How the Porsche 959 and 918 Supercars Became Ultimate Test Beds for Go-Fast Tech
Limited-run supercars are a great place to introduce and sort out new technology before it goes into mass-production cars.
If you have a Porsche with adjustable suspension settings or a plug-in hybrid system, you should probably thank the company's most exclusive, cutting-edge supercars.
The Brumos Collection doesn't just have a bunch of Brumos Racing's iconic race cars over the years—it also has several important supercars. The collection's YouTube channel recently did a deep dive into some of the more important innovations that Porsche debuted on two of its supercars, the 918 Spyder and the 959.
Racing isn't manufacturers' only place to test out new tech that makes road cars faster, more enjoyable and more efficient. Sometimes they do this on other road cars, and limited-run supercars are the perfect place to try new things. People expect them to be at the bleeding edge of technology and a bit of a showplace for what a company is capable of, after all.
The Porsche 959 was Porsche's first true supercar, and many credit it for saving the 911, which eventually got a lot of the 959's up-to-date technology. One of the 959's unique gauges features some settings that are pretty familiar to all-wheel-drive cars today. Symbols for different kinds of weather conditions (plus one for "traction") denote settings that determine how the car's all-wheel-drive system behaves. It can send varying amounts of power to the front axle and change the amount of lock in the differential.
The 959 also had dials on the center console that adjust ride height and the stiffness of the shock absorbers. Those are both pretty common nowadays, with that adjustable height capability having saved many a low-hanging 911 nose from certain scrapey doom.
Even the 959's engine was far more modern than the regular 911's aircooled engine, featuring watercooled heads and sequential turbos that produced more torque at lower revs to avoid having so much turbo lag. The early 911 Turbo had such brutal turbo lag that it was called the "Widowmaker," and getting rid of that hard-to-control kick over the years made 911 Turbos so much more accessible to the masses.
Nowadays, we're seeing more of the influence of the 918 Spyder across the Porsche model line-up. It was the second plug-in hybrid Porsche ever made. It features some tech from previous supercars, such as a full carbon-fiber monocoque like the Carrera GT and all-wheel-drive that goes all the way back to—you guessed it—the 959. Supercars are a great place to test out new manufacturing processes, so only time will tell if we'll see more carbon-fiber-bodied Porsches come around.
One of those innovations is the little drive mode selector on the steering wheel that let the 918 drive in all-electric, hybrid, sport and race modes, all of which determine how the car uses its energy, and in the case of race mode, opens up the rear spoiler and lowers the car. That same dial has spread across the Porsche line from there, even appearing on brand-new, family-hauling Cayennes.
Perhaps the 918's biggest contribution to present-day car tech was through its hybrid drivetrain. It wasn't just part of the wave of hybrid supercars that actually made hybrid technology cool to a bunch of hardcore car people—it forced Porsche to improve the cooling systems for the 918's two electric motors and batteries.
It's easy to write off supercars as expensive toys that you may never see in real life, but it's worth paying attention to the cool new tech. That same lightweight material or drivetrain innovation that's being used in a one-of-50 supercar destined for a secretive oil mogul's collection could eventually make its way into your driveway.
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