The Porsche 959, which debuted at the 1985 Frankfurt auto show, still goes down in some books as the greatest supercar ever built.
Making news last week was a 1987 Porsche 959 Komfort that Mecum auctions planned to sell during Monterey Car Week. What's interesting about this 959, with its gray-accented burgundy leather interior and just 3,657 miles on the clock — besides the fact that it is one of only 294 produced — is that it is literally a wreck.
The word from Mecum was that the 959 was riding in a trailer that broke free from its tow vehicle and struck a tree. The auction house estimated a $450,000 to $550,000 sale price for the car, with its dramatically rearranged front end. These days, 959 Komforts in excellent condition are worth well more than $1 million and Sport models can fetch $2 million.
But it was the photos of the smashed 959 circulating last week that had some old-timers reminiscing about the role another 959 crack-up played in at least allaying attitudes about airbags.
In 1986, a Porsche test driver crashed one at high speed on the company's Weissach, Germany, test track — a horrific accident from which the driver walked away, thanks to his airbag.
Indeed, airbags were common in 1987, but something less than universally adored — perhaps especially in Germany. It sure was a hot topic. Autoweek in that era ran a story written by a freelancer who volunteered to let one discharge in his face. But when word of the Weissach crash circulated through the enthusiast community, opinions seemed to change on a pfennig.
Peter Schutz, who died last year, was Porsche's CEO at the time.
In a February 1987 interview with Automotive News, Schutz marveled at the outcome of the crash — a sure fatality in another era.
"I'll tell you something," he sighed, amid a discussion of other matters, "That was all the evidence I ever needed about airbags."