Tech giant and billionaire Bill Gates is widely known for his love of Porsches, owning dozens throughout his career. But while some Porsches may come and go, especially for a billionaire, others are worth fighting for.
Gates was willing to prove that, waging war against the United States Customs and Border Protection agency to keep his favorite car in the U.S.: the 1986 Porsche 959.
Bill Gates tried to smuggle his favorite car through U.S. Customs
When the Porsche 959 debuted in the late ’80s, everyone wanted to get their hands on it, including Bill Gates. According to Drive Tribe, however, that was easier said than done as the Porsche 959 wasn’t even available in the U.S.
While “the majority of Porsches can be easily imported from Europe to America, the 959 was different.” Several complications arose with the 959 and its importation to the U.S., with the foremost issue being Porsche’s refusal to “provide the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) with four models for crash testing.”
While it is unsurprising that Porsche refused to throw away four of its super-expensive, super-elite vehicles to crash-testing, this meant that the Porsche 959 “was not certified as street legal.”
Of course, this didn’t stop Gates, who ordered one anyway and had it immediately impounded at U.S. Customs upon arrival. And there it sat, for more than a decade.
The Porsche 959: the most advanced supercar of its time
According to Hot Cars experts, “when Porsche released the 959 in 1986 it was, without exaggeration, the most technologically advanced car in the world.”
The Porsche 959 “burst onto the automotive scene” as the most advanced supercar of its time, and it’s no wonder billionaire Gates wanted to get his hands on one. It boasted a massive, air-cooled, 2.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine, making 444 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, powered to all four wheels.
Easily one of the best cars to come out of the ’80s, the Porsche 959 could get to 60 miles per hour in just 3.6 seconds and hit top speeds of 196 miles per hour. Not just the world’s-best in speed and power, the 959 also proved to be a daily driver.
How Bill Gates won over U.S officials to keep his smuggled Porsche 959
When Customs impounded Gates’ Porsche, he clearly wasn’t going to accept defeat and spent more than 10 years fighting to drive his dream car on American soil. He paired with partner and Porsche expert/dealer Bruce Canepa to forge a plan. Alongside many other experts, Gates and Canepa used a legal team to find a way around the requirements for the Porsche’s street-worthiness.
According to Auto Week, attorney Warren Dean helped Gates eventually draft law to win back his Porsche 959, and presented it to the court. This law stated that
“if 500 or fewer cars were produced, if they weren’t currently produced, if they were never U.S.-legal, and if they were rare- you could import them without having to pass DOT standards. As long as they met EPA standards and were driven no more than 2,500 miles per year, they’d be legal.”
Just because Gates presented a solution, however, doesn’t mean that the U.S. government would approve. The bill presented by Gates’ legal team was rejected and failed numerous times until it finally squeezed its way onto a “Senate transportation bill” signed by President Clinton in 1998.
Two more years passed before the government created documentation to implement the supercar law, but it would still be a while before Gates got his Porsche 959 on the road.
After documentation was official, Gates and Canepa had to rework the 959 to meet certain emission standards. But after more than a decade of being impounded at U.S. Customs, Gates finally got to drive his favorite, illegal Porsche, legally. As long as it doesn’t get more than 2,500 miles out on American roads.