Road and Track- Bruce Canepa: Unleashing the Porsche 959′s Inner Gonzo
Californian Bruce Canepa estimates that there are around fifty Porsche 959s in America. He says thirty-two of them have shuttled through his shop, Canepa Design.
“From day one, Porsche told us the 959 was a 700-hp car,” he says. “It was, after all, designed as a Group B car. The engine is basically the [Porsche's Indianapolis] and 956 engine. In various forms, it has made well over 700 hp. The car is built to handle it.”
Canepa speaks from experience. For between $100,000 and $140,000—price varies with specification—he will hot rod your 959 up to 640 hp.
Canepa’s modifications include a completely new, Motec-based engine management system; new wiring; a new fuel system; new turbos; and the catalytic converters that the factory didn’t install. Beyond that, he offers suspension upgrades and modifications to the Porsche’s Denloc wheels (see Yesterday’s Tomorrow) so that the car can run today’s supercar tires. The result, Canepa says, is a 959 that will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in under 3 seconds and hustle through the quarter-mile in under 10.
“The 959s I buy have to be in like-new condition,” he says. “I’m not interested in used-up cars. It was such a good winter car that guys in Europe drove them, sloshing through the mud and snow. Most of the cars in Europe are used up from exposure to road chemicals. For us, a lot of miles is 5,000 or 6,000. So most of what I’ve bought are cars from collections here and in Asia.”
Canepa’s 959 knowledge extends beyond those modifications. The shop also knows, for example, which 959 heater valves will occasionally stick open, and which Webastomade BMW heater valve will fix that problem.
“The 959 has so much grip, it just squats and goes,” Canepa says. “It’s instant gone. Compared to a new 911 Turbo, if you go 12/10ths, I’m going to kick your ass in the 959. For most people, the new car is safer. But the older car is more satisfying because it makes you work for it.”
-John Pearley Huffman