A 911 you can drive across fields is silly, which is why Porter wants one
‘Unlike other automotive mutants, the Dakar has some proper heritage rooted in racing’
FOR FIVE YEARS I OWNED A PORSCHE 911. Heck of a car. All that stuff you hear about 911s, all that lyrical waxing from car journos, all those reasons given for yet another evo Car of the Year victory, they’re all true. The tight, mechanically metallic sound of the engine, the busy but interesting way the steering tells you things about the road below, the helpful way the inherent weight distribution squishes the rear tyres into the tarmac to fire you out of bends, all unique and all excellent.
More than that, there’s the way regular 911s work as cars in a range of situations. On long-distance motorway journeys they’re comfortable and stable (and, given the size of the engine, weirdly economical). On B-roads they’re alert and agile. In the less exciting world of everyday concerns, they’re amazingly practical with a deceptively large boot at the front and room for two small children in the back.
I loved my 911. I went all over the place in it. And not once did I wish that I could drive it across a field. Nonetheless, and with the bloody-mindedness that saw it stick with rear engines for decades, Porsche has decided it knows better. Which is how we end up at the new Dakar, a four-wheel-drive 911 jacked up by 50mm, or 80mm in off-road mode, with bespoke slime & scheisse tyres and, its creators swear, a genuine ability to cut across terrain that would beach or break a Carrera.
A Porsche 911 you can drive across fields, up gravel tracks and over sand dunes seems like a spectacularly daft idea, as daft as a high-riding SUV that’s designed to lap tracks like a sports car. They never work either, victims of their inherent incompatibility with the role they’re having forced upon them, like a bear doing ballet. It’s a general rule that the sportiest, snortiest model in an SUV range will be the most horrible, as well as the most likely to be driven by an absolute helmet. Why can’t we accept the inherent character of a high-riding five-door truck is to be soft and boaty rather than insisting it has to be wound up tightly until it has a thuddy ride, a noisy engine and tyres that cost a grand a corner to replace?
On the surface, the 911 Dakar seems like the same problem approached from the opposite end of the pitch. Why chip away at a rear-engined Porsche’s inherent balance and poise by lifting it and making it capable of things it wasn’t originally designed for, nor which it’ll be able to do as convincingly as purposedesigned machinery? Keep your horses to the right courses. In which context the Dakar seems like a genetically mutated stallion created for a freak show. Why, then, do I find it so incredibly appealing?
The first reason might be precisely because it’s a bit silly. But the good kind of silly, the one where a car company doesn’t have to do something but does it anyway. Secondly, unlike sportscore SUVS and other automotive mutants that shouldn’t exist, the Dakar has some proper heritage rooted in functional racing reasons, and that makes it feel less of a contrivance. Thirdly, I have a suspicion it will work rather well in the real world, the one where you encounter speed bumps and potholes far more than you find yourself hitting apexes on deserted ribbons of smooth tarmac. I’d take a supple sense of breathing with the road over another few milliseconds shaved off the lap time. It’s why I find the Dakar way more interesting and relevant than the new GT3 RS.
And, actually, there’s the final reason why the Dakar has such appeal to me: it’s interesting. It’s unusual. There’s nothing else quite like it, and that’s an appealing quality in any car. It’s why I’m drawn to the Renault Sport Spider or the Fiat Multipla or, for that matter, the Dacia Jogger. After all, there aren’t any other estates with long and languidly French wheelbases in showrooms at the moment. And there aren’t any other tip-toed, faux rally sports cars. At least, not until the Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato is finally given its full reveal. I quite like the sound of that too, since you ask, because a car that stands out is always going to grab my eye.
And there’s no doubt the 911 Dakar stands out. It also proves the remarkable elasticity of the basic 911 concept, from plain but delightful Carrera T at one end to Ring butting aero nutter GT3 RS at the other, taking in Miami-spec Targas and tarty Turbo cabrios along the way. And, in their own ways, they all work. As indeed did my 911, now sadly sold. I miss it terribly and one day I’d like another. And though it defies logic and reason, if money was no object I think I’d be very happy if it was a Dakar. If you like 911s, it’s the same, but different.