Alternate Reality: This ’85 Porsche 911 Takes You There
Photography by Aaron Brimhall
We are all well aware of Porsche’s off-road exploits in the 70s and 80s. From the 911s of the East African Safari Rally in 1978 to the Rothmans-Prodrive 911 rally cars of 1984 and ’85. Even as far back as the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally, the Porsche 911 has proven itself to be an incredibly versatile platform.
In an alternate 1985 timeline, following the successes of the Safari Rally and the Rothmans-Prodrive 911s, a bright spark at Porsche believed there might be value in marketing an all-terrain variant of the Porsche 911 to the general public. The concept would be simple; a car built to tackle off-road trails that you could also drive to work. A subtle blend of the comfort and performance you’d expect in a Porsche 911 with a level of off-road preparedness to satisfy a weekend blast through a forest or desert. This all-terrain 911 would be marketed inline with the growing popularity of the desert racing in Baja and the South Western United States. In this alternate reality, Porsche built an all-terrain development car and trialed it extensively in the deserts of Southern California. Sadly, the project was sidelined and the car never went into production.
This story of a still-born all-terrain 911 is purely fiction, it never actually happened, but the important thing is that it could have. It is plausible that this idea could have been discussed in a boardroom at Porsche, and could have even been sketched out by one of their designers. This alternative history concept was the design brief for the car you see here. It is a pre-production development car that Porsche never built, and it’s the brain-child of car designer Florian Flatau.
The basis for the build was a low-mileage 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2. He found the car in Wisconsin, flew out to pick it up and drove it home to LA over three days. It was important that the car was very original and in the best possible condition. Back in LA, he immediately started work. He wanted to lift the vehicle by at least 100mm (4 inches) and achieved this with modified front struts, Bilstein dampers and modified torsion bars on the rear. To cope with increased suspension travel, heavy duty, high angle CV joints had to be used. After the lift, he employed a motorsport professional to dial in the geometry and get all the wheels pointing in the right direction. Nothing about the suspension lift was overly complicated. For Florian, it was essential to keep the build simple with minimal modifications and as close to stock as was possible.
“It’s really basic, there are not many modifications. It’s very stock. A simple lift because that was the intention or the concept of this. The entire concept of this was, what if Porsche, after their success with the rally cars, would have chosen to put one of these cars on the market and say, here you go, this is our Baja lifestyle Porsche 911. The stage this car is in is like a pre-production vehicle.”
To maintain traction on loose dirt, he installed a rally spec limited slip differential from Tuthill Porsche in the UK. He also installed a rebuilt gearbox with an alternate ratio to compensate for the larger diameter all-terrain tires. To keep within the context of the design brief, Florian chose to use original ‘cookie cutter’ wheels, only he had them powder coated in white as a nod to the rally style of the 1980s. The engine is the original, low mileage 3.2 liter flat-six. During the build, it was removed to be detailed and fully serviced.
A custom hood was designed and fabricated to incorporate three spot lights. Again, to fit the design brief the incorporation of the spotlights needed to look like a production feature rather than simply bolting the lights on as you might find on a competition car. For the same reason, it was important to keep a full interior. Most competition cars would have the carpet and upholstery removed, but if this all-terrain 911 was to be available to the public in 1985 as a road-going production car, it would require a little more comfort. The interior is mostly stock with the addition of diamond quilted upholstery on the dashboard and seats. There is a roll cage in the rear and a new pair of Recaro bucket seats. In typical Florian fashion, he has picked out some styling queues and added his accent to them. The spokes of the steering wheel, for example, have long elongated holes rather than the typical round holes more commonly seen. Florian says.
“You see the round dials in front of you and if you have a steering wheel with round holes, for me, it’s just too many round elements. The round dials in the Porsche sit in an elongated cluster right? So the dashboard has this elongated oval shape to it.”
Also, from the gauge cluster, Florian picked out the fluorescent red paint of the needles. He used the fluorescent red to highlight the steering wheel design and to paint the roll cage.
The original Safari Rally 911s had round holes cut into the bumpers to reduce weight. Florian wanted to do the same but continued his theme by elongating the bumper holes and highlighting them with the fluorescent red paint. To finish the exterior aesthetic, Florian incorporated some subtle black graphics inspired by the Martini livery of the original Safari rally cars.
“You want to pull the reference but you want to create something unique that would be the next step. So this car being an ’85 I thought, let’s make the graphics a little more Lichtenstein pop, but connect them to my minimalist approach.”
The graphics almost look like shadows. They are subtle so you barely notice them at first, but when you do, the references are obvious. It’s the perfect combination of Porsche rally history, desert camouflage and the type of modernist liveries manufacturers often apply to disguise a new model during testing.
Despite the car’s pre-production aesthetic, it still feels complete. The historical context of the design brief helps it to appear fully realized. The various design elements have been chosen carefully and help to create a dialogue. The approach is minimal but it comes together to tell a story. The car looks like it was meant to be and represents a perfect cultural collaboration between a German sports car and the Southern California desert. It’s Stuttgart meets Mojave or perhaps, Martini meets Mezcal. This once again proves the versatility of the original 911 and leads me to the question, is there anything you can’t do in a Porsche 911? Apparently not.