8 legendary off-road and 4x4 Porsche cars
Porsche is known for its sportscars but has made lots of great off-roaders too
Porsche 911 Dakar driving across rugged terrain
When asked to name an off-road Porsche, most people will say the Cayenne – but the company has experience making 4x4 vehicles for decades. Here’s eight standouts from 75 years of Porsche in 2023
1. Type 597 JagdwagenThe Porsche Type 597, known as the Jagdwagen (or ‘hunting car’), was an amphibious military 4×4 developed in the early 1950s back when the company was bidding to supply a vehicle to the West German armed forces.A stamped steel monocoque chassis and body acted as a watertight hull, while some early versions were also fitted with a propeller and oars for use in the water. Some versions even had no doors, just high sills (see image below), although some later examples had steel doors. Power came from a modified version of the four-cylinder flat engine from the Porsche 356, generating 50PS. This was enough for a top speed of 100km/h and the ability to climb gradients of up to 65 per cent.
Porsche Type 597 Jagdwagen emerging from a river
The Porsche Type 597 Jagdwagen was truly amphibious thanks to its watertight hull
When Porsche didn’t win the military tender, the company pivoted to marketing the Jagdwagen for outdoor types and hunters. By the end of production in 1958, just 71 examples had been built (including 22 prototypes). It’s a testimony to their construction that around 50 still survive to this day.2. Porsche-Diesel Super tractorPorsche has a long history in making cool agricultural vehicles. Ferdinand Porsche started designing tractors in the 1930s, with the intention of creating something as mechanically simple and reliable as possible.In the years immediately after World War II, only companies with experience in producing tractors were able to restart production because of a shortage of materials. It wasn’t until 1956 that the Porsche-Diesel Super finally went on sale – it was built under licence by Mannesmann, one of the largest industrial groups in Germany – and offered diesel engines that came with either one, two, three or four cylinders. The cylinders could be removed individually, simplifying the process of maintaining them.
Man riding on Porsche-Diesel Super tractor
The ultimate in agricultural style – a classic Porsche-Diesel tractor
Between 1956 and 1963, over 125,000 Porsche-Diesel tractors were produced. Fast forward several decades and demand for restored Porsche tractors has been increasing in recent years, with several clubs for enthusiasts springing up.3. Porsche 911 SC SafariBack in the 1970s, one of the toughest driving challenges was a safari rally. Taking on the most demanding terrain in Africa required a vehicle with outstanding mechanical abilities and reliability. Porsche has never been a carmaker to shy away from a challenge so, in 1978, a Martini Racing Porsche System Engineering works team fielded a pair of special 911 cars at the East African Safari Rally. The 911 SC Safari had raised suspension, a toughened floor, reinforced chassis and body, and a bull bar at the front. Despite all the additions of Safari spec – which also included a 110-litre fuel tank, 16 litres of water and 20 litres of oil on board – the 911 SC still only weighed in at 1250kg.
Porsche 911 SC Safari drives through water
Vic Preston Jr’s 911 SC Safari on its way to second place in the 1978 East African Rally
The two 911 SC Safari rally cars – driven by legendary Swedish driver Björn Waldegård and Vic Preston Jr, a Kenyan, respectively – tackled 5,000km of some of the toughest tracks in rallying while having to contend with sweltering heat and torrential rain. Of the 72 starters in 1978, only 13 reached the finish line. Waldegård took an early lead, but rear axle problems would mean that he finished in fourth place. Preston Jr was favourite to win in the final stages, but drive shaft damage relegated him to second place. No matter – Porsche had proven to the world that a 911 could handle any terrain.4. Porsche Cayenne S TranssyberiaIf a 5,000km safari sounds challenging, how about 10,000km from Berlin to Lake Baikal in Siberia, via Moscow, Novosibirsk, Mongolia and Irkutsk? This is how Porsche engineer Jürgen Kern decided to test the Cayenne in 2006.Kern had tested and developed the first-generation Cayenne and made a few minor adjustments to two production Cayenne SUVs for the race – the other was driven by a Spanish privateer – with his colleagues. The two cars both coped admirably with extreme off-road and water driving while in the Gobi Desert, as well as time trials held on dirt tracks in Mongolia. As a result, the two cars led the field as the 28 teams crossed the finish line. The success of the Cayenne S was so impressive that the following year’s event saw 26 of 34 teams that entered using Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia Edition models.
Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia queuing on roads in Russia
Not even cattle could stop the progress of the Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia
In 2009, Porsche launched a road-legal special edition to celebrate the success of the Cayenne S Transsyberia. Powered by the naturally aspirated V8 engine found in the Cayenne GTS but uprated to 405PS, it could do the 0-100km/h sprint in just 6.1 seconds. But this is a rare vehicle – just 285 were built.5. Porsche 953Some aficionados consider the Porsche 953 to be one of the best off-roaders the company has ever made. A heavily modified variant of the 911, the 953 was specially designed and engineered to compete in the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally. It was built around an enhanced suspension and a 3.2-litre, 304PS, six-cylinder engine matched with a mechanical four-wheel drive system.The body was reinforced with a welded-in steel cage, while the doors, roof, front mudguards and windows (except for the windscreen) were made of plastic in order to save weight. Because of the huge distances to be covered every day in Paris-Dakar, the car also had a 120-litre fuel tank in the front luggage compartment and another 150-litre tank behind the driver’s seat.
