In 1979 the world was treated to the very first edition of what would become a legendary event, the Paris Dakar rally. A merry band of modified vehicles set off in the French capital in hopes completing the nearly 6000 kilometer (3728 mile) trip across barren wastelands to reach Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The monster trek had been organized by French racer Thierry Sabine. Sabine was a fanatic off road motorcycle endurance racer. He had made a name for himself in France after instigating the famous Enduropale beach race at Le Touquet, France. Sabine’s experience with the grueling American enduro races had motivated him to introduce the concept to the European crowd.
A year later, Sabine participated in the Abidjan-Nice rally in the deserts of Libya. Through a series of apparent navigation mistakes, he found himself alone and horribly lost. He managed to survive the harrowing ordeal, and inspired him to make the African desert the stage of a monstrous amateur rally across the continent. By 1979 his dream had been realized, and 182 trucks, cars and motorcycles lined up for the start in Paris. Only 74 of them would reach finish on the beaches of Dakar, Senegal.
Sabine’s vision of an intense stage-based rally across the beautiful African landscape awoke a new found sense of adventure in many a French entrepreneur. In the early years big businesses had noticed the event yet, and the race was dominated by good-natured amateurs in lightly modified vehicles.
Everyone helped each other out when needed, and although the competition could get heated, the one goal above all was to simply reach the finish. The camaraderie and free-spirited atmosphere of the Paris-Dakar increased its popularity at break-neck speed, with the field growing by the dozens every year.
In 1981 one of these bold new faces was Thierry de Montcorgé. A gambling fan, he bet some of his friends he could run the Dakar rally in a Rolls-Royce. His friends took the bet very seriously, and De Montcorgé was forced to put his money where his mouth was.
Eventually he cut some corners by having a specialized tube frame chassis constructed, featuring the four wheel drive system from a Toyota Land Cruiser and a 5.7L 350 Chevrolet V8. This chassis was then fitted with a fiberglass replica of a Rolls-Royce Corniche body. The extravagant car gained the attention of prestigious perfume company Christian Dior, which was just launching a new fragrance.
Despite failing to finish within classification, De Montcorgé and Dior made quite the statement in 1981.
This new product, “Jules“, was meant for “gentle, but strong, courageous and free men”. Dior had been actively campaigning as a sponsor in the world of motorsport, and saw De Montcorgé’s project as an ideal publicity stunt. The company decided to sponsor the posh Rolls racer, and enjoyed all the publicity they could possibly want, despite the car finishing out of classification after lengthy repairs.
But with the finish Thierry de Montcorgé had won his crazy bet, so all was well with the world in his book. Evidently wishing to revert to a low profile, he elected to compete in the next few rallies with a more conventional Mercedes 280GE. Still he yearned for another even more challenging rally. Three years after his surprise appearance with the Rolls-Royce, that was exactly what was handed to him.
Dakar founder Thierry Sabine had rediscovered the absolutely maniacal Peking to Paris rally. The event took place only once, and traversed three times the distance of the Dakar rally. Held when the concept of the motor car was just 25 years old in 1907, the titanic rally’s route covered 15.000 kilometers (9320 miles) of mostly uncharted territory.
The forty brave teams who took up its challenge would travel through parts of the world where the car had never been before, and the locals would likely fear it as some magical iron dragon. Fuel had to be transported ahead of the racer on camels, and the route had to follow a telegraph line to keep contact with the outside world. In the end just five cars made it to Paris. Thierry Sabine was awestruck with the history of the legendary race, and wanted to revive it.
Thierry Sabine wanted to recreate the terrific heroism and swagger of the 1907 Peking To Paris event.
For Thierry de Montcorgé this idea came as a gift from the heavens. As he had already finished the Dakar rally, it presented no challenge to him anymore. The prospect of a nearly endless ordeal traveling across the world was like music to his ears.
Due to the incredibly harsh nature of the coming Peking to Paris revival, De Montcorgé knew his puny Rolls-Royce wouldn't be up to the task. Instead he needed to build a vehicle which could be completely self sufficient, so he could survive in the total isolation of the Chinese wastelands
To this end he gathered his trusty technical staff, and set out on a familiar path. As with the original “Jules” the car’s base was formed by a steel tubular chassis, which would be fitted with an exotic composite body developed by DuPont, which was made from plastic reinforced with kevlar. De Montcorgé’s envisioned his new world beater as a six-wheeled V8 engined monstrosity tough enough to take on anything. The futuristic styled body evoked images from a blend of dystopian sci-fi films like Dune or Bladerunner, with perhaps a strong hint of Mad Max. With these looks De Montcorgé had once again ensured he’d gain attention everywhere he went.
The highly unusual layout saw the trusty Chervolet V8 from the earlier car mounted between the two rear axles, mated to a Porsche 935 five-speed manual transmission. In addition to the first seat of rear wheels, the V8 put its 370 horsepower and 515 nm (379 lbs ft) of torque to the front wheels as well through a long driveshaft assembly. The most rearward axle was therefore not powered, and served only to distribute the car’s amazingly low 1400 kg (3086 lbs)weight more efficiently. Top speed was an amazing 200 kph (124 mph) on virtually any surface.
