Best Porsche cars ever: Porsche 953 Paris Dakar

The gruelling Paris Dakar isn’t for sports cars, so it’s just as well this Porsche 953 is no ordinary 911

Key specs
Engine6cyl boxer
Capacity3.2 litres
Top speedN/A

Porsche evidently likes a challenge, with its preferred motorsport definitely falling into the endurance category rather than sprint. The Le Mans/Daytona 24-hour races and the other classic endurance events are where Porsche proves its mettle on track, although it’s equally as determined when it decides to go rallying.

The Paris-Dakar presents a challenge equal to, if not greater than, those classic 24-hour endurance races, and Porsche is notable among sports-car makers for accepting that challenge, having won the gruelling race twice, most famously with its 959 in 1986, but prior to that with this car, a modified, four-wheel-drive 911 SC which, in typical Porsche fashion, has its own model designation, the 953. 

Porsche was exploring the benefits of four-wheel drive in the eighties, and the 953 was used as a testbed for that, with the company running three 953s in the 1984 Paris Dakar in advance of campaigning the 959. Proof of concept would be the fact that the car won after three weeks of driving in the toughest of conditions, with Paris-Dakar specialist René Metge partnering with Dominque Lemoyne in the winning entry. That duo also took the win in 1986 in the 959, Porsche’s efforts in the challenging rally underlining not just the benefits of its four-wheel drive system, but also the car’s reliability in the toughest of conditions. 

Riding on a high, 270mm modified suspension with twin shock absorbers and additional rear coil springs, the 953 is an unusual sight among all the low-slung racers at Goodwood, although it must have looked similarly incongruous among the more usual off-roaders, pick-up trucks and buggies that make up the majority of the competition in the Dakar rally. 

With around 300bhp from its 3.2-litre flat-six engine, the 953’s four-wheel drive system directs its drive between the axles in a ratio of 31 per cent to the front and 69 per cent to the rear. The body was strengthened with the inclusion of a welded-in steel roll cage, and a pair of fuel tanks with a combined 270-litre capacity were added. Porsche also removed any unnecessary weight by adding polycarbonate doors and bumpers, and also replacing all the glass – bar the windscreen – with lighter plastic items. 

Clambering in through the roll cage is easier than with Porsche’s racing 911s, that SUV-rivalling height being advantageous. It’s all very functional inside, with simple instrumentation, plentiful warning lights and an exposed fusebox in what would usually be the glovebox. A competition car is all about purpose rather than looking good, and this one wears its intent unapologetically. It starts on the key, the flat-six’s timbre fizzing through the cabin, the gearstick, with its dog-leg first requiring back and left to select the ratio. There’s a huge mechanical knob to manually adjust the four-wheel drive, but it doesn’t need any consideration because the run up the Goodwood hill is nothing for a car that’s endured three weeks of flat-out abuse in the world’s toughest rally raid. 

Pulling away from the start line, I nearly stall; the gearing is longer than anticipated, the flywheel lighter, too, so as I engage the clutch, the revs drop quickly and the 953 bogs down. More revs and it picks up pace, proving straightforward to drive, and it’s impossible to resist the temptation to cut the corners and kick up some dust for the assembled crowds. The 953’s place in Porsche’s history is often overlooked, but it pioneered four-wheel drive for the firm, and proved the versatility of its 911 sports car. Usefully, too, it’s also given Porsche the opportunity to create the current 911 Dakar.

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