Compared with heavy hitters like the Bugatti Veyron and the Ferrari F40, the understated Porsche 959 is easily overlooked. You might not have even heard of it, but it completely rocked the supercar world when it debuted at the Frankfurt show in 1985.
Sold to the public as a homologation car so that Porsche could take it racing, the 959 also served as a showcase of technologies that had never before been seen on more pedestrian 911s, including four-wheel drive, power steering, antilock brakes, four-valve heads, twin turbochargers, and a six-speed transmission. The cylinders of the 959's 2.8-liter flat-six were still air-cooled, but its heads needed to be water-cooled because of the high temperatures generated by two sequential turbos that force-fed the engine to the tune of a positively shocking 444 hp.
The 959 exploded to 60 mph in only 3.6 seconds and continued on to a manufacturer-claimed 195 mph, but it did so in Porsche's typical drive-all-day manner: quietly and smoothly. Variable dampers kept the ride supple, and where other ungodly powerful supercars at the time screeched and scrambled for traction, the 959 used a computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system that could send power front or rear as it saw fit.
The 959 sold for a whopping quarter of a million dollars but wasn't imported by Porsche Cars North America. Even some twenty years later, there are few cars that can keep up with a 959 - but in grand irony, if you see one on the road today in the United States, it's likely that an original 959 couldn't keep up with it, either.
That's because about thirty of the fifty or so 959s that have trickled into the States have been heavily modified by Canepa Design in California. Taking advantage of the 1999 show-and-display law (for which the company's owner, Bruce Canepa, claims to have been the front man), the company spends about 1200 hours preparing 959s to meet EPA standards so that they can be legally titled here.