" We've heard a lot about how the relatively humble 924/944 series were the cars that in the late seventies/early eighties saved Porsche from financial wrack and ruin. But for some reason we've never really understood their appeal. Until, that is, "
Inside Coys – Porsche 959 Cabriolet
The car that kicked off the rise of hypercars - but not as you know it...
The Terminator is a brilliant movie, easily one of the best films of the 1980s and entertainment at its best. Porsche must have been watching that film with a knowing smile back in 1984 because at the time it was developing its own Terminator.
Three years later, the assassin was ready. Called the 959, this was a supercar like no other and it was years ahead of its time – a supercar assassin sent from the future to kill, well, all other supercars actually.
See one up close and many civilians might not be aware what they’re dealing with. First appearances suggest it’s just a very flat, very plastic looking 911 – not an uncommon sight in the late 80s. The 959 doesn’t look particularly dangerous as we find it gleaming in the Coys showroom, nor does it look beautiful like most supercars, but like almost everything else in the 959, that body is advanced technology. Formed by a mixture of aluminium and composite materials – the body is functional, channelling air as efficiently as possible in order to produce zero-lift. It needs that too, because in the back there’s a Porsche flat-six engine, but this one is an angry, powerful unit taken from the hugely successful 935 ‘Moby Dick’ racing car. Around 450bhp is produced by the charismatic unit, enough to send the car to 195mph and to a slightly more-legal 62mph in just 3.7-seconds – in 1987 these numbers were simply staggering.
In the late 1990s this particular 959 was converted by German company Auto Becker to become the world’s only – yes, only – Porsche 959 Cabriolet. Its value now is estimated at a remarkable £1.5m (indeed, this very car is up for auction very soon), a price tag that has the ability to inspire some butterflies in those about to drive it.
Pulling out into busy London traffic behind the wheel of one of the world’s rarest and most significant cars is enough to get the blood pumping, but the 959 isn’t just an expensive classic. It’s a legend, a truly iconic machine that paved the way for all the supercars and even hypercars that we have right now. The LaFerrari, P1, and yes, even Porsche’s own 918 Spyder can buy the 959 a drink because it changed the supercar game altogether.
In terms of sheer speed and the way it drives, time hasn’t taken anything away from the 959. It still feels rapid to this day, on a par with some of the fastest road cars in production, but the steering and sensations you get from the car are rawer than many modern supercar. Porsche’s assassin may have been from the future, but it was was born analogue, and the feelings you get from the car as a result are of that analogue era – feedback many modern cars can only dream of providing for drivers.
Significantly, our 959 Cabriolet doesn’t feel fragile. The built quality is of a very high standard and everything mechanical feels absolutely solid. At the wheel you can feel the heavy, precise steering that hands you back bags and bags of feedback, the clutch is like a rock, a workout for people like me who’ve skipped leg day – and all other days to be honest. The engine is loud, proud, and eager to get going, it wants to push on and sing and be driven properly, and thanks to the 959’s revolutionary sequential turbo system – again, a totally newfangled idea in the late 80s – turbo lag isn’t really all that noticeable.
Despite the powerful engine and controls that require a bit of strength, the 959 is not a difficult car to drive, it just takes some getting used to. It’s actually quite happy to potter around at low speed. We took it through central London to cruise around it’s easy to imagine it being quite settled around a certain principality just as much as it would be happy on a twisting sequence of fast corners. In cabriolet guise, it seems to have found another side to itself – a certain sense of versatility.
The Porsche 959 taught hypercars how to fight in the modern era. It’s a technical marvel, yes, but it’s also a sensational driver’s car. In the right hands, it is easy to imagine it being incredibly rewarding, but in this form, with a soft roof, it feels like the retired soldier that’s taking life a little bit easier. It’s still got the weapons, but it doesn’t need to prove itself anymore.
It’s won the medals, it’s taken the credit, and now it’s happy to sit back, relax and watch the next generation do battle for the records – mission complete.
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