How to restore a classic Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar rally car
The classic Porsche race car lovingly preserved for future generations
Stripped-down Porsche 959 with doors removed in a photo studio
Nearly four decades after three unique Porsche race cars shocked the world of motorsport with its rallying success, discover how one of them has been fully recommissioned by Porsche engineers
Back in 1986 a very special Porsche sportscar took on one of the greatest challenges in motorsport – the Paris-Dakar Rally – and came out victorious. In the years that have passed since this landmark achievement, the feat of the three Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar cars that took part in this 14,000km off-road marathon have passed into Porsche motorsport folklore. So, when it was decided to work on a sympathetic restoration of one of those 959 Paris-Dakar cars nearly four decades on, it was a project afforded the levels of care and attention that such a vehicle deserves. This is the story of how Porsche conquered the Paris-Dakar Rally with a car that’s now been lovingly recommissioned in order to tell its story to a new generation of Porsche fans.What was the 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally?Taking place across suffocating desert and bumpy savannah, the conditions on the Paris-Dakar Rally not only challenged vehicle technology but also the minds of the drivers and their support team. In an event usually dominated by trucks and All-Terrain Vehicles, the three Porsche cars that competed in the 1986 edition truly stood out. Developed by Porsche engineers back in Zuffenhausen, they ripped up the script of what a rally car looked like and could achieve. Porsche engineers spent two years transforming the Porsche 959 supercar into something that was Paris-Dakar ready. It did so by developing new technology for the car like reinforcing the suspension with double shock absorbers on the front axle. It also added an electro-hydraulically controlled centre differential that when surfaces didn’t require all-wheel drive could distribute power variably through the front and rear axles.
Porsche 959 roof showing Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur’s names
The restored Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar was originally driven to a second-place finish at the 1986 rally by Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur
However, the engineers’ hard work didn’t immediately pay off. The Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar actually made its debut on the 1985 Paris-Dakar Rally, but all three cars entered had to drop out of the race early. But a year later it would be a totally different tale. An all-French driving combination of René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne crossed the line in one of the 959 Paris-Dakar cars in first place, with Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur claiming second. A third 959 Paris-Dakar, driven by project manager Roland Kussmaul and Wolf-Hendrik Unger, took sixth place – all in all an incredible return for Porsche.How was the Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar car restored?Having played such a significant role in Porsche motorsport history, it was only natural that all three cars would become part of the collection at the Porsche Museum. Under the watchful eye of the Porsche Heritage and Museum team, and with help from the team at Porsche Classic, Jacky and Claude’s Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar has undergone a tasteful recommission. By contrast, René and Dominique’s winning car has been kept just as it was when it was competing, with all its dirt, grime and any race damage left untouched. It helps serve as a visceral reminder of what these cars went through in such tortuous events as the Paris-Dakar Rally.
Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar cars at the Porsche Museum
The Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar rally cars from the 1986 running of the legendary event have now been reunited at the Porsche Museum
That said, the aim of the recommissioning of the second-place car was never to return it to pre-competition condition. A gentle and considered approach was needed to bring the car back to life, one that wouldn’t erase the history of such a legendary car. The aim of the project was to replace as little as possible, fix what could be fixed and keep the car in as original condition as possible.When starting the recommissioning process, the car had 18,000km on the clock – 14,000km from the rally and a few thousand extra from testing. The first step to assessing its condition was to remove the bodywork and take a closer look. When it came to physical damage, the gearbox, engine and drivetrain were all in relatively good condition. When it was raced, the underbody of the 959 Paris-Dakar had been reinforced with fibre glass to help prevent damage over the testing, high-speed conditions that were endured on the rally. As a result, much of the car was in good condition, with the front axles and suspension assembly well protected. The loss of paint on the underside of the car was one of the larger signs of wear and tear, and a thin layer of rust and some corrosion was present – but then this was a near 40-year-old vehicle driven in some of the most extreme conditions that a car will ever face. Incredibly, there were no signs of considerable damage or corrosion.The heart of the 959 Paris-Dakar rally car was its engine. This was removed from the chassis in order for the restoration team to get an even closer look. The engine and gearbox of the 959 Paris-Dakar were unique, albeit with many similarities to the 959 series production models. One of the unique features of the engine and gearbox was an electronically-controlled, fixed drive shaft on the rear axle that gave the car a certain rigidity. This may sound like it could be a hindrance, but not for the Paris-Dakar Rally, where it was necessary to take on the soft, sandy desert stretches of the event.
Close-up of disassembled rear section of Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar car
After disassembly, the aim of the restoration was to put as many original parts back into the 959 Paris-Dakar as possible, but new parts were introduced if required
Once the gearbox had been fully disassembled, the restoration team was surprised to find that the damage on the 959 Paris-Dakar was no worse than the kind of wear and tear you find on any other car – the bearings and other worn-down elements were an easy fix. When it came to the gearbox housing, this was left as it was found – in good condition – leaving its patina and burned-in dirt in order to keep the integrity and history of this outstanding car intact.Although very similar to the engine of the production model, there were some aspects of the engine that were modified to make it more suitable for motorsport. However, this closeness to its road-going sibling made restoring of the engine of the 959 Paris-Dakar much simpler because of the accessibility of 959 parts. Once taken apart, the crankshaft was deemed to be almost as good as new, and wear on the pistons and cylinders was virtually undetectable. The main area of concern was to thoroughly inspect those parts of the vehicle which had water circulating through them as corrosion and rust can play havoc with an engine. However, the inside of the engine was thankfully clean and well preserved. The only signs of corrosion were on the outside of the engine, but that was a quick fix. Once the engine and powertrain had been removed from the 959 Paris-Dakar, all that remained was the suspension, dampers, wiring and oil systems. During the rally the car had undergone plenty of stress, so a deep clean of the bodywork was essential. Once the mud and dirt had been removed, some more rust was revealed, but thanks to a special treatment available, this didn’t prove to be a significant issue. One of the trickier parts of the restoration process was to replace the two coolant hoses that run through the length of the car – their age meant they had deteriorated and consequently were prone to leaks.
Birdseye view of disassembled car including seats, wheels and axles
Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar dissection – the car was fully stripped down so every element could be itemised and assessed
Another big challenge was the fuel system. Fuel goes through a series of filters and pumps before reaching the engine but given the extreme conditions that the 959 Paris-Dakar was driven in, it was inevitable that there would be a build-up of desert sand in the fuel tank. In order to ensure best performance from the fuel system, these pumps and filters were all replaced.Made from plastic and glass fibre composite, there were several repairs needed to the bodywork of the car. To many, one of the most memorable aspects of the 959 Paris-Dakar was its livery. The goal was to interfere with the exterior as little as possible. Defective parts were reinforced in a way that would help preserve their integrity. This included fixing cracks, grinding down the surface, and reinforcing it with multiple layers of epoxy resin. The Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar and Jacky IckxThe final stage of the restoration process was to reassemble all the elements of the car, along with its new ones – and then to reunite it with someone who, like the car itself, is rather special. And who better to be the first person to drive the newly recommissioned Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar than one of its drivers, Belgian motorsport legend – and six-time Le Mans winner – Jacky Ickx?
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