The joke goes around that the 911 looks exactly the same today as it did when it was first conceived. I wouldn’t mind that, if they all looked like this instead.
The 959 isn’t actually a Porsche 911. But it looks like one. It looks better than one. The front end is nothing special, it just looks like your basic Porsche. But the back end is fantastic. Mostly, the spoiler at the back looks great, but it’s all better than what Porsche normally comes up with, actually.
It’s easy to forget that the 959 was actually meant to be a Group B rally car originally. But it never did anything in the WRC; it was taken to Dakar instead. And in 1986, it got a 1-2 there. But the year afterwards, Group B was gone. So they made it a production car instead.
It was the fastest in the world when it went into production, boasting a top speed of 195mph. But more than this, it was also perhaps the most technologically advanced car to come about at the time, and the forerunner of all future supercars. It was one of the first high-performance cars to come with all-wheel-drive, among other new technical innovations put into the 959.
The engine is a traditional flat-6 that has been in Porsches since forever, it seems. This one is twin-turbocharged and has 450bhp which, I imagine, was damn high by 1987 standards. I suspect that if I were an 80s kid, this would almost definitely have been my favourite car. I love tech-fests of this sort.
But the car is now nearly 30 years old. And having now driven it in Forza 6, I’m not sure it holds up today. Indeed, I have to say, it’s fairly terrible to drive.
I suspect that the weight of around 1450kg has plenty to do with it. That is a fairly typical going rate for cars of this calibre but it does make itself felt. And 450bhp isn’t quite enough now to handle it. It still felt pretty brisk down VIR’s longest straight but on medium length straights it feels rather wanting, at speeds of, say, around 120mph.
But the straight line speed isn’t really the biggest issue. And there’s definitely not much to complain about with acceleration. Of course there isn’t, it’s got 4WD so it initially goes off the line like a rocket, and the twin-turboes help it a lot in 2nd gear in particular.
Where the 959 does really fall down is in corners. The weight isn’t even the main issue, though it doesn’t do the Porsche favours. What really seems to hold it back is the brakes. I found that out almost immediately when it didn’t stop in time for the first corner. Or indeed the two corners following it. And yet it seemed to handle some other situations just fine.
I suppose the best way to describe the Porsche’s handling is ‘woefully inconsistent’. Half the time it slipped through corners absolutely fine, and I could rely on the rear mounted engine to slide me through the exit of a corner knowing that four-wheel-drive would keep me intact. But the other half of the time, the car was racked with understeer that put the car miles off line and left me either in no man’s land or, worse, off track again. Sometimes, the car even did slide too far for seemingly no good reason and left it half-spinning.
This all means that I can’t really recommend the 959. Putting sentimentality aside, it isn’t quite fast enough down a straight and whilst immediate acceleration is at a premium, getting in a position to exploit it is difficult with the decidedly odd cornering of the Porsche.
But still, if you’ve got a reason to take it over something else, it’s the looks. That rear end will always look as good as it does, thankfully.