Porsche is known worldwide for its excellent road racing record. Like an almost countless number of victories in a variety of racing series in many classes, including 19 overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But fewer people realize that Porsche’s motorsports pedigree extends beyond the asphalt to rally racing. In fact, Porsche has a number of prestigious Monte Carlo Rally and Paris-Dakar rally victories to their name as well.
Porsche’s rally adventures started at the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally with the Porsche 904, where Eugen Böhringer and Rolf Wütherich drove it to a class victory and a second-place overall result. In 1968 though, Porsche managed to snag first and second place in a 911 S 2.0 models. These 1-2 Porsche finishes would repeat at Monte Carlo for the next two years before being dethroned by an Alpine A110 in 1971. Porsche snagged another first-place victory in 1978 with Jean-Pierre Nicolas and Vincent Laverne behind the wheel of a privately-owned 911 Carrera 3.0, where they outpaced works-based teams that had the full weight of manufacturers behind them.
The 1980s were dominated by the Audi Quattro, an all-wheel drive beast that upended the world of rallying for several years before other manufactures were able to catch up with their own all-wheel drive models. However, Porsche still managed to put up a noble effort at the mixed-surface San Remo Rally with a rear-wheel drive 911 SC 3.0 piloted by Walter Röhrl. It did spectacularly on the early asphalt surfaces, and managed to hold close to the Audis on the gravel before sadly breaking a driveshaft.
Meanwhile, Porsche was working on their own answer to the Quattro. The Porsche 959 supercar with its advanced four-wheel drive system was originally intended to compete in the same high-powered Group B class that the Quattro was a part of, but the class was discontinued after a series of tragic accidents made it clear that the power and speed was getting out of hand.
Porsche largely pulled away from stage rallies after that, but they still pursued endurance-focused rally raid events like the famous Dakar Rally across France and a handful of North African countries because of the lack of homologation rules. While working on developling the 959, Porsche created the 953 as a testbed and entered it into the 1984 event. The 953 was essentially a 911 with a lifted off-road suspension and the manually-controlled four-wheel drive system from the 959. The 953 performed better than anyone had hoped with a first-place finish.
But because the 953 was just a developmental steppingstone, its story at Dakar ended there. Instead, it passed the torch to the now-ready 959 for 1985. The first year was a disappointment, and all three cars entered in the race failed to finish due to mechanical issues. However, after the addition of twin turbochargers and a few other upgrades for 1986, the 959 became a whole new beast.
With René Metge behind the wheel of one car and Jacky Ickx behind the wheel of another, the updated 959 dominated the 1986 race across France, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea and Senegal, a distance of 7,500 miles. With the new turbocharged engine, Metge and Ickx were incredibly fast, taking first and second place respectively over the grueling course.
Unfortunately, that race was more or less the end of Porsche’s official rally racing career. But the idea of a rally-inspired off-road 911 has come surging back, and Tuthill Porsche is at the center of the trend. As it turns out, the 911 is a popular choice for historic rally events, as the rear-engine placement over the rear wheels allows for extra traction on loose surfaces.
Others choose to modify their Porsches to Safari Spec for the fact that they look incredible, standing out from the crowd of classic 911s like no other variant out there. A great example is the one that belongs to Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire built by Leh Keen. With a 4″ lift and an incredible interior that feels like it’s straight out of a city bus in the 1980s, his Safari build is a unique take on classic that has to be seen to believed. Farah has said that he has no intention of driving it in a rally though, claiming that he wanted it to iron out the streets of L.A. in a car that still drove phenomenally.
While awesome, it’s unlikely Safari 911s will become a common build or configuration. Their values have skyrocketed recently, making the price of entry substantial while also likely diminishing the investment potential. Regardless, if I ever had the opportunity to add one to my garage I would absolutely leap at it.