Claiming highly original unrestored condition and a life of modest driving use, this preservation-quality 959 should strike the fancy of any Porsche enthusiast. According to a factory build record and the research of respected marque authority Jürgen Barth, the 959 was assembled in November 1987 and finished in Grand Prix White paint over an interior of dark blue leather. The car was equipped with heated and electronically adjustable seats and an alarm system.
|Vehicle:||1987 Porsche 959 Komfort|
|Number Produced:||338 (all variants)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$6,000–$50,000|
|Chassis Number Location:||Stamping on right inner fender; aluminum tag next to hood latch|
|Engine Number Location:||Vertical boss under engine fan on right side|
|Club Info:||Porsche Club of America|
|Alternatives:||1987–92 Ferrari F40, 1987–88 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato, 1986 Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500|
This car, Lot 114, sold for $1,559,465 (£1,158,125), including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s London auction on November 6, 2021.
Since the late 1980s, the bouncing values on Porsche 959s would make a juggler dizzy. Recently, it’s been more up than down, as post-Boomers continue to embrace Porsche’s earliest supercar.
An exotic road racer
In 1983, Porsche Technical Director Helmuth Bott and President Peter Schutz planned a race car based on advanced technology that they would adapt to production 911s and Turbos. The FIA’s new Group B rally specs generated that itch. Those rules allowed exotic engineering but also required 200 production examples. Porsche did not believe it could sell that many, so the nascent 959 morphed to a dual-purpose road and race car.
Porsche built the superstructure while Baur made the body panels. Only the inner structure and passenger’s compartment derived from a production 911. Doors and hood were aluminum alloy. All four fenders and the roof were layered carbon fiber and the floor panel was honeycomb carbon fiber. The bumpers were made of more mundane polyurethane and fiberglass.
Advanced engineering, humble assembly
The heart of the 959 was loosely derived from the racing 935 engine, with some 956 characteristics: six-cylinders, seven main bearings, downsized to 2,849 cc, four valves per air-cooled cylinder, oil-cooled pistons, titanium connecting rods, sodium-filled exhaust valves, water-cooled heads and four overhead cams. Bosch Motronic engine management oversaw twin KKK turbochargers operating sequentially (not simultaneously as on pure race cars) adding one bar of boost, equivalent to 14 psi. The engine delivered 444 horsepower and peak torque of 369 ft-lb.
The 959’s unique suspension combined the best of Porsche’s race technology — double-wishbones with hydraulic shocks that were self-leveling and driver-adjustable with an automatic mode. The four-wheel-drive system was innovative, with torque splits driven by electronics that detected load changes. The gearbox was a new Getrag 6-speed and brakes were redesigned four-piston calipers, distantly derived from 908/917 units, with ABS. Special hollow-spoke Speedline wheels were shod in exclusive Dunlop Denloc run-flat tires with pressure monitoring managed by microprocessors.
Betraying the 959’s techno-wizardry, the cars were assembled in a small former bakery with room for about 12 cars, sub-assemblies and parts. Output was three cars per week, soaking up many times the man-hours of typical production Porsches. It has been said that Porsche lost 50% of its direct costs on every 959 and 75% of total costs, including amortized development.
From prototype to production
Porsche showed the initial Pearlescent White 959 prototype at the 1983 Frankfurt auto show. Over the next two years, engineering progressed steadily. Those years also saw the development of the Group C 956 and 962 race cars, so Porsche’s engineering resources were taxed. It was not until 1985 that a series of Weissach-built 959 prototypes were tested and shown.
I was at the September 1985 Frankfurt show when Porsche presented a cutaway of the 959 along with one of the prototypes on a two-story display center that teemed with onlookers. Porsche reported 1,600 orders at an announced purchase price around $150,000 (420,000 DM). Subsequently, the Deutsche Mark strengthened against the dollar and the 959 ended up costing about $227,000. Porsche tried to winnow out speculators, accepting only 250 contracts. Nonetheless, those agreements regularly sold well over MSRP. While the car was not federalized for the U.S. market, a number of Americans bought cars planning to work out importation details later. Los Angeles Times Publisher Otis Chandler and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen got theirs in as “museum cars” on congressional earmarks.
The ’80s “it” car
Glitches and refinements delayed deliveries until May 1987. When journalists finally got to drive production models, they found the 959 to be fast yet civilized for road duty. The new supercar scooted to 60 mph in less than five seconds, continued to just under 200 mph, and mustered about 0.9 lateral gs, despite a hefty 3,500-pound curb weight.
In November 1987, Car and Driver wrote, “…we finally got a chance to drive the Porsche 959 on the street, and the word ‘perfect’ is difficult to avoid. What single word more accurately describes a car that combines race-car performance with luxury-sedan comfort?
”The ultimate automobile, [the 959] is to any ordinary car as the F-15 is to a hang glider… if you want to call the Porsche 959 the best car in the world, you will get no argument from us.”
Ups and downs
Porsche built 338 959s including 16 prototypes and 21 pre-production examples in 1985, the production run of 292 in 1987–88, plus nine continuation cars in 1992 (sold as 1988 models). Also included are 37 959S variants, also known as Sports, without the hydraulic suspension, electronic wizardry and most luxury equipment found in Komfort models. Sports were built in a failed attempt to get 959s to U.S. customers as “race cars.” The DOT and EPA gave Porsche a “C-minus” for effort and threatened to crush the cars, which returned to Germany in a hurry. The Sports are more prized and more expensive today (plus 50%–80% versus Komforts) because of their scarcity and easier maintenance.
In the “bubble” of 1989–90, 959s were in high demand. When that market broke, 959s dropped off the radar. Thought to be a bit ungainly, dated in appearance and difficult to maintain, they were eclipsed by simpler “RS” models and 993 GT2s. In 2008–11, prices on 959 Komforts started around $266k, and only two cars broke $300k.
In 2012, 959 Komforts moved above $500k. In 2013–14 they hit $750k. Then, a low-mileage silver Komfort sold at Gooding & Co.’s 2014 Pebble Beach sale for a world-record $1,485,000 (SCM# 248469). Afterward, the market slowly eroded again until spurred upward by the pandemic liquidity boom, and now the demand for inflation-proof hard assets.
The right car, well sold
Our subject 959 was presented in its original color combination of Grand Prix White over a somewhat rare blue leather interior. It had a known and documented history of 16,660 miles across three owners, spending most of its life in the U.K., where it was well attended to by official Porsche agents. It was unrestored, although RM Sotheby’s stopped short of claiming original paint.
Prospective customers for 959s abound; the right car and the right bidders met in London. And, voila, we’re at $1,500,000-plus for a strong 959 Komfort. We’ll consider it well sold, but perhaps only until the next truly fine 959 comes to market. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Artcurial.)