Safari-style Porsches are the it-car of the moment, embraced by rally hooligans and show bros alike. Now Nico Samaras and Mark Gudaitis plan to take this 1968 Porsche 912 on the 2019 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge to prove it’s not just another pretty Instagram car.
Here’s what goes into these beloved builds that allows fine vintage Porsches to take sweet jumps with ease.
Peking (these days called Beijing) to Paris is exactly what the name says. Cars made before 1978 race across Asia and into Europe, with daily routes that can last as long as 403 miles. It crosses the deserts of Mongolia and Kazakhstan, among other remote spots where knowing how to fix your car in a pinch is a must. Certain sections are run as time trials, so the car also needs to be able to run well on whatever questionable gas you can find when the nearest Cars and Coffee is thousands of miles away.
Participants range from beloved midcentury classics like this 912 to the really old stuff, the kind of thing that would have entered the Peking-Paris in the event’s original form around the turn of the 19th century, including a 1907 Contal Mototri Tricycle. (It’s a crazy old-school vehicle that looks like this, if you’re curious.) The entry list for 2019 is here, if you’d like to pick your favorites. Organizers request that participants keep things as period-correct as possible, and tell them to prepare to camp along the route.
In other words, it’s the perfect test for 2018's favorite aircooled car show hero: the Safari Porsche.
“Complete” Mattered More Than “Running”
Samaras is definitely up for an adventure. He’s a Marine veteran who funneled his love to travel and willingness to go off the beaten path into his own car adventure persona, Fourtillfour. He’s based in Scottsdale, Arizona, where it’s downright convenient to go play in the dirt with whatever car you’ve got, be it a truck designed for such things or a modified classic.
“I‘ve been around vintage air-cooled cars all of my life,” Samaras told Jalopnik via email. “My father was a Porsche [and] Volkswagen mechanic, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been tinkering on old cars, just getting them road-worthy for some desert dirt.”
“When I first learned of the Peking to Paris Rally as a kid, I couldn’t get it out of my head,” he continued. “It seemed like the ultimate challenge for these vintage machines and their drivers. This always had a major appeal to me.”
Because Samaras’ main love is vintage European stuff, a simple but sturdy Porsche 912 made sense for the rally. It looks like a 911, but it has a flat four-cylinder engine in the rear instead of a flat six. Sure, it’s less powerful than the 911, but it’s lighter, so fans often claim the 912 is amusingly nimble and more forgiving to drive than its counterpart with two more cylinders hanging over the back axle.
The 912 they got to take rallying hadn’t been running for six years or so, but more importantly, it was nearly complete. It all had to come apart anyway, but having the parts all there on an old car where parts can be tough to find certainly helps.
Making An Instagram Darling Actually Work Off-Road
This build, by all appearances, fits squarely into 2018's fad du jour. Take an old European car, give it a mild lift, take some shots of it sliding around the dust at golden hour, and rake in the likes: You’ve got today’s It Car.
Maybe we all secretly realize we should be preparing for the apocalypse and it’s affecting our taste in cars. Maybe we’ve just realized than dirt donuts rule. Whatever the reason for this boom in safari builds, I’m all for it, so long as these cars are functional.
And you’re not really “functional” unless you’re planning on running about 8500 miles (per 2016's route) across Asia and Europe. I mean, if you’re going to make it on a cross-continent road rally, you can’t smash your oil pan to smithereens because you forgot to build a shield for it.
Samaras and Gudaitis started their build well before the rally, just so they can find and deal with any problems long before they have to leave in May 2019. The duo worked with Benton Performance on the build, and the 912 spent a year in the shop getting a thorough tear-down and rebuild.
“We stripped everything down and basically restored the car without touching paint and body,” Samaras told Jalopnik.
From there, the car was rebuilt and upgraded into a sturdier, higher-riding, rally-ready off-road beast.
Some of the biggest changes were to the suspension. Heavy-duty RSR struts, heavy-duty shocks and modified rear trailing arms gave it an extra eight inches of suspension travel. The steering links were upgraded to 911 Turbo components.
The flat-four remained in the car, but was rebuilt using forged components for the crank, rods and pistons, among other things, as well as carefully balanced so it would run smoother for the long haul. That engine feeds into a transmission with close-ratio rally gearing. A limited-slip differential makes the best use of that power when sending it to the wheels.
While the cars aren’t required to be prepped all the way like a stage rally would, additional safety gear is always nice to have. A rollbar, carbon fiber Sparco seats, and six-point harnesses were added inside the car’s no-nonsense, spartan interior. The dashboard was restored and customized for use on the rally.
A tube cross-brace now links the two front strut towers, and the rear shock towers were gusseted for extra strength. Headlights and auxiliary lights were added to the front for better visibility, not just for looking cool on the ‘gram.
Last but not least, custom skid plates were added to the front and the rear of the car to protect the important things from getting too damaged during the event.
Samaras said that the hardest part of the build, surprisingly, were the nuts.
“The biggest hangups with any old questionable car are the nuts and bolts that are rusted on that take two or three times longer to work with than a new or well-kept car,” he explained.
As someone who has spent hours dealing with bolts stuck too tightly on my car when no one’s around to lend some brute strength, I can empathize with this.
What’s left from here is an extensive shakedown. Samaras told Jalopnik that he wants to put 10,000 miles on the car to make sure any potential issues are sorted before it leaves for the rally next May. Gee, that sounds like torture. If they need any help putting miles on this car, I’m more than willing to pitch in out of the goodness of my heart.
If you’d like to follow along with the Peking to Paris Rally 912's adventures, Samaras says he’ll be posting updates to Fourtillfour’s Instagram page here.
We’re featuring the coolest project cars from across the internet on Build of the Week. I had a mild hiccup in our usual programming here lately, but we’re getting right back into it. What insane build have you been wrenching on lately? Drop me a line at stef dot schrader at jalopnik dot com with “Build of the Week” somewhere in the subject line if you’d like to be featured here.
UPDATE [7/10]: We’re a big fan of giving credit where credit is due, so we have since noted above that this team worked with Benton Performance in Anaheim, California, on the build.