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  •   Chris Randall commented on this post about 4 years ago
    Giant road test #1989 - #Porsche-959 vs. #Cizeta-V16T , #Ferrari-F40 , #Lamborghini-Countach - Giancarlo Perini and Jose Rosinski compare the four fastest cars in the world of 1989.

    They gathered, three wedge-shaped Italian monsters, the most visually stunning supercars in the world, all bark and bite and scoops and slats, absurdly yet wonderfully impractical. And, at the new Lambardore racing circuit north of Turin, they met the little German dumpling.

    The #Porsche 959 looks so out of place, lined up next to the extravert Latins. Short and high, rounded not sharp, and with an exhaust note that whimpers not barks. It looks like a 911, except it's not as nice. As though one of Germany's less skilful tart-up experts was given a free hand to ruin the styling.

    But Porsche didn't give a fig for the looks or the presence of the car, when it designed the 959. Ditto the engine note. It was a technological statement. Look what we can do: that was the message to the world's motor industry. Try, if you dare, to come up with a computer-controlled four-wheel-drive twin-turbocharged 200mph road car that has electronically controlled suspension and every other high-tech bit that Porsche could lay its hands on. Nobody has responded to the challenge, quite possibly because Porsche will now reluctantly admit that its technological 'statement' ended up costing a bomb to develop and build: it lost a fortune on the 959, just as surely as those who bought the car new and then sold it secondhand made a packet. Who says the punter can never win?

    The three Italians do not try to match the Porsche: they couldn't, even if they tried. The #Ferrari , the #Lamborghini and the #Cizeta (Italy's newest supercar maker, founded by a former Lamborghini employee, and staffed by many of the men who created the original Countach) are all comparatively low-tech. They are traditional supercars: lots of muscle, eye- grabbing styling, two-seaters, plenty of cylinders, beautiful engine presentation, a shaken-and-stirred ride, and not much in the way of creature comforts. Yet, even among the Italians, the characters of the three cars - the V16-powered #Cizeta-Moroder , the Ferrari F40, and the 25th anniversary Countach - are quite diverse. On paper they are similar, and they have similar styling priorities. Yet, during the testing, they were to prove subtly (and in some cases, not so subtly) different.

    Together with the Porsche, the three Italians are the world’s fastest production road cars.

    The slowest - the Countach - is good for 190mph, while the Ferrari and the Cizeta will nip just beyond the 200mph mark.

    These are the four most valuable modern supercars in the world, as well. Used Ferrari F40s are now changing hands for up to £1 million, more than six times their cost new. Although you can no longer buy a new one - the order book is full - #Ferrari is still building F40s. to satisfy the 900-plus orders it accepted. The rarer Porsche 959 (only 200 production examples were manufactured) is now worth about half a million: just over three times its cost new. You can't buy a new Countach, cither: the run-out 25th anniversary model (tested here) has buyers for all 400 examples to be produced. New, the Countach 25 costs £98.957. But if you wish to prise one from an owner, you'll need to offer about double that. The Cizeta, then, is the only one in this group that can still be procured new. Production of this V16-powered Italian supercar hasn't started, nor has a price been set. A £250,000 tag seems likely, though, and deliveries to those who got in early are expected to start next year.

    Here are the four most powerful road cars ever built, if you exclude the odd turbocharged conversion undertaken by aftermarket specialists. The puniest car of the quartet is the 959 (450bhp), the meatiest the Cizeta (540bnp). The comparison sees a twin- turbocharged six-cylinder vehicle (the 959) battling a twin- turbo V8 (F40) and two normally aspirated multi-cylinder monsters (the V12 Countach and the Cizeta).

    Getting them together, in northern Italy, did not prove easy, although matters were helped greatly by Alberto Garnerone, one of the sponsors of the Osclla formula one team, who owns a 959 and an F40. He has ordered a Cizeta as well, and is likely to take delivery next year. For this test, we used the one and only Cizeta running - the white prototype exclusively driven by Steve Cropley at the end of last year (see CAR. January 1989). It was supplied by Claudio Zampolli, who, along with Hollywood conductor Giorgio Moroder, is the car's guiding hand. The Countach 25 came from the Lamborghini factory in Sant'Agata: Garnerone has a Countach 25 on order, too (he currently owns a 'normal' Countach). As well as hard driving on the Lamb8rdore racing circuit, the test included hard driving on the winding public roads north of Turin.

