Rally around: The Porsche 911 Dakar
VAriety is the spice of life. I like this adage. For those with a taste for the culinary arts, this means an all-you-can-eat buffet with enough delicious bites to satisfy even the most passionate foodie. Fashion lovers probably think of sneaking around the streets of Milan or Rome, shopping for the latest and greatest threads money can buy.
In the automotive context, it conjures up images of a storage hangar filled with one-of-a-kind cars, a sea of exotic metal as far as the eye can see, some priceless due to their sentimental value.
Every once in a while, we get the chance to experience a special car, one that gets our gasoline veins running at the highest octane rating.
I recently returned from Morocco, where I drove one of those cars: the Porsche 911 Dakar. Wait a Porsche 911 what? Let me clarify. You see, in 1984, Porsche campaigned a 911 specially developed to compete in the Paris-Dakar Rally, where it took overall victory and birthed the all-wheel-drive system in the 911.
It was essentially a 911 Carrera 3.2 model with a raised ride height, a 4×4 transmission and knobby off-road tires, perfect for tackling sand dunes and rock-strewn gravel roads.
Codenamed 953, three of these bespoke 911s lined up at the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally, with one crewed by Belgian racing legend Jacky Ickx, who was instrumental in convincing Porsche to continue with this wacko. motoring project. Ickx, along with co-driver Claude Brasseur, had won the previous year’s race in a Mercedes-Benz 280 GE (Geländewagen).
The other two cars were those of project manager Roland Kussmaul and co-driver Erich Lerner, while the third and race-winning car, with the now famous #176, was driven by René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne, to critical acclaim. .
Here was a sports car that took the fight to the purpose built rally racing cars and defeated them utterly. This paved the way for the Porsche 959, which entered the 1986 edition of that epic race. Porsche was clearly on to something here, but there was a long hiatus thereafter and nothing to continue on that brilliant trajectory – until now, that is.
Welcome to the 911 Dakar based on the 992 4 GTS, of which only 2,500 will be built. It pays homage to the aforementioned Paris-Dakar Rally ’84 winning car and has been a long time coming.
Yes, in 2012, Porsche built a 911 off-road concept based on the 991, dubbed the Vision Safari, as a case study, but apparently nothing ever came of it. Perhaps management thought it too derivative to mess with the winning recipe for the 911 sports car, the company’s holy grail, if you will, and put that idea on ice.
However, with buyers looking beyond buying sports cars for their searing performance and blistering top speeds, perhaps there’s a case for an off-road 911 that can traverse more than conventional asphalt.
To prove it, we explored the vast expanses of Moroccan desert and sand dunes, to welcome the latest delivery of the 911.
This elevated 911 is the company’s modern interpretation of the 911 Vision Safari, based on the current 911 4 GTS, but most of its underpinnings share very little with street models. This includes a 50mm higher ride height, which can be raised an additional 30mm in Off-Road mode, higher front and rear approach angles, and departure angles packed with chrome skid plates.
There is adaptive air suspension at each corner, while the tires are Pirelli Scorpion off-road items measuring 245/45/19 at the front and 295/45/20 at the rear and designed specifically for the 911 Dakar.
There’s also a CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic) rear wing that weighs just 3.2kg and pays homage to the ’84 race car. It has a lithium battery and a carbon fiber hood, all for the benefit of saving weight. This brings the curb weight of the 911 Dakar to 1,605kg, just 10kg more than the 911 4 GTS on which it is based.
Plus, you can opt for the Rallye styling package echoing the winning rally car, replete with “Rothmans” livery, nicknamed “Roughroads” in this case, due to the ban on cigarette advertising. It’s a Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur paint job, and not a wrap, which makes it even more special.
You can also check out the roof rack option, which allows you to bring some cool conveniences off the beaten path like folding shovels, jerry cans, or, my absolute favourite, pitching a roof top tent and camping somewhere on the roof. sheet. Very cool!
The cabin is a familiar sanctuary for those accustomed to the GT3, with the same racing bucket seats, roll cage and no rear seats. It’s a lekker place to be with an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and leather touch points, with the serial number plate on the drop-down passenger console adding that touch of exclusivity you can show off to your peers.
But of course, being a 911, you’d expect spectacular performance and it delivers here. Nested at the rear is the familiar 3.0-litre twin-turbo boxer engine generating 353kW and 570Nm linked to a PDK 8-speed gearbox and all-wheel drive.
Even with studded off-road boots, the 911 Dakar can accelerate to 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds (5.5 s on sand), while top speed has been limited to 240 km/h, due to these tyres.
There are two new driving modes in addition to Wet, Normal and Sport: Rallye and Off-Road. In a 911, it’s still awesome, but there it is, and it works like a charm.
Thanks to that special suspension mechanism that raises the ride height by 30mm more on both rear axles for a total of 191mm, you can land in places more suitable for a Cayenne than a 911 at speeds up to 170km/h sooner. for the suspension to be reinstated. its normal ride height.
Rallye mode also opens up a rally-start type launch control, so you can unleash your inner René Metge.
The suspension has been tuned correctly, and while some ruts in the gravel can throw off the ride quality a bit, and rock-hard desert vegetation should be avoided at all costs, as some media colleagues found out in the launch. , the suspension of the 911 Dakar is pretty incredible.
We climbed massive dunes that would make 4×4 enthusiasts gasp as they tried to negotiate them. At one point, I felt that Porsche was really crazy for doing this, but he showcased the car’s chops in a way that not many of the lucky few owners will experience.
Still, the 911 Dakar is a true sports car and can be fully enjoyed on the open road, thanks to specially designed all-terrain tires without typical road noise.
According to a Pirelli representative, what’s interesting is that the tires were developed about six months after the 911 Dakar project, which took just 13 months from start to finish, which is incredible considering that many of the suspension components are made custom made for this model.
Having experienced the 911 Dakar, my hat is off to the team that pitched this ridiculous idea to the board members. The fact that they were allowed to carry on says a lot about the Porsche brand.
At an attractive price of R4.2 million and with a very limited number of models arriving on our shores, it will remain a rare sight, one that should be celebrated when seen in the wild.
I’ll have mine in Rallye Design’s “Roughroads” livery, with luggage rack, thanks. One is allowed to dream, surely.
I’m glad Porsche is going ahead with ridiculous projects like this. The fact that orders far exceed the 2,500 units to be built is a testament to the desirability of this model.
I understand now. Unmistakably so! And the car that won the 953 Paris-Dakar would endorse this latest 911 Dakar as its spiritual successor.