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The 959: Definitive proof Porsche has discovered time travel.

Summary: I have a theory.

BEIRUT: I have a theory. It's far too insane for the average person to wrap their head around, let alone accept, but here it is anyway: Sometime in the near future -- if they haven't already -- Porsche engineers will develop a time machine and use it to travel back in time to the 1980s to completely shake up the car industry. I realize my theory is way out there and falls smack in the middle of H.G. Wells territory, but how else can you explain the 959?

Today we're only just getting accustomed to carbon fiber, what with manufacturers using the cutting-edge material in recent years to construct chassis, body panels, pods, prop shafts and myriad trim pieces to reduce weight and add rigidity.

You've seen the stuff used on the Lamborghini Aventador, the McLaren P1, the Ferrari LaFerrari and the Porsche 918 Spyder.

Well, three decades ago Porsche was using Kevlar to build the body panels for the 959. Yes, Kevlar, the lightweight space-age material that's five times stronger than steel and that commandos use to protect themselves from bullets.

What's even more incredible in my opinion is that the 959 was based on the 911's monocoque chassis, unlike the Lamborghini Countach and the Ferrari Testarossa, which both used a tubular space frame chassis. Not only did that mean the Italian cars had a lighter frame, but all the 959's key dimensions were identical to the 911, including the wheelbase. Even the exterior shape of the cabin -- doors, windows, windscreen and roof were the same.

And yet with the 959, Porsche in the mid-80s managed to achieve a phenomenal drag coefficient of 0.31 -- the best among all supercars -- thanks to its massive front air dam, huge rear spoiler, wide skirts and fiberglass-Kevlar flat undertray, all of which were created one step at a time in a wind tunnel. Those numbers were later surpassed by the likes of the McLaren F1 and the Lamborghini Diablo, but you don't get awards for arriving late to the party.

Still, we're talking about the car industry, and more specifically Porsche, where all these factors are meaningless unless they translate to functional benefits. Fortunately they did, because three decades ago the 959 used a 2.85-liter twin-turbo DOHC flat-six -- derived from the mill that powered the 956 and 962 Group C racers -- to produce 450 horsepower and 500 Newton-meters of torque and accelerate from zero to 100 kilometers an hour in 3.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 317 kph, the fastest at the time.

Maybe I should put that in context: The 2012 Ferrari FF needed a 6.3-liter 48-valve V-12, which produces 650 bhp and 683 N-m of torque, to manage a zero-to-100 kph sprint in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 335 kph, more than 25 years later, and with more than twice the displacement and twice the number of cylinders.

And like the FF, the first Ferrari to employ four-wheel drive -- but only in certain conditions -- the 959 was also equipped with an outstanding all-wheel-drive system that not only worked all the time and helped maintain control on bends at speed but also proved exceptional in inclement weather. And it did this 30 years ago.

You'd think all that would be enough to convince you there's been some dabbling in quantum field theory in Weissach, but there's more. Remember back in the 1980s when no one had even heard of anti-lock brakes? Oh wait that's right, you can't remember because no one had heard of anti-lock brakes. Well not only had Porsche heard of it, but it had developed such a system and installed it on the 959. Yeah, the 959 featured ABS when everyone else was still braking on a hope and a prayer.

Thirty years ago the 959 also wore lightweight wheels made from magnesium, the stuff that's only now being used to make the roof of the latest 911 GT3 RS. Are you convinced yet that Porsche discovered time travel?

So three decades ago this German marvel featured space-age materials, blistering performance that even today's car can hardly keep up with using engines twice as big, all-wheel traction that its rivals are still struggling with, aerodynamics that put NASA to shame, futuristic braking, a silky-smooth six-speed manual gearbox, and using one of history's most iconic car body designs. Sounds like a spartan race car built solely for speed, right?

You wish. The 959's cabin featured all the comfort and luxury of a premium car. In fact the interior immediately felt familiar to anyone who'd ever been in a 911 (pre-996) -- key on the left of the steering wheel, ideal ergonomics and all the various gauges and controls lined up across the dash.

But don't be fooled. Except for the aforementioned chassis and some pieces here and there, this is as much a 911 as a Cessna is a F-35 -- they both have wings, but beyond that the similarities end. In total only 337 959s were ever built, and that included prototypes and preproduction models. They only really had to make 200 to meet Group B homologation requirements, but demand was such that they went way over that figure. And although production ended in 1989 with 292 959s off the assembly line, another eight were later assembled from spare parts. They did, sadly, sell it at $225,000 per unit, less than half what it cost Porsche to build the car, although the final eight sold for around $400,000.

Would you like one? If you can find anyone crazy enough to sell their 959, be warned that the last time one was sold at auction was in February and it pulled in an astonishing $2 million, half a million more than a Bugatti Veyron. Not bad for a 30-year-old car. But it makes sense, considering it was made using contemporary technology transported back in time to the '80s. Just be careful of the tachyon emissions.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jun 2, 2017
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