This legendary 1987 Nissan Patrol Fanta Limon Dakar racer spent decades rusting away. Now it’s been resurrected by a passionate group of Nissan engineers.
These days, we all know that oilburners can be powerful and reliable enough to take part in motorsport. Back in the late 1980s, diesel engines weren’t nearly as popular, but perceptions were starting to change. One of the reasons for this was the diesel-powered Nissan Patrol that managed to finish in the Dakar Rally top 10 (it was the first diesel vehicle that managed to do this). By proving that a diesel vehicle could compete in the gruelling race, it showed just what an oilburner could do. Officially, it was called the Nissan Patrol Fanta Limon. It was powered by a four-cylinder 2.8-litre turbodiesel that provided 109kW of power. It weighed 1 600kg and had a top speed of 150km/h. It debuted at the 1986 Tunis Rally, where it immediately made an impact by placing fourth.
Next, it competed in the Baja Aragon, where it placed third. Its last race for 1986 was the Raid Pharaons, which it won. But the main target was the Paris–Dakar. It began on 1 January 1987, with 312 vehicles lining up at the start of the gruelling 13 000km race through Europe, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. The Nissan Fanta Limon team entered two vehicles: car 211 with Miguel Prieto and Ramon Termens as 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 the second stage, leaving the pair without spares for the rest of the race, and car 212 was eventually forced to withdraw after rolling down a dune. But 211 battled on to the end. It was the first diesel to finish, in ninth place overall. Mission accomplished, the cars were retired from racing. The whereabouts of 212 is unknown, but 211 apparently spent a few decades in a museum where no one really looked after it. Rust set in and the engine seized. It was in bad shape. Things were about to change, though. The vehicle was first spotted on an internet forum in 2014 by members of the Nissan European Technical Centre (NTCE) in Barcelona, Spain. Realising that the 30th anniversary of the 1987 Paris–Dakar was approaching, they decided to restore it.
Juan Villegas, an NTCE technician and part of the restoration team, explained: “The engine was in terrible condition. It was impossible to start and many parts were heavily corroded. The front axle was quite damaged, but the worst thing was the electrics, which had been badly attacked by rats.” The wreck was transported to NTCE Barcelona in May 2014 and the eight-strong restoration team began work, using their own time in the evenings and on weekends. They searched all over Europe for parts, asking Nissan dealers to search their warehouses for old stock. Some components were bought used and then restored.
“We wanted the car to be accurate in every way, and were lucky to get the very old drawings and service manuals from NTCE,” said Juan. “We followed all the fine adjustments to get the exact Paris–Dakar race set-up.” The aim was to have it fully restored in time for the start of the 2017 Dakar, and the team managed to accomplish this with time to spare, unveiling it late last year. Once it was done, the car was sent to the Sahara, where it was filmed and photographed in action. It’s not pristine, but that’s a good thing. All those dings and scratches were earned while racing hard.
“The spirit of innovation that was at the heart of Nissan’s entry into the 1987 Paris–Dakar has been all around us as we have completed this project,” said Juan. “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.”
Team Nissan Fanta Limon
Vehicle Nissan Patrol Fanta Limon (Vehicle 211)
Body style Three-door wagon
Engine 2 800cc
Weight 1 600kg
Top speed 150km/h
Text: Gert van Rooyen