Porsche is one of the greatest car companies on Earth, makers of refined, comfortable, classically styled, and enthusiast-focused cars. The 911, in particular, conjures images of old touring championships and lone, focused drivers stuck to the tarmac enjoying the finer things in life.
But Porsche’s history isn’t all Rolex and caviar. Sometimes they get downright dirty. Today, I want to tell you about Porsche’s secret rally history and, specifically, the Safari Rally that inspired our Ideal build.
Ever since the automobile was invented, people have raced them. It’s just human nature to want to push the machine, to experience speed right up to the very limits. You also get bonus points if that racing is extremely dangerous. And I would know; Danger is my middle name. Or is it my last name?
In the Beginning, There Was Dust
Anyway, in the beginning, there was dust. Tons and tons and tons of dust. I’m talking about the East African Safari Rally. First held in 1953, it was a race held in celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
So, what is the Safari Rally? It’s a race that spans multiple African countries, features some of the most unforgiving roads ever built by man, and has developed a reputation for being the most difficult and most dangerous rally stage ever conceived.
Now, at first, there were no Porsches in the race. Porsche didn’t really do the whole “off-road” thing at the time. But, they did want to prove that their new 911 was fast and reliable. So, in the early 60s, they entered the Monte Carlo rally and won. That, apparently, gave them the confidence they needed to get in on the world’s toughest stage.
Porsche Enters the Fray
It was 1973 and Porsche wanted to prove that the 911 was the ultimate car. Unfortunately, the suspension blew up. The 911 didn’t even finish the race. A Datsun 240Z ended up taking the title instead.
The next year, Porsche was back in it, but the course had changed. Normally, dust and wildlife are your biggest obstacles. In 1974, it was mud. Still, Porsche was ready. The cars this year were 3 inches taller, had long-travel suspension developed with the Baja Racing series, bash plates, pull bars, and extra lights. It was a proper off-road beast. And they had a driver upgrade.
The torrential rains made the roads hard for even the most hardcore Land Rover support trucks to navigate. But, for the majority of the race, the Porsche team looked incredible. They led for nearly three-quarters of the grueling race. And, just when the finish line was in sight, disaster struck.
A suspension link broke and the Porsche team was left in the dust at the last minute. Still, a second-place finish at one of the most difficult races ever held is pretty good. Porsche was learning how to dominate off-road as well as on-road. And then, they left WRC.
Things Got Bloody
So, what happened? I honestly don’t know. Porsche seemed on top of the rally world. But, after only a handful of WRC races, in 1974, they just left the series. There were still Porsches racing, they just weren’t Porsche factory teams. In fact, a 911 took the win a few times during the 70s, including some victories with what is probably the most famous Safari Porsche ever, the privately owned 1978 911 SC.
Then, suddenly, in 1984, Porsche just reappeared in the off-road scene and stuck around just long enough to win the Paris-Dakar with the absolutely beautiful 959 Group B car. Unfortunately, Group B was abolished in 1986 after some really horrific crashes. And that may also be why the Safari Rally fell out of style with the big manufacturers earlier.
See, the Safari rally wasn’t just hard on cars, more drivers and spectators had fatal accidents in the African mud than at any other stage in the history of rally. My theory is that Porsche only wants to compete if they’re pushing the edge. They rewrote the book on street racing more than few times, even creating one of the most dominant race cars of all time: the 917 Can-Am killer, and then again with the 935 “Moby Dick,” which is definitely a story for another time. And they were serious competitors in the off-road world where they entered.
Safari? Dakar? Group B? Those are some of the most hardcore races on Earth. And, rather than move their resources to slower races in the name of safety, they’d rather just drop out and focus on things like Le Mans and the Nurburgring. So, over time, people just sort of forgot that Porsche once ruled the dirt as well as the road. There are even people that will go so far as to say that a Porsche is ruined if it goes off-road. Fortunately, a bunch of nutjobs pushed to keep classic Porsche rally racing around.
It’s really hard to say when the modern Safari craze started. In 2003, the “Safari Classic Rally” started up, where people brought their vintage rally cars out to the mud to race. Hell yeah. What I don’t know is whether the reboot of the Safari Rally made the Safari style popular or if it was the other way around. Near the same time, Tuthill was building their own classic Safari Porsches and racing them and companies like Elephant Racing, Keen Project, and Singer were selling converted Porsches to the public.
Regardless of whether the chicken or the egg came first, nowadays air-cooled Safaris are hugely popular. They even made it into Forza Horizon 5, presumably. Between Keen and RWB alone, the price of an unmolested air-cooled 911 has skyrocketed, which is why I don’t have one. But what I do have is a 997.
My Blue 997
Guys, I’ll be honest with you, I think water-cooled Safaris are going to be the next big thing. You can watch me build my car in our video. But, long story short, I always wanted something that could do it all. Something fun to drive that still turns heads and can tackle the Pacific Northwest without (and this is important) breaking down all the time.
Basically, everything that Porsche was thinking back in the early 70s when the first 911 rally cars were tearing up the mud and sand in Africa. It’s not the world’s ugliest Porsche anymore. This is a tribute to some of the most bad-ass cars to ever exist and I fully intend to continue with this journey I’m on. We’re barely even started with where this car can go.