This battle of the 1980s supercars is a rehash of the video game 'The Duel: Test Drive II.'
• Today’s picks require you to choose your weapon in the defining supercar rivalry of the 1980s—and do that before the twin auctions end on Friday, August 5.
• Porsche’s 959 was a high-tech tour de force that accurately predicted the future of the 911 with turbocharging and all-wheel drive.
• Second on the scene but the first series production car to crack 200 mph, the F40 is still arguably more desirable than any Ferrari flagship that followed it.
Released in 1989, the home computer video game The Duel: Test Drive II posed a difficult question. Given the option of a Porsche 959 or a Ferrari F40, which do you choose? It’s still a stumper today. But you may need to decide, since the cars are both currently listed on Bring a Trailer (which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos) by the same dealer in San Diego. The auctions end only five minutes apart, and while the F40 is currently slightly ahead with a bid of $1.6 million to the 959’s $ 1.3 million top bid, the final price for each should be neck and neck.
The game Test Drive II was quite advanced for its time, using videotaped footage captured in a Porsche 944 Turbo on Vancouver, British Columbia’s Sea-to-Sky Highway to simulate one of the racing stages. The developers even went so far as to rent a Ferrari 308, record its engine, then faithfully reproduce the sound to the best that 8-bit technology could handle. The Test Drive series resulted in the long-running Need for Speed franchise.
Perhaps you, dear reader, grew up racing a digital 959 versus a digital F40 on Mom’s Apple IIGS. Perhaps you’ve also made some sound investments in Microsoft, or Playstation, or those electric monkey pictures that nobody understands the purpose of. And now you’re ready to cash in and finally buy the 1980s supercar of your dreams. So, which is it going to be?
The case for the 959 is that it is that rarest of things, a usable supercar. Launched in 1986, it was a window into the future of automotive performance. Its 2.9-liter flat-six engine featured water cooling and twin sequential turbochargers. Peak output was 444 horsepower, and the 959 used its clever Porsche-Stuer Kupplung all-wheel drive to get that power down in all possible weather conditions.
This 1987 example is a relatively late-production Komfort model, meaning that it comes with niceties including leather seats, air conditioning, and a Blaupunkt cassette stereo. Any successful bidder should consider immediately purchasing Kraftwerk’s Electric Café on tape.
The F40 also features twin-turbocharging but lacks a stereo entirely. It’s not much of a drawback, because experiencing that Ferrari 2.9-liter quad-valve V-8 hurtle to redline behind you is the equivalent of being front row to Pavarotti in his prime as he hits the crescendo of Nessun Dorma.
Gordon Murray pooh-poohed the F40 as “a big go-kart with a plastic body on it,” and up close these cars do have kit-car build quality. There were also more than three times more F40s built than 959s: 1311 versus 337. Yet there is a magic to this car that is hard to define. It is one of the rare cars that stands up to childhood hero worship, even better to drive than you hoped.
The F40 featured here is an end-of-run 1992 model. For investment potential, it comes with the must-have Ferrari Classiche Red Book. For actually getting out and driving it, it’s had the twin alloy fuel tanks replaced—European models had nightmarishly expensive rubber fuel bladders—and a comprehensive servicing in May of this year.
With the auctions ending on August 5, there’s still time to decide which of these icons to take home. Will it be the blindingly fast technology of the 959, or will you be swayed by the raw mechanical emotion of the F40? There really isn’t a wrong choice here: Either one would be a childhood dream drive, realized.
Keyword: Porsche 959 or Ferrari F40? Take Your Choice of Today's Bring a Trailer Picks