In 1983 a racing driver by the name of Jacky Ickx had become the racing division’s team leader at Porsche, but started as a factory driver seven years prior. During these seven years, Ickx has accumulated multiple wins for Porsche including three wins at the 24 hours of Le Mans behind the wheel of Porsche’s famous 936 & 956 turbocharged race cars. Outside of his success at Porsche, Ickx had also enjoyed a lot of success in his earlier career racing for teams in other series races like the Daytona 500, Can-Am and most notably here – the Paris-Dakar Rally.

The 1983 Paris-Dakar Rally saw Ickx finish first place at the wheel of a Mercedes G Class 4×4 and as Porsche’s racing team leader during the same year, Ickx asked Porsche to develop a 911 with all wheel drive in order to enter the event the following year. Porsche agreed and in 1984 completed the design and build of the Carrera 3.2 4×4 Dakar, codename 953. The 953 was developed by Ickx and racing team manager, alongside Porsche racing engineer, Roland Kussmaul. 

The Paris-Dakar Rally consists of arguably the roughest terrain for a vehicle to cross, anywhere in the world. The 11,000 km distance needed to complete the Rally, coupled with it being on some of the roughest terrain on earth means that it’s not just over-engineering that is required to do this, it’s also endurance. Porsche tackled this by fitting the 3.2 Carrera 4×4 Dakar with a 120 litre fuel tank where the front luggage compartment would be in a normal 911 of the time and a second 150 litre fuel tank behind the driver seat, where the rear seats would usually be. Rough terrain was dealt with by 270mm increased ride height, double wishbone front suspension with twin shock absorbers at the front and a larger reinforced rear axle with oversized coil springs. The body was firmly reinforced, including a fully welded steel roll cage. The front fender, doors, roof and all of the windows were made of plastic to save weight. The engine was largely unchanged and it was mainly the addition of all wheel drive that affected performance. Most of the power was sent to the rear wheels for traction purposes with a power distribution split 31:69 front to rear. Smaller diameter, lightweight wheels were also fitted and larger off-road specific tires were used to ensure as much traction was possible across the varying off-road surfaces.

Porsche entered three of the 911 3.2 Carrera 4×4’s into the 1984 Paris-Dakar, one driven by Jacky Ickx and co-driver Claude Brasseur, the second by french racing driver Rene Metge and co-driver Dominique Lemoyne, and the third by its divine creator, Roland Kussmaul and co-driver Erich Lerner. All three of the cars were finished in Rothmans livery and supporting sponsors of the time. Its astonishing to think that after almost three weeks of gruelling off-road racing, the french racing driver Rene Metge and his co-driver Dominique Lemoyne pedalled the 953 to victory on its debut at the Paris-Dakar. Ickx and Brasseur finished 6th overall, even after suffering an electrical fire and dropping to 139th place. Kussmaul and Lerner finished in a remarkable 26th place. Porsche had proved that not only can a sports compete with the likes of purpose built off-road SUV’s, but it surpassed their abilities with speed, light weight and clever deployment of all wheel drive.

As a note before we talk about the modern reincarnation of the 911 Dakar, Porsche didn’t stop there either, they went on after their debut victory to make the same Dakar winning modifications to their 959 supercar. This recipe proved successful and in 1986 Metge won the event at the wheel of the 959 Dakar. 

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Recently in November 2022, Porsche launched the new 992 model 911 Dakar at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The 911 Dakar was extremely well received by enthusiasts, who were especially excited to see Porsche put an off-road ready 911 into production. However, on the flip side of all the excitement, the decision Porsche made to build an off-road ready 911 in 2022 is an interesting one. We see almost an endless desire for higher power figures, faster lap times and improved aerodynamics in modern sports and supercars. But, Porsche clearly understand their success in these areas and are finding different ways of reintroducing the modern 911, instead of just making it faster. This is something not many other brands can do to their models, especially considering Porsche’s incredible successful racing history. So, for the new 911 Dakar, Porsche have looked back and taken inspiration from their Paris-Dakar success back in the 80’s, both in styling and performance.

