In 1980, Ernst Fuhrmann left Porsche citing out his old age and his desire to retire. Ernst Fuhrmann was a modest and practical man. He wasn’t a traditional man either. He believed that the Porsche had to embrace new technology and has to develop their cars that will be still modern after a decade has passed.
His vision also changes Porsche’s traditional dependency on air-cooled engines by moving to more modern and efficient water-cooled ones.
Ferry Porsche felt that after his voluntary exile to offices in Ludwigsburg, the company that he had developed with the help of his sister Louise Piech and its legacy has been reversed by Ernst Fuhrmann.
Ferry Porsche taught so mainly due to the decision of using front-engine layout when developing the Porsche 924 and Porsche 928. This decision was blasphemous because the image of Porsche has always been the rear mid-engine rear-wheel-drive layout, and Fuhrmann ignored the in-house tradition when he decided to create the Porsche 924 and Porsche 928. This was largely due to the fear caused by strict highway and safety regulations in the USA and Europe.
What hurts Ferry Porsche the most was the transition from air-cooled engines to water-cooled ones. Ernst Fuhrmann did so to keep up with ever strict new emission control laws of the US and European markets.
Ernst Fuhrmann’s decision to compete the Porsche 924 in GT class events also wasn’t that successful with none of the cars performing well enough to have the slightest chance of overall victory. Ferry Porsche thought this failure was a significant insult to the company he has formed to a dominator in FIA events.
In the early 1980s with sales of Porsche 911, Porsche 924, and Porsche 928 going down gradually as a result of the economic recession following the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution and a decade of political and economic decline following the 1973 Global Oil crisis.
In other words, for the first time in history, Porsche suffered its first money-losing year in 1980. This convinced Ferry Porsche to lookout for a new CEO for his company and finally settled on Peter Schutz.
Peter Schutz was born to Jewish parents in Berlin, Germany. The rise of the Nazi party and their strong anti-semantic views led to the family fleeing to Havana, Cuba in 1937. In March 1939 they emigrated to Chicago, Illinois. Peter Schutz grew up in the Chicago area and received a Mechanical Engineering degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
After graduation, he joined American heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer, Caterpillar Tractors as an engineer and worked in their Illinois plant for 15 years. He left CAT for the Cummings where he served his first 11 years in corporate strategy planning and the last eight years as the vice president of the marketing department and the division of after-sales customer services of the trucks. Meantime he worked with freight hauling companies to improve their profitability by instituting proper driver performance measures. Following the success of the freight hauling companies, the US and Canada-based International brotherhood of teamsters invited him to do a speech at their 1976 convention. Cummings considered this appearance as too political and Peter Schutz decided to step down from his position in the company.
Ferry Porsche knew Peter Schutz as a genius as well as a man capable of leading and motivating people to achieve better sales and profits. When Peter Schutz was invited to become the new CEO of the company, he thoroughly investigated its problems and the perceptions the public had regarding its products as well as its management. He officially began his job on January 1, 1981.
Since Ferry Porsche was officially and personally backed Peter Schutz, he began immediately to change the things were inside the company. When Ernst Fuhrmann left, he had plans to send more race cars to compete in 1981 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Peter Schutz told the racing department that Porsche no longer would race at Le Mans to lose but only to win the 1st overall position.
Helmuth Bott, the head of Weissach was over the moon when Peter Schutz dispatched the initially planned death of the Porsche 911 series.
Ernst Fuhrmann wanted to eliminate the aging Porsche 911 series but decided to keep the Porsche 911 series alive for some time after concluding that the Porsche 911 range was very important to keep the cash flow in due to the stronger demand for it. In other words, he planned a slow death for the 911 series.
A new cabriolet variant of the Porsche 911, an all-new high-performance variant of the Porsche 911 to compete in FIA events, and a complete revision of the aging Porsche 911 to make it more modern were the plans that Ernst Fuhrmann previously turned down with his plans to let the Porsche 911 lineup to phase out eventually.
With the support of Peter Schutz, Hellmuth Bott went on to start working on all the proposals regarding the Porsche 911 series that were rejected by Ernst Fuhrmann.
Helmuth Bott had another idea. He had seen the four-wheel drive, Audi Quattro, at the 1980 Geneva Motor Show. He knew that the mechanical layout of Porsche being a rear-engine rear-wheel-drive configuration provided much stability under many driving conditions, but as a chassis engineer, he understood that there were situations in which had the front axle pull as the rear axle pushed offered better traction and handling for racing and everyday road use.
Helmuth Bott wanted to develop an all-new all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 to compete in rally stages as well as FIA events. Peter Schutz encouraged him to do so.
