The curious history of the Porsche G-Wagen

The visitors of Porsche Museum in Stuttgart might be surprised to see another Stuttgart creation take center stage right next to Porsche’s venomous 959 supercar. Both resplendent in matching Rothmans paint, the story of the Porsche 959 and his 1986 Paris-Dakar rout are well known. Less well known is the role played by the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen in Porsche’s Dakar triumph.

The story begins a year earlier with three Porsche 959s taking part in the grueling rally of around 13,000 kilometres. Early in development, all three cars retired, one with a ruptured oil line while the other two cars suffered crashes at the end of the Dakar.

Undeterred, Porsche doubled down the following year, building three new 959s. But, it was with the old and with the new. Gone is the naturally aspirated 3.2-litre flat-six stolen from the 911 Carrera and in its place, Porsche’s new twin-turbocharged 2.8-litre flat-six, the same engine that would underpin the road versions of its supercar . Porsche was ready to face the Dakar again.

To prepare for the January 1986 event, Porsche entered two 959s in the Rally of the Pharaohs, a traditional preparatory event for the Dakar held in October in Egypt. While its race distance, at 3100km, was a bit shorter than Dakar, the conditions in the desert mirrored those of its more famous counterpart, a perfect platform to test the 959’s mettle.

To support the two 959s entered – one for the Qatari driver Said Al-Hajiri and one for the Belgian legend Jacky Ickx – Principal Engineer of Porsche Roland Kussmaul uses the services of a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. But it wasn’t just any old G-Wagen.

You have to remember that in 1985 the monstrous AMG G65 didn’t exist in Merc’s line of utility off-roaders. The most powerful engine found under the hood of Merc’s box-on-wheels in 1985 was a 2.8-liter gasoline inline-six rated at around 116 kW.

Kussmaul had used the Gelandewagen during Porsche’s 1985 Dakar campaign, but came away unhappy with the performance of Merc’s workhorse who struggled to keep up with his trio of rally supercars. Keeping pace with competing cars was essential for a service vehicle, a vehicle filled with spare parts of all types to counter any mishaps that might befall competitors.

Kussmaul’s solution for the 1986 campaign? Shoehorn a Porsche V8 under the square hood of the G-Wagen. And that’s exactly what he did.

The donor engine was from a European-spec Porsche 928S, a 4.7 liter V8 pump a respectable 228kW. It became known internally as Porsche im Schafspelzor Porsche disguised as a sheep.

Of course, no 1980s motorsport story would be complete without a sting in the tail, and this one is no different.

Porsche took the G-Wagen to the Pharaohs Rally. There to support the two 959s in competition, the Porsche G-Wagen soon found itself embroiled in an adventure of a different kind after the disaster that struck the Rothmans-backed team.

Shortly before the start of the Cairo rally, a fire took hold of the brand new 959 of Jacky Ickx and his co-driver Wolf-Hendrik Unger. The fire destroyed the car (and contributed to a historic footnote, where records show “Porsche built a total of seven 959 Gruppe Bs… only six remain” #SadFace).

This left Porsche’s campaign with only one entry, Al-Hajiri’s 959. We don’t know what Kussmaul was thinking. Maybe he thought he would get bored maintaining just one car. Maybe he thought he could have a little fun in the deserts of Egypt with the Porsche V8 under the hood of the four-wheel-drive Merc. Whatever the reason, Kussmaul entered the Porsche G-Wagen to compete in Egypt because, why not?

She finished second, beaten only by the car she was responsible for maintaining – Al-Hajiri’s Porsche 959. Title sponsor Rothmans would have been delighted.

Three months later, Kussmaul’s Porsche-powered G-Wagen was downgraded to service vehicle status once again, as the factory effort now numbered three 959s. Unfortunately, the G-Wagen returned the early on, just like a second Porsche support vehicle.

This left Kussmaul in the third Porsche 959, now acting as a service vehicle filled with as many spare parts as it could fit in its sleek body.

But the 959 from Kussmaul was still in competition and after 22 days and 12,679 km, the German engineer found himself in sixth place.

As for the other Porsche 959s? They finished first and second, with France Rene Metge and Dominique Lemoine takes the flag with an hour and 45 minutes ahead of his teammates Ickx and Claude Brasseur.

Rob Margeit

Rob Margeit has been an automotive journalist for over 20 years, covering both motorsport and the automotive industry. Rob joined CarAdvice in 2016 after a long career at Australian Consolidated Press. Rob covers automotive news and car reviews while writing in-depth feature articles on cars and automakers of historical significance. He also enjoys discovering obscure models and researching their genesis and history.

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