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Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

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On: Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 5:16PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

To commemorate Porsche's 50th birthday year, we have decided to take a look back at one of their greatest creations. While, there are some who would argue that nothing that comes off the assembly line in Zuffenhausen, Germany is anything but great, there is still no argument that there is a caste system among even the most die-hard Porsche-o-philes. And barring the occasional ardent contrarian, more often than not, when you ask what the single greatest Porsche ever made was, you are more than likely to get the same answer the majority of the time:  The 959.

Built from 1986 to 1989, there were only 337 total examples of Porsche 959 put out into the world, but even with such a miniscule production run, the 959 not only set a new standard for supercars, it also marked a paradigm shift in auto manufacturing. The 959 was a technological wonder—it sported a rear-mounted turbocharged 2.8-liter flat-six engine pumping out a staggering (for the time) 450 horsepower and 370 foot-pounds of torque through a 6-speed manual transmission. The 959 also debuted with the first-ever tire pressure monitoring system on a production car, four-channel antilock brakes, and an all-wheel drive system that employed a driver-chosen torque split anywhere from 20:80 front/rear all the way up to 50:50, as well as an electronically adjustable suspension. It was well ahead of its time.

All of that technology instantly vaulted the 959 to the head of the supercar world. It embarrassed Ferrari's Testarossa, out ran the mightiest Lamborghini of the time, and made minced meat of any Corvette it came up against. The only production car that put the 959 in its place was the legendary Ferrari F40—a limited edition, muscle-flexing, racecar-turned-streetcar, turbocharged expression of mayhem that may go down as one of, if not the greatest cars of all time. Not bad company to keep.

With the 959, Porsche not only cemented its legacy in the annals of the supercar world, it also became the first manufacturer to successfully produce a turbocharged, all-wheel drive, computer-controlled car that was able to be driven daily—and, oh by the way, it could also hit 198 mph on the top end. The 959 was not a one-trick pony by any stretch of the imagination. It was a performance beast, sporting 50 percent more power than the 911 Turbo of the same time. Thanks to extensive use of Kevlar (roof), aluminum (suspension), and magnesium (wheels, rear differential, and clutch housing), the mighty Porsche was able to keep its weight in check at an even 3,190 pounds. Those lucky enough to jump behind the wheel of the 959 were in for a treat; 0-60 mph flashed by in 3.7 seconds, 100 mph in 8.3 seconds, and it streaked through the quarter-mile in a retina-busting 11.8 seconds at 119 mph, all times that were best or second best in the world at the time.

At the time, however, Porsche refused to sacrifice four 959 models for crash-testing, and thus, it was not made road legal in the US market. At this point a tuner called Canepa Design stepped up to the plate and knocked one out of the park. Canepa tweaked the 959's computer systems, exhaust, and turbo to meet emissions requirements in the US and, just like that, the 959 was allowed to roam the highways of America. While they were tweaking the 959's engine, Canepa also turned up the heat of the mightiest Porsche, coaxing out a near-stupid 575 horsepower and equally impressive 540 lb-ft of torque, making the 959 faster than ever before.

When they were new, the 959 retailed for a wallet-busting $225,000. However, those with enough foresight and resources were in for an investment treat. Currently, a well-taken-care-of 959 can sell for almost three times its original asking price—if the example in question happens to the one of the even-more-rare 959 S models, of which only 29 were ever built. The S was a no-frills 959 featuring a full roll-cage, race suspension, and racing seats that came with matching racing seat belts.

Where the 959 stands in the realm of automotive history is always up for debate, to a point. If you are arguing with a Ferrari fan, there will be no convincing him that the 959 was a better car than the F40, and, to his credit, he may be right. But, even the most die-hard Italian fan will still submit a certain level of respect for what may go down as the ultimate Porsche. And, while the 959 may no longer be the fastest Porsche in existence, it very well may go down as the single most influential car the company has ever built in its 50-year lifetime. However you think of the Porsche 959, it should always bring a smile to your face. Happy birthday, Porsche!

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