Behold the ‘experimental’ off-road 911 Carrera

“This was a truly memorable and special moment in a place that’s both beautiful and brutal at the same time – I guess the only machines anywhere in the world higher than us today were aircraft!” Those are the words of Romain Dumas.

That place he was talking about was the slopes of Ojos del Salado, Chile, the highest volcano in the world, piercing the sky with its 6,893m peak. We’ve seen tales of pushing vehicles to extremes here before: Mercedes did a similar thing a few years ago with a Unimog, which got to 6,694m. This attempt didn’t surpass that, but it wasn’t using a hardcore off-roader as a base. It was using a…Porsche 911 Carrera 4S.

Admittedly, not one plucked straight off the production line and sent packing. In fact, they sent two cars – one in Porsche’s Motorsport livery from the 963 LMDh racer, and the other in a color scheme designed by the styling team at Weissach. And beyond that, both had a few modifications to give them a fighting chance of beating the toughest of tough terrains, combined with minus-30-degree temperatures and air so thinned by the altitude that it contains 50 percent less oxygen than it does down at sea level.

The engines remained standard, which is really amazing. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six, which ordinarily would produce 443hp, was deemed powerful enough even when starved of half its usual portion of oxygen. The only thing the team did was modify the cooling system by raising the height of the radiators – for obvious reasons. They opted for a manual gearbox, so the standard seven-speed, but with revised ratios to make gentler throttle applications possible.

Of course, the 4S already has the useful feature of four-wheel drive, but to that the team added mechanical diff locks. And rather fittingly for terrain that resembles something from a Star Trek scene, they included a ‘Porsche Warp-Connecter’. This is from motorsport applications, and delivers maximum traction by forming a ‘mechanical link between all four wheels to allow constant wheel load even when the chassis is enduring extreme articulation’.

Portal axles and massive off-road tires increased the ride height to 350mm, but even with that level of clearance, the underbelly was going to take a hammering. So tough but lightweight Aramid fiber underbody protection was fitted to ‘allow sliding over rock’. If you haven’t heard of Aramid fiber, it’s the aromatic polyamide synthetic fiber used by brand names such as Kevlar and Nomex.

Naturally, there were other things such as roll cages, harnesses and carbon fiber seats, with all the work done by Porsche’s research and development engineers in Weissach, alongside Romain Dumas Motorsport. Dumas has a long history with Porsche and with extreme challenges. Along with endurance racing he tried his hand at WRC and finished eighth at Dakar in 2017. He was driving one of the 911s.

He said, “For the team and the car it was about learning – and right out of the box, the car was tough and nimble. We were hard on ourselves and really put it in the deep end for its first test, yet it felt at home. We have enormous respect for those who have gone higher. No one has seen so much ice and snow up towards the top of the volcano, but despite this we went over 6,000 meters up, to the point where the walls of ice and snow meant we could go no further. We’re really proud of what the car and the team are capable of first time out – hopefully we can count on many more adventures in the future.”

How high did they go? 6,007 meters, which in old money is 19,708 feet. Something to think about this winter when you’re sitting on a slope in Tignes, 3,000 meters up, thinking you’re on top of the world. You have to wonder why people do this sort of thing. And I suppose it’s human nature, to keep challenging yourself, and if you’re an engineering-lead company like Porsche it’s how you learn and push boundaries – and potentially encourage the world to think about the prospect of an off-road 911. More new ground to plant its flag on…

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