The rich legacy of Volkswagen is largely defined by its road-going cars, meanwhile recently by its sport-utility vehicles like the Tiguan and Atlas. The great Volkswagen also has a half-century of racing endeavour in areas like the World Rally Championship, rallycross, Pike’s Peak, and most important the prominent Dakar Rally. The legendary Volkswagen has earned its place in the history with an impressive Dakar Rally performance and boosts confidence among the group: the Volkswagen Iltis.

It’s a short journey

The Iltis was built by the German army for the homegrown utility vehicle. In 1978 it started its production at Audi’s Ingolstadt facility; it started with a civilian model at the beginning of 1979. The Iltis was essentially a reworked and updated version of the DKW Munga that Audi had been building during the 1960s. The Volkswagen Iltis was built by a team led Ferdinand Piëch using parts from the Munga, other Audi models, along with the Mk1 Golf, the Beetle and designated Type 183 (technically the replacement for the Type 181 Thing). The Volkswagen Iltis was powered by a 1,741cc engine that produced 70 horsepower (75 with premium fuel) with a four-speed manual transmission and an additional low gear (marked “G”, for “gelände” or terrain). Its drivetrain—a mechanical four-wheel-drive setup was used that could run as rear-wheel drive until the driver engaged the four-wheel system as required. The year 1980 was considered as the second year of the Iltis’ production, the same year was known as the second year of the Dakar Rally. The race was at its nascent years at that time and was known as Paris-Dakar Rally that ran from the French to the Senegalese capitals. Around the world, a sturdy performance would draw attention to the Iltis as Volkswagen was continuing to market it to militaries. Volkswagen achieved two goals: First, it impressed the French military in particular—hence, entered in the Paris-Dakar—and second, was that it generated interest from the general public in the civilian model.

The contemporary Dakar Rally vehicles are purpose-built, with only bearing a shallow similarity to the road models they’re based on. According to Driver Patrick Zaniroli, the only change Audi made to the Paris-Dakar prepped Iltis’ was the adding up of a bigger carburetor and a different camshaft. Another difference in those Paris-Dakar years was the lack of “chase” teams of mechanics servicing vehicles at stops throughout. In those days teams ran with what they had, and if something broke, those onboard either patched it up by hand or was thrown out.

In 1980 all four Iltis teams finished Paris-Dakar, with Freddy Kottulinsky and GerdLöffelmann stood first and the others finishing second, fourth, and ninth. This outstanding Paris-Dakar performance bought the Iltis under Volkswagen, but the civilian market was hurt by the high price. The production continued through the end of the 1980s in Europe and under license internationally, in 1982 the last Iltis rolled off of the Ingolstadt production facility. Within a short period, the Quattro revolutionized the rally world, and “Quattro” was introduced to the world with an idea of an everyday four-wheel-drive car.

Navdeep Nandre

Navdeep Nandre

Curious and creative as a person, I have done masters in Mass Communication from Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism. Started my professional career as a Journalist and have covered Health, Education, Real Estate, StartUps, Auto Sectors, etc. Also tried my hands with the PR sector and have worked with some of the renowned PR agencies of India. Favourite Car: Volvo S90 Quote: Strength is life and weakness is death

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