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Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar: 1986 Rally Winning Technology

Porsche 959 Paris Dakar

1986 sees the robust Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar finish first and second during the Paris-Dakar rally.

The Paris To Dakar Rally is an endurance rally raid event that’s internationally identified as being one of the most difficult off-road motorsport events in the world. The legendary competition sees competitors crossing as much as 9,000 miles as they make their way through some of the planet’s most hostile terrains and conditions. Porsche decided to enter the rally to put the 959 through its paces.

Historical video of Porsche winning the 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally. Source: YouTube- oldSCCAguy yah

Porsche 959
Source: Auto Zeitung

In January 1985, three 959 vehicles were sent to the Paris-Dakar rally to make their mark. Unfortunately, all three cars would end up retired due to accidents or mechanical failures. Going back to the drawing board, Porsche returned in 1986 with the 959 as a radically different unit to take first and second place in the rally raid. To find out the winning changes let’s look at this car in more detail.


From a material point of view, the 959 set a new standard. A mixture of aluminum, synthetics, and galvanized sheet steel decreased the car’s weight to a minimum, improving the performance.

Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar
Robin Adams ©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

While the aerodynamics of a sports car strives for the lowest potential drag coefficient, the engineers of the 959 had something different in mind – the prevention of buoyancy. The Porsche 959 has approximately the same downforce at both high and low speeds.

Four-wheel Drive Driving Programs

The Porsche 953 was victorious in the 1984 Paris-Dakar rally in the hands of René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne on its very first encounter. This spurred the Porsche team on to repeat that success. In the following years, the first generation of the 959 Paris Dakar cars from 1985 had the simplified four-wheel drive of the 911.

The year after 1986 though the 959 Paris-Dakar models set a new technological standard. The decision concerning what was best for the vehicle was now made in collaboration with a computer.

Computers for 4wd

The four-wheel drive had four different driving programs:

  • The first mode provided a stiff connection of rear and front axle mode and was named traction.
  • Mode two was derived from the street-legal 959. This mode, called ice, allowed a continuous increase of locking on the axles.
  • The third and fourth modes were automatic functions that optimized differential speed, engine power, along with many more features.
Front of Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar rally car
Robin Adams ©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Engine of the 1986 Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar

Comparing both model years, the engine of the reworked 1986 959 Paris-Dakar is an engineering masterpiece. The Bi-Turbo unit produces 400 horsepower.

Engine of 1985 Porsche 959
1985 Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar. Robin Adams ©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

six titanium connecting rods operate the seven bearing crankshaft. Two overhead camshafts on the two-cylinder heads of the flat engine keep four valves per combustion chamber running intact.

Although the headwork is conducted in a water-cooled environment, the cylinders are air-cooled. Mixed cooling additionally creates an effective water heating of the interior of the car.

Probably the most significant technical highlight is, without a doubt, the two-stage sequential turbocharging. The second turbocharger joins when the rpm and the pressure are right to get the maximum performance without any turbo lags.

1986 Porsche 959
1986 Paris-Dakar 959. Source: Porsche

Further Alterations after 1985

The Porsche engineers decreased the power of the 959 Paris-Dakar to 400 horsepower for a rather practical reason – the appropriate racing fuel was rare in the desert.

Octane 98

There were times when the teams had to refuel with 86 octane. Therefore, they chose to have less boost pressure and adjusted the electronic ignition accordingly.

Furthermore, the Paris-Dakar had a 200 liter capacity in the fuel tanks to make the vehicle even more stable in the desert.

fuel tank

The suspension was also re-designed to be heavy-duty.

Victory in ’86

In 1986 the 959 performed its duty. Porsche started the Paris Dakar in early 1986 with the same driver setup they had used the year before. Jacky Ickx, René Metge, and Roland Kussmaul drove the three 959 models through the desert.

1986 Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar
Source: Car Throttle
Roland Kussmaul. Source: Reddit

The 1986 edition was the hardest Paris Dakar rally to date, but the updated model proved their performance. Metge led the Race with Ickx in striking distance and Kussmaul at a safe distance right behind the two leaders.

Victory in the 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally

After traveling 8,575 miles in 22 days, only 67 competitors of the 488 starters showed up in Dakar.

Porsche finished first and second, and sixth place ( the third vehicle was just meant to be a support vehicle). After this success, Porsche saw the mission of the Paris-Dakar Rally raid accomplished and did not compete at any desert rallies in the following years.

Number one

The Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar was constructed just six times with three models each for the 1985 and 1986 editions of the fabulous rally.

[Source: Porsche AG]