It’s hard to imagine a modern supercar competing in the Paris-Dakar Rally, but that’s exactly what the Porsche 959 did back in the 1980s. This video from Porsche’s “Top Five” YouTube series explains how the 959 morphed from supercar to rally car.
The all-wheel-drive 959 was designed with an eye toward Group B rallying, but the category was eliminated before the car was ready. Instead, Porsche shifted focus to the grueling Dakar Rally.
After some success with all-wheel-drive versions of the 911 in the Dakar Rally, Porsche entered three prototype 959s in the 1985 running. These cars had similar bodywork to the road car (which didn’t start production until 1986), and a simplified version of its all-wheel-drive system, but with 911-spec engines. All three failed to finish.
In 1986, Porsche returned to the Dakar with upgraded 959 rally cars. They sported a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system with multiple modes, while a 2.8-liter twin-turbocharged flat-6 similar to the 959 road-car engine replaced the previous naturally aspirated 3.2-liter flat-6.
1985 Paris-Dakar Porsche 959 to be sold at auction
The Dakar-spec engine made about 400 horsepower, down from the road car’s 444 hp. This was done to account for the unavailability of high-octane fuel along the desert race course, according to Porsche. The automaker also fitted larger fuel tanks, and reinforced suspension.
Porsche once again entered three cars for the 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally, which finished first, second and sixth. That was enough for the automaker which decided to then retire from desert rallying.
With its emphasis on electronics and lightweight materials, the 959 road car helped set the template for the modern supercar. Meanwhile, the Paris-Dakar rally cars are now likely too valuable to ever see dirt and sand again. Even one of the unsuccessful 1985 cars sold for nearly $6 million at auction in 2018.
If you want to delve further into Porsche history, check out the automaker’s “Top Five” videos for rally cars and secret prototypes.