Conceived in the early 1980s as a 4-wheel-drive Group B competitor, the Porsche 959 was first displayed in concept car form at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. Despite the subsequent abandonment of Group B, the 959 entered limited production in 1987 as a machine that successfully adapted state-of-the art racing technology for road use.
At the car’s heart was a unique, 2,849-cc version of the classic, 6-cylinder, air-cooled boxer engine equipped with water-cooled, double-overhead-camshaft, 4-valve cylinder heads. Developed for the 1981 Le Mans-winning 936, the engine was further refined on the even more successful 956/962 that triumphed at La Sarthe every year from 1982 to 1987.
In 959 specifications, this formidable twin-turbo-charged engine produced 450 horsepower. When combined with the lightweight part-composite body’s drag coefficient of just 0.32, it proved sufficient to propel the 959 past 195 mph and onto the front rank of all-time-great supercars.
The 959’s sophisticated 4-wheel-drive, 6-speed transmission was computer controlled, providing variable torque split with alternative programs for dry, wet, icy, or off-road conditions. The double-wishbone suspension included electrically controlled ride height adjustment. The ABS brakes delivered race-car levels of retardation and the run-flat tires were monitored for pressure loss.
All of this made for a car faster than just about anything else on the road. Yet, in the tradition of previous Porsche 911 Turbos, it was comfortable, practical, reliable, and luxurious, with electric windows and mirrors, climate control, electric heated seats and a superb stereo.
Rumor has it that Porsche sold the 959 for far less than it cost to produce, as the company regarded the model as a showcase for its engineering expertise. In the U.K., the 959 cost about £145,000 ($261,000) when new, though speculators drove the price considerably higher.
The Porsche 959 achieved one major competition victory, winning the grueling Paris-Dakar Rally in 1986 with similar cars in 2nd and 6th places, while the race-developed 961 variant finished 7th overall at Le Mans that year, winning the IMSA GT2 class and headed only by Group C Porsches, an amazing result. In total, a bit more than 300 of these exclusive supercars were made, although the official factory figure is 292.
This example was ordered in May 1998 by its first owner and was purchased in 2010 by the current seller from Porsche specialists Freisinger Motorsport in Germany. It was maintained exclusively by Porsche Stuttgart until 1993 (at 3,262 miles) and then by Porsche Monaco in 1997 (at 31,068 miles). The most recent major service (December 2010) was completed by AFN Porsche Centre at a cost of about $14,000. Following a recent road test for BBC Television’s “Top Gear” program and a photo shoot for Octane magazine, it went back to AFN Porsche Centre in March 2011 for wheel refurbishment and new tires.
This is now a very well-sorted 959. Offered with its cherished registration number 959LRT, it comes with leather wallet and instruction books, a copy of the driver’s manual (in English), and current MoT certificate until September 2011. It is equipped with the optional factory Stage 2 performance chip.
|Vehicle:||1988 Porsche 959 Coupe|
|Original List Price:||$200,000|
|Tune Up Cost:||$2,500|
|Engine Number Location:||Right side of fan housing|
|Club Info:||Porsche Club of America|
This Porsche 959, Lot 435, sold for $266,547, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood sale on July 1, 2011. This price translates roughly to the price paid when new — and provides an interesting market observation for one of Porsche’s most iconic modern cars. We judge the price to be market correct, perhaps a bit of a bargain, with the relatively high mileage being the one qualifier when comparing this sale with other 959s.
The 959 takes its place with the 904 as a factory race car suitable for street use. When new, the 904 cost about double the price of a 356SC, sagged below that level for about 15 years, and then started to climb to ten, then 20 and now perhaps 100 times the new-car price of $7,500 in 1963–64. We wonder what will be the next 904. The closest answer we have is the 959.
Comparing the 904 and 959
Both cars were built to race, although the 1960s-era 904 competed in far more events than the 959. Both were quite advanced for their time. The 904 used an existing exotic 4-cam engine, and the 959 got a highly innovative special engine — although based on the standard 911 flat-six layout.
The 904 was an entirely unique body in design and fiberglass material, with a dedicated pressed-steel and tubular frame. Its mid-engine location harkened back to the world-beating 550 Spyders. The 959 was based on the production 911 chassis, with the engine in the rear, but it had unique body panels made of exotic composites. Most importantly, both were built in limited numbers, about 100 for the 904 and a bit more than 300 for the 959.
The 959 is now 23 years old, yet in most cases, prices have not soared. At age 23, the 904 was selling for at least four to five times its original price. Another Porsche race/street legend — the 1973 Carrera RS — was about triple its original list price 23 years down the road. This is true even though the Carrera RS is far more common (almost 1,600 copies) and far more similar to a regular street car than the 904 or 959.
Will the 959 take its rightful place as a first-tier collectible Porsche and develop the price appreciation seen in the other two models noted above?
Waiting for the next bull market
When watching collectible car values, it is important to note the markets they pass through. The Porsche world has been subject to two periods of extreme acceleration in prices: during the late 1980s, and another more-recent period that ended in 2008. In these periods, the values of most highly collectible cars accelerated wildly. After a market top, the velocity of cars selling slows markedly for the very best Porsches, but prices less so. We see this today for top-flight, collectible Porsches.
The 959 was too new when the late 1980s boom ended in 1990, and the cars did not gain a great deal of ground during the more recent run-up. Perhaps the 959 will be discovered when the next bull market arrives.
But for now, it is a bit of a mystery why the 959, one of the most unique and exotic street/race cars ever built by Porsche, has remained more or less at the new-car price. It may be too new to have begun its climb. Yet, for long-range collectors, the 959 appears to be one of the best bets for serious future appreciation.
The 959 represents a modern Porsche icon with fantastic performance, built in limited numbers, that sells as if we were back in 1988. How many of those can you find?
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)