Bill Gates had his impounded for 13 years; the US deemed it illegal until 2001; Sports Car International called it the top sports car of the 1980s. You know it as the Godfather of every supercar made since it hit the streets as a legal Group B monster …
The project name of what would become known as the Porsche 959 gives it all away―Gruppe B. The genesis of the car starts in 1981 when Porsche’s Head Engineer Helmuth Bott was given the go-ahead to spearhead development for a new direction for the 911―one that would feature a whole-new 4-wheel drive system.
With racing a reliable proving ground for new technology, Bott targeted the mythical Group B series, back then the most notorious and thrilling motorsport competition that ever was, as testbed for the heaps of innovative technologies Bott would introduce to the car.
The engine would be a boxer 2.8 litre 6-cylinder biturbo taken from the old “Moby Dick” (that also comes with the Porsche Legends Pack) that was now attached to a 5-speed box (that featured a sixth “G” gear for off-roading).
The bodywork was the usual Porsche aluminium to save on weight, while the floor was constructed from Nomex to bring the car in at under 1,500kgs.
But Porsche had just begun with their innovations; the aero featured “zero lift”, the ride-height was automatically adjusted, and the 4-wheel drive system introduced what Porsche called “Porsche-Steuer Kupplung” (PSK) which automatically distributed torque dynamically across front to rear driven wheels.
It was, when it debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1985 as a road car (needed for homologation into Group B, and now called the 959), the most advanced car on the planet. It was also the fastest.
Behind the headline though, the car was incredibly expensive to build―its selling price of $225,000 was, rumor had it at the time, less than half of what it cost to produce.
The stock 959 came with around 450hp (though Porsche are notorious for underselling the power of their road cars) and there was also an optional 530hp version that topped-out at 340kmh. It is this version that comes to Project CARS 2 and the Porsche Legends Pack.
Less than 500 were produced, and all were illegal in the US until 2001. That was when the law Bill Gates helped usher in―the “Show and Display” law―was passed, which allowed Gates’s own 959, that had been impounded at San Francisco’s port for 13 years, to finally be released from captivity.
Given the 959 had been built for Group B, it never actually entered the series. It did, however, with legendary Le Mans and Porsche icon Jacky Ickx, enter the Paris-Dakar, where it finished 1-2 in 1986.
Lead Vehicle Artist Casey Ringley on why the Porsche 959 S was the supercar way ahead of its time
Engine for this one was a detuned, 2.85L version of the 962 Group C race engine, and one of the great cases of underrating power output. Quoted spec is only 450hp@6,500rpm and 500Nm@5,500rpm, all arriving thanks to boost pressures in the range of 1.9-2.1bar absolute.
A fairly modest output for the top speed which was independently tested many times in the 197-200mph range. The owner’s manual includes a ‘dyno plot’, and our first tests with an engine matching that, plus the right amount of aero drag (a very slippery claim of Cd=0.31), resulted in a top speed of only 175mph. It wasn’t until adding ~70hp with a much fatter power band that the straight-line performance numbers began to make sense. I’d guess the real 959s were all producing more like 600Nm and 520hp, with over 500hp in a range from 6,000rpm right up to the 7,600rpm rev limit. Beefy.
Gearbox is a 6-speed manual, though it is technically only labeled a 5-speed in the car with an additional gear for off-road. First gear is quite short and is labeled ‘G’ for ‘terrain’ use. For most circuit driving, it does work best to think of second as the lowest gear in slow corners, and first/G only for rolling out of the pits or off the starting line.
Suspension differs from your typical 911 in that it uses a basic double-wishbone configuration. Each corner had a pair of coil-overs, and these could be actively adjusted for both damping rate and ride height in the ‘Komfort’ model. The 959S Sport model bypassed that for stiffer springs and fixed damping to save weight.
The AWD system in this car was remarkable for the time. Rather than a center differential, it has a set of electronically-controlled clutches connecting the driveshaft to the front differential. The computers take into account static and dynamic weight distribution, wheel slip and surface grip, plus a number of other factors, and send between 20-40 percent of the torque to the front axle. (Alternatively, the driver can fully lock those clutches for off-road/low-grip use. Center spool option in-game does this.)
To make this work, the front tyres are sized 1 percent bigger than the rears so that there is always some degree of slip at the central clutch to enable the variable torque transfer. We mimic this in-game with a set of centrifugal clutches with the right range of torque holding capacity in the middle of the car.
The same basic system was later used for cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R (and the current GT-R), amborghini Huracán, and a ton of other cars, and the modern Haldex system is essentially a reversed version of this system (front-wheel drive with an electronic clutch to transmit power to the rear when necessary). Definitely ahead of its time.
Altogether, this makes for great acceleration and high-speed stability, but the drawback of this is that there was always 20-40 percent of the engine torque being used to drive the front wheels forward; meaning some of the front tyres’ lateral grip capacity is compromised, and the car generally understeers on power.
Road tests from when the car was new point out this tendency to power-understeer, and that the rear-end only really steps out via aggressive trail braking, after which is can easily be brought back in line by using power to pull the car straight. The fastest approach to most corners on a paved circuit is to be tidy on the entry and position the car to get back on power rapidly just past the apex.
The car’s aerodynamics were focused heavily on drag reduction to get those high top-speeds. Porsche marketed the design as being “zero lift”. That’s a great accomplishment considering the 911’s reputation for lift-induced handling issues, but zero lift also means zero downforce. Combined with the car’s hefty mass (Sport model was over 1,530kg in independent tests) and narrow tyres (only 235-wide front and 255 at the rear), the ‘supercar’ performance on this one mostly comes via the fantastic engine and its ability to pull so strongly out of corners to a big top-speed.
The cornering speed deficit hold it back from being truly supercar-fast on a dry circuit. Comparison tests of a 959 Komfort against the Ferrari F40 at Fiorano put the F40 at somewhere between a 6-10s per lap advantage … and that’s a short lap. In-game, our 959S is roughly a 7:40 car at the Nordschleife. Not slow, for sure, but a bit off other iconic supercars which had more focus put on speed through curvy sections of track.
Still, the car was a remarkable technical achievement, has wonderful handling manner on track, and is great fun to turn laps in even if it’s not going to be setting any world records. Take it to the RX tracks too; it is a great match for that type of driving.
The Porsche 959S comes with the Porsche Legends Pack, available now for purchase, or as part of the Season Pass.