First production car to employ active aerodynamics – 1986 Porsche 959

The lines of the Porsche 911 are one of its de­fining features; its silhouette is a product of evolution rather than revolution. One of these lines was, however, drawn not for design purposes but, indeed, to save the German automaker’s rear-engined sportscar from extinction.


In 1980, Porsche was struggling ­financially. The Stuttgart-based ­ firm decided to discontinue the 911 and shift its attention to its front-engined models, with the 928 replacing the 911 as Porsche’s ‑ flagship sportscar.

 First production car to employ active aerodynamics

1988 Porsche 959S

In 1981, however, newly appointed CEO, Peter Schutz, overturned this decision. The German-American noticed a chart in head engineer Helmuth Bott’s of­fice depicting the production forecasts of the 911, 928 and 944. Development of the latter two showed a steady increase. The line for the 911 did not and stopped abruptly at ’81. Schutz grabbed a marker and extended the line across the graph, onto the wall and out of the door…

To improve sales of the 911, Porsche knew it would have to excel in motorsport to lift its own pro­ le and, later that year, unveiled the Gruppe B, a car that would compete in Group B rallying. FIA regulations required 200 units of a road-going version be built. Two years later, the 959 concept was revealed and production started in 1986.

The 959 was the most technologically advanced car of its era. It was equipped with a sequential twin-turbocharged 2,8-litre ‑ at-six petrol engine and a six-speed manual ’box, which channelled the 331 kW and 500 N.m of torque to a trick four-wheel-drive system. Top speed was a claimed 317 km/h, with 0-62mph (0-100 km/h) taking a brisk 3,9 seconds.

Thanks to its design, the 911-based supercar had a drag coef­ficient of just 0,31. Wind resistance was further decreased with an active aerodynamics system. The speed-activated setup would automatically lower the chassis by almost 50 mm when 150 km/h was reached. This resulted in increased stability, a complete reduction of lift and improved fuel ef­ficiency.

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