All credit for the new Porsche 911 Dakar — a new type of vehicle that splits the difference between SUV and sports car — must go to a handful of daring (perhaps foolish) drivers who, against all better judgment, decided long ago to take Porsche’s little sports car off-road and way, way out of its element.
Porsche’s then-new 911 sports car hit the road in 1964, and by 1965 it was already competing in its first major race: the Monte Carlo Rally. The drivers were Porsche employees Herbert Linge and test-engineer Peter Falk.
“It’s okay if you finish last,” Huschke von Hanstein, Porsche’s racing director and press officer, told his drivers. He only wanted the 911 to finish the rally unscathed so it could be paraded up to the Prince’s Palace of Monte Carlo, where Prince Rainier and his wife Gracia Patricia, née Grace Kelly, would be watching alongside the world’s press.
A snowstorm blanketed the 1965 running of the Monte Carlo Rally, covering the Alpine roads in so much fresh powder it’s a miracle any car made it through, let alone a little roadgoing sports car like the 911. The strange rear-engine layout of the 911, which some said was a handicap, helped in these conditions, providing extra traction and plenty of lift-off oversteer to help Linge swing the car around tight corners.
Not only did the 911 finish its first rally, it didn’t come last. Linge and Falk brought the car home in fifth place, undamaged, driving past the Royal Box as planned.
That unlikely success was only the first clue Porsche had created something special with the 911. The rally-racing triumphs kept on coming.
In 1967, British driver Vic Elford won the European Rally Championship in a 911. Then in ’68 he took the 911 back to the Monte Carlo Rally and won.
Polish drivers Sobiesław Zasada and Marian Bien took the 911 even further off the beaten path in 1971, entering it in the East Africa Safari. They covered than 5,000 km through the savanna and desert scrublands of Kenya, finishing fifth. (The new 911 Dakar is available with a black-and-white decal set that pays homage to their Safari-spec 911.)
The ante was upped again in 1984, when René Metge tackled the deadly Paris-Dakar rally in a 911. His Rothmans sponsored car covered almost 10,000 km across the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mauritania. By the time it was all said and done, of the 313 cars that started the race only 98 finished, and first among them was Metge’s 911.
His unlikely success, and that of Vic Elford, Linge, Falk, Zasada, Bien and others, proved not only could the 911 go off-road, it was faster and more reliable than its rivals when the going got rough.
The new limited-edition 911 Dakar is a fitting tribute to those drivers who established the 911s rally-racing credentials. The new machine was tested on ice and dirt tracks, desert dunes and gravel. Will some lucky owner of the new 911 Dakar be daring (perhaps foolish) enough to take one of these precious $247,200 machines off-road? We can only hope.