    And on the road, there's little doubt that the 959 is the best car. It is the smallest, the most manoeuvrable, the quietest, has easily the best ride, the best grip in the wet (helped by its computer-controlled four-wheel-drive system that automatically distributes power to the axle that most requires it), and is the least intimidating to get in and drive. Porsche 959s feel normal - until you explore the limits of the power. The cockpit is very similar to that of a standard 911, both in terms of instrumentation and space. You sit quite upright, enjoy good all-round visibility, and rest on very ordinary chairs borrowed from the #Porsche-911 . The clutch, brake and throttle pedals are firm, but not heavy, and the steering is power-assisted. Carpet and good-quality plastic line the cabin. The stumpy little leather-bound gear-knob selects the six forward ratios without fuss.

    Ferrari F40's twin-turbo V8 pumps out 478bhp, and has most torque.

    The dumpy Porsche may cleave the air with the sharpest blade (Cd: 0.31) but it is not the most stable at speed; not by a long shot. At very high speeds - over 160mph - the nose starts to wander, and you find yourself making minute corrections to keep this German missile pointing at the target ahead. Even over 150mph, the 959 has muscle aplenty to spare. Tickle the throttle at that speed, and the nose lifts, the twin-turbo quad-cam flat-six changes note, and Germans fastest car will accelerate. Only the F40 is faster when accelerating over 150mph. Both the Countach and the Cizeta have the muscle, but they are both saddled with too much weight, and, just as important, inferior aerodynamics. The F40 has easily the best power-to-weight ratio: 5.1lb per bhp, compared with the Cizeta (6.9), the 959 (7.0) and the Countach - the most flaccid car in the group - at 7.3lb per bhp.

    The engines of all four cars are magnificent, but the 959's wins the prize for most high-tech, and the lemon for worst visual presentation. It is not merely a twin-turbo version of the usual 911 flat-six; far from it. It's a different motor. Of 2.85-litres capacity (a legacy of the 959’s group B racing heritage), using goodly quantities of titanium, breathing through four-valve, water-cooled heads and quad cams and further empowered by twin blowers, the 959’s mighty mouse engine is easily the quietest at low speeds. And, although its deep-throated growl will start to arouse the passions at high speeds, it is the most restrained when you want action - partly because the turbos help silence it, and partly because it’s stuck out over the tail, well away from the cockpit. It's torquey, too. Despite its diminutive size, it pumps out as much torque as the 5.2-litre Countach. The F40's motor is the torquiest, followed by the Cizeta’s V16.

    Spartan, race-like F40 cabin. No carpets, lack of ventilation.

    Although all four cars nave different characters, the difference is most acute between the 959 and the F40. The performance figures are similar (959: 197mph, F40: 201 mph; both do 0-60mph in just under 4.0sec), and the cars develop broadly similar power outputs (F40: 478bhp, 959: 450bhp). And the power is delivered in a similar manner: both cars are tractable and docile around town or when cantering on A- or B-roads. But when you want to gallop, the twin turbos on both cars give you their all at about 4500rpm, and continue to energise the motors right up to the electronic cut-outs (7300 on the 959,7750 on the F40). But in every other way, the Ferrari and the Porsche are poles apart.

    The Porsche co-operates during a drive, the Ferrari taxes you, tests you. The Porsche is quite luxurious, the Ferrari is back-to-basics spartan: there is no carpet, no interior door handles (just bits of cord), no window winders (old Mini-style sliding windows are offered), and precious little in the way either of heat or noise insulation. Long journeys are almost unbearable in the F40. The engine is noisy, even at quite low engine speeds, the huge rubber (Pirelli PZero 245/40VR17S at the front, 335/35VR17s at the rear) drum up so much noise it's almost as though you're riding inside them, and the rock solid dampers and springs make occupants wince on slightly broken roads. The seats are straight out of a group C racer: vast, hard chairs with tall backs and sides that partly envelop the occupant. Racing harnesses, a la Le Mans racer, are used.