Special care was taken to make as much parts interchangeable as possible, so the team would not have to pack excess spares. Bearings, semi-axles, hubs, springs, shock absorbers, levers and cardans were all made identical. In addition to aiding weight distribution, the rear axle assembly could also be sacrificed to provide spare parts when need be.
The car would then simply continue its journey on the four wheels it had left. Fully lockable differentials on both driven axles ensured power wasn’t lost to the side without a wheel whenever one of the axle assemblies broke. This meant the car could run on three driven wheels with the rear set providing support.
Every aspect of the alien vehicle reflected the theme of complete autonomy. De Montcorgé intended to contest the event without any form of outside support. Within the vehicle countless storage spaces were made for spare parts, food, tools, fuel, water and other essential fluids. The prototype was also equipped with a generator to supply electricity to a built in welding unit.
Another clever feature was the car’s El Camino-like rear deck, which could function as storage for spare wheels, a lunch room and a camping pitch to set the tent the crew would sleep in. As the one-piece kevlar tub didn’t account for silly old fashioned things like doors, the team had to slip into the cabin Dukes of Hazzard-style through the side windows.
Christian Dior rejoined as sponsor for the ambitious project, and lead to the car being christened “Jules II” in honor of both Dior and the Rolls-Royce. However, as the car was nearing completion, the team received some bad news. Thierry Sabine’s effort to revive the Peking to Paris rally had failed, so the squad nowhere to race their six-wheeled land speeder.
With too much money, time and effort put into the car, the team decided to enter the 1984 Paris-Dakar rally instead. They had designed their machine to complete a journey three times longer than the famed African rally, so the event would be a walk in the park for Jules II. Thierry de Montcorgé once again took up driving duties himself, and was joined by navigator and Dakar-rookie Jean-Pierre Nicole.
As expected Jules II caused quite a stir both in the run up to the rally and in the paddock. The car’s otherworldly looks and six wheeled stance captured the hearts of countless racing fans. Traditionally the rally started with a small and unchallenging exhibition stage on the way to the ferry across the Mediterranean Sea. Naturally Jules II barely flexed its muscle while clambering through the French countryside. A true test of its durability would follow when the ferry docked in Algeria.
The wondrous machine performed perfectly in the arid desert environment of Algeria. The car sped through the flatlands with an unrelenting pace, and seemed on course for a decent classification.
High speed stability was excellent on these long uninterrupted hauls thanks to the Proto’s long wheel base and extra rear axle. De Montcorgé and his team were in good spirits as their daring design seemed to be in excellent working order.
Unfortunately the pair were swiftly heading for their impeding doom. On the third stage from In Salah to Tamanrasset across the heart of Algeria, disaster struck. The constant beating the car had sustained from travelling at high speed over rough terrain had taken its toll. Despite the cars meticulous preparation and implied toughness, the chassis had sheared between the two rear axle assemblies. As a result the team was stranded 400 kilometers (248 miles) from Tamanrasset
As De Montcorgé had largely kept his promise to refrain from using an outside technical support truck, the small team had to work feverishly to try and get Jules patched up again. Sadly their valiant efforts proved to be in vain, as the chassis had been irreparably damaged. With their car’s rear end hanging on by a thread, the team was forced to throw in the towel. This would be the last time Jules II would turn a wheel in anger.
After the disappointment of Dakar, Thierry de Montcorgé sold off Jules II to an unknown French collector as a rolling chassis. The engine and transmission were taken out, and the unique vehicle became a static display piece. Its new owner died shortly after acquiring the racer, which saw it fade into obscurity as it wallowed in storage.
The car was rediscovered by French enthusiasts in the early 2000’s, and promptly fitted with a blasphemous 2L four cylinder turbo engine and gearbox lifted from a Renault to get the big beast moving. In 2004 the car appeared at a Val D’Isere motor show to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its Dakar participation. In February 2007, Jules II was put up for auction, still fitted with the Renault drivetrain. It eventually sold for €65,000 to an undisclosed individual in 2008.
The Jules II Proto 6x4 was a massively ambitious machine meant to conquer a gigantic section of the globe in one fell swoop. Conceived by an idealistic entrepreneur with limitless imagination, it was intended to be one of the worlds most versatile racing cars as it trekked through China on its way to the far side of the European continent. The amazing vehicle dubbed as a six-wheeled home, cafeteria, work shop and occasional long distance racing car.
Sadly the unfathomable monster rally it was constructed for never came to be, and the car was relegated to challenging the Dakar rally. As it would turn out even this much smaller event was too much for Jules to handle, as the rear end tried to break for freedom after only three stages. Its racing career was promptly ended by the side of a sweltering Algerian road, and it was stripped of its vital organs.
The futuristic looks of its kevlar bodyshell kept it alive as a static museum piece for two decades, before it was stuffed with some chicken innards and promptly auctioned off again. One can only hope some wealthy rally raid fan with an empty workshop picks it up one day to restore it to its full screaming V8 glory very soon.