For the 4X4 enthusiast or everyday petrol head, the Dakar Rally presents an alluringly demanding challenge. Founded in 1978, this hard-core “rally raid” is a far cry from the WRC – with mile after mile of gruelling terrain surmountable only by the toughest of off-road machines.
Given the demands of the rally, you’d expect participants to be hardened pros with years of off-road driving experience – but no. On average, around 80% of those racing the Dakar are amateurs, and boy do they turn up with some weird, wonderful and outright crazy vehicles.
To find out just how crack-a-jack Dakar drivers are, here are 9 of the craziest cars ever entered into the rally.
1. Porshe 959
Tuned for the Nurburgring by a hodgepodge of German boffins, on paper – the Porshe 959 has no place in the Dakar Rally. That didn’t stop the car manufacturer entering three vehicles in the 1986 rally however, where they took first, second and fifth place respectively – not bad for a European sports car.
2. BMW 1-Series
Better suited to the fast lane than the South American wilderness, the BMW 1-Series is an affordable sports hatch and the baby of the BMW range. In 2008, Pascal Boutet entered his modified 1-Series into the Dakar – but all was not as it seems. Beneath the custom-built fibreglass shell sat a 3.0-litre BMW engine with a space-age 4X4 system. The result? 115mph, on sand.
3. Jules Proto 6X4 Racer
Sponsored by Christian Dior’s macho fragrance brand, Jules, this heavily modified racer was more akin to a Mad Max war-rig than a regular Dakar racer. With six wheels and a powerful V8 under the hood, the Jules machine looked promising – but was forced to retire after its chassis splintered.
4. Peugeot 2008 DKR
Taking off-road madness into unexplored territory, the Peugeot 2008 DKR is about as hard-core as it gets, and was specifically built by Peugeot Sport as a mean – yet not so lean – frontrunner in the 2015 race. With stealth bomber styling and tyres that could fend-off machine gun fire, this is one ride to look out in future Dakar races.
5. Renault 4
Take a Renault 4 that’s spent its days teetering the streets of Paris, plonk it in the middle of the Sahara, and what do you get? Only a nimble, agile racer that took second place in the 1979 Dakar. Driven by the Marreau brothers, this charming wee car won the hearts of enthusiasts and rivals alike, and snuck its way to a respectable podium finish.
6. Mercedes SLC
Heavy, cumbersome and about the same size as the desert itself, the Mercedes SLC was an obscure choice for the Dakar Rally. Two optimistic amateurs raced SLCs in the 1984 Dakar, where they came 44th and 62nd respectively – which isn’t too bad, given that everything about the car screams, “built for road-use only”.
7. Rolls Royce
Built for transporting oligarchs to and from their Pimlico abodes, the Rolls Royce is synonymous with elegant, refined and ever-so comfortable travel. We doubt however, that the driver of this particular Roller was bragging about ride comfort after competing in a Paris to Dakar rally. Surprisingly, given the car’s weight and complete inappropriateness, it finished the race – though not in a memorable position.
8. Jaguar XJ6
Like the Roller, the Jaguar XJ6 was built to provide refined comfort to those wealthy enough to afford one. In 2002 however, a band of Dutch amateurs entered their clapped-out, somewhat modified XJ6 into the Dakar – pushing the car light years beyond its comfort zone. The result? The team completed the race, thanks in part to the car’s unoriginal Range Rover chassis.
9. Citroen DS
Once upon time, the Citroen DS was the epitome of French car design, and in 1999, Classic & Sports Car magazine named it the most beautiful car ever built. Despite its about-town charm, Bertrand Roncin took a plucky DS to Dakar in 1981, where it made it to the finish line with little to no technical hiccups.
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