Let’s suppose you had created an FIA Group B road race car in the early 1980s and then the whole focus of Group B changed to rallying? Well, you would simply transform your road car into an off-road car. However, suppose you were concerned about throwing a new car into that arena against competitors who were lighter and had a few years headstart on development (eg: the then all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro)? And suppose you didn’t really want to spend the money for a whole season of WRC? Well, you might look to some other Group B venue for your new car, and that is just what Porsche did with its 959 in 1984.
Helmuth Bott is credited with pushing to see how far the 911 engine could go if married to an all wheel drive system. When the Group B rules changed, Porsche realized it would be hard pressed to compete with the WRC cars, but it still wanted to get the marketing benefit of racing. The solution was to use another form of competitive racing to advertise the car, and to use this new platform for technology development. Racing had always been a good laboratory for Porsche, so the new vehicle went ahead. They ran into a challenge right away as the homologation rules did not allow for the 959 to be entered as produced. You needed to build 200 cars. So instead, they modified a 911 to 959 specs in the first year out. Essentially it was a twin turbo charged 911 engine with watercooled heads. The alternate venue that they chose for racing was the Paris Dakar Rally. After all, what better environment could there be for harsh testing of a new platform and technologies?
Porsche added world Champion Jacky Ickx to the driver lineup in 1984, and the cars were victorious with a 1-2 finish. In 1985 they returned with a trio of true homologated 959 cars, but it was not a good year as all three failed to finish. 1986 seems to have been the magic year as the 959 finished 1st, 2nd, and 5th at Dakar. In Road racing form it was called the 961, and the car went on to win first in its class in 1986 At LeMans and seventh overall. An impressive year that accomplished the competitive and advertising goals. The 959 Rally car remains an interesting detour into the dirt, for a car and a marque renown for its excellence on the road.