Porsche 953: The 911 Carrera 3.2-Based Dakar Rally-Winning Predecessor of the 959

With 19 victories under its belt, Porsche holds the record for most wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The company responsible for the Neunelfer also participated in a few rallies, of which the Paris-Dakar Rally takes the cake.
Porsche 953 driven by Walter Rohrl 15 photos
Photo: Porsche
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No stranger to long-distance rallying, the Zuffenhausen-based automaker won the 1986 edition of the grueling event with the 959. Produced in extremely limited numbers, the rally car and its road car wouldn’t have been possible without the 953, a naturally-aspirated icon with G-body 911 origins.

Inspired by the four-wheel-drive Audi Quattro that dominated the 1982 World Rally Championship, the 953 was developed with the financial backing of Rothmans. Also worthy of note, the tobacco giant supported Porsche’s Group C sports car racing effort for the better part of the 1980s.

Alternately known as 911 Carrera 3.2 4x4 Paris-Dakar, the 953 program started in earnest in February 1983. The Weissach-based motorsport department subsequently began testing in Algeria in September 1983. A grand total of three vehicles were produced: WPOZZZ91ZES100020, WPOZZZ91ZES100021, and WPOZZZ91ZES100022. The best-known 953 is WPOZZZ91ZES100021, bearer of two BB PW 846 license plates.

From a mechanical standpoint, the overlander that won the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally started life in the guise of a 911 Carrera. Shared with Audi, the four-wheel-drive system of the 953 uses a 31:69 manually-locking center differential that splits the torque generated by a rear-mounted boxer.

Porsche 953
Photo: Stefan Bogner for Porsche
Reinforced where it matters, the 953 is dressed in fiberglass panels. A roll cage made from high-strength steel also needs to be mentioned, along with a ground clearance of 270 millimeters. Rather than using the MacPherson struts of the G-body 911 for their off-road legend, Porsche developed a double-wishbone arrangement with a single purpose in mind: durability.

Bilstein dampers augment the wishbones up front, whereas the rear end is equipped with coil-over shocks and semi-trailing arms. The 80-liter (21.1-gallon) fuel tank of the 911 Carrera 3.2 was yanked out in favor of a 120-liter (31.7-gallon) fuel tank, located under the front lid. Paris-Dakar is a long-distance rally, as mentioned beforehand, which explains why a 150-liter (39.6-gallon) fuel tank had to be installed behind the driver’s seat.

What about the area behind the passenger’s seat? Given the limited cargo space of the 911 from that era, that’s where spares and tools are located. Although it wasn’t designed for on-track shenanigans, the 953 flaunts uprated brakes and a switch that adjusts the braking system’s balance.

Spruced up with 15- by 7- and 8-inch forged alloys from German company Fuchsfelge, the 953 rides on specially-designed tires. The Dunlop-supplied rubber boots measure 205 by 70 by 15 inches, which is 26.3 inches in overall diameter. Under the hood, the six-pot lump of the 911 Carrera 3.2 had its compression ratio lowered from 10.3:1 to 9.0:1 because of the poor-quality gas available in Africa. Other than that, it’s pretty much stock.

Porsche 953
Photo: Stefan Bogner for Porsche
The dinosaur juice can be pumped from one tank to another in the name of weight distribution, which matters a lot when driving at high speed on such difficult terrain. Capable of cranking out 228 horsepower (231 ps) and 210 pound-feet (285 Nm) of torque at 4,800 rpm in the 911 Carrera, the 3.2-liter boxer in the 953 isn’t as potent because of the lower compression ratio.

Be that as it may, the curb weight is mighty impressive, thanks to the aforementioned fiberglass panels. Tipping the scales at approximately 2,750 pounds (1,247 kilograms), the 953 further sweetens the deal with drilled bumpers and polycarbonate for many bits and pieces.

Stripped of pretty much every creature comfort of the road-going car, the off-road model is rocking four-point harnesses and Recaro fire-proof bucket seats. Despite these weight-saving measures, the crew always carried snake and scorpion antivenom in the first aid kit. Roughly the same weight as the stock 911 Carrera 3.2, the 953 uses a Type 915 five-speed manual transaxle with an oil cooler, a racing clutch, and a composite shaft.

427 competitors, split between 313 cars and trucks plus 114 motorcycles, lined up for the sixth running of the Paris-Dakar Rally. Over the course of 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles), no fewer than 279 vehicles had to retire. The 953 of Rene Metge and Dominic Lemoyne came in first with a time of 16 hours and 58 minutes. The Jacky Ickx/Claude Brasseur and Roland Kussmaul/Erich Lerner sister cars finished in 6th and 26th.

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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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