plex­ity, is a car that Porsche Cen­tres could work on, pro­vided they still have tech­ni­cians with ex­pe­ri­ence of it – but Porsche Cars Great Bri­tain for­bids it, in­sist­ing that, as is the case with its two other 21st cen­tury su­per­cars, the Car­rera GT and 918 Spy­der, PCS re­fer all 959s to the deal­er­ship within Porsche’s Read­ing head­quar­ters. ‘We could in­spect it up on the ramp and we could work on it no prob­lem, but it has to go to Porsche, that’s a con­trac­tual thing,’

one PC ser­vice tech­ni­cian told us.

A hand­ful of in­de­pen­dent Porsche spe­cial­ists will have the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to main­tain 959s. For ex­am­ple Charles Ivey in Sur­biton in Sur­rey says it look af­ter sev­eral of them for cus­tomers, and in­deed owns one, a car the busi­ness bought new in 1988 with the in­ten­tion of rac­ing it (though never did).

CANEPA: 959 SPE­CIAL­IST

Due to its rar­ity and the in­fre­quent use of most ex­am­ples, there is only lim­ited 959 ex­per­tise in any coun­try. Hence all own­ers, par­tic­u­larly th­ese in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, should be aware of the name Canepa, which can jus­ti­fi­ably claim to be the world’s lead­ing 959 spe­cial­ist.

Be­fore es­tab­lish­ing his present com­pany in 1993, founder Bruce Canepa had raced Porsches both as a driver and team owner, and in 1988 pur­chased a 959. With the model not “fed­er­alised” and there­fore not legally drive­able in the US, he set about de­vel­op­ing his own cat­a­lyst sys­tem to en­able the en­gine to com­ply with US emis­sions stan­dards.

His com­pany, Canepa, in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, is now un­ques­tion­ably the most knowl­ege­able 959 spe­cial­ist any­where, and the “Canepa 959” it now of­fers is up­dated and mod­i­fied in al­most al­most ev­ery re­spect. Be­side the ad­di­tion of a cat­a­lyst, the car’s en­gine was tuned to “gen 1” spec 15 years ago, to pro­duce 569bhp, a 26 per cent in­crease over the stan­dard out­put, and sub­se­quently in­creased to 631bhp. Now in “gen 3” form, with new Borg-warner tur­bos, in­te­grated waste­gates, and ti­ta­nium heat shields, blueprinted ex­haust valve springs, high out­put ig­ni­tion and many more mod­i­fi­ca­tions, the four-wheel-drive su­per­car can boast 752bhp and 468lb ft. A coilover sus­pen­sion pack is of­fered, as is a wheel up­grade to al­low the most modern tyres to be used, and head­lamps suit­able for a modern su­per­car can be in­stalled. There’s also an in­te­rior re-trim ser­vice.

Canepa also pe­ri­od­i­cally sells 959s, and is presently of­fer­ing the 125th car pro­duced (price on ap­pli­ca­tion), in red with a black in­te­rior, im­ported to the US in 1999 and its en­gine up­graded in power and emis­sions in 1993. It also fea­tures the “959S” sus­pen­sion up­grade. Canepa is based in Scotts Val­ley, in the Santa Cruz moun­tains near San Jose.

VER­DICT

The 959 is an ex­tra­or­di­nary sportscar, not just for the then un­prece­dented level of tech­nol­ogy that Porsche de­vel­oped for it in the early 1980s, but be­cause of the way it has been per­ceived since then. At first there was a stampede, then the mar­ket fell out of love with it, leav­ing it out in the wilder­ness for prob­a­bly two decades, af­ter which it be­came one of the most cov­eted Porsche road cars, per­haps even chal­leng­ing the su­per iconic 911 2.7RS on value.

For most of us, the 959 would be worth more than our house, per­haps twice as much, hence it is an­other Porsche mostly con­demned to vaulted col­lec­tions (the ex­am­ple Porsche brought to 2018’s Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed pro­vided a rare view­ing op­por­tu­nity), and it seems highly likely that in the long term val­ues will rise sig­nif­i­cantly, fur­ther per­suad­ing own­ers not to bring them out to play. But if you have got a spare £800,000, buy­ing a 959 just to look at would still be money well spent, such is its won­drous na­ture. PW

The Porsche 959 was Porsche’s most ad­vanced car un­til at least the ar­rival of the gen 2 997 Turbo, some 22 years later

Styling – and the rear over­hang in par­tic­u­lar – might not be to every­one’s taste, but the 959 cer­tainly doesn’t look dated, even to­day

Per­haps the 959’s weird­est an­gle. Looks huge with its in­te­gral, hoop wing, but a modern 991 Turbo would dwarf it!

En­gine is a 2.8-litre, twin turbo, with water-cooled heads, putting out 450bhp. As you can see, this is one of the ul­tra rare Sport mod­els, with cloth trim and roll cage etc. Hol­low spoke, mag­ne­sium wheels, fea­tured tyre pres­sure mon­i­tors

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