The Porsche 959 Was Essentially Built To Prove The 911 Still Mattered

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And it became an icon in its own right.

30 years ago, Bruce Canepa had a problem with his Porsche 959. Despite managing to import it to the US, he couldn’t drive it. Blame the lack of US government certification. So Canepa did what anyone would do in his position; he hired a lawyer. It took another 10 years before Congress passed the bill allowing the 959 to be driven legally. The workaround was that it had to meet US emissions standards, not crash standards. Fortunately Canepa had the means and connections to get this done (even for California’s more stringent standards).

As you’ll see in this new Petrolicious video, he’s the guy that paved the way for all US 959 owners to drive legally. Many are aware of the 959’s import debacles, but there’s more to its backstory that needs to be known. Porsche’s chief engineer in the 1980 was a guy named Helmuth Bott, and he wanted to keep the rear-engined 911 alive at all costs.

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You see, Porsche did not have Cayennes and Panameras to sell yet, so it solely relied upon its sports cars for profit. It was convinced rear-engined sports cars were a thing of the past, and hoped to replace the 911 with its front-engined offerings, such as the 928. But Bott remained unconvinced of this plan, so he received permission to begin work on what he envisioned a modern 911 ought to be. Things like all-wheel drive, sequential turbochargers for the six-cylinder boxer engine, and evolved aerodynamics were all successfully developed. It was these advancements, along with the 959 rally car’s success, that ultimately convinced the suits at Porsche the 911 still had relevance. It just needed a series of updates from someone who believed in it.

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