    The F40 is a racer for the road, simple as that, its engine is more powerful than formula one motors in the pre-turbo days, it rides around on racing-style wishbone suspension (In fact, so do all these cars), and Kevlar and other composite materials are used for the body. Low-tech touches include a space-frame chassis, rather than a monocoque, and the composite materials used - on closer inspection - certainly wouldn't get many racing engineers excited. Things have moved on a bit since the F40 was conceived.

    More impressive is the engine, traditionally Ferrari’s for to (although try telling that to Mansell, every time Senna’s Honda-powered car whizzes by on the straights). The F40’s V8 is based on the GTO’s, using the same Japanese IHI blowers and the same large Behr intercoolers. Capacity is increased, though, from the GTO’s 2855cc, to 2936cc, and the turbo boost pressure and compression ratio are increased, too. The F40 is much faster than the GTO, and much more brutal, too. Like the GTO, it’s a #Pininfarina design. Like the GTO, it’s mid-engined, and the gearbox sticks out behind, racing car-style.

    The F40 is comprehensively the quickest car of the bunch, and feels it, too. When the blowers are working hard, the performance is almost frightening. The car simply erupts, like no road car ever built. Corners race towards you, slower cars flash by, crazy speeds are easy. But you must be precise; you must concentrate hard, mistakes are not forgiven. Not only is the F40 physically tiring, by dint of its bone-jarring ride, appalling ventilation and heat-soak into the cockpit from the engine bay; it is mentally exhausting, so taxing is it to drive. That said, no car can travel down a well-surfaced A-road as fast, in the right hands. The rewards, when you have conquered this beast, are rich indeed.

    The Cizeta and the Countach occupy the middle ground, lying between the pampered luxury and sure-footedness of the 959, and the frenzied rawness of the F40. Neither is as sensationally fast as the F40, nor as seamlessly brisk as the 959.

    Porsche understeers when pushed hard, like all four-wheel-drive cars. Lacks track car fool of F40 or Countach, but Is very safe, secure and good in wet.

    Ferrari has best developed chassis, feels like a Le Mans racer. Little body roll, wonderful sharpness. Engine is amazingly tractable and F40 is the quickest.

    Counlach feels big, heavy, quite intimidating to drive hard. Yet it’s a sharp handler, with little roll and wonderful grip. Eye catching styling has aged well.

    Porsche 959 gels twin-turbo flat-six, water-cooled heads, good for 450bhp.

    They are big, wide cars, and feel like big, wide cars. Not only are the cockpits vastly different from any normal road car, so also are the views from them.

    The Countach's interior was the main beneficiary of the 25th anniversary model tweaks, introduced last year. New, electronically controlled seats offer a little more room for the driver but, as before. Countach cabins remain claustrophobic, offering little headroom. The feeling of claustrophobia is exacerbated by the lack of glass behind the driver: instead of a rear screen, there is a great big thumping 5.2-litre V12, with 48 valves chattering away in its twin heads, and a huge air box atop the engine cover, restricting what little view would otherwise be offered.

    The ventilation of the 25th anniversary model (built to celebrate the quarter-century of Lamborghini production, from 1963-88) has also been altered, and is a vast improvement compared with the stifling old set-up of its predecessor. Alas, the external modifications on this latest Countach do the car no favours. The plastic sill extensions reek of second-division aftermarket conversion, and the bulky body- colour bumpers look more like weals than carefully integrated design. The Countach still looks stunning but, alas, the Gandini styling purity of the original is now more sullied than ever.

    Mind you. the revised body style and suspension recalibrations have certainly given the Countach greater directional stability.

    Lamborghini supercars - from the Miura to the early Countachs - have always wandered at high speed, but not anymore.

