I remember well the reception afforded to the Porsche 959 when it finally went into production in 1986, three years after being shown in concept form. This wasn’t just a new level for 911-based machinery nor even for Porsche itself. It was a new level, period.
Those who drove it spoke of cruising, yes cruising, at 160mph, and the strong acceleration still available at that speed. It blew Ferrari’s gorgeous and still quite new GTO (only latterly described as a 288 GTO) into instant obsolescence. Those journalists who drove it were thunderstruck, and rightly so.
For this was the fastest production road car the world had ever seen. It had 444bhp and a top speed of more than 190mph. It could reach 62mph in 3.7sec. It didn’t just have four-wheel drive but also a demand-based variable torque split and even – would you believe it? – adaptive damping. It made the Ferrari look like a rather elegant antique.
So here’s a set of stats from another car: 444bhp, a top speed of 190mph, a 0-62mph time of 3.6sec, four-wheel drive, a demand-based variable torque split and, yes, adaptive damping. Pretty similar, you’d agree. Except these numbers belong to a 992-generation 911 Carrera 4S, one of the humbler members of the new 911 range. It has taken 33 years, but performance and technology regarded then as borderline insane is now within the preserve of the high-quality but entirely everyday sports car.
So it seemed a good idea to take a new Carrera 4S to meet the 959. Unfortunately, with only around 300 being built and far fewer surviving, 959s are not exactly thick on the ground. Indeed, finding a car whose owner would let me drive the way such a car was designed to be driven was an insurmountable task. Happily, though, the Porsche museum was bringing a load of racing cars over to the Goodwood Members’ Meeting and was good enough to put a 959 on the back of the truck – an immaculate car that has only ever been owned by the factory and with a mileage barely into five figures. I don’t know what it’s worth but certainly something the inconvenient side of a million quid.