The history of the Porsche 959 has
been well-documented numerous times over, so I won’t attempt to climb
that entire mountain today—a quick distillation to prime the pumps can’t
hurt though. First built at Bauer in very limited numbers between 1986
and 1988 (and then in a much smaller batch of leftovers in the early
1990s), the 959 was Helmuth Bott’s vision of the future, both for
Porsche and the rear-engine philosophy in particular. As the head of
engineering at the time, his technologically ambitious ideas were given
more credence than most, and he was given the go-ahead to produce what
would become the ultimate road car of its era, and an entry into the
supercar canon that has only grown in stature over the decades.
At the time, its all-wheel drive system
was the most advanced out there thanks to its trick torque-vectoring
diffs, it had cockpit controls for the electronically adjustable
suspension (called Porsche-Steuer Kupplung, though that last word
isn’t a noise you’d want your suspension to make), and the
motorsport-derived 2.85-liter twin-turbo flat-six made use of
water-cooled heads modified from the legendary works “Moby Dick” 935 to
produce just under 450 horsepower. It was a bundle of everything
cutting-edge you could build a car out of, a complete triumph of
engineering, and a machine that lost money for the company even with its
exorbitant price point.
But we can’t measure the success of such
things in dollars, for the experience gained in building this car—and
the support it garnered for the 911 at a time when front-engined
Porsches were actively trying to take its place—has reverberated
throughout the company’s timeline ever since.
Obviously the title of “most advanced”
can only be held onto for so long when it comes to cars, and the 959 has
been eclipsed plenty of times since it reigned supreme in the 1980s.
But just as the automotive landscape has changed, so too can the 959.
It’s fitting then, that the man who was so crucial in bringing the car
to America for the first time, is also the one behind its continued
relevance when it comes to performance.
We already had a film with Bruce Canepa
wherein he talks about the grey legalities and loopholes that led to the
“Show or Display” exemptions and the 959’s entry to US roadways—which you can watch here—and
you also might recall a certain green 959 that was shown off at last
year’s Luftgekühlt, both of which hint at the subject of this article:
the Porsche 959SC. Displayed at the edition of the air-cooled Porsche event just passed,
the stunning blue-over-red 959SC appears very much like a new 959 from
the factory at first glance. The paint is done to sample however, the
interior is completely renewed, and in fact the entire car is stripped
down to its very last components and then essentially built to be brand
new again, with a few additions of course.
The Canepa program to update the 959 can be traced all
the way back to the early-2000s, when his “Gen I” modifications boosted
the power of the car to the high five hundreds thanks to what he’d
gleaned from modifying them to meet stricter emissions standards (talk
about trickle down tech!). That step was followed by generations two and
three, naturally, and now you can take a 959 to a set of buildings in
Northern California and have it returned to you with nearly 800
horsepower thanks to a list of comprehensive updates to the power plant.
The 959SC—which in a clever play on Porsche naming conventions, stands
for “Sport Canepa”—is the result of combining the aforementioned
walloper of a motor (which features upgraded turbos, a more advanced ECU
and ignition system, and all the supporting modifications necessary to
support the newfound grunt) with a full concours-level restoration.
Hundreds of hours are put into body and paintwork, the
full-leather interior is stretched and stitched in-house as well, and
the client-selected colors and finishes ensure that each 959SC is truly
one of one. More than just a retune and retrim, these über 959s also
have an upgraded clutch system and are converted to run fixed-height 959
Sport-style suspension, and for further consideration on the
road-holding aspects of the car, Canepa is also in the process of
producing an 18” wheel. That sounds a bit boring in comparison to
everything else, but not so much when you consider the details: they are
recreating the same design as the OEM hollow-spoke magnesium units. No
easy feat, and better yet, it’s not just for those wanting a little more
wheel and a little less tire. It’s the opposite really, and the whole
idea is based on taking advantage of the best modern performance tire
options which sadly don’t descend below the 18” mark that often.
In all, it’s a tasteful and terrifyingly quick—I
assume, but I think it’s a safe assumption—update to a car that
basically redefined what it meant to be a supercar. Back in 1987 the 959
was one of the most outrageously cool things one could buy, and it
looks like that’s true once again in 2018. What do you think about the