THE FIVER To celebrate the 34th running of this most epic of motorsport events, here are five of the coolest cars from the early days of the race.
Renault 4 … 1979
The Marreau brothers were considered crazy. Even by French standards. Their weapon of choice for the 1982 race was the Renault 4 – a 20bhp, front-wheel-drive tin can with a suspension best described as “bouncy", that came stone last in the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally. Granted, Claude and Bernard did have a special four-wheel-drive version with added power… but still. Incredibly, their mobile sauna not only finished, but came 2nd, beaten only by a Range Rover.
VW Type 183 … 1980
Most think VW first won the Dakar with the mighty Race Touareg that dominated the race from 2009-11. Not so. It was in fact the little Iltis (German for ‘polecat’) – a VW military vehicle and something of an ancestor to Audi’s legendary Quattro rally car. VW had just bought Auto Union and they were keen to use some of the newly acquired tech. Using an Audi-prepared Iltis with its 1.7-litre, four-cylinder engine, and all-wheel-drive, Freddy Kottulinsky and Gerd Löffelmann entered – and won – the 1980 race.
Rolls Royce Corniche … 1981
Back in the early days of the Dakar, you had to be a bit mental to enter. Back-up and logistics were mere after thoughts. Given the requisite state of mind, most entrants were naturally French. And none more crazed than Thierry de Montcorgé who – thanks to a bet with his friends – entered a Rolls Royce. With a special lightweight body, a Land Cruiser 4x4 system and a 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8 fitted to his Roller, Thierry finished the race.
Porsche 959 … 1986
This road-going supercar, originally designed for the Group B racing formula, was easily the most technologically advanced car of its day. A sophisticated four-wheel drive system and twin-turbo 2.8-litre flat six engine made it an interesting, if somewhat left-field choice, for the Dakar. Racing legend Jacky Ickx, however, reckoned was right on the money. With Ickx at the helm, they entered three cars in the 1986 race, coming 1st, 2nd and 5th.
Peugeot 405 Turbo 16 R … 1989
The Peugeot 405 was a nondescript, boxy, four-door sedan. The 405 Turbo 16 R was anything but that. Losing two doors and sprouting the tallest rear spoiler ever seen, this was a 400bhp mid-engined, four-wheel-drive prototype rocket that borrowed the important bits from Peugeot’s all-conquering 205 T16 rally car. In the hands of world rally champ Ari Vatanen, the 405 simply obliterated the field in 1989 and 90.
(as published in the Kulula in-flight magazine)