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  • 30 years of #Porsche-959 / #Porsche / #1985 / . It first appeared 30 years ago this year, but the Porsche 959 remains an utterly captivating machine… With the 959 Porsche flexed its technological muscles. It first appeared 30 years ago this year, and it remains an utterly captivating machine… Story: Andrew Frankel. Photography: Porsche and various.

    DESIGN Technology

    When a car comes to market with a gilt-edged claim to being the fastest machine ever to set foot on the public road, it is understandable that this should become the car’s defining characteristic especially as, in the case of the Porsche 959, it was so much faster than anything else there was really no comparison worth making. Of course there were others, Italians mainly, that claimed to be capable of 190mph or more, but I am aware of no independent test that by the mid-1980s had timed any Ferrari or Lamborghini at even 180mph. By contrast no one doubted that when Porsche said the 959 would do 197mph, it really would do 197mph.

    The problem with such a preposterous number – and 30 years ago it seemed as absurd as a Bugatti Veyron doing 260mph today – is that it’s so vast it tends to obscure the view of everything else, when in fact its top speed is actually the least useful of all its extraordinary talents. Imagine instead a Veyron that was compact, easy to park and thread through city streets, had reasonable luggage space and even rear seats. It was Porsche’s ability to meld such ground-breaking performance and, as we shall see, brain-boggling technology into such a usable whole that makes the 959 such a landmark in Porsche road car history.

    The 959 was still around, just, when I first started testing cars but I was far too young to be allowed to do anything other than sit in a cockpit so similar to that of a 911 in architecture, yet so different in detail. The dials looked the same but the rev-counter carried a 7200rpm redline which no SC or Turbo of the time could touch, and a boost gauge reading up to 2.5bar. The speedo was calibrated up to 350km/h (a trifling 218mph) while there was an entire other gauge detailing the torque split between and across the axles. The steering wheel carried a 959 motif while the gear lever suggested five normal gears and a sixth named ‘G’ for ‘gelande’ or offroad mode, when it was in fact just a standard six-speed gearbox with first renamed and the others promoted by a ratio to get around first gear noise regulations.


    Happily I’ve driven a few since and each time I do I remain struck by the modernity of a design that first appeared at the #1985-Frankfurt-Motor-Show some 30 years ago. Even today, the way you can just drop down into the seat of what was an automotive spaceship in its day, twist the key, dip the clutch, shift the lever and ease smoothly away is, in its own quiet way, genuinely shocking.

    If the car can be faulted, it is that it is perhaps too civilised. The ride is reasonable by the never great standards of 1980s 911s and the engine with its water-cooled quad-cam, 24-valve heads is sufficiently quiet for it to be barely believable that it was developed directly from a multiple #Le-Mans -winning race motor. This is no roller coaster ride, to be tackled with white knuckles and a grimace or not at all, it’s all just very easy, easy enough indeed for the man from Car magazine to say when first reviewing it that for all its technological accomplishments, Porsche had “seemed to have forgotten the bloke behind the wheel”. It is easier than you might imagine to let your mind drift.


    And if you do, it might be back to where this car came from, which really was out of nowhere. Indeed had the FIA not come up with a new set of rules for cars in the early 1980s, dividing competition machinery into three categories (Group A for road based machines with more than 5000 units produced, Group B for cars with a minimum production requirement of 200 cars and Group C for pure prototypes), it would very likely never have happened at all. But Porsche was interested in taking part in the #Paris-Dakar rally (competing in the full World Rally Championship was never seriously contemplated) and it was soon realised that the ever-versatile 911 would make a good jump-off point for developing a Group B car. More importantly, the technologies deployed might well enjoy a lifetime in mainstream production Porsche models long after the necessarily abbreviated Group B project had past.

    Even so, by the time they were finished, very little of the 911’s design save the shape of the roof, glass and doors remained. The body was completely different, not only in shape but construction, eschewing traditional steel for an exotic blend of Kevlar, Nomex and aluminium. Not one exterior panel was interchangeable with that of a 911, while the shape of the car was designed to not only be dramatically more slippery than that of a 911 but develop zero lift, a unique claim at the time.

    The engine was a flat-six, but a 2.8-litre motor, similar to that used by the 962 Group C car, but with a single water-cooled head per bank instead of individual heads per cylinder. It had two turbos but instead of working in parallel they operated in series, so one smaller turbo would provide low-lag boost at modest revs, while a bigger turbo would cut in at higher speeds to provide high rev power. The plan had been to direct the power through a #PDK transmission but when the project ran over time and budget the idea was swiftly dropped in favour of a manual gearbox, though featuring six ratios – an innovation almost exclusively the preserve of race machines of the era.

