965: the story of Porsche sub-959 supercar

The early 1990s was something of a purple patch for performance cars. In 1989, Nissan launched the third-generation (R32) Skyline GT-R, a turbocharged giant-killer packed with motorsport hardware. A year later, Honda delivered the NSX, a visceral mid-engined supercar that was as docile to drive as a Civic. Then came the Ferrari F355, complete with the first production paddle-shift gearbox and a feral 8,500rpm V8.

These cars burned bright, but hidden in a secret warehouse near Zuffenhausen is one that could have extinguished them all. According to Dieter Landenberger, head of corporate history at the Volkswagen Group, it was planned as “a cheaper successor to the 959” – and a standalone replacement for the 930 Turbo.

The 965 story is one of admirable ambition and cruel commercial reality, of game-changing technology and thinking outside the box (the single surviving prototype, for example, has an Audi V8 engine). However, both the 964 and 993 Turbo owe something to this failed hero. In this article, we’ll explore the 965’s development and look at its legacy.

Let’s begin in 1975 with the original, 3.0-litre 911 Turbo. With its widebody and whaletail, not to mention 260hp output, it looked and felt entirely different to the rest of the 911 range. Porsche acknowledged this by giving the Turbo its own internal Typ number: 930. It was the only roadgoing 911 singled out as such until the 964 in 1989 – and was actually marketed as the 930 Turbo Carrera in the USA.

The Turbo also faced very different competitors to the 911 Carrera, or the SC that followed. It squared up to big-league supercars like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Ferrari 512 BB and Lamborghini Countach. Against the odds, the hot rodded 911 held its own, both in terms of speed and bedroom-wall glamour, and became one of the undisputed icons of the 1980s. Who can picture the Thatcher-era King’s Road or Reaganite Wall Street without imagining a Guards red 930 Turbo?

This heady era of free-market capitalism also gave rise to a new breed of even-more-supercar (the term ‘hypercar’ wasn’t coined until after the McLaren F1 came along in 1992). Spearheaded by the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40, these machines raised the bar for power, performance and price. When CAR magazine tested the German and Italian rivals in July 1988, its cover line was ‘ANOTHER WORLD’.

Unlike the raw and simple F40, the 959 was a technical tour de force. It showcased computer-controlled Porsche-Steuer Kupplung (PSK) four-wheel drive, electronically adjustable dampers, variable ride height, Kevlar body panels, hollow-spoke magnesium wheels and plenty more. Yet despite a list price of £145,000 in the UK, every example cost twice that much to bring to market.

For the full feature on Porsche’s stillborn Type 965, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 213 in store today. Alternatively, order your copy online for home delivery, or download it straight to your digital device now.


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