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With the reveal of the RUF Rodeo and the Gemballa Avalanche more recently, we decided to trace the history of off-road Porsches
It’s not exactly revolutionary to see a Porsche off the road. Nope, I’m not talking about a Cayenne or a Macan, I’m talking about a proper Porsche, a sports car. The 959 failed miserably in the 1985 Paris-Dakar rally, but in 1986 a pair of 959’s, sporting the iconic Rothmans livery, finished first and second and forever solidified Porsche’s name in Dakar history. More recently, there have been a slew of off-road ready 911’s flooding the market courtesy enthusiastic resto-modders — with jacked up suspension, four-wheel-drive in some cases and rally lights. The recipe is pretty simple, but the implementations couldn’t be more different from each other.
Before we get into the modern day off-road 911, let’s take a trip down memory lane back to when Porsche first tried to take their cars off the road. Amazingly, even the very first generation 911 was entered into a rally. It was the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally and it was a factory backed effort too. Herbert Linge guided by Peter Falk managed a respectable fifth place. Vic Elford aka "Quick Vic" on the other hand, won the 1967 European Rally Championship in a 911! While Monte Carlo was a tarmac based rally, albeit with a helping of snow, it showed the potential of the 911 in a rally.
In 1978 a pair of 911s were entered into the East African Safari Rally. Measuring almost 6000km and covering the toughest of terrains, this was no road race. Swedish driver Bjorn Waldeegard’s 911 was running in the lead for the majority of the race but he ended up finishing second after he hit a boulder that broke the rear-axle, the other 911 came in fourth. The 911 SC Safari from 1978 had a ground clearance of 280mm thanks to raised suspension, toughened floor, reinforced chassis and body, a bullbar at the front and rally lights too, similar to the modifications we are seeing today. Porsche set up the Rothmans rally team in 1984 and while the 959 failed miserably in the 1985 Paris-Dakar rally, a pair of 959’s in 1986 finished first and second and forever solidified Porsche’s name in Dakar and rally history. The road going 959’s even had a lift setting on the air suspension, should you want to take it on a rough road, not that anyone ever did. Now let’s get into the modern day off-road 911’s.
The Keen Project
Headed by Lehman Keen, the Keen Project only modifies 964 generation 911’s. You can’t just buy an old 964 and pay Lehman a bunch of money to mod it for you, he will first do a background check to make sure you don’t have any garage queens laying around and that you will properly use his creation. The creation is certainly gorgeous, a 964 generation 911 with a rally-style light pod mounted up front, bull bars front and back, sculpted mirrors and mudflaps. Mechanically the Safari 911s get off-road spec long travel suspension, torsion bars, bushings, and racing components and all terrain tyres to make it capable off the road. The car has a four-inch lift over the standard 964. The interiors tie in with the bold exterior colours and some of the funky materials are actually sourced or inspired by old Porsches. There’s a Momo steering wheel and a golf ball shift knob in there too. Lehman also organises events for the owners of these Safari 911’s, ranging from a Sunday drive on a trail or even a rally in Africa. Owning the Keen Project is an experience like no other off-road 911 in this list, you not only get to customise your car, it is perfectly comfortable trodding around town or blasting down a rally stage and yet, the rear-engined rear-wheel-drive essence of the 911 is not lost. Also, these cars just look so right.
Porsche tuner RUF built a concept off-road 911 that was originally destined to be showcased at the Geneva Motor show this year, however with Coronavirus spreading faster than gossip, that was not to be. Still, RUF showcased the Rodeo concept online. Based on the same carbonfibre monocoque chassis as some of their other models, and powered by either a turbocharged or naturally aspirated flat-six with output figures in the ballpark of 500 horses. The Rodeo is sort of a modern take on the safari 911 trend, featuring all terrain tyres, four-wheel-drive, rally lights and even a spade. The long-travel suspension and the off-road spec bullbar will also help the Rodeo be as capable as it’s looks suggest. There is no news on when the Rodeo will actually hit the roads but don’t be surprised if owners of the Rodeo use it primarily around Beverly Hills and not the Sahara Desert.
Gemballa Avalanche 4x4
The Avalanche is a creation by tuning company Gemballa. Images are restricted to sketches for now, however we do know that it will feature four-wheel-drive and performance that we are accustomed to with other Gemballa creations. The sketches showcase a 991 generation car with off-road spec tyres, increased ride height and rally-spec antennas mounted on the roof. The body panels are heavily modified with air vents everywhere and a much more aggressive appearance. The 4x4 Avalanche also features a massive rear wing with a twin-element to aid downforce, there are quad exit pipes at the rear and exposed carbonfibre littered around the car as well. The company is also toying with the idea of a juiced up Cayenne which will be named the Tornado 4x4.
Tuthill Porsche Safari 911
Another Safari 911, this one is similar to the Keen Project cars but is more focused on competitive racing as opposed to a weekend hoon machine. The Keen Project and the Tuthill Safari 911s are very similar, however they do differ in implementation. While the Keen Porsche has wild interior trims, the Tuthill Safari 911 just has a racing seat. The recipe however remains the same — lift kit, rally lights and all terrain tyres. The guys at Tuthill Porsche are as passionate and knowledgeable about the world of Porsche as it gets. They’ve done countless bespoke modifications on rare Porsche’s, with work ranging from fixing a dent to fully restoring a totalled car, these guys are serious about their Porsches. The most iconic builds to leave from the Tuthill garage, though, are the Safari 911s. Stripped to the bare tub, these cars feature competition roll cages, harnesses and high performance lights so you can drive straight to the start of a stage after buying the car, if you wish to do so. They also do double up as road cars and can be customised to comply with norms so it can wear a number plate when you want to pick up your groceries.
This crazy 911 was first showcased at SEMA 2019, our Principal Correspondent, Aatish Mishra, got to get up close with it at the PRI Show. The project is spearheaded by TJ Russell, who runs Russell Built Fabrication, and is a big time Porsche nut. He realised that the market for these kind of Porsche’s was growing and he decided to make the craziest one yet. Based on the 964 generation car, the Baja 911 gets a completely custom body fabricated from composites and prioritising durability and lightness, this Baja 911 is not all show no go. At the rear sits a beefed up 3.8-litre with a bunch of bespoke parts and a Motec ECU. It produces 360bhp and 420Nm of torque and can be optioned to deliver power to either the two rear wheels, or all four. To aid dune bashing ability the Baja 911 is outfitted with Toyo Open Country A/T II tyres. On the inside customers can spec the car the way they like, from a race ready stripped out interior to one that resembles a 70’s Porsche, the world is your oyster.
There are many more one-off off-road ready Porsche 911’s and the trend for go anywhere supercars is certainly picking up. With super-SUVs and coupe-SUVs creating their own niche in the market, we might just end up seeing a new category for these jacked up sports cars.