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Nick Heidfeld, the German former F1 racer with the Williams and BMW Sauber teams, recently went to Porsche’s restoration factory to collect a special car.

The fast man, who also raced for the Renault F1 team but never won a championship, is the proud owner of a Porsche 959 — the unicorn built by Porsche in the 1980s and 1990s — and of which only 292 examples were produced.

The 959, which was powered by a twin turbocharged six-cylinder boxer engine, six-speed transmission and all-wheel drive, could produce 561Nm at 6,500rpm, and sprint from 0—100km/h in 3.7 secs. It topped out at 315km/h, earning it a spot in the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest car then.

Heidfeld owns the even rarer Sport, a more powerful model, with 378kW on tap and a top speed of 339km/h. Heidfeld’s 959 S had just 4,183 kilometres on the odometer when he took it to Porsche Classic in the summer of 2017. It cost about R4m rand when new.

Though barely brokenin, this 959 was already in need of an extensive technical overhaul. “If such a technologically innovative car is not driven regularly, storage damage is, unfortunately, unavoidable,” says Uwe Makrutzki, head of factory restoration at Porsche Classic.

“The power train and chassis have to be overhauled in their entirety; experience has shown that any reduction to the scope of work leads to problems down the road.”  

Like all owners of a classic Porsche, those with a 959 in their garage benefit from the unique expertise and equipment of this fully integrated department of the company.When production of the super sports car came to an end, Porsche Classic took ownership of all the testing and restoration tools from all areas of the factory.

Added to that is a great deal of experience with this rare model. “Almost all 959s have been with us at least once in their life,” says Makrutzki. “So we have had a lot of practice. Thanks to the highly complex technology, however, a 959 overhaul is always a very special and wonderful mission.” 

In the case of Heidfeld’s 959 S, the diagnosis revealed, among other things, that the engine management system had been modified. In consultation with the owner, Porsche Classic staff restored the Motronic unit to its original condition.

The former Formula One driver’s 959 S was then ready to hit the road again in December 2021. Heidfeld said: “I’ve had the privilege of driving many high-performance cars, but driving this hi-tech legend is something special for me. I was a teenage car fan in the late 1980s, and to me this Porsche was always extraordinary.”

To ensure the repair is a long-term success, Makrutzki advises regular outings: “Covering about 100 kilometres in mixed operation at least once a month provides protection from damage due to standing still. That’s also what the feedback from our customers has shown.”

The 45-year-old Heidfeld says he used his first Formula One salary to buy a Porsche 911 GT2 (996.) Now, the classic car fan’s garage includes a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback, an old Volkswagen Beetle convertible, and a Porsche Carrera GT.

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