After much trial and error followed by an extensive number of innovations, research, development, and competition testing done, a limited production run began afterward.
Porsche Gruppe B Prototype
Porsche unveiled a prototype called Gruppe B at Frankfurt Auto Show in 1983. This prototype was styled by Richard Soderberg under the supervision of Tony Lapine, the chief of Porsche’s design department. Manfred Bantle acted as the director of the engineering and development of the prototype. This new all-wheel-drive car was now designated as Porsche 959.
Saving Porsche 911 from the planned extinction had made Peter Schutz into something larger than life within Porsche. He was widely considered the savior of Porsche 911. With this newfound fame, he pressed on for the development of the Porsche 959, despite the deep economic and cultural crisis that occurred due to the oil shortages.
Since most of the technology behind the car being radical and extraordinary, the cost behind research and development climbed with every passing day. Porsche authority board supported the development of the car because of the advantages that could be obtained with USD to Deutsche mark exchange rates.
By 1985, any Porsche purchased in the US gave Porsche 60% more Deutsche marks than it did in 1980. This resulted in profit growth of 30% from 1984 to 1985. Nearly two-thirds of Porsche’s entire production was purchased by the American market.
The engine developed for Porsche 959 largely derived from the engines of Porsche 956 and Porsche 962 race cars.
This engine also featured four valves per cylinder, Bosch Motronic 2.1 fuel injection with air-cooled cylinders, and water-cooled cylinder heads, with a bore x stroke of 95 mm x 67 mm for a total displacement of 2849 cc. This engine was then mated to two turbochargers, a small unit spooling up rapidly to increase pressure to speed up a larger higher-boost main turbocharger. This powertrain design was innovative and complex in nature.
The use of a sequential turbocharger system instead of using the usual two identical turbochargers for each of the two-cylinder banks allowed for smooth power delivery across the engine rev range.
The power output was measure at 450hp at 6500rpm. The maximum torque of 369 lb-ft at 5000rpm.
This state of art powertrain was then mated to a unique six-speed manual gearbox offering five forward gears plus an off-road gear as well as a reverse.
An electronically controlled variable torque-split all-wheel-drive layout could channel all power to one side of the car, or one end, or something in between.
It could send as much as 80% of the available power to the rear wheels, to make the most of the rear-traction bias that occurs at such times. It could also vary the power bias depending on the road surface and grip changes, helping maintain traction at all times. The gauges on the dashboard showed the amount of rear differential slip as well as transmitted power to the front axle.
Bosch’s anti-lock braking system provided an immediate braking response and it also stabilized the handling and braking.
An active suspension system was specifically developed for this car to minimize the road effects, and it also automatically lowered the ride height at higher speed for the maximum aerodynamic drag efficiency to improve speed and handling of the car.
The magnesium alloy wheels were hollow inside to form a sealed chamber contiguous with the tire and also equipped with a built-in tire pressure monitoring system.
To keep the weight down, Porsche used aluminum and Kevlar composite for the manufacturing of body panels and chassis construction along with a flame-resistant Nomex floor instead of steel.
Curb weight was officially measured at 1450kg.
Porsche 959 was approved for production.
To comply with Group B FIA homologation requirements, Porsche had to manufacture at least two hundred units. Porsche started to accept deposits and eventually got orders for 250 cars.
But everything fell apart when FIA decided to forbid all-wheel-drive from competition due to the complaints regarding the rally dominating the Audi Quattro racing team.
To address the problem, Porsche developed a Porsche 911 based Porsche 953 to compete in Paris to Dakar in a West Africa tournament, in a race against highly modified trucks and SUVs. Porsche 953 won the Dakar rally in 1984, despite it being its debut tournament. 1985 wasn’t much successful for Porsche.
In 1986, Porsche 953 drivers won three finishes with overall first and second followed by the seventh-place won by Porsche 953 development engineer and team manager Roland Kussmaul and chief mechanic Wolf Hendrik Unger in the backup car.
Porsche 959 Group B Paris Dakar Rally
Since the Dakar Rally championship didn’t require a minimum production number of cars built for homologation, three Porsche 959 cars were entered in the 1985 Dakar Rally. These cars used the same all-wheel-drive system and the body of the Porsche 959 prototypes but the engines were from the previous Porsche 953 cars. These cars didn’t make it to the finish line. Two retired due to technical issues while another due to mechanical failure.
Porsche engineers then went on to turbocharge the cars. Two cars competed at the Rallye des Pharaons in October 1985. One of them caught fire, while the other car achieved 1st place.
In the 1986 Paris Dakar Rally, the Porsche 959 driven by Rene Metge won first place while another Porsche 959 driven by Jacky Ickx won second place.
