Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur should never have made the Paris-Dakar trip together. It was unlikely that they would even meet. On one side, the Belgian driver, a true endurance legend and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. On the other hand, the French actor, the ideal son-in-law, has just come off the set of Boom in French comedies. But sometimes the arrangement of meetings is taken care of by fate.
One day, Jacky Ickx goes winter sports with a group of friends, including Claude Brasseur. In the bar of a ski resort, the small group find themselves watching Paris-Dakar on TV.
When I get involved in the news, one of the friends says from the back of the room: “I know two of them, if it wasn’t for the chicken, they would do it!” “Beer and Vodka” said the glasses one after the other, then Jacky Ickx and the two friends already imagine themselves in the race.
The next day, Jacky Ickx, on skis again, stops the actor. “Say, what do you think of the nonsense we talked about last night?”, launches the F1 driver.
Win the Dakar
In 1981, two friends took part in a rally behind the wheel of a Citroën CX in Texaco colors. The beginnings are complicated, “With every difficult pass, the car falls apart!” then says Ickx. The adventure ended in abandonment, but the duo learned a lot.
The following year, they returned in a Mercedes. The car was solid and Ickx and Brasseur finished the race in fifth place. The goal is now clear, to achieve victory in 1983.
The project was developed by Mercedes-Benz France with the support of the company’s German engineers. The latter know that the engine and aerodynamics of the Mercedes G-Class must be considered in order to hope for victory.
On the engine side, the Mercedes-Benz 280 GE will get special treatment. Engineering engineer Georg Berkmann is in charge of the project. It will consider a six-cylinder engine with two camshafts, increasing it from 156 to 197 horsepower. To combat extreme temperatures and dust, the engineer moves the air intakes.
But another problem in Africa is the quality of gasoline. “I put yellow and red marks on the flame distributor. Pilots could thus quickly adjust the ignition point if the engine made an alarming noise due to poor fuel quality.”
With its more powerful engine, the 280 GE reaches a top speed of 175 km/h, 25 km/h more than the standard version. Berkmann was convinced after last year’s experience that this pace would not be enough to pocket the intended victory in 1983. Berkmann then turned to fellow aerodynamic engineer Rüdiger Faul.
To optimize the aerodynamics of the 280 GE, Faul attaches pipe segments to each side of the windshield, thus significantly optimizing airflow in this area. At the rear, selects the marked extensions of the roof and rear side walls. Within the company, this striking modification of the body line takes the name “bus shelter”.
There is the result: the CX value of the Mercedes cube goes from 0.52 to 0.41. The maximum speed increases from 175 km/h to 200 km/h, and it consumes 5 liters less per 100 km.
The launch takes place early in the morning on January 1st at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. They are 193 passenger cars, carts and trucks, as well as 111 motorcycles set off on the 12,000-kilometer route that separates France from Senegal through Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Mauritania. Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur took a very early lead with 280 GE.
Before the end of the stage in Agadez (Niger), Ickx notices a severe loss of engine power. He gets the engine from his teammate and leaves. We are also suffering behind them. Mechanics come into action, crashes or falls of cyclists destroy the peloton.
Some give up from sheer exhaustion – or because they didn’t complete the stage in time after wandering the desert for hours.
The victory of Mercedes
A total of 61 cars and trucks and 28 motorcycles crossed the finish line in Dakar. Ickx and Brasseur are tired but favored winners of the toughest race in the world.
Mercedes-Benz hits the mark: Other G models from Mercedes-Benz finish in fifth, sixth and eighth place. But above all, the brand celebrates a double victory: Georges Groine, Thierry de Saulieu and Bernard Malferiol arrive at the Dakar behind the wheel of the first Mercedes-Benz 1936 AK all-wheel drive truck.
Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur succeeded in their bet: they took Mercedes to the lead on the Dakar beach.