The 10 craziest vehicles in Dakar history

Vespa, Rolls-Royce, fish-and-chip van... check out the strangest vehicles to have raced the Dakar.
By Giovanni Cortinovis

The Dakar Rally is the ultimate adventure and an unparalleled test that pushes driver and machine to the edges of physical and mechanical performance.

Some of the most talented and skilful drivers ever have taken on the Dakar in finely-tuned vehicles. But for others, racing thousands of kilometres with a set of brilliantly engineered wheels is not enough of a challenge – not for those who truly share the spirit of the Dakar.

Meet the Dakarists who prefer to race in something a bit less suited to the desert.

1. Vespa P200E scooter

French rider Yvan Tcherniavsky racing on a Vespa P200E scooter in Dakar Rally 1980
Yvan Tcherniavsky on a Vespa P200E in 1980’s race © Rallye Dakar

In 1980, during the second edition of Dakar, four eccentrics raced a Vespa P200E across the Sahara desert. Believe it or not, two of them, Marc Simonot and Bernard Tcherniavsky, actually managed to reach the Senegalese capital – even though the rally was already finished by then.

2. Pit bike

Czech competitor Ivo Kastan's 150cc pit bike which he raced at the 2009 Dakar Rallya
Ivo Kastan raced a 150cc pit bike in 2009 © Rallye Dakar

In 2009, the Vespa riders inspired Czech Ivo Kastan to attempt to race the Dakar on a pit bike made out of pieces of a Honda XL200. The bike only had a 146cc engine and tiny 14-inch wheels, and weighed just 180kg, including the rider. Needless to say, Kastan didn't reach Dakar, but did finish some stages.

3. The Titan

Michele Cinotto’s The Titan experimental car at Dakar Rally 2015.
Michele Cinotto’s The Titan at Dakar 2015 © Rallye Dakar

The enormous Titan is one of the most interesting experimental cars to race at the Dakar. The dreamchild of Audi Sport Italia boss Emilio Radaelli and veteran rally driver Michele Cinotto, the Titan was essentially a twin-turbo Audi 3.0 V6 TDI engine surrounded by a tubular chassis built in the workshops of Piedmont EpaPower family Albertinazzi. It was capable of developing some 650Nm of torque from 300bhp.

Unfortunately The Titan only completed the first stage of the 2015 rally before being sidelined by electrical issues. It was repaired, but broke down again after another 20km, this time for good.

4. Renault 4

The Marreau brothers competing in a Renault 4 at the Dakar Rally 1979
The Marreau brothers drove a Renault 4 in 1979 © Rallye Dakar

Brothers Claude and Bernard Marreau had better luck with a humble Renault 4, finishing in fifth overall at the first ever Dakar in 1979, which was even more impressive given that there was a single final result for cars, motorcycles and trucks in the early days of the Dakar. Not satisfied with that, a year later the brothers finished third overall.

5. Fiat Campagnola

The Fiat Campagnola from Giraudo at the 1979 Dakar Rally
The Fiat Campagnola from Giraudo at the 1979 Dakar © Rallye Dakar

Back to 1979 again when seven drivers raced in Fiat Campagnolas, and four of them got as far as Lac Rosé, just 30km from the finish of the race. Cesare Giraudo and Antonio Cavalieri won the Bamako-Nioro stage to finish third in the cars category and seventh overall.

6. Rolls-Royce Corniche

Thierry De Montcorgé raced a Rolls-Royce Corniche 4WD in the 1981 Dakar Rally
A Rolls-Royce Corniche 4WD raced the 1981 Dakar © Rallye Dakar

In 1981 Thierry De Montcorgé made a bet with friends that he'd be able to compete in the famous African rally with his luxurious Rolls-Royce Corniche. Of course, the Rolls had to be specially adapted for the desert, which meant dispensing with such essentials as the mini bar, Grey Poupon and rather more besides. De Montcorgé commissioned a special body that weighed only 80kg and added a 4WD system borrowed from a Toyota. Sadly, he was disqualified while competing for 13th place after making an illegal repair.

7. Jules II Proto

The six wheel Jules II Proto raced at the Dakar Rally 1984
The Jules II Proto with six wheels racing in 1984 © Rallye Dakar

In 1984, De Montcorgé went one better in his next attempt, returning to the Paris-Dakar at the controls of the six-wheel Jules II Proto. The Jules was powered by a 3.5 litre Chevrolet V8 engine bolted to a Porsche 935 transmission. The name Jules was borrowed from a perfume made by sponsor Christian Dior. After another promising start, De Montcorgé had to retire when his chassis broke on the third stage.

8. Porsche 959

A Porsche 959 won the 1986 Dakar Rally
A Porsche 959 won the 1986 Dakar Rally © Rallye Dakar

With over 30,000 race victories, Porsche are unbeatable on the road, a fact they underlined by winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship in 2015. They're not quite so famous away from the asphalt, yet in 1984 they won the Paris-Dakar with a 911SC that had been modified for four-wheel drive and dubbed the 953.

In truth, the result took Porsche by surprise, so they returned with three purpose-built 959s to race in the 1985 edition. Unfortunately the cars hadn't been road-tested and all three fell foul of technical gremlins. In 1986 they were back, having ditched temperamental elements like ABS and additional turbo-chargers. Only 67 of the 488 starters survived the 1986 edition and were led home by the the two Porsches in first and second, scoring a memorable victory for the unlikely Dakarists.

9. Citröen 2CV

A highly modified 1963 Citröen 2CV car competed during the 2007 Dakar Rally
A 1963 Citröen 2CV during the 2007 Dakar © Rallye Dakar

One of the most ambitious Dakar efforts ever was seen in 2007, when the Marques brothers raced in a 1963 Citröen 2CV. Georges, Philippe, and Gilles Marques reinforced the chassis, beefed up the suspension and dropped in two Citröen Visa engines to boost the power output to... 100bhp. Sadly the Bi-Bip2 Team had to retire on the fourth stage due to a rear suspension failure.

10. Chip van

Hervé Diers' The Frying Pan converted mobile chip-shop van raced the 2009 Dakar Rally
The Frying Pan, 2009 Dakar © Rallye Dakar

The award for strangest Dakar vehicle has to go to Belgian Hervé Diers, who raced in a mobile chip van. The car was actually a 200bhp Toyota pick-up adapted for the purpose. When the team arrived at the bivouac after the first stage, driver and co-driver fried 7kg of frites to feed the bivouac. They then went on to finish in 58th.

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