Meet The Porsche 959SC, Canepa’s 800-Horsepower ‘Classic Hypercar’
Photography by Zach James Todd
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 959SC?