Being rear-engined does have some drawbacks. Even a 356, which carries far less weight aft of its rear axle, can have a penchant for bringing the tail around under certain conditions. As an avowed lover of the 356, you can only imagine the amount of jealousy I am feeling that Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky even had the chance to spin an America Roadster on a wet racetrack. You can probably also imagine my joy at not needing to be the one to tell Porsche I just spun a one-of-21 America Roadster. But the purpose of this video is not to watch Jason backwards, in the mud, in a 356. It’s to highlight why Porsche stuck with a rear-engined design.
The short answer is that they could stick with a rear-engined design despite their best efforts to move to a more modern layout. Other rear-engined cars cropped up in the 1950s and 1960s, but none survived that apparent renaissance, save for the 911. From Chevrolet’s Corvair, to the Renault Dauphine, and even on to the long series of Alpine sports cars which often competed with the 911, none made it out of the 90s. Yet the 911 endures despite repeated attempts to kill it.
The fact that the 911 has since the mid-1980s is down to a combination of the 959 and Teutonic Stubbornness; a phrase which Porsche should probably trademark. The 959 highlighted the future of the layout, strapping thoroughly modern technology to an old idea to show that it still had life left in it. Porsche implemented features that wouldn’t become mainstream for decades using the tools available to them in the mid-1980s. This, of course, dragged out development. Many of the electronics and systems simply didn’t exist yet- Porsche had to create them.
Over the coming years 959-like features would appear in other 911 models. All-wheel-drive came with the 964, twin-turbochargers with the 993, and active suspension has been available on 911s since the 2005 Carrera S. The 959 signaled a sea-change within Porsche, most of it on the back of the rear-engined and evergreen 911. Driver-selectable ride-heights are available on Porsche’s SUV models, though we have not yet seen a designated Gelande ultra-low first gear on a manual-transmission Cayenne.
This combination of advancement and adherence to tradition makes it a challenge to come up with an analogue for the 959 in another industry. In some ways it’s like strapping Sidewinder missiles and advanced radar to a P-38 Lightning, and in others its akin to the last generation of 35mm film cameras, many of which were technologically superior to their digital counterparts in every respect but their capture media.
In any case, we’re extremely happy Porsche have stuck with the layout. It has given us year after year of dynamically involving sports cars which have no real peers in the modern marketplace, at least not for enthusiasts who want a car with an engine out back.