GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our Porsche 959 Film Shoot With Bruce Canepa
The Porsche 959 is one of the rarest cars to wear the company’s crest, but Bruce Canepa is certainly no stranger to the thing—after spending over a decade trying to find the legal loopholes necessary to put one on the road in the United States, one tends to form a bond, become familiar.
The 959 has been duly lauded for decades as one of the most advanced and ambitious supercars ever produced, but beyond all that it may have also saved the beloved 911 by showing the world what could be achieved with a rear-engine design. Helmuth Bott, the lead engineer at the time, was the Frankenstein behind this twin-turbocharged monster, and it seems he was given free rein over his project considering just how exotic every stitch of its DNA is, along with the fact that Porsche lost money on every 959 sold (they never built enough to recoup the development costs, producing just under 350 including the early prototypes when the car was still called the “Gruppe B”).
So what made this Porsche so pricey? If the ensuing list of explanations doesn’t strike you as revolutionary, remember that this was all happening back in the 1980s. It was decades ahead of its time when it shifted the paradigm back in 1985, and so much of its makeup is still reserved for only the least-compromised street cars—things like hollow-spoke single-piece magnesium wheels; a body and floorpan built with aluminum, kevlar, and Nomex; a twin-turbocharged air-cooled flat-six with water-cooled heads that can be traced back to the one and only Moby Dick; the silly-sounding but seriously pavement-pounding all-wheel drive system called Porsche-Steuer Kupplung, that could distribute torque between the front and rear depending on the condition; as well as a very early example of active suspension.
With just 2.85 liters to play with, the 959’s power unit spat out nearly 450 horsepower and there are plenty of claims that Porsche would bump those figures up if you had the request and the cash for it. It was the ultimate road car no doubt about it, but it didn’t really aim in that direction from the get-go. At first, the car was seen as a possible entrant into Group B motorsports, back when the FISA was attempting to use those regulations for circuit racing in addition to the rallying. When it became clear that the circuit series wasn’t going to happen, the Gruppe B turned into the 959, and the focus shifted towards innovating technologies for the road without concern for the financials.
It is in this second phase so to speak that Bott may have saved the 911. Again, this was the 1980s, and what was Porsche doing during that decade? Trying to replace the 911. Or at least doing a damn good job of phasing it out with a plethora of front-engined machines called the 924, 944, 968, and 928. The 911 was not regarded as it is today, which is to say the people at Porsche did not see it as a fundamental staple of their lineup for the future. What Bott basically did was show them how wrong they were to dismiss the rear-engined layout. By feeding as much technology as possible into the basic 911 design, he came up with something so severely good, that at the very least it provided proof of the capacities of the 911. As Canepa says, he was testing the theory of the 911’s longevity.
We all know how that story’s gone.