Porsche 959 Group B program was canceled when the production started in 1987 thus ending Porsche’s Group B participation.
Porsche 959 was extensively modified for competing in 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1986 and 1987 seasons.
It was now designated as Porsche 961 and made its debut at the 1986 24 Hours of Le Mans. Porsche 961 in the hands of Rene Metge and Claude Ballot Lena finished first in its class and won the seventh overall position.
Porsche 961 returned to 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1987 again but this time luck wasn’t on the Porsche racing team’s side.
Porsche team driver Kees Nierop miss shifted from 6th into 2nd gear and crashed into a guard rail, but he soon rejoined the track but was forced to pull over and get out of the car due to it being on fire. Within minutes the rear section of the car was mostly consumed by the fire when the marshals were able to get to the car. It was later repaired and put on display at the Porsche museum.
The inflation of the Deutsche mark from 2.4 DM per 1 USD in 1985 to 1.76 DM in 1988 meant that the prototyping costs drove up the internal costs of the car. Despite this Porsche still held to its DM 420,000 price tag. Helmuth Bott decided not to export any of the Porsche 959 cars to the US due to the inflation of the Deutsche mark.
Production Porsche 959
Since Porsche 959 was originally meant for FIA Group B racing events, development time took longer than expected.
The production Porsche 959 was unveiled at the 1985 Frankfurt Motor Show as a 1986 model year car, but some technical issues resulted in delayed production by more than a year.
It was available either in Sport trim or in Komfort trim. The price of the car was DM 431,550 at the time. Porsche was losing money with every Porsche 959 sold. It took them twice the price tag to build a car.
Porsche 959 became an instantaneous legend due to its extraordinary performance figures. The 0-62mph achieved in 3.9 seconds and the top speed was measured at 196mph. Braking from 70mph to full stop took only 50 meters.
The sleek body style and the rear wing incorporated into the bodywork gave it elegant looks. This new design language was adopted by Porsche when designing their future cars. The affectionately called “Breadbasket handle” style rear wing of the car became the cover story of every major auto magazine at some point.
The sleek aerodynamic body along with automatic ride height adjustment along with its wing resulted in a drag coefficient of 0.31 and the aerodynamic lift was completely eliminated.
In 1988, Porsche 959 S was unveiled with larger turbochargers that increased the performance up to 508hp. This car reached a top speed of 211mph.
The ever-rising internal cost overruns resulted in the end of the production of the Porsche 959 in 1989.
When production ended in 1989, only 337 Porsche 959 cars were made, far exceeding the initial plans to sell at least 200 units. These figures also include 37 pre-production and prototype units as well.
Porsche 959 was actually produced at Karosserie Baur, not at the Porsche assembly lines in Zuffenhausen.
All the cars were manufactured at Karosserie Baur under the supervision of Porsche inspectors overseeing the finished bodies. Most of Porsche’s special order interior leather work was also done by the workers at Baur.
Eight more cars were assembled from leftover parts at the manufacturing site in Zuffenhausen in 1992 and 1993 following the strong demands of the customers. All of these were Komfort trim variant cars. Four of them were painted in red and the other four were painted in silver. Later cars featured a newly developed speed-sensitive damper system.
At a price tag of DM 747,500, these new cars were far more expensive and sold to Porsche enthusiasts and collectors after being kept in the house for some time.
Porsche authority board accused Helmuth Bott of mismanaging the engineering funds and Peter Schutz for mismanagement of company resources. Porsche forced Helmuth Bott to retire one year early and Peter Schutz to retire a year before his contract was up.
Despite being a financial disaster for Porsche, the twin supercharged Porsche 959 is undoubtedly a milestone in automotive history. Nowadays, Porsche 959 is one of the most sought-after Porsches of all time.
It was the world’s fastest road-legal production car when it was unveiled with a top speed of 197mph (317 km/h). Some variants were capable of achieving 211mph (339 km/h).
Porsche 959 ran the quarter-mile in 11.8 seconds with a top speed of 126mph. 0-62mph was achieved in 3.7 seconds, making it one of the fastest accelerating cars of its time.
It was considered as the most technologically advanced road-going sports car to be built and forerunner of all forthcoming supercars.
It was also one of the first high-performance cars with all-wheel drive. This all-wheel-drive system provided the basis for Porsche’s first all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 variant, 1989 – 1994 Porsche 911 Carrera 4.
Its performance figures convinced the Porsche executives to make all-wheel-drive standards on all turbocharged variants of the Porsche 911 series starting with Porsche 993.
The twin-turbocharged system in Porsche 959 became the outline of all the future Porsche turbocharged sports cars.