Opinion: why the Porsche 959 isn’t a 911

There’s a constant wave of debate among Porschephiles between those who insist the Porsche 959 is in fact a 911, and those who insist that it isn’t. You’ll no doubt have read Josh’s opinion on the matter just last week, where he argued the former. At face value, the argument in favour is a good one too: the 959 of course sharing the same flat-six engine ideology and rear-mounted layout as the venerable 911. And yet the people in favour of the 959’s 911 credentials are still unmistakably wrong.

To start with, it didn’t look like a 911. Sure, aesthetics is far from the be-all and end-all of a car debate, but with the 911, it’s different: the famous 911 silhouette has remained practically untouched through half a century of innovation, from the first 911 in 1964 to today’s 991 generation. Here, the 959 is already found wanting. The 911’s trademark, curvaceous rump is replaced on the 959 by a square, boxy appearance wholly unrecognisable to its apparent genetic father. At the front, there’s no rounded impact bumper, no round vertical headlights standing at the end of raised front quarter panels requisite of the 911 of the time, but a sharp, flat nose instead.

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Crucially, the 959 was also easier to drive at the time than its 911 counterpart – despite its elevated performance. As Gavin Green noted in his world-first drive of the 959 for Car magazine in September ’87, there are huge similarities (particularly inside), but mechanically the 959 doesn’t present the driver with that flabbergasting occasion behind the wheel that the 911 executes so well. Green notes: “the clutch in the 959 is a gentle device that has none of the hair-trigger snap of the 911… and forget about any nasty mid-corner snap, which can see a 911 charge off the road.” Perhaps most pertinently of all, he surmises “The 959 doesn’t sing and dance and live and breathe in the way that the 911 does”.

Sure, some elements of the intergalactic 959 transcended to the 911, most notably its four-wheel-drive system that spawned the first iteration of 911 with all-wheel drive in the form of the 964 Carrera 4. Twin-turbocharging would also bequeath the 911 after first being used on the 959 too.

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However, grateful though we are to the 959 for providing us with and furthering the engineering capabilities of our beloved 911, it still remains but a close relation to Porsche’s darling sportscar. In fact, the 959 is only a 911 in the way rock group Velvet Revolver is considered to be a beefed-up version of Guns n Roses: parts may have been borrowed (Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum left GnR to form the Velvet Revolver supergroup, you may recall) and they might share the same adoring fans, but they are unmistakably two very different identities. As we say in our ‘ultra-rare Turbos’ cover story from issue 108, “the 959 is as close to a 911 as it gets – without being one.”

Do you agree? Comment below or tweet us @Total911 with your thoughts.

Comments (2)

  • Darryl Gatan

    Is a 912 a 911? Are the 930, 964, 993, 996, 997 and 991 911s?

  • Jim Goodlett

    Having had the incredible opportune to drive Helmuth Bott’s 959 (prototype and #6 chassis) now in the @Brumos_Porsche collection when we were working on a film about it, and I can tell you that the 959 is nothing like a 911 save for similarity in seats and clocks in the dash there are but small similarities that are main aesthetics…everything from active suspension that you can feel working to soak up the road, to the twin turbos that has one seemingly already spooled reducing if not ridding turbo lag, ad infinitum, show this car to be such top shelf above all others, and it took Porsche nearly an additional decade and then some to bring that far reaching technology into their cars…we owe former CEO Peter Schutz a massive debt of gratitude for greenlighting that project (nevermind keeping the 911 alive in his 1980 decision), and taking Porsche into the future, long before the company would catch up with it in their cars a decade or so later!

    More on the aforementioned short here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvrHCkDZNMk