Cars

The Safari Porsche 911: Off-Roading the Alternative Way

People often think off-roading requires specialty vehicles. So, they put up a Jeep Wrangler’s or Land Rover Defender’s drawbacks to be able to crawl over rocks. Or they shell out large sums for Mercedes G-Wagons or Rolls-Royce Cullinans. But then they worry about damaging their expensive SUVs. And while inexpensive off-roaders like the Suzuki Jimny and Mitsubishi Jeep do offer cheap fun, they aren’t always available in the US. There are also safety risks to consider. But there is an alternative, one that offers speed, style, and touch of history. That would be the Safari Porsche 911.

What is a Safari Porsche 911?

A Safari 911 isn’t an official Porsche model. Rather like the ‘classic vs. vintage’ debate, the term ‘Safari 911’ can refer to mildly-modified cars all the way to rally racers in all but name.

But the basic formula, according to Hagerty, is the same. Start with an air-cooled 911, lift the suspension, add additional lights and underbody protection, and fit sturdy off-road wheels and tires. Then go find some dirt to speed through.

It’s become quite a phenomenon. After driving one for The Drive, Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire bought one for himself. His personal Safari 911 serves as a good ‘average’ build. But there are more extreme versions.

Russell Built Fabrications Safari Porsche 911
Russell Built Fabrications Safari Porsche 911 | Russell Built Fabrications via Instagram

Autoblog and The Drive reported that former Singer fabricator T.J. Russell of Russell Built Fabrication has built a more racing-oriented Safari 911. Russell’s off-road 911 comes with, among other mods, up to 13” of suspension travel at the rear. That’s almost as much as a Ford F-150 Raptor. And like the Raptor, Motor1 reports, this Safari 911 can also be had with four-wheel drive. With 365 hp pushing 2800 pounds, this Porsche can fly through the desert.

Is a Safari 911 actually a good off-roader?

You might think that a vehicle that’s relatively close to the ground wouldn’t be good off-road. And, to be fair, with off-roading, ground clearance is arguably the most important consideration. That’s why owners install lift kits and bigger tires, why Mercedes gave some G-Wagens portal axles.

But off-roading isn’t all about scrambling over rocks. The G550 4×4 Squared may conquer hills, but its tall height makes it wallow through corners. And while the Jeep Wrangler’s solid axles do make it great for rock-crawling, they don’t help it at high-speed rallying. It’s why Chevy turned to independent suspension for the new Tahoe and Suburban. And it’s also what helps make the Safari 911 a good off-roader.

1976 Porsche 911 3.0-Liter Rally
1976 Porsche 911 3.0-Liter Rally | Bonhams

In addition, the off-road 911 trend didn’t just come out of nowhere. While Porsche may be more well-known for victories at races like Le Mans and the Nurburgring 24 Hours, the German automaker has its own rally history. Autoblog recently reported on one 1976 Porsche 911 rally car that had done “more competitive miles than any Porsche,” according to Bonhams. Petrolicious has documented Porsche’s entries in the East Africa Safari Rally. And the technological icon that is the 959 was originally designed as a Group B racer.

In other words, the Safari 911 idea is another chapter in Porsche’s off-road sports car history.

How can I get one?

With how popular the idea is getting, there are several shops that have become well-known for their Safari 911 builds. One of these is Leh Keen, owner of The Keen Project. The company has built both of the Safari cars Matt Farah drove.

However, as Hagerty has described, Safari 911 builds aren’t cheap, even without modifying the engine. The suspension has to be properly lifted and modify to retain the car’s handling, skidplates have to be installed, and so on. And this is all before factoring in the cost of an air-cooled 911.

You don’t need to start with the most-valuable air-cooled 911 you can find, though. The Russell Built Safari 911, for example, starts with a 964-gen 911, which Rennlist describes as “semi-affordable.” However, you can also build a Safari 911 out of a 1984-1989 911, the Carrera 3.2—Road & Track’s Colin Comer bought one for just under $35,000. And if that still doesn’t work, Jalopnik reported on one owner who turned their 996 water-cooled 911 into a Safari build.

The Porsche 911 is also not the only car you can ‘Safari’. Classic Alfa Romeos, Mercedes—all these and more can be modified for off-roading. The whole point of the Safari 911 build is to make a car that can be driven and enjoyed in a wide variety of environments, not just stuck in a garage.

So if the idea of taking an SUV off-road doesn’t appeal to you, you can always take a Porsche 911 on a safari.