Here’s How One Man Tracked Down Two East African Safari Rally Porsche 911s
Photography by Robb Pritchard
Porsches are better known for they’ve achieved in circuit racing than on rally stages, but apart from Walter Röhrl’s 1981 San Remo heroics and some ERC wins with the Group B SC/RS, their biggest assault on the WRC were a few high-profile attempts at the Safari Rally in the 1970s.
The first full works entry was in 1973, with the yellow Bosch livery 2.7 RSes, but after the brutal African wilderness beat them to bits a huge development program was undertaken and the following year they were back with the much-modified, blue-striped Kuhne & Nagel cars—the twin ’73 and ’74 cars are actually the same one, just repainted.
The ’78 cars of Vic Preston jr. and Björn Waldegård, who finished 2nd and 4th that year, are treasured items of the official museum, wheeled out only for special occasions, but the Bosch and Kuhne & Nagel cars are in private hands. Uwe Kurzenberger happens to own both of them, and despite being absolutely priceless examples of Porsche’s sporting history, they are regularly taken out to take part in classic rallies and shows.
Uwe and his lovely wife Gabrielle have been Porsche enthusiasts for many years now, and they started up the Classic Carrera RS owners’ club together to organize weekends out and be an online hub for local 911 owners looking for repair and maintenance advice. From its launch it was a popular website and its metadata put it at the top of a Google search made by a Kenyan with a rotting and much-abused 911 shell in his workshop yard.
In usual circumstances, emails from Africa offering deals that seem too good to be true are best ignored, but this one got through and the numbers it contained weren’t for a Nigerian widow’s bank account, but rather the chassis number of a long forgotten works car. Two days later Uwe and Gabrielle were on a flight to Nairobi.
What they found though was a car in a very sad state indeed. After spending many years being campaigned in local rallies on insanely tough African stages, it was already in a pretty sorry condition but when an engine rebuild involving incorrect parts caused it to seize it was wheeled away and spent many years wasting quietly away. By the time Uwe found it, most of the floor had gone, the front roof pillars were held in only by screws and roughly covered with filler, and it had lost all of its original Safari Rally accoutrements, such as the distinctive bull bars, roof rack, and lights—it was well on its way to being a write-off. The numbers on the VIN plate matched those in the records though, so there was no question about leaving it to the elements. Uwe arranged for it to be dragged out of the yard, but finding a container ship bound for Germany proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare, so they bypassed the export red tape and put it on a cargo flight instead.
The full story of the car goes back 45 years though. Fresh from its watershed victories at Le Mans, Porsche looked further afield to demonstrate the competitiveness and reliability of their cars, and the legendarily brutal East African Safari was the event they chose. Two cars were painted in the same Bosch livery that Willi Kauhsen was sporting with his 917/10 in the Interseries championship, and prepared for a different test of endurance. S-AR 7909 was readied for Björn Waldegård (who would go on to win the inaugural WRC championship along with four wins in the Safari), and S-AR 7910 for Sobiesław Zasada, a Polish driver who’d won the 1967 ERC Class 1 championship in a 912.
Neither car saw the finish though, Zasada stopping with collapsed suspension while Waldegård’s rally came to an end with engine failure. With two comprehensively broken cars on their way back to Germany, the team knew that a standard car had no chance of competing on the long distance bush roads of Africa, so a thorough development program was begun which eventually included a massive list of about 300 upgrades. The ’74-spec cars looked much more ready for the hardships ahead, raised by three inches, with longer travel suspension, and specially developed shock absorbers. They also had a full set of bash plates fitted underneath and unique bull bars fitted front and rear, as large game animals have a tendency to wonder onto the tracks.
This time Waldegård switched to S-AR 7910 and 7909 was taken over by the ’70 and ’71 Safari winners, Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schüller. With all the testing they’d done and two top-class crews, Porsche were confident that they had a potent team… but despite all the testing nothing done in Europe could prepare them for the weather.
Torrential rains flooded the route and turned the tracks into what modern and sensible people would only attempt with a Land Rover fitted with a winch. Despite this, Waldegård lead for the majority of the event until cruelly—almost within sight of the finish—the suspension gave out and the lost time dropped him down to an eventual 2nd. The other car fared much worse though. Due to a late entry, Herrmann and Schüller were seeded well down in 41st place, so with all the roads being churned up by the cars ahead they had to cope with the worst of the conditions, including getting stuck in a mud hole for three hours. And despite all the work they put into improving the robustness of the car, there was one small thing that had been completely overlooked: protection against mud ingress. Hans, now in his 80s, remembers those four days in the spring of 1974 very well and explained to me what went wrong. “The car was too heavy,” he says, simply. “They made it strong but didn’t make it light, and in the mud you really don’t want to get stuck in a heavy car. In those days the stages were so long that if you did anything everything right you would get maybe four hours sleep at night, so if you got the car filled with 200kg of wet mud during the first half an hour, you’d be stuck with it for the next 20 hours. It was a big problem.”