The new 911 Dakar has been developed using the existing 992 Carrera 4 GTS as its foundation, meaning it still uses the 3.0 turbocharged engine producing 473bhp married to an 8-speed PDK transmission. Multiple changes have been made to ensure the 911 Dakar bears not just the name, but the capability of its racing grandfather, the 953. These changes include height increased suspension ride height (adjustable), additional driving modes, lightweight alloy design 19/20 inch wheels, off road specific tyres and various bodywork components which include the underside of the car being completely protected with chassis panels, understandably. The side of the car is also protected with rust-proof stainless steel side skirts, extended wheel arches and a bespoke rear spoiler. It’s also worth noting that attention has been paid to the cars weight in places, to compensate for the chunky protective gear and suspension components. The bonnet of the 911 Dakar is made from carbon reinforced plastic, identical to the new GT3. The car sits 50mm higher than the GTS on which its based, however this can be raised by a further 30mm for extreme off road driving. This system is actually the current Porsche front axle lift kit which contains higher pressure pneumatic lifting kit and has been modified for both the front and rear axles of the 911 Dakar. The mechanical changes here are longer and softer springs and more durable dampers. The increased ride height is available up to 105mph which should give an idea how seriously Porsche has taken this exercise. The additional driving modes available on this Dakar model include Rallye and Offroad. Rallye being the full fat off-road race mode for the car and includes a specific Rallye launch control, and Offroad mode where the car is dialled back, ultimately becoming softer all round for a more comfortable off-road experience. The tyres for the Dakar are specifically made by Pirelli and are the all-terrain Scorpion model developed using semi-knobbly type with metal sills to increase strength for big impacts. The 911 Dakar is not available with ceramic breaks and it is due to the size of the tyres required, Porsche were even unable to accommodate their standard GTS discs and so Carrera S were fitted instead. This is fine, considering the top speed is limited to 149mph due to its tyres, and not to mention it behaves quite differently at very high speeds to a standard S or GTS model, consequences of the ride height.

To finish the new 911 Dakar off, the interior is available with a special Rallye Sports Package which provides both driver and passenger six-point seat belts, a black powder coated roll cage and a complimentary fire extinguisher located in the passenger footwell. There are no rear seat options available. There are multiple exterior design packages available, Porsche’s ‘Rally Design Package’ which nods to the Rothmans-sponsored original rally car, along with a personalised start number of your choosing (but must be between 0 and 999). The more nostalgic buyers were able to spec this two-tone paint for their car for a measly £18,434. The other exterior design packs that have recently been announced are three heritage wraps based on Porsche’s entrants in the East African Safari Rally of 1971, ‘74 and ‘78. All three design packs also include the specific number of the cars that won these events respectively.

The 911 Dakar is a limited production run vehicle starting at £173,000 with only 2,500 units ever being built. The £50,000 uplift from the GTS model its based on may seem steep, and granted exclusivity plays a big part here, but the 911 Dakar is not just a sports car with armour and livery claiming to be the off-road rally racer its based on – it actually will. This is why the 911 Dakar is also available with Rally ready accessories such as a roof basket with auxiliary headlights, fuel and drinking water external canisters, recovery boards (if the vehicle gets stuck) and even a folding Porsche branded spade to assist. Oh and a Porsche branded roof tent with ladder, a particular favourite of mine.

The new 911 Dakar may be an expensive, exclusive and maybe a bit excessive considering how owners will use them, but there is absolutely no denying that this is an incredible experiment for Porsche, by tapping into their racing heritage to give buyers a different 911 to indulge in. By the way, although we know looks are subjective – but I hope you all agree that a 911 sitting on raised suspension and off-road tyres is oddly attractive.

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Jamie Garratt – Purely Porsche