Behold the Porsche 959 Family That Dominated the Dakar Rally

Group B technology sent to the dunes.

byMáté Petrány|
Porsche News photo

The Dakar Rally has changed a lot since the 1980s, both geographically and in terms of the level of technology campaigned. A lifted Porsche 911 wouldn't win the race in 2021, yet in 1984, that's exactly what happened thanks to René Metge, who was followed by teammate Jacky Ickx in sixth place. After what's internally known as the 953, Porsche used the mule of a 959 with the powertrain of a 911 Carrera 4 in 1985, only to retire all three cars with mechanical problems.

For 1986, the Dakar Porsches finally got all the upgrades from the 959 project, including the active four-wheel drive system offering four driving modes adjusted by the computers. This gave Porsche a 1-2 finish, with supporting 959 Dakar engineer Unger Kussmaul crossing the line at sixth. Once the champagne had dried up, Porsche deemed its Dakar program accomplished.


The 1984 cars were little more than 3.2-liter 911 4x4s raised up accordingly. How that was enough with French ace René Metge behind the wheel to beat a V8 Range Rover and a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution remains Porsche's secret. Back in 1981, Metge used a Range Rover for his maiden victory.

The three 1985 cars that already looked like 959s were missing the twin-turbo engine, as well as the latest evolution of Porsche's four-wheel drive system. With no Porsche finishing, the '85 Dakar went to a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, the SUV that won this desert race a whopping 12 times.

As a result of their poor history, two of the three non-turbocharged 1985 Paris-Dakar 959s are in private hands by now. The factory sold chassis No. 015 just two years ago for a hefty $5.9 million, while chassis No. 014 driven by Jacky Ickx popped up for sale earlier this year.

The 959's 2.85-liter engine features double overhead cams with four valves per cylinder, a seven-bearing crankshaft and six titanium connecting rods, air-cooled cylinders with a water-cooled head, and of course a pair of two-stage sequential turbochargers supplied by long-time Porsche partner Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch.

With four traction modes available on-demand, the 1986 Dakar 959s were also detuned to 400 horsepower to be able to run on gasoline as low in quality as 86 octane available in the deserts across Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea and Senegal. Fifty-three-gallon tanks were filled up over and over again so that after 22 days and 8,700 miles off-road, Metge and Ickx could score Porsche's 1-2.

Not bad for a canceled Group B project.

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