30 years on: Nis­san’s iconic 1987 Paris-Dakar rally car rides again

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

DUBAI: Af­ter ex­actly 30 years away from the pub­lic eye, Nis­san has brought one of its most iconic motorsport ma­chines back to life. The stun­ning 1987 Nis­san Pa­trol Fanta Li­mon Paris Dakar rally car has been fully re­stored to its for­mer glory, and made an emo­tional re­turn to its spir­i­tual home in the sand dunes of the Sa­ha­ran desert.

The car’s leg­endary sta­tus is sec­ond to none, writ­ing its very own chap­ter in Dakar mythol­ogy. It took vic­tory in the diesel cat­e­gory, and was the first diesel car to ever fin­ish in the race’s over­all top 10, tak­ing ninth spot. To­day, all the top cars are diesels.

The Fanta Li­mon car has been given a new lease of life thanks to a ded­i­cated team of en­gi­neers at Nis­san’s Euro­pean Tech­ni­cal Cen­tre (NTCE) in Barcelona, Spain. For more than two years they re­stored the car af­ter work and at week­ends, turn­ing it from a rust­ing wreck in a Span­ish mu­seum to a highly ca­pa­ble off-road racer.

Pe­dro Diaz Il­lan is Man­ager of the Elec­tri­cal and Elec­tron­ics En­gi­neer­ing team at NTCE, and the only mem­ber of the orig­i­nal 1987 team still work­ing there. “That was a proud mo­ment. Our brains, hearts and souls have gone into this project and it has not been easy. But to see the car in the desert again was just fan­tas­tic.” The story of the car’s suc­cess in the 1987 Paris-Dakar rally starts the year be­fore, when Nis­san Motorsport de­vised a plan to take part in high-pro­file off-road en­durance ral­lies. The base ve­hi­cle was to be the Pa­trol Nis­san’s pop­u­lar 4x4 ve­hi­cle - with the team at NTCE in Spain lead­ing the project.

The spon­sor­ship with Fanta Li­mon came through links be­tween Nis­san Spain and drinks brand Coca-Cola, which was look­ing to ex­ploit the global pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated by the Paris-Dakar race. Suc­cess came quickly, with vic­to­ries in the diesel class in three events dur­ing 1986 (see re­sults ta­ble, be­low).

But the main tar­get was the Paris-Dakar. It be­gan on 1 Jan­uary 1987, with 312 ve­hi­cles lin­ing up at the start of the gru­elling 13,000 km race through Europe, Al­ge­ria, Niger, Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia and Sene­gal. The Nis­san Fanta Li­mon team en­tered two ve­hi­cles; car 211 with Miguel Pri­eto and Ra­mon Ter­mens as driver and co-driver re­spec­tively, and car 212, crewed by brothers Jorge and Hansi Babler.

Things did not run smoothly. The team’s sup­port truck broke down on the sec­ond stage, leav­ing the pair with­out spares for the rest of the race. Car 212 was even­tu­ally forced to with­draw af­ter rolling down a dune, but 211 bat­tled on to the end. It was the first diesel to fin­ish, in ninth place over­all.

Mis­sion ac­com­plished, the cars were re­tired from rac­ing. The where­abouts of 212 is un­known, but 211 was of­fered to the Sal­vador Claret, a pri­vate car col­lec­tion and au­to­mo­tive mu­seum south of Girona, Spain. There it re­mained for al­most three decades.

The idea for re­cov­er­ing the car came in Fe­bru­ary 2014, when NTCE tech­ni­cians spot­ted images of it on an in­ter­net fo­rum. Re­al­is­ing the 30th an­niver­sary was less than three years away, they con­tacted the mu­seum to ask for it back.

Juan Villegas, an NTCE tech­ni­cian and part of the restora­tion team, ex­plained: “The en­gine was in ter­ri­ble con­di­tion. It was im­pos­si­ble to start and many parts were heav­ily cor­roded. The front axle was quite dam­aged, but the worst thing was the electrics, which had been badly at­tacked by rats.”

The wreck was trans­ported to NTCE Barcelona in May 2014 and the eight-strong restora­tion team be­gan work, us­ing their own time at evenings and week­ends. They searched all over Europe for parts, ask­ing Nis­san deal­ers to search their ware­houses for old stock. Some com­po­nents were bought used and also re­stored.

Juan added: “We wanted the car to be ac­cu­rate in ev­ery way, and were lucky to get the very old draw­ings and ser­vice man­u­als from NTCE. We fol­lowed all the fine ad­just­ments to get the ex­act Paris-Dakar race set-up.”

In Novem­ber 2016 the Pa­trol was com­plete and made a re­turn to its spir­i­tual home - the sand dunes of the Sa­hara. It was an amaz­ing mo­ment for the team.

Juan com­mented: “The spirit of in­no­va­tion that was at the heart of Nis­san’s en­try into the 1987 Paris-Dakar has been all around us as we have com­pleted this project. We felt in­spired by the mem­ory of that team, which de­cided to par­tic­i­pate in the most chal­leng­ing race in the world and achieved such suc­cess.”

The restora­tion’s cost has been cov­ered by Nis­san as part of its ‘Per­for­mance In­no­va­tion’ fund. It’s a pot of money set aside each year for projects which bring the com­pany’s brand prom­ise - In­no­va­tion That Ex­cites - to life.

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