Porsche 953 driving through the desert
The Porsche 953, driven by René Metge and co-driver Dominique Lemoyne, on its way to victory in the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally
And it went on to make history as French rally veterans René Metge and co-driver Dominique Lemoyne piloted the 953 to victory on its first appearance. It was the first time that a sportscar had won Paris-Dakar. However, despite its triumph, the 953 was to be a short-lived model – it was soon followed by the Porsche 959.6. Porsche 959Porsche had overwhelmingly proved that one of its sports cars could tame the 11,000km-long Paris-Dakar, so building a specialist rallying model augured well for future rallying competitions. Proof came in the 1986 Paris-Dakar, which saw a one-two for the Porsche 959, with Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur finishing runners-up to René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne, who took their second win for Porsche inside three years.Porsche had spent two years transforming the 959 into a rally car. Engineers reinforced the suspension with double shock absorbers on the front axle and fitted all-terrain tyres. If a surface didn’t require all-wheel drive, an electro-hydraulically controlled centre differential distributed the power variably between the front and rear axles. This meant the 959 could reach speeds of up to 210km/h – a stunning achievement at the time for a vehicle with off-road capabilities. Porsche also positioned the engine control units (ECUs) high up in the car, to enable it to wade across rivers. Weight-reduction measures included punching holes into the brake discs and using Kevlar for the body, doors and bonnets. The result was a dry weight of just 1,260kg.
Red Porsche 959 production car driving past modern office building
Porsche allowed non-rally drivers the chance to buy a 959 by making 292 road-going versions. Today it’s one of the most sought-after – and expensive – classic Porsche cars
Porsche also produced street-legal, limited-production series 959 models, totalling just 292 vehicles. An engineering masterpiece, it’s acknowledged today as one of the all-time great Porsche cars. Current average prices for one (as of July 2023) are in the region of $1.6m-plus.7. Porsche 911 DakarPorsche is celebrating the successes of the legendary 953 and 959 models in the Paris-Dakar race with a new 911 variant – the Porsche 911 Dakar. Launched in 2023, it has a limited run of just 2,500 vehicles. The 911 Dakar is being offered with an optional Rallye Design Package, reminiscent of those iconic winning rally cars of the 1980s.
Porsche 911 Dakar at a desert fuel station
If you’re looking for adventure, the Porsche 911 Dakar offers something that few others production cars can come close to
The ground clearance of the Porsche 911 Dakar is 50mm higher than that of a standard 911 Carrera and is fitted with sports suspension, perfect for some serious off-roading. The three-litre, biturbo, six-cylinder engine produces 480PS and can sprint to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds. Due to its chunky all-terrain tyres, its top speed is limited to 240km/h. Off-road performance is also supported by two new driving modes – Rallye mode is ideal for loose, uneven surfaces and features rear-focused all-wheel drive, while Offroad mode sees high clearance activated automatically in order to achieve maximum traction on difficult terrain and on sand. When the standard lift system is activated, the ride height is raised by an additional 30mm on the front and rear axles, for a total maximum ground clearance that's 80mm higher than a 911 Carrera with sports suspension, or 191mm overall.An optional Rallye Design Package includes a two-tone paint finish in White/Gentian Blue Metallic, while customers can also choose their own individual race number, between 0 and 999. For that final authentic touch, though, you’ll have to find your own sand to scatter on the floor mats.8. Porsche 911 Altitude The summit of Porsche off-roading success – quite literally – is the pair of specially modified 911 cars that in 2022 climbed the steep, daunting slopes of Ojos del Salado in Chile, the world’s highest active volcano. A team led by endurance racer and adventurer Romain Dumas took the modified 911 cars to an altitude of 6,007m. The car tackled boulder-covered gradients and ice fields in temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius in a place with half the available oxygen in the air compared to sea level.
Specially adapted Porsche 911 on slopes of Ojos del Salado
Sub-zero temperatures and the challenges of driving at altitude couldn’t stop a pair of special 911 cars climbing up a Chilean volcano in 2022
The two cars were equipped with roll cages, carbon fibre seats and harnesses to meet the safety requirements such a project demands. In addition, they were fitted with special lightweight, yet tough, Aramid fibre underbody protection to allow the cars to slide over rocks more safely.Also included was a device called the Porsche Warp-Connecter. It may sound like something from a sci-fi movie but it mechanically, and very cleverly, links all four wheels to allow constant wheel load, contributing to maximum traction. It’s just another example of Porsche innovation creating cars that go further.
Consumption and emission information 911 Dakar (WLTP): Fuel consumption combined: 11,3 l/100 km; CO₂ emissions combined: 256 g/km; CO₂ class: G.
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