    The suspension bore no relation to the 911’s simple system of struts and trailing arms and was instead a full double wishbone configuration at each corner with computer controlled, driver adjustable damping, while braking came courtesy of massive internally ventilated discs with #ABS – another rare innovation. The tyres were developed specially for the car by Bridgestone because at the time none existed that would pass Porsche’s durability tests for a car of this potential, while Porsche provided pressure sensors and Speedline those fabulous hollowspoked magnesium wheels.

    But the real stand out technology and the system that probably did ultimately justify Porsche’s investment in a programme said to have lost the company over £200,000 per car was its four-wheel drive system. Porsche was not the first to develop all-wheel drive for a car not intended to go off-road, for Audi had blazed that trail with its ground-breaking Quattro back in 1980. But what Porsche had in mind was nothing like as agricultural as the simple 50:50 front to rear split used on the original Quattro, but something that even today some 30 years later sounds pretty state-of-the-art. At its core lay a multi-disc clutch called #PSK which automatically varied the torque front to rear according to demand from the tyres. It had an operational range that allowed it to send as little as 20 percent of the torque to the front wheels or lock the driveline solid. As a further refinement, the driver could select one of four modes (traction, dry, wet and ice) and see on the dashboard how much power was being fed to the front wheels through the PSK and how torque was being apportioned to each rear wheel via a conventional limited-slip differential. Even now it seems complex: 30 years ago it was the stuff of science fiction.

    The car that would become the first 959 appeared in concept form at Frankfurt in #1983 entitled simply ‘Gruppe B’ but it was another two years before it was turned into a production reality. In this time a 911 converted to four-wheel drive and named the #Porsche-953 took a surprise win in the #1984-Paris-Dakar , providing Porsche with much cause for optimism for the purpose-built 959 which duly lined-up for the start of the #1985 event, and promptly fell flat on its face. Plagued by uncharacteristic mechanical failures, all three retired. In #1986 , however, all three finished, with Rene Metge winning, Jacky Ickx second and Roland Kussmaul sixth – an extraordinary achievement when you consider over 85 percent of the nearly 500 cars entered failed to reach the finish at all. The 959 was also adapted for racing, renamed the Porsche 961, and in 1986 became the first four-wheel drive car to race at Le Mans, finishing seventh, and first car home behind the dedicated Group C machines. The story of its fiery apparent death in the #1987 race and subsequent resurrection has been told on these pages before and falls outside the subject matter and space available here.

    In the meantime customers waited patiently. Cars ordered in 1985 for delivery in the summer of 1986 were postponed to the autumn, then the winter, and finally the spring of 1987 as the complexities of not only creating a car that broke so much new ground but building it to Porsche standards of fit and reliability became apparent. But those in the queue were rewarded even though Porsche pushed production far past the originally intended 250 units to 329, with a further eight built from spares five years later.

    In the UK the list price was £155,266 but soon orders were trading for half as much again. These days it’s harder to judge their values because so few come up for sale over here and those that do are always POA. However, in the US, where the car was never sold in period because Porsche refused to sacrifice cars it could easily sell elsewhere in US-specific crash tests, cars trade at between $1m-$1.5m, so between around £650,000 to near £1m, the latter likely to be commanded by one of the 37 lighter, stiffer Sport models.

    But enough of such details. Was the 959 really such a remote device as some who first drove it suggested? The truth is I can see where they are coming from, but they made their judgements in an era where almost every car was far more communicative than those of today, so their perspective was different. By 21st century standards, the 959 doesn’t feel remote at all. More surprising still is that even today the 959 feels properly, supercar quick. If you lock the driveline, dial up all the revs, sidestep the clutch and pray, the 959 will hit 60mph from rest in 3.6secs and the next car down the tracks to go substantially faster than that was the McLaren F1 in 1994.

    Even so, if you drive it normally you might feel a little disappointed by its performance at low and medium revs. Even with just the little turbo in action there is some lag and pleasant but hardly gut-wrenching acceleration. But what happens around 4800rpm is not so much like another turbo cutting in as another engine altogether. The redline says 7200rpm but the engine is easily safe to 8000rpm where the limiter cuts in, and in the lower gears it’s a fairly wild ride all the way there. You’re helped by a gearbox with tightly stacked ratios and a shift quality to shame utterly the 915 transmission that was still used in the 911 when the 959 went on sale. I’ve only done around 145mph in a 959 but can report that at such speeds it was still hauling hard enough to make its near 200mph top speed not merely possible, but a formality.