    At high speed, the Countach comes the closest to the F40 as the racer for the road. It has barely noticeable body roll, rides firmly (albeit with more suppleness than the rock-hard Ferrari), and is very noisy. Like the F40, it also has a pearl of an engine. The 455bhp V12 has guts down low, and extraordinary muscle up high and makes a quite wonderful noise to boot: it probably plays the nicest music of any car in this comparison and it delivers its urge with greater silkiness, more smoothness. On the race track, it uncersteers more than the Ferrari and doesn't turn into corners with the same obedience. It is a much heavier, older car, so its comparative sloppiness is not surprising. Vet it’s still sharper than the 959 which, like all four-wheel-drive road cars, has tardy high-speed turn-in. and understeers more doggedly than rear-drive rivals.

    Despite its age - it was first shown in 1971, and production began in 1974 - the Countach is still the biggest head-turner of the group, the car that people gawk at. And it's the most Buck Rogers-like when you open the door to climb in. For starters, the door moves up, not out (which helps when getting out of the car in a tight parking space.

    although low-roofed garages are best avoided). Inside, you get leather and carpet, and thus more luxury than the 959 serves up. never mind the spartan F40. Standard air-conditioning further improves the already improved ventilation. But the noise and the cramped seating position and the poor rear visibility mean Countach motoring is a taxing, not relaxing, experience. To boot, it has massively heavy steering and a balky, hard-to-master gearchange.

    In outright performance, the Countach-for many years the world's fastest road car - can’t quite hack it in this company. It just doesn't have the ultimate muscle. Although, in time, it will pierce 184mph (114mpg faster than you can legally drive in Britain), its weight makes breaking the 5.0sec barrier for the 0-60mph sprint difficult, and it doesn’t have the 100mph-plus lung power, or nimbleness, to stay with the F40, or even the 959.

    The Cizeta looks almost as outrageous as the Countach and, like the Lamborghini, has a luxurious interior, replete with top-quality leather and first-class carpet. Its similarity to the Countach is no surprise, given that a number of Countach engineers had a hand in its development. As with the Countach, the Cizeta engineers wanted to create a luxurious, quality car, complete with outrageous styling and massive performance. But they did not want the brutality of the F40.

    The Cizeta's cabin is roomier than the Countach's, and access to it is much easier. The doors open wide, offering generous ingress, and the sill is low.

    Ladies in high heels or men with creaky knee joints will not embarrass themselves by tripping up, before the driving starts. The cabin is much airier than the Lamborghini's, there is noticeably more headroom, and greater width. The vast windscreen, which seems to end not far short of the car’s nose, increases the lightness and airiness of the cabin. And there's much better rear visibility than that offered by the Countach.

    The dash of the Cizeta is simpler and. therefore, more attractive than the Countach's kit-car-like set-up. A smallish binnacle contains two big black-on-white instruments - the tacho and the speedo - and a collection of warning lights. There are no other gauges. Cizeta founder Claudio Zampolli reckons other instruments are irrelevant. The warning lights can flash three different colours - green, yellow or red - depending on the seriousness of the problem. The seats of the car are not supportive enough, although they are likely to be changed when production begins.

    The Cizeta is easier to drive than the Countach. The only problem is the extreme width: a corollary of that vast mid-engined V16, mounted transversely behind the driver's backbone. Navigating a V16T through a London width restrictor will take skill: a Cizeta measures 81 in across the beam. Bulk aside, there is little to intimidate. The steering is power-assisted, and surprisingly low-geared in this company, and the clutch - though firm - does not require a Charles Atlas course to engage it regularly (unlike the Countach's and F40's). The gearchange though is sticky, awkward. The driving position could be improved: the rake-and reach-adjustable steering wheel is always too close to your knees, the clutch pedal is at an unhelpful angle, and heel-and-toe gearchanging is difficult.

