The curious history of the Porsche G-Wagen

Remembering the time when Porsche hot-rodded a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. And then raced it.

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

The story begins a year earlier with three Porsche 959s contesting the gruelling 13,000-odd kilometre rally. In the early stages of development, all three cars retired, one with a ruptured oil line while the remaining two cars suffered Dakar-ending accidents.

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

To warm up for the January 1986 event, Porsche entered two 959s in the Rallye des Pharaons, a traditional lead-up event to the Dakar held in Egypt in October. While its race distance, at 3100km, was somewhat 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 Qatari driver Saeed Al-Hajiri and one for Belgian legend Jacky Ickx – Porsche’s lead engineer Roland Kussmaul employed the services of a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. But, this wasn’t just any old G-Wagen.

You have to remember, back in 1985 the monstrous AMG G65 didn’t exist in Merc’s range of utilitarian off-roaders. The most powerful engine found under the bonnet of Merc’s box on wheels in 1985 was a workmanlike 2.8-litre inline six petrol with around 116kW.

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

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

The donor engine came from a European-spec Porsche 928S, a 4.7-litre V8 pumping out a respectable 228kW. It became known internally as the Porsche im Schafspelz, or Porsche in sheep’s clothing.

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

Porsche took the G-Wagen to the lead-up Rallye des Pharaons. There to support the two competing 959s, the Porsche G-Wagen soon found itself involved in an adventure of a different kind after disaster befell the Rothmans-backed squad.

Shortly before the start of the rally in Cairo, fire engulfed the all-new 959 of Jacky Ickx and co-driver Wolf-Hendrik Unger. The blaze destroyed the car (and contributed to an historical footnote, where records show ‘Porsche built a total of seven 959 Gruppe B… only six remain’ #SadFace).

That left Porsche’s campaign with just a single entry, the 959 of Al-Hajiri. We don’t know what Kussmaul was thinking. Maybe he thought he’d be bored servicing just the single car. Maybe he thought he could have a bit of fun in the deserts of Egypt with the Porsche V8 under the bonnet of the four-wheel drive Merc. Whatever, the reason, Kussmaul entered the Porsche G-Wagen into competition in Egypt because, why not?

It finished second outright, beaten only by the car it was employed to service – the Porsche 959 of Al-Hajiri. Title sponsor Rothmans would have been delighted.

Three months later, Kussmaul’s Porsche-powered G-Wagen was demoted to service vehicle once more as the factory effort now counted three 959s. Sadly, the G-Wagen gave up the ghost early as did a second Porsche support vehicle.

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

But, Kussmaul’s 959 was still entered in competition and at the end of 22 days and 12,679km, the German engineer found himself finishing in sixth place.

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

Mission accomplished.

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