    I’ve not liked the brakes on any I’ve driven, not because they’re hinged at the floor like an old 911’s but because I could never get any feel through the pedal, perhaps because its competition-grade discs need more heat that I’d been able to generate. And as for the handling which has over time been criticised for everything from terminal understeer to unmanageable oversteer, I found it basically benign, a little too inclined to push at the front (but less so than a normal 911 of the era) and beautifully tied down at the back. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough, and on public roads in someone else’s near million pound motor car, I should hope not too. There are to be honest many Porsches that are more fun to drive than the 959, including any wearing an RS badge. But that’s not what Porsche set out to make. It wanted instead to make a statement, by building a Porsche that for its speed and technological sophistication was beyond anything created to date, and to do so without compromising the every day ease of use for which the brand was renown. In short it wanted to build the most capable supercar the world had ever seen, and that it did with space to spare.

    Even now it seems complex: 30 years ago it was the stuff of science fiction.

    Here: A period shot of 959 owner #Walter-Röhrl Overleaf: Röhrl enjoying the car today Above left: A Special Equipment 959 built for HE Sheikh Abdul Aziz Khalifa Althani in #1989 .

    Ground-breaking performance and brain-boggling technology make the 959 a landmark in Porsche road car history.

    Above: The 959 was a technological marvel Right: One of 37 lightweight ‘Sport’ versions.
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  • Andrew Frankel updated the picture of the group Porsche Boxster 981
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  • BOXSTER SPYDER FIRST DRIVE #2016 #Porsche-Boxster-Spyder-981 / #Porsche-Boxster-Spyder / #Porsche-Boxster / #Porsche-Boxster-981 / #Porsche-981 / #Porsche / #2015

    We get behind the wheel of the hottest ever Boxster. Can this ‘non-GT’ car rival the Cayman GT4? With the same ingredients as the Cayman GT4, the Spyder is the hottest ever Boxster. We get behind the wheel to see if this ‘non GT’ Porsche offers a genuine GT4 alternative… Story: Andrew Frankel Photography: Porsche

    At around 4750rpm, the engine in the all new Boxster Spyder gives a little snarl. I remember it because it occurred to me that G-series 911 Carreras from the 1980s make a similar noise at almost exactly the same revs. But they mean different things: in the Carrera it was the engine steeling itself for the short sprint to the redline, in the Spyder it’s merely signalling a departure point from where performance that might be recognisable to owners of other Boxsters starts to peter out, and performance no two seat open Porsche has this side of that other Spyder – the 918 – starts to become available.


    The new Boxster Spyder is so fast that on first acquaintance you start to wonder why Porsche has not called it the Boxster GT4 and positioned it as an open companion to the Cayman GT4 whose 911-sourced 3.8-litre motor it shares. It’s an odd choice and I wonder if it had anticipated the rapturous reception the GT4 Cayman received, whether Porsche would have chosen to do it differently. Because here we have two Porsches, open and closed versions of the same cars essentially, with the same engine, same gearbox, same focus of reducing weight and increasing driving pleasure and just £4000 between them in the market place – yet one is accorded full GT status, the other not.

    Some might say this is merely precedent, that the Boxster Spyder of 2009 was not a GT car so neither should this one be. Perhaps Porsche regards ‘Spyder’ as a separate subbrand to ‘GT’ in the same way as BMW refuses to make an ‘M’ version of its new i8, so Porsche wishes not to create brand confusion by mixing the two. But I doubt it: I think Porsche decided that people think of GT cars as hardcore machines for wheel-gripping, wide-eyed diehards and so the Spyder would put off more who secretly just want to be seen in the ultimate convertible Porsche than it would attract road warriors who’d probably buy the structurally stiffer coupé anyway.

    So at its essence, the Spyder is a Boxster with GT4 running gear but in place of the GT4’s sophisticated suspension comes a standard setup with a 20mm lower ride height and sports springing. Despite the additional weight of the engine and that cool double bubble rear cowl, the lighter roof system, carbon bucket seats and the relegation of air-con and infotainment system to the (no cost) options list means total weight saved is 15kg. The 2009 Spyder saved 80kg and, get this, is a massive 115kg lighter than this new version. So while the new car is also 50hp more powerful, if you look at their respective power-toweight ratios you’ll discover the old Spyder offered 251hp per tonne and the new car has 266hp per tonne. Not much progress there.

