Both F40 and 959 looked outrageous in the '80s. Now the Porsche seems more 'normal'. Is this echoed in the driving?
like a classic of the '60s. Much faster and more effective, of course, but providing that pure driver feel, unsullied by power assistance, servoassi stance, rubber bushing, sound deadening, suspension compliance and all that boring stuff. Fortunately, Kidston has arranged a luncheon at his favourite restaurant stop, so I have a chance to calm down.
The other protagonist is the Porsche 959, brought along by historic racer and Lancia aficionado Anthony Maclean. He explains that his 959 is a high-mileage car, having covered 40,000km. That's apparently a lot in the 959 world. He says that the Porsche has proven totally reliable and is perfectly happy to potter about in urban traffic. When the 959 was launched it caused a sensation but today, apart from its large rear tail, it looks almost ordinary. That's because so much of it is so sensible and has been adopted by mainstream manufacturers: flush headlamps, integrated bumpers, aerodynamic side mirrors and swoopy, slippery shapes are now seen everywhere.
The Porsche boasts a proper race-proven engine, as fitted to the 956 and 962 Group C cars. The 2.85-litre flat-six has water-cooled heads, twin superchargers and was quoted as producing 450bhp. Maclean's car has had the desirable factory upgrade which includes smaller, more efficient turbos with more vanes, and a re-mapped ECU. It now puts out 585bhp, with torque upped from the standard 3691b ft at 5500rpm.
As well as the sensational engine, the Porsche features four-wheel drive with variable torque split, with manual and electronic adjustable settings for different road conditions ranging from Traction, to Ice & Snow, to Dry. It has a six-speed 'box, double-wishbone suspension with height adjustment, hydraulic and mechanical damping, 51% of the bodywork is of composite material and the drag co-efficient is a slippery 0.32. Phew! Oh yes. it also features on-board tyre-pressure monitors as developed for the Le Mans car. And hollow magnesium rims. And run-flat tyres... The list is endless.
Open the aluminium door and you are met by what looks like a bog-standard 911 interior, apart from the very 1980s metallic-looking, Star Wars-inspired seats. Porsche has often gone offpiste with its seats. Remember the lurid Hounds Tooth cloth it used in the '70s?
The engine fires up like a 911 but the note is slightly deeper. A chatter from the gearbox is slightly odd, yet slot the lever into first and the noise stopsasyou release the light and easy clutch. The throttle response is a little soft but the racing car pootles
off down the road with no fuss at all. Through villages the Porsche is much easier to drive than the Ferrari. All is cool and quiet inside, with an occasional discreet hydraulic noise from deep in the bowels. The car is narrow and rides beautifully, and vision is 360 degrees with no blind spots; the gearshift is a little rubbery and the steering is power assisted. And yes, it has electric windows, unlike the Ferrari's quaint manual winders.
Once out on a clear and open road, it's time to see what happens when you give the 959 its head. Dropdown a few gears and let it go. Initially the motor spools up gently. Then it starts to tingle - you can feel the engine through the bodywork as if it has very firm engine mounts. The unit wakens one of its turbos, then at about 4500rpm the second turbo cuts in. BANG1. The feeling is like someone kicking the back of the driver's seat. Warp speed: the Porsche seems to physically leap down the road, and in an instant you are into the next corner. Hit the brakes hard and the thing just stops. Goodness!
This is a ferociously fast machine once the engine wakes up. It emits a lovely wail which is never intrusive, and through the mountains the Porsche feels fast and composed. It is softer than the Ferrari but more manageable. The brakes are sensational and show up the relative weakness of the F40's;
'It is abundantly clear that the 959 is the more advanced car: it feels decades ahead of the F40'
the ride is fluid, the steering nicely weighted but not as sharp as the Ferrari's.
Coursing through the Swiss mountains it is abundantly clear that the Porsche 959 is the more advanced machine: it feels decades ahead of the F40. even if not quite as fast. That is probably because it is so refined. In my hands it is faster on the road because the chassis is so clever. It has that typical 911 rear-end weight and the front suspension bobs a bit, but it tracks around bends with precision. You guide the Porsche with your fingertips, where you have to hustle the less-obedient Ferrari with your shoulder and arm muscles.
So how do these classic supercars feel today? Both are blindingly fast. Maybe the F40 was a cynical money-making exercise but. then again, maybe Porsche was just showing off with the 959. These machines were built to challenge each other but they are entirely different. The Ferrari is a hot rod, a go-kart that snaps, crackles and pops. The Porsche is a cerebral tool that is immensely capable, if a little sterile. When you drive through towns and villages, small boys react to the FiO with glee. They don't notice the 959.
The Ferrari is a fantastic, hard-core road rocket. It is the perfect track day car and attention-grabbing device. It makes
Thanks to Anthony Maclean and Simon Kidston, www.kidston.com.
Maybe the F40 was a money-making exercise. But maybe Porsche was showing off with the 959'
you feel like a racing driver every time you fire it up. and that's why it commands a higher price today than a 959. The Porsche is the better machine and is quicker in the real world. On motorways the 959 does feel more capable than the F40 and it's the sort of mile-eater that will get you across Europe in comfort - especially this example, which has the factory engine upgrade.
But the reality is that, in the 24 years since the Porsche was first seen at Frankfurt, technology has caught up. Now, a standard 911 will do almost everything the 959 does, and the latest £130,000 GT2 will do most things better. The 959 is an iconic car but modern engineering has it eclipsed.
The Ferrari F40 eschewed technology when it was launched in 1987. By today's standards, it is a crazy weapon that sticks two fingers up to automotive convention. That's why we love it.
Thanks to Anthony Maclean and Simon Kidston, www.kidston.com.
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