- Nissan Patrol restored three decades after race win
- Found in 2014, back in Sahara dunes in 2016
- Rebuilt as ‘weekend passion’ by Nissan techs
BARCELONA, Spain – Nissan has at last brought, after 30 years, one of its most iconic motorsport machines back to life – it was one of the 1987 Nissan Patrol Fanta Limon Paris-Dakar rally cars.
The now fully restored off-roader has made an emotional return to its spiritual home in the Saharan dunes where in 1987 it won the diesel trophy back when the Dakar was actually ‘The Dakar’ and not an off-road race in far less romantic South America.
The race was cancelled the following year (2008) after the organisers bowed to threats from a bunch of armed bandits/terrorists/thugs.
Nissan said proudly (after shamefully letting the car rot in a Spanish museum): “The car’s legendary status is second to none. It wrote its very own chapter in Dakar hisotry by winning the diesel category – the first diesel car to finish in the race’s overall top 10 (it was ninth).”
How times and technology have changed: in more recent races diesel-fuelled machinery make up most of the top cars.
The restoration was done by a dedicated team of engineers at Nissan’s European Technical Centre in Barcelona, Spain, though it took more than two years of weekend work – presumably unpaid – to change the truck from a wrusting wreck to a highly capable off-road racer.
Pedro Diaz Illan, manager of the electrical and electronics engineering team at NTCE and the only member of the 1987 team still working there, told The Corner: “That was a proud moment. Our brains, hearts and souls have gone into this project and it has not been easy.
“Seeing the car in the desert again was fantastic.”#
The story of the car’s success in the 1987 Paris-Dakar starts the year before when Nissan Motorsport devised a plan to take part in high-profile off-road endurance rallies. The base vehicle was to be the Patrol – Nissan’s popular 4×4 vehicle – with the team at NTCE in Spain leading the project.
The sponsorship with Fanta Limon (a soft drink) came through a link between Nissan Spain and Coca-Cola, the latter looking to exploit the global publicity generated by the Paris-Dakar. Success, Nissan said, came quickly – wins in the diesel class in three events during 1986 (results table below).
However, the main target was the Paris-Dakar and the challenge became real on New Year’s Day 1987 with 312 vehicles lined up for the start of the gruelling 13 000km race through Europe, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. Nissan Fanta Limon entered two vehicles; car 211 crewed by Miguel Prieto and Ramon Termens (driver and co-driver respectively) and car 212 crewed by brothers Jorge and Hansi Babler.
Things did not run smoothly. The team’s support truck broke down on Stage 2, leaving the cars without spares for the rest of the race. The Babler brothers were eventually forced to withdraw after rolling down a dune but car 211 battled on to the end.
It was the first diesel to finish, ninth overall.
THREE DECADES CONSIGNED TO OBSCURITY
Mission accomplished, the cars were retired. The whereabouts of 212 is unknown but 211 was offered to the Salvador Claret, a private car-collection and automotive museum south of Girona, Spain.
There it remained for almost three decades.
The restoration concept came in February 2014 when NTCE technicians saw images of the station-wagon on an internet forum and realised that the 30th anniversary was less than three years away.
The called the museum to ask for its return…
Juan Villegas, an NTCE technician in the restoration team, explained: “The engine was in a terrible condition. It was impossible to start and many parts were heavily corroded. The front axle was quite damaged but worst were the electrics which had been gnawed by rats.”
‘WE WANTED TO CAR ACCURATE IN EVERY WAY’
The wreck was transported to NTCE Barcelona in May 2014 and the eight-strong restoration team began work, using their own time at evenings and weekends. They searched all over Europe for parts, asking Nissan dealers to search their warehouses for old stock.
Some components were bought used then restored.
Villegas added: “We wanted the car to be accurate in every way so were lucky to get the very old drawings and service manuals from NTCE. We followed all the fine adjustments to get the exact Paris-Dakar race set-up.”
In November 2016 the Patrol was complete and was taken back to the Saharal – said to have been “an amazing moment for the team”.
REAL STAYING POWER WITHOUT SUPPORT
Villegas again: “The spirit of innovation that was at the heart of Nissan’s entry into the 1987 Paris-Dakar has been all around us while we completed the project. We felt inspired by the memory of that team, which decided to participate in the most challenging race in the world and achieved such success.”
And staying in the race despite the absolute absence of back-up.
The restoration’s cost has been covered by Nissan as part of its ‘Performance Innovation’ fund, a kitty set aside each year for projects which bring the company’s brand promise – ‘Innovation That Excites’ – to life.
Tech spec for 1987 Nissan Patrol Fanta Limon Paris-Dakar rally car
Engine: Four-cylinder turbodiesel
Top speed: 150km/h
Races and results (overall / diesel)
1986 Tunis Rally: Miguel Prieto/Xavier Juvanteny – 4th / 1st
Baja Aragón: Miguel Prieto/Julio Vazquez – 3rd / 1st
Raid Pharaons: Miguel Prieto/Ramón Termens – 1st / 1st
1987 París-Dakar: Miguel Prieto/Ramón Termens – 9th / 1st