While they are more well-known for their road racing victories, from Le Mans to Laguna Seca, Porsche 911s have a long and distinguished history as rally cars, too. Vic Elford gave Porsche its first overall World Rally Championship win in 1968 at the Rally Monte Carlo in a Porsche 911T. American John Buffum –- running on a shoestring budget and lots of talent -– powered his own personal 911T to a 12th-place finish in the Rally Monte Carlo while on active duty with the U.S. Army in 1969. A four-wheel-drive 911 won Paris-Dakar in 1984, and the mighty 959 won there in 1986. More recently, everybody’s pal, American Jeff Zwart, has taken various 911s to five class wins at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado, some taking place before the pavement was there.
So what you see in these photos — 911s tearing it up in the desert dunes north of Las Vegas — is really not all that sacrilegious. It’s not even blasphemous or unprecedented. But it is fun.
Kelly Moss Porsche 911 from another angle
“So, the first car, the guy walked in off the street, never met him before in my life, and he said, ‘I hear you guys build really cool cars. Can you build me a 911 I can drive on gravel roads and if I get an elk I can throw it up on the roof,” said Jeff Stone, president of Kelly-Moss Road and Race, which built this car and several others like it. “That’s no dumber than anything else anyone’s ever asked us to do, so why not?”
Indeed, why not? Kelly-Moss has been building road racing Porsches for decades, having once run factory racing efforts on behalf of the sports-car maker. So this would be easy. All you have to do is jack it up, beef it up and then go out and tear it up. Turns out it all comes down to the dampers.
“Really good dampers,” Stone clarified. “The VICCI car (the white one) has these Reiger state-of-the-art rally dampers that are just really awesome. It’s a very, very long-travel shock and a long-travel spring package. They are three-, four-, sometimes five-way adjustable, and they’re remote-reservoir that’s piggybacked onto the bottom of the damper.”
Kelly-Moss also relocated the suspension points, modified the control arms, re-engineered the approach and departure angles, and added enough skid plates to survive a lunar rock garden.
“It’s amazing how well they can work,” Stone said. “You know, a Porsche that normally doesn’t even like to see a gravel road, to come out here and run through sand dunes all day and not get stuck and not break and they just keep going, that’s amazing.”
The dampers do the difference
Kelly-Moss showed the white car you see here at SEMA. When SEMA was over, they brought it out to a wild area north of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway used by rental side-by-side outfits, 4×4 clubs and various dirt-driving desperados, all of whom were present on the Saturday I showed up.
The white car is the AWD version of the two you see here. It has mucho modifications to just about everything on it. The engine is a 3.8-liter flat-six with MAHLE forged pistons, CP Carillo rods, an Eaton supercharger and more modifications than you can shake a camshaft at. Horsepower is listed by Kelly-Moss at 430 at the wheels, with 400 wheel lb-ft of torque, which has quite an effect on something with a curb weight of just 2,600 pounds. The suspension boasts those triple-adjustable long-travel coilovers with Reiger shocks and a continuing litany of parts too long to mention here. It rolls on Braid Rally wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich KO2 off-road tires stuffed inside custom-flared fenders. The list of modifications goes on for about two blocks.
The 3.8-liter flat six makes 430 hp
The gray car has rear-drive.
“This car started as an old, beat up, raced-out and used-up 911 that needed everything except a chassis,” said Andy Kilcoyne, general manager of KMRR.
So they fixed everything on it. Now it’s powered by a 3.6-liter Varioram 993 engine with headers, exhaust and, again, more performance parts than can be listed here. It’s tuned to 330 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, with a five-speed manual 915 transmission with a close ratio and limited-slip differential. Curb weight is listed at 2,500 pounds, including that elk-toting roof rack and the zombie apocalypse bumpers.
And I’d be driving them both.
911s in the vast wasteland
Stone met me at the dirt turnout to Nevada State Highway 604, somewhere between Las Vegas Motor Speedway and that cool store halfway to Mesquite where you can buy real fireworks and really cheap cigarettes. It was out there, man. I jumped into the passenger seat and off we took, Stone at the wheel, into a desert wasteland not unlike that described by T.S. Eliot in his poem of the same name:
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
If only T.S. Eliot had owned one of these Kelly-Moss 911s, how much happier English majors across America would have been. The ground was a Saharan-mishmash of sand dunes, spiky rocks and angry dirt, like those pictures you see of Mars except that every now and then you pop over a dune and there, off on the distant horizon, is the architectural fantasyland of Las Vegas, or, closer, Nellis AFB, with a real B2 bomber parked on the tarmac and as many F-16s as you’d need to invade Bermuda. It’s all pretty science-fictiony.
But the 911 didn’t care. Stone powered the gray car over the landscape with a mixture of confidence in the equipment and disdain for the rocks. Every time I thought we were about to take a real spine-adjusting whack from a dip or a berm, the 911 just ate it up and spat us out the other side. The car’s ability to absorb bumps, dips and whoop-dee-doos was amazing. Yes, those dampers are things of wonder.
Kelly-Moss 911 in action
We pulled up to a conclave of Kelly-Moss engineers and technicians and, after a cursory introduction –- here’s the brake, here’s the clutch, that’s the drift bar(!) –- I was off, driving the gray car as if I owned it. And, just as had been the case minutes earlier, the gray car was completely unhindered by terrain undulations. The sand was pretty deep, something that might have been a problem for many other 4×4 rigs, but the RWD 911 never flinched, burrowing through the deepest quicksand without a hiccup. On the rocks it was likewise unperturbed. I had to figure out where the power and torque bands lay in the engine’s output, found them a little on the higher side of the graph and then applied them as appropriate for the conditions. The shifter took a little time to sort out, including one embarrassing grind, but then it was easy enough.
While it was capable in this mix of ground, it would have been far better to take this contraption on a graded dirt road somewhere and fling it about like a rally car. With all that curb weight out over the rear axle, I imagined it would be a joy to pilot in more even conditions. I imagined sliding the tail around like Buffum in the ice and snow of the Alpes-Maritimes.
Carbon Fiber add-ons are also made by Kelly-Moss
The white car, with more power and all-wheel drive, was even more confident in these adverse and abusive hills. It could go even farther into the sandy quagmire and come out better, though the gray car, with its rear-wheel drive, was more satisfyingly tail-happy. If I had to choose, I’d get something more like the gray car. But you can get whatever car you want.
If you have the dough, that is. I asked about price.
“It really depends,” said Stone. “We can build everything from a car that is more about visual perspective and less about the real off-road performance if an owner doesn’t ever intend to use that. And, of course, you have to have a donor car, so if someone brings us a donor car that’s fine, we keep donor cars in stock — we always have four or five or six Porsche 911s that are excellent cars to start with.”
That’s vague, Stone. Can’t you come up with a more precise price figure?
“On average, I would say you can start a build for about $150,000 and you can go up to $600,000. It just depends on what you want to do. So I think this car, the (white) VICCI car, is in the mid-threes. And this car (the gray) is about $250K.”
So there you have it. Is this something you want to do? I would say yes, this is something you want to do. Especially if you live out in the Wild West where there are dirt roads winding all over the desert just waiting to be explored.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $150,000 to start, more or less — probably more, way more
As Tested Price: $300,000
Powertrain: 3.8-liter H6, 5-speed manual, AWD
Output: 430 hp, 400 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 2600 pounds (mfg.)
Options: Kitchen sink
Pros: Go anywhere and drive like John Buffum
Cons: It’s better if you own your own state