The Paris-Dakar Rally is one of the toughest tests in motorsport, pitting competitors against blazing heat and shifting sand dunes. Simply reaching the finish line is an impressive feat and cars that have completed the grueling race are treated with a certain reverence. At Nissan, that reverence has led to a full rebuild of the Patrol Fanta Limon, which won diesel class at the 1987 Paris-Dakar.
Although it's not particularly well known outside Nissan, the Patrol Fanta Limon No.211 was the first diesel to finish in the top 10 at Paris-Dakar. Two vehicles started the race, but the support truck for one of the cars broke down after the first stage, forcing an early retirement. There was no such trouble for the car you see here.
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It survived the full 13,000 km (8,078 mi) route – which started in Europe and ran through Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania on the way to Dakar, capital of Senegal – before being offered to the Salvador Claret, a car collection and museum in Spain. The car then sat idle in the museum for almost 30 years, before an engineer at Nissan's European Technical Center (NTCE) spotted photos of the car on a forum, and arranged its return.
"The engine was in terrible condition," says Juan Villegas, part of the team tasked with the restoration. Although the 146 hp (109 kW) diesel four-cylinder was tough enough to survive the Sahara, three decades of neglect had led to heavy corrosion. The front axle was also in bad shape, and the electrics had been attacked by a particularly ravenous family of rats.
Having established its condition, the team at Nissan set about restoring the Patrol on weekends and free nights. Parts were sourced from around Europe, and original drawings and service manuals were used during the rebuild. The project was completed in November, at which point it was set free on the dunes of the Sahara.
"That was a proud moment," says Pedro Diaz Illan, the only member of the 1987 Patrol Fanta Limon team remaining at NTCE. "Our brains, hearts and souls have gone into this project and it has not been easy. But to see the car in the desert again was just fantastic."
The restoration was funded by Nissan and, although there are no details about where it will be displayed, you can rest assured it will be kept away from ravenous Spanish rats from now on. You can check out the car's return to Africa in the video below.