    One reason Porsche might cite for the Spyder losing rather less weight this time than last is not just the bigger engine – which I’m told is actually hardly any bigger or heavier than the 3.4-litre unit used by Boxsters S and GTS, but because it has a more user friendly roof. Some of you may remember the hood of the original Boxster Spyder was for occasional use only because you’d spend all the intervening time trying to figure out how to raise and lower the thing. More tent than roof, it was a long-winded process even when you’d figured out what to do, and once installed limited your top speed to 124mph because it would blow off if you went faster. In fact, Porsche didn’t programme the car this way, it just told you to keep your speed down, an instruction that at least one British journalist ignored while in Europe in one, with ruinous consequences for the roof and an interesting moment for those following him on the motorway. The new roof is still manual in operation but is sufficiently robust to stay in place even at the car’s 180mph top speed and though quite straight forward to erect or remove it still takes a few minutes.

    The Spyder does, however, look incredible with the hood down. You can see in its design elements of both the 918 and that other quite effective Porsche roadster, the Carrera GT. Those carbon buckets do more than look good and support your body: their thin shells also provide a few extra centimetres of legroom all drivers much over six foot will be grateful to receive. The driving position is perfect, the 918-derived wheel is of ideal size and rim thickness. Press some pedals and move the gear lever before you set off and you will be reminded that no-one thinks harder about matching control weights than Porsche.

    Turn the key and the bark that responds is sharper than you’ll hear in the Cayman GT4, I guess because of the absent roof. For the record I think its 10hp deficit to the Cayman unit even if real is entirely political and is there to ensure the hierarchy that says all Caymans have more power than their feebler Boxster sisters.

    For reasons I’ll not bore you with now, I was a passenger in the car while it was driven on the public road, only taking the wheel myself when we reached Porsche’s test track at Silverstone. And it’s actually not a bad place from which to do at least some of the assessment because as a passenger you are far more sensitive to unwanted body movements than the driver, who at least knows what inputs and therefore likely reactions are about to occur. And the odd thing is that despite being deeply disappointed by the ride of the last Boxster GTS I drove on sport suspension, I thought the Spyder was more than adequately comfortable, especially given the kind of car it is and the fact it is far more likely to be used in a mainly recreational role than a normal Boxster.

    I was interested too to see how much less the driver felt the need to change gear than you might even in a Boxster GTS. Peak power may have risen from 325hp to 370hp over the GTS but there’s far more torque everywhere, the maximum rising from 265lb ft to an altogether more meaningful 324lb ft. This would be very noticeable in any car, but in the Boxster, which has always had far longer gearing than it needs, the difference is transformative in exactly the same way as it is in the Cayman GT4. The gearbox is a pure delight and you might often choose to change down a couple of times just to feel its action and hear the flat-six howl, but you no longer need to; and on give and take roads where sometimes an opportunity to overtake appears but with no time to waste, in the Spyder you can just stretch your leg and feel the car surge forward like no other Boxster before.

    But I really wanted to know what, if anything, it lost to the Cayman GT4 on the track. On paper it seems like nothing: the Cayman has allegedly another 10hp, but also 25 extra kilos to carry. Porsche claimed it will reach 62mph in 4.4sec, the Boxster Spyder in 4.5sec and if that’s a difference you can detect, it is you who should be doing this job and not me.

    Porsche’s test track is quite short but also when you’re absolutely on or over the limit with all the electronics turned off, quite challenging too. It’s a track designed to make Porsches look and feel good, and it does. So wide is the powerband of the Spyder’s new engine that you could probably lap reasonably competitively using just third gear but where would be the fun in that? Without the roof in place you can really hear the engine sing, so naturally you want to give it all the revs in as many gears as you can.

    Soon you’ll find that an optimised Boxster chassis toting a 911 Carrera S powertrain is a pretty potent and memorable combination. One of very few downsides to driving any lesser Boxster is the certain knowledge that it’s capable of handling so much more power than Porsche has put at your disposal, and even now with 370hp the car feels properly exercised, but in no way stretched further than it cares to go. Could it handle over 400hp? Without a doubt. Even as it is, you find the engine capable of exploiting the car’s phenomenal inherent traction like no other Boxster. As ever it will dart into a turn on a trailing throttle but now you can load up the rear tyres with torque at the apex, push through the initial understeer caused by the limited-slip differential and get the car drifting towards the exit. It is simple and highly rewarding.

    All I think it lacks relative to a Cayman GT4 is sheer grip, a little steering feel and ultimate body control, symptomatic of both the Cayman’s stiffer structure and its more highly specified dampers. I’d say the Cayman probably rides better too, but I’d need them together and on the same road to say for sure.


