The 959 had a total of seven computers at a time when many cars still had none, or typically one at most, and among their responsibilities were turbo, AWD, and suspension control. Its 2.8 liter, DOHC, pancake six was water and air-cooled, its 962-derived four-valve heads the sole beneficiary of liquid heat management. It sounded gruff, gritty, and cranky from idle to mid-rev range just like a 911 should, but with an underlying tone of complexity not heard before. Churning out a custard-smooth and relatively lag-free 444 HP, the 959 was capable of 0-60 in three and a half seconds, aided by a lithe 3,200 lb. weight achieved through aluminum and Aramid bodywork in conjunction with a Nomex composite floor.
Fitted with the world’s production first six-speed, it was technically a five-speeder equipped with an ultra-low “G” (for “Gelände”, or off-road”) gear. Other unique features included hollow-spoked magnesium wheels with a built-in pressure-monitoring system and so-called “zero-lift” aerodynamics. Up to 80% of power could automatically be sent to the rear wheels depending on demands and which of the four (normal, snow/ice, wet, and a 50/50 differential lock mode) cockpit-selected drive profiles was selected.
Today the 959’s legacy lives on in the form of Porsche’s current crop of complex, AWD, and turbocharged cars, encompassing not only the latest and greatest 991 Turbo, but also the Panamera and Cayenne (ugh.) turbos. The fact that performance has only improved marginally in nearly three decades is a testament to the incredibly cutting-edge stuff that went into making the 959, for me, the greatest road-going version of the greatest sports car the world has ever known. God bless you, Porsche.