This year marks the 50th anniversary of Porsche’s dynamic and durable 911. Despite being a tarmac legend, the 911 did venture off-road on occasion. Case in point, this Porsche 911 SC ‘Safari’, designed for the 1978 East Africa Rally with long-travel suspension, bull bar, classic Martini & Rossi livery, and a locking rear differential. Despite being two-wheel-drive, having the engine (and weight) out back over the drive wheels, made it potent off-road performer.
The ‘Safari’ was displayed at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed in conjunction with the 911’s 50th anniversary celebration. Here’s a press release from Porsche describing the car and the rally.
The East African Safari Rally was an arduous test of man and machine over 5,000 kilometers of unbelievably bad roads and tracks, mountains as high as the Alps and stretches of gravel that even four-wheel drive off-road cars have difficulty in mastering.
Coupled to this, in the rare, dry years, the participants struggled with the region’s feared red dust which penetrates every gap in the car and also reduced visibility for the drivers chasing the leaders. Conversely, when it rained, the unpaved roads turned into slippery mud tracks with lots of potholes, interrupted by rivers that were often meters deep.
By 1978, having won many of the most coveted motor sport trophies, Porsche wanted to realize one of its last great goals in East Africa. It had participated in the Safari Rally three times already, and the results had been encouraging; two second places and one fourth. After a three-year break, the aim was to achieve success in 1978.
Porsche brought the ideal cars to Nairobi, the Kenyan start point. The pair of 250 hp 911s were reduced to the bare essentials, weighing only approximately 1,200 kg, despite large, 110-liter fuel tanks. Nevertheless, the body shells were massively reinforced in key structural areas. The increased ground clearance of 28 centimeters, long-travel suspension, a differential lock and a thick aluminum undertray allowed the cars to reach top speeds of more than 125 mph (200 km/h) over the rough roads.
The concept seemed sound, for Bjorn Waldegaard had a clear lead of 30 minutes when he drove over a rock disguised by mud in heavy rain. By the time the Porsche service crew had fought its way through the mud to the stricken 911, the lead was lost. Once going again, the Waldegaard/Thorszelius car managed to make up for lost time and finished in fourth place.
The second car, driven by Vic Preston Jr, was more fortunate. In the overall classification, he finished in second place.
Engine: 2,994 cc, flat six, air-cooled
Output: 250 hp at 6,800 rpm
Performance: Top speed 130 mph (210 km/h)
For kicks, click here to see what a stock 911 can do off-road.