No road cars epit­o­mise Porsche’s de­sire to push the lim­its more than 959, Car­rera GT and 918 Spy­der. We gather all three to ex­plore their icon sta­tus

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

IT FEELS al­most sac­ri­le­gious to cher­ryp­ick just three cars from seven decades of Porsche her­itage, none of which are 911s, but this trio nat­u­rally el­e­vates it­self atop the me­dian. Elit­ist? We pre­fer ex­treme; the cars that stretched the bound­aries of what we thought was pos­si­ble. Not all of them were com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful. The 959 re­tailed for around US$300,000 yet it cost Porsche more than twice that to build each car. Like BMW’S ill-starred M1, it was built by Baur and was also de­signed to com­pete in a race se­ries that had been leg­is­lated out of ex­is­tence by the time it was ready to turn a wheel in anger.

As much as any­thing, the 959’s story is the story of Hel­muth Bott, Porsche’s bril­liant head of R&D who aside from de­vel­op­ing the 959, de­signed the Weis­sach test track and in­tro­duced the wind tun­nel and crash test­ing at Porsche. It was Bott’s vi­sion that poured one in­no­va­tion af­ter an­other into the 959. Func­tional ac­tive sus­pen­sion, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, se­quen­tial twin tur­bos, a ded­i­cated off-road gear, wa­ter-cooled cylin­der heads, com­pos­ite body, dy­namic all­wheel drive – all of this was rocket sci­ence for what was briefly the fastest road car in the world back in 1983.

The Car­rera GT feels like an ana­logue

throw­back in com­par­i­son, with its purist man­ual gear­box and nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gine but it fea­tured a car­bon tub and sub­frame, ce­ramic com­pos­ite brakes, in­board sus­pen­sion and one heck of an en­gine. The V10 was orig­i­nally de­signed for the Foot­work F1 team af­ter Porsche de­liv­ered them a stinker of a V12. Foot­work ditched Porsche for Ford half­way through the 1991 sea­son so never got to race the V10. The en­gine was then heav­ily mod­i­fied for a Le Mans tilt, but the board rightly de­cided that the money would be bet­ter spent de­vel­op­ing the Cayenne SUV, and it ended up in a con­cept car at the 2000 Paris Show.

Cus­tomer in­ter­est was suf­fi­cient (and ca­pac­ity at the Leipzig fac­tory avail­able) such that Porsche planned to build 1500 cars, but re­vised airbag leg­is­la­tion in the US saw that fig­ure capped at 1270. The pro­duc­tion ver­sion overde­liv­ered in one key cri­te­rion, though. Where the con­cept promised a 5.5-litre V10 with 416kw, cus­tomers re­ceived a 5.7-litre V10 pow­er­plant good for 450kw and one of the rawest, most thrilling sports cars avail­able at any price. Hind­sight now shows that here was a car that rep­re­sented peak fury; an era of hugely pow­er­ful cars de­vel­oped be­fore sta­bil­ity con­trol tech­nol­ogy be­came a manda­tory fit.

Blend the ag­gres­sion and fo­cus of the Car­rera GT with the tech­no­log­i­cal am­bi­tion of the 959 and you nat­u­rally ar­rive at the 918 Spy­der hy­brid. In terms of power out­put, it is to the Car­rera GT what a Car­rera GT is to a mod­ern Boxster S. It’s a pure state­ment of in­tent that, like the 959, will see its tech bleed into Porsche’s pro­duc­tion sports cars for years to come. It’s also a re­minder of how far the com­pany has pro­gressed. When 959 pro­duc­tion of­fi­cially ceased in 1993, Porsche was a bas­ket case; the com­pany’s global sales amounted to lit­tle over 14,000 cars per year. Last year it sold nearly a quar­ter of a mil­lion ve­hi­cles. That’s thanks in no small part to the vi­sion and en­gi­neer­ing ge­nius be­hind the 959, the Car­rera GT and the 918 Spy­der.

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