And it was the mud that ended their event, not because they got stuck in it, but because the engine ingested too much and seized. Because the car was so damaged and ended up crippled in such a remote place, Porsche HQ didn’t feel it was worth recovering and so it was abandoned as a write-off and sold cheaply to a local who could arrange a tow-truck when the roads dried out.
Its new owner used it for many years in African rallies in Kenya and Tanzania, but after a decade of sub-par repairs the final straw came when the dodgy engine rebuild failed. The owner knew the car had pedigree though so didn’t want to just pass it on for spares, but it wasn’t until he was approaching retirement that he decided to sell it. Wanting it to go to a good home and get the rebuild it deserved, he looked for someone with the requisite Porsche passion and know-how, and a couple of days after that fateful Google search, Uwe was in his living room signing the bill of sale.
Once the car was back in Germany, the full tear-down revealed just how bad of a condition it was in. Gaps that any half-decent mechanic should have welded up were instead just full of filler, and after sitting so long in the humid climate large sections of the floorpan and sills had been totally devastated. Uwe was of course very concerned with keeping as much of the originality of the car as possible, so he took great care that everything that could be salvaged, reconditioned and reused, was. That included 60% of the body shell, and thankfully most of the engine components. Getting accurate measurements of the ancillaries was a big challenge though, and many period photos were poured over with a magnifying glass. Uwe also found a few helpful people at Porsche, and so the roof rack, bull bars, light covers, and mud ladders were all fabricated with the utmost dedication to historical accuracy.
Three years after being dragged out of the airplane it came in on, S-AR 7909 was finally ready to go, and painted once again in the Kuhne & Nagel colors. The care and amazing attention to detail of the rebuild is what led to Uwe owning the sister car, S-AR 7910…
The 1974 Waldegård-driven car had lived a completely opposite life to S-AR 7909. After the Safari it was brought back to Germany but sold on to a privateer, who entered it in the 1977 Tour d’Europe, a grueling 10,000km-long event that wound its way down from Germany to Croatia, then over to Morocco for a charge through the Atlas mountains before going back to Germany via Portugal. Only six cars managed to make it back to the finish, S-AR 7910 in 1st place!
Still in private hands, it was owned and rallied for over 30 years in Germany, but without the need for the African hardware and raised suspension it was lowered and fitted with widened arches which is why not many people were aware of its heritage. But seeing that Uwe owned S-AR 7909, when it was time to sell it he seemed a good first port of call. Uwe bought this one quicker than the plane tickets to Africa for the first one.
The rebuild for S-AR 7910 was made much easier thanks to the previous owner keeping absolutely everything he’d taken off in storage. It pleased Uwe immensely to learn that S-AR 7909 only needed a couple of barely noticeable adjustments to make it perfect.
Now the proud owner of two priceless ex-works Porsches, Uwe would be forgiven for keeping them locked safely away for prosperity, but full credit to him and Gabrielle, both cars are taken out to classic events, and to the delight of the tens of thousands of spectators, are put through their paces. One of the premier such events is the massive Eifel Rally Festival in the mountains near the Nürburgring, which is where Gabrielle had brought the car out for me… but not just to see it. Being a Petrolicious contributor has its bonuses, as she actually offered to let me drive!
First we had to get out of the service park. Normally traffic jams are a source of frustration, but when you’re waiting for an MG Metro 6R4 and a Ford RS200 to get out of the way it’s not quite so bad. With all superfluous interior panels and soundproofing stripped out, the engine is much louder than normal—but with the bark of the 2.7-liter flat-six, that is certainly no bad thing. The clunking of the top of the suspension turrets was apparently nothing to worry about, but taking the adverse camber of a roundabout it felt as though a wheel had fallen off. Gabrielle laughed and explained that the 10cm-higher suspension is also much softer than a normal road car… and thus gives a ride quality more akin to a Land Rover than a 911.
On a gravel road around the side of a field Gabrielle gave the go-ahead for me to put my foot down, but the sound of all the small stones hitting the underneath of the museum-worthy piece as well as the clatter of and squeaking of the suspension meant that there was no way I was going to push it, especially as I could feel how easily the back wanted to step out on the loose surface. How Waldegård and the others could have driven 4000km at full tilt on roads much rougher than this and in 40°C of heat and six inches of mud I can hardly imagine…