    There are two ways of looking at the Boxster Spyder. The cynic would call it a pulled punch, a car Porsche knows is going to sell and can do so without expensive and highly specialised componentry because Porsche customers really serious about driving will want a closed GT series car. I prefer to look at it as a pragmatic car. It is less extreme than the old Spyder but more accessible as a result. Is it worth the extra over the Cayman GTS? Yes, because of its looks and the engine, but only if you want it as a plaything. As a regular steer, the cheaper, better equipped, more civilised GTS remains the one to have.

    But what it still leaves is space for a proper, no compromise Boxster, a truly stripped out, lightweight, hardcore, road racing driving machine. Only then will we have what Porsche fans have waited a lifetime for: a true successor to the original 550 Spyder. Next year marks the 60th anniversary of it winning the Targa Florio, Porsche’s first outright win in a globally important motor race. What better way to celebrate than that?

    An optimised Boxster chassis toting a 911 Carrera S powertrain is a potent and memorable combination. In the Spyder you can just stretch your leg and feel the car surge forward like no other Boxster before.

    A new robust user-friendly roof features in this Spyder. With it stowed the car’s styling is rather reminiscent of the 918…
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  • Andrew Frankel updated the cover photo for Porsche Boxster 981
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  • Andrew Frankel created a new group

    Porsche Boxster 981

    Porsche Boxster 981-Series
    Porsche Boxster/Spyder
    Base Engine 2.7L/265-hp/207-lb-ft flat-6
    Opt Engine 3.4L/315-330-hp/266-273-lb-ft flat-6; 3.8L/375-hp/309-lb-ft flat-6
    Drivetrain Mid-engine, RWD
    Transmission 6M; 7-sp twin-cl auto
    Basic Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
    IntelliChoice 5-Yr...
    Porsche Boxster 981-Series
    Porsche Boxster/Spyder
    Base Engine 2.7L/265-hp/207-lb-ft flat-6
    Opt Engine 3.4L/315-330-hp/266-273-lb-ft flat-6; 3.8L/375-hp/309-lb-ft flat-6
    Drivetrain Mid-engine, RWD
    Transmission 6M; 7-sp twin-cl auto
    Basic Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
    IntelliChoice 5-Yr Retained Value 49%

    MINOR EPA ECON CITY/HWY: 18-22/24-32 MPG 0-60 MPH: 3.8-5.6 SEC*
    BASE PRICE $53,095-$83,095
    BODY TYPE Convertible

    Porsche saved the best for last. Because a successor with a turbocharged flat-four is ready to replace the current-gen Boxster, Porsche is giving its popular roadster a proper send-off. The Spyder, a follow-up to the bare-bones Boxster Spyder from 2009, is the most impressive Boxster to date: 375 hp, suspension from the Boxster GTS, brakes from a 911 Carrera S, no standard air-conditioning, and no standard radio. It’s the ultimate expression of a no-frills, topless Porsche.

    UNCHANGED A beautiful roadster with unreal performance
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  • Andrew Frankel created a new group

    Porsche Boxster 981

    Porsche Boxster 981-Series
    Porsche Boxster/Spyder
    Base Engine 2.7L/265-hp/207-lb-ft flat-6
    Opt Engine 3.4L/315-330-hp/266-273-lb-ft flat-6; 3.8L/375-hp/309-lb-ft flat-6
    Drivetrain Mid-engine, RWD
    Transmission 6M; 7-sp twin-cl auto
    Basic Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
    IntelliChoice 5-Yr...
    Porsche Boxster 981-Series
    Porsche Boxster/Spyder
    Base Engine 2.7L/265-hp/207-lb-ft flat-6
    Opt Engine 3.4L/315-330-hp/266-273-lb-ft flat-6; 3.8L/375-hp/309-lb-ft flat-6
    Drivetrain Mid-engine, RWD
    Transmission 6M; 7-sp twin-cl auto
    Basic Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
    IntelliChoice 5-Yr Retained Value 49%

    MINOR EPA ECON CITY/HWY: 18-22/24-32 MPG 0-60 MPH: 3.8-5.6 SEC*
    BASE PRICE $53,095-$83,095
    BODY TYPE Convertible

    Porsche saved the best for last. Because a successor with a turbocharged flat-four is ready to replace the current-gen Boxster, Porsche is giving its popular roadster a proper send-off. The Spyder, a follow-up to the bare-bones Boxster Spyder from 2009, is the most impressive Boxster to date: 375 hp, suspension from the Boxster GTS, brakes from a 911 Carrera S, no standard air-conditioning, and no standard radio. It’s the ultimate expression of a no-frills, topless Porsche.

    UNCHANGED A beautiful roadster with unreal performance
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