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Progress Report: 1984 Porsche 953 vs 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar

The brilliant 911 Dakar meets the original 4WD Porsche as two iterations of off-road sports cars come face to face

Published: 28 Mar 2024

Ah, Rothmans vs Roughroads. That shows progress doesn't it?

Cigarette branding might be heavily frowned upon now, but you can’t argue they knew how to do a good motorsport livery 40 years ago. The 953 arrived at the height of Porsche’s association with Rothmans, and looked as good on the Dakar contender as it had on the 956 Le Mans car. But enough about the way it looks. As far as 4WD Porsches go, this is their genesis. The first ever. Before the Cayenne was so much as a twinkle. As much as a competition car, it was a rolling test bed, paving the way for the 959 in 1985.

Was it successful? 

Too right it was. Porsche entered three in the 7,000-mile Paris-Dakar in 1984 and this very car, crewed by René Metge and co-driver Dominique Lemoyne, won overall. It had a lot in common with the standard 911 road car: apart from having the compression ratio lowered to help it run on rotten fuel, the 3.2-litre engine is almost stock. The 4WD system wasn’t obviously. Power was distributed 31:69 front to rear, and the centre differential could be locked manually. Meanwhile double wishbone front suspension was fitted and the raised platform yielded 270mm of wheel travel.

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Does the new 911 Dakar have that much? 

Given it only has 50mm more ground clearance compared with a regular 911 (a max of 191mm lifted is as high as it will go), it’s highly unlikely. But this is a road car, not a competition car. It trades on the fame and reputation of the racer, but won’t tackle the Sahara with quite as much gusto. Not least because it only has a 67-litre fuel tank while the 953 has a pair – a 120-litre in the nose and another 170-litre tank behind the driver’s seat.

Which one is faster? 

The one that’s also 10 times quieter. The unsilenced 953 has to go down as one of the most raucous Porsches ever to turn a wheel. It’s hilarious, but the 1,235kg rally car only has a power to weight ratio of 180bhp per tonne. The 1,605kg 911 Dakar, equipped with a 473bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre flat six, boasts 295bhp per tonne. And an instant shift twin clutch box for 0–62mph in 3.4secs. Porsche has done a lot underneath to allow it to cope off-road, and to be fair it holds together pretty well as we cruise across the South Downs.

How's the rally car off-road? 

The real deal. Yes, the new Dakar is a capable and civilised bit of kit suitable for roof-tenting adventures a mile or two off the beaten track, but the 953? You just point that at the scenery and let it rip. This was the first sports car ever to win the mighty desert marathon. Nothing phases it. Yes, it’s physical and tiring to drive, but it’s also big hearted, softly sprung and endlessly robust.

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