The greatest version of the 959 is, and always will be, the Rothman’s liveried Paris-Dakar racing version. Built in 1985 for three-time Dakar winner René Metge, this 959 is just one of three cars produced by Porsche to take on the grueling Paris-Dakar rally that year. The 1985 rally didn’t go well for Porsche, unfortunately, as this very car retired early with an oil line failure, and the other two cars crashed. Many a lesson was learned, however, as Porsche took first, second, and sixth in the following year.
A lifted Porsche 911 wouldn’t win the race in 2021, yet in 1984, that’s exactly what happened thanks to René Metge, who was followed by teammate Jacky Ickx in sixth place. After what’s internally known as the 953, Porsche used the mule of a 959 with the powertrain of a 911 Carrera 4 in 1985, only to retire all three cars with mechanical problems.
The 1984 cars were little more than 3.2-liter 911 4x4s raised up accordingly. How that was enough with French ace René Metge behind the wheel to beat a V8 Range Rover and a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution remains Porsche’s secret.
The three 1985 cars that already looked like 959s were missing the twin-turbo engine, as well as the latest evolution of Porsche’s four-wheel drive system. With no Porsche finishing, the 1985 Dakar went to a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, the SUV that won this desert race a whopping 12 times.
As a result of their poor history, two of the three non-turbocharged 1985 Paris-Dakar 959s are in private hands by now. The factory sold chassis No. 015 just two years ago for a hefty $5.9 million, while chassis No. 014 driven by Jacky Ickx popped up for sale earlier this year.
The 959 took both first and second place in the 1986 Paris-Dakar rally. For 1986, the Dakar Porsches finally got all the upgrades from the 959 project, including the active four-wheel drive system offering four driving modes adjusted by the computers. This gave Porsche a 1-2 finish, with supporting 959 Dakar engineer Unger Kussmaul crossing the line at sixth. Once the champagne had dried up, Porsche deemed its Dakar program accomplished.
The 959’s 2.85-liter engine features double overhead cams with four valves per cylinder, a seven-bearing crankshaft and six titanium connecting rods, air-cooled cylinders with a water-cooled head, and of course a pair of two-stage sequential turbochargers supplied by long-time Porsche partner Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch.
With four traction modes available on-demand, the 1986 Dakar 959s were also detuned to 400 horsepower to be able to run on gasoline as low in quality as 86 octane available in the deserts across Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea and Senegal. Fifty-three-gallon tanks were filled up over and over again so that after 22 days and 8,700 miles off-road, Metge and Ickx could score Porsche’s 1-2.
Porsche produced only seven examples of this race-prepped rally rocket. Five of those remain and it is believed that two or three reside in private collections. As a 1985 model, this car boasts a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter flat-6 out back.