The story of how a Porsche 911 won the 1984 Paris-Dakar rally
How an extraordinary Porsche sports car conquered rallying’s toughest challenge
Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 4x4 Paris Dakar (953) on course
Consumption and emission of the cars mentioned in this article 911 Dakar (WLTP): Fuel consumption combined: 11,3 l/100 km; CO₂ emissions combined: 256 g/km; CO₂ class: G.
For its new 911 Dakar, Porsche was inspired by a car that nearly four decades ago shocked motorsport by winning the world’s greatest long-distance off-road event. We pay tribute to a truly remarkable vehicle
If you had to devise a race that aimed to test cars, competitors and teams to their absolute limits, then the Dakar Rally would be it. It’s a battle against unrelenting heat, ever-changing terrain and the profound difficulties of racing and servicing cars in remote locations. It’s over 40 years since the first event was held – back then called the Paris-Dakar Rally – but there has never been a winner quite like the one in 1984. A sports car, winning the ultimate off-road race? Surely not. But that’s exactly what a specially developed Porsche did. Nearly four decades on, it remains an inspirational vehicle – as the reveal of the new Porsche 911 Dakar confirms.
Porsche 911 Carrera prototype being tested in rally conditions
Testing of a Porsche 911 Carrera developed for rallying purposes at the VW test track in Ehra-Lessien, Lower Saxony, in 1983 | PHOTO: Corporate Archives Porsche AG
Paris-Dakar Rally, 1984: the grand departOver 400 vehicles gathered at the start line at the Place de la Concorde in Paris on New Year’s Day 1984, at the start of that year’s Paris-Dakar Rally – the sixth event of its kind to be held. Among them were three very special Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 4x4 Paris Dakar (953) cars. At the wheel of one of them was motorsport great, Jacky Ickx. The Belgian was one of the guiding forces behind getting Porsche involved in the Paris-Dakar, having won the race a year before at the wheel of a Mercedes 4x4.
Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 4x4 Paris Dakar (953) in desert
The Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 4x4 Paris Dakar (953) – car #176 – driven by René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne, that won the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally | PHOTO: Corporate Archives Porsche AG
Led by project manager – as well as a driver himself – Roland Kussmaul, the 911 Carrera 3.2 4x4 Paris Dakar (953) was developed to take on the very best drivers and off-road cars in the world. What would transpire by the time the chequered flag was waved 20 days later besides Le Lac Rose in Senegal, was perhaps beyond even Ickx and Kussmaul’s wildest dreams. Three cars were entered in the epic race, which amounted to around 11,000km in length – one driven by Ickx and his co-driver Claude Brasseur, another by Frenchman René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne, while the third was driven by the man central to its very creation, Kussmaul, and his co-pilot, Erich Lerner.Power-wise, the 953 was relatively standard, with a 3.2-litre boxer-six engine. The big differences were a new all-wheel drive system with 31:69 power distribution between the front and rear axles and a manually locking centre differential. And to counter some of the harshest conditions you’ll find anywhere, wheel travel was increased to 270mm, while a double-wishbone suspension with twin shock absorbers was fitted at the front and a reinforced axle with additional coil springs at the rear.
Three men with Porsche 911 at 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally
Two of the key figures behind the triumphant Porsche campaign at the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally – Jacky Ickx (left) and Roland Kussmaul (centre) | PHOTO: Corporate Archives Porsche AG
The body was a 911 G series shell heavily reinforced by a welded steel roll cage. Meanwhile, the doors, roof, front bumpers and all the glass, bar the windscreen, where made of polycarbonate plastics in order to save weight. And saving weight was certainly needed when you were covering the distances that Paris-Dakar cars were – which is why a 120-litre fuel tank in the front luggage compartment and 150-litre tank mounted behind the driver’s seat was added.Winning feeling: the 911 that became a Porsche rally championAfter nearly three weeks of intense driving, Metge and Lemoyne would steer their car to a stunning overall victory in the inaugural outing for a 911 in the race – the first time a sports car had won an event that had become by then one of the highlights of the motorsport calendar. Despite falling to 139th place after a cable fire, Ickx and Brasseur eventually battled their way back up to sixth place by the race’s end, in no small part to the speed, agility and all-wheel drive capability of the 911 Carrera 4x4 (953). Kussmaul and Lerner, meanwhile, finished a highly creditable 26th.
Porsche 911 rally car with support trucks for Paris-Dakar Rally
Porsche drivers and support teams taking part at the Paris-Dakar Rally in the 1980s drove across France and northern Africa for thousands of kilometres in extreme conditions | PHOTO: Corporate Archives Porsche AG
“Engaging a 911 against four-wheel drive, classic off-road vehicles in the Ténéré desert and the [high plateau of] Assekrem in Algeria looked absolutely crazy to people. Nobody would have bet a penny on it,” Jacky Ickx said later, when recalling the race. When, just two years later, Porsche – and Metge – won the event again, this time in a Porsche 959, it was further compelling evidence that the company’s expertise could enable them to take on vehicles with considerably more rallying heritage… and beat them.
René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne celebrate at 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally
‘Victoire!': Porsche drivers Dominique Lemoyne (left) and René Metge take the acclaim after their triumphant 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally campaign | PHOTO: Corporate Archives Porsche AG
Back to the future: the 911 rally cars of the 1980s remain a huge inspirationToday, we’re entering a brand-new era for 911 sports cars with off-road capabilities. Two very special 911 cars have just climbed the Ojos del Salado in Chile to a height of more than 6000m. This news was closely followed by the announcement of the new Porsche 911 Dakar. It’s not just its name that links this limited-edition vehicle to its legendary Dakar-winning forebears. With the driving dynamics of this high riding sportscar on both loose surfaces and asphalt, perhaps one day it too will write its own chapter in Porsche history.
Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 4x4 Paris Dakar (953) in desert
Still going strong: Porsche 911 (type 953), driven by Phillipe Jacquot and Jean Joseph Bachelier, competing at the 2023 Dakar Classic | PHOTO: A.S.O./Aurélien Vialatte
A limited-edition poster set featuring the new 911 Dakar is now available