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Classic Dakar Rally Photos Remind Us Why It’s the World’s Toughest Race

The Dakar Rally doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve done.

Conner GoldenWriterGetty ImagesPhotographer

As fascinating as it is to look through images of past Formula 1 and Le Mans races, most of what you see is rather one-dimensional. It's usually an evolution of the same racing icons we've seen time and again, carving their way through many of the same handful of corners present throughout history. There's usually a whole platoon of photographers and videographers on hand to capture every turn, crash, pitstop, and finish, so little is left to the imagination. Not so with Dakar Rally photos.

Held since 1979, the raid-style Dakar Rally originated as a 6,200-mile trans-continental sprint from Paris to the Senegalese capitol of Dakar. A wide array of trucks, SUVs, buggies, and dirt bikes charge through sand, rock, dust, water, and dirt in search of rally glory. Much like the Baja 1000, just finishing the race is often seen as an accomplishment in and of itself on account of the event's brutal nature. As a result, we never tire of combing through Dakar Rally photos.

During the event's peak popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s, manufacturers like Porsche, Mercedes, and Mitsubishi clashed in the orange sand, bringing former Group B rally weapons and purpose-built desert rigs to the fight. Each running was a unique experience, with endless opportunities for the few photographers on hand to capture some of the most evocative photographs in motorsports history.

To prove the point, we dove through the archives to find some of the most incredible historic Dakar Rally photos we could find. As always, we picked out a few of our favorites, but don't miss the full gallery.

Two Stuck Trucks, 1991

Often, the unpredictable and treacherous desert terrain proved challenging for even the most overbuilt and prepared Dakar vehicles. It also produces some of the best historic Dakar Rally photos. Seen here is the team of a Toyota and Land Rover, working hard to unstick their trucks from the shifting sands.

Porsche 953 Cuts Through the Dust, 1984

One of our favorite historic Dakar Rally photos: Before the Dakar field filled to the brim with SUVs and Kamaz trucks, car-based rally weapons were highly successful. Porsche took home two class wins in the 911-based 953 (pictured) and the legendary 959, the former winning in 1984.

A Look at the Competition, 1988

It's not clear from this historic Dakar Rally photo whether these competitors are stuck, waiting, or camping, but this gives a good cross-section of what the Dakar field was comprised of.

A Buggy Pulled From Water, 1998

Dakar racers did not contend with only sand and rocks, as seen in this Dakar Rally photo. Water was one of the more dangerous and race-ending obstacles; here, a buggy is towed out of it by a support team.  

Flipped Mitsubishi

The caption says it all: "The rolled-up Mitsubishi car of Japanese drivers Akao and Terashima lies on the sand in the Tripoli-Ghadamis leg of the 12th Paris-Dakar rally." We love this historic photo.

Jacky Ickx Waits for Repairs

Formula 1 and Le Mans grandmaster Jacky Ickx won the Dakar Rally in 1983 behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen, but his later attempts didn't foster the same success. Here's Ickx awaiting some fixes on his competing Porsche.