    The V16-using quad cams, 64 valves, 10 main bearings and two complete Bosch K-Jetronlc V8 fuel injection systems - has a swept volume of 5995cc, end produces 540bhp. Despite its massive capacity, though, it is not the torquiest engine in the group, losing out narrowly to the twin-turbo F40: the Cizeta produces 400lb ft, the Ferrari 425. The V16 has easily the biggest rev band, though, running out of puff at a motorcycle-like 8500rpm. A blow-up at that speed could almost start a nuclear war.

    Predictably, the car has a glorious engine note. It's more V8than V12, lacking the mellowness of the Lamborghini's dozen cylinders. Instead, the note has a bellowing snarl. And apart from running out of puff at 8500rpm, it is capable of pulling cleanly from as little as 1000rpm. The engine is a magnificent achievement.

    Almost as unusual is the gearbox. Plainly, there is no room for an end-on box: the big engine has enough trouble fitting transversely as it is. And fitting the gearbox under the engine would have meant a high engine position, and a high centre of gravity. The solution was to mount the gearbox at right angles to the engine, in a T configuration (thus the name, V16T). The power is taken from the centre of the engine, where two crankshafts, one left and one right, are geared into a single output shaft, and fed into a longitudinally mounted #ZF transaxle. As with the other Italian supercars in this comparison, the Cizeta uses a five-speed box. Zampolli is investigating a six-speeder, though, and entertains some hopes of being able to use the Corvette ZR-1's transmission.

    Zampolli asked us not to exceed 140mph in this valuable prototype, largely because he is unhappy with the car's directional stability. The car wanders more than the Countach or F40, no doubt.

    New Pirelli P Zero tyres, specially developed for the Cizeta, should cure the problem. Zampolli feels.

    The Cizeta doesn't feel quite as sharp as a Countach - not surprising considering its early development stage, and its great mass. At more than 3700lb. the Cizeta needs to lose weight, and Zampolli knows it.

    At present, it feels a little softer, a little less precise, but a great deal more civilised: quieter, easier to drive, more flexible. No-one has tested the ultimate performance yet, but Campolli's claims of 0-60mph in 4.0sec (a fraction tardier than the F40 and 959) and top speed of 204mph seem realistic.

    Conclusions? The Porsche is the best road car, no doubt. It is the safest (the only one using #Bosch #ABS ), the most secure, the easiest to drive fast, the greatest engineering statement, and is probably the fastest on a narrow #Alpine pass in the hands of anyone short of Nigel Mansell's ability and bravery.

    But perhaps it is a little too antiseptic: almost too good. Driving the other cars in this group is more fun, more of a challenge, more of a special experience. Comparing the 959 with the F40. Gordon Murray, designer of the McLaren formula one car, said: 'The 959 is too boring, the F40 is too exhausting,' and there is some truth in that assessment.

    The F40 is the fastest, the most exhilarating, the most demanding, the daftest, the most valuable, the least comfortable, the best handling, the most stable at speed, the least practical. It is the nearest thing there is to a no-compromise supercar. Ferrari set out to make just such a thing, and it has succeeded, spectacularly. But a car primarily designed for the road that is incapable of covering 100 miles comfortably is a fundamentally Hawed car, no matter how exciting it is to drive in short bursts.

    Occupying the middle ground, the Countach and the Cizeta make some concession to pampering the driver and passenger, while also offering electrifying performance. They stimulate as only powerful mid-engined cars can. The Countach, though, is starting to age (not surprising, considering it's 15 years old - +26 years for 2015), and its latest clothes do it no favours. And the Cizeta, while potentially the winner of this contest (in that it is reasonably restful, as well as being very zestful), needs more development before we can award it victory in such esteemed company.

    But the fact is that none of these Italian supercars is a good road tool. They are built primarily to entertain. And there's no doubt that the Ferrari offers the biggest thrills. It also has the best developed chassis, and is convincingly the quickest of the foursome.

    If we had to choose just one car from this group, it would be the F40. The 959 may be a better road car, but if purchasing a good road car is your priority, you would still be wise to shop elsewhere. If you want a thrilling car, though, the Ferrari F40 stands supreme.

    But it’s a difficult choice. Alberto Garnerone obviously thinks so, too. That's why he wants one of each.
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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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