Walter Röhrl is the legend who made cars like the Fiat 131 Abarth, the Opel Ascona 400, the Lancia 037, the Audi Sport Quattro S1, and even Porsche’s first turbocharged rally car, the 924 Carrera GTS, dance with ease. He’s a true champion and master of all corners—but also a rally driver who openly despised jumps, who wouldn’t enter Kenya’s Safari Rally because he “really didn’t like it,” and who once told me that when Porsche asked him to drive a 935 at Le Mans Classic, he straight-up refused due to his experience in one back in 1981.
At 72, Röhlr is now retired, and when Porsche asks him to play with some of its rarest rally cars in a quarry, everybody wins.
If anything, 1984’s Dakar-winning Porsche 953 proves that the team in Zuffenhausen was the best at mixing and matching parts. Did any other Porsche racing car’s part fit a 911 SC? Well, the 959’s proposed experimental all-wheel-drive system originally designed for Group B racing certainly did. And with that manual system and all the extra underbody protection thrown at the humble 911, the pair of René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne just didn’t miss a beat across Africa, outrunning a V-8 Range Rover and a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution to everybody’s surprise.
If all SUVs looked like a Cayenne S Transsyberia, perhaps we would get out of the city more. Orange wheels, a snorkel, rally lights and a winch? Well, most of those were necessary, as in 2007, Porsche prepared its performance family hauler for the Transsyberia rally, swapping in the 380-horsepower V-8 from the Cayenne GTS. A year later, these cars took first through sixth across the taiga, covering 4416 miles from Moscow to the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar.
Walter Röhrl is very familiar with Porsche’s first turbocharged rally car, having driven the golden 924 Carrera GTS in the 1981 German Rally Championship. Porsche built this transaxle wonder in just eight weeks, after which Röhrl scored four victories as well as a second place with it. No wonder it’s one of his “absolute favorites”... even if Alfons Stock’s Golf GTI 16V won the local game that year.
As mentioned before, in 1978 Herr Röhrl just wouldn’t go to Kenya to break expensive racing cars (and his back). However, Porsche still sent two modified 3.0-liter 911 SCs to the season’s most punishing WRC event, both of which finished the 2920-mile rally following some serious mechanical trouble. Due to that broken rear axle, Porsche had to make due with second and third behind a Peugeot 504 V6 Coupé. Today, as cars that can do it all, 911 Safaris are more popular than ever in historic rallying.
1978’s SC brings us to another 911 and Porsche’s numero uno: a modern rally icon in Germany, the 911 996 GT3 of the double champion Zeltner family. While the married couple of Ruben and Petra Zeltner may have won their 2014 and 2015 titles driving a newer 997 GT3, it’s their 996 nicknamed “Zebra” that really struck a chord with Walter Röhrl. Maybe it’s the sound of that Mezger engine, or maybe it’s that the 996 is the smaller car of the two. Either way, the GT3 rally car is just like an SC Safari, only dialed up a notch for this century.