The 2WD Sunhill Buggy first raced the Paris Dakar Rally in 1979 – and won its class in 2021.
For the first time Dakar officials permitted old race vehicles, like the 1979 Sunhill Buggy, to participate in the modern off-road race. Unlike the rest of the 2021 Dakar competitors, the Dakar Classic Class raced on a parallel course. Classic Class competitors ranged from 20+ year-old Dakar participants in nearly every class.
Knowledge gained from buggies like the Meyers Manx inspired Yves Sunhill to build his buggy for a shot at the first Dakar. Yves took VW Beetle components, modified it with a tube chassis and added a Renault 16 water-cooled engine. Opting to ditch the air-cooled VW powerplant, the Renault 16 was modified to produce over 160 horsepower.
Unfortunately for the Sunhill Buggy, it suffered a cracked heat exchanger in Niger and they were unable to complete the 1979 Paris Dakar Rally.
After many years, the buggy was obtained by Marc Douton who, alongside co-driver Emilien Etienne, campained the vehicle in the 2021 Dakar Classic. Nantes Prestige Auto, owned by Jeremy Athimon, stripped, rebuilt and prepped the buggy to compete in the 2021 Dakar Classic. Douton and Etienne are racing veterans, and brought their expertise to the 2021 Dakar Classic to win Class 6 (and winning 7 of the 12 stages).
Regarding those modifications: Nantes Prestige Auto replaced the Renault engine with a 130 hp modified VW Beetle engine. Engine power may have decreased, but torque and flexibility were increased allowing for a reliable run. Despite the overall updates, the racer – was mainly the same tech from over 30 years ago.
While the Dakar organization has not solidified the return of the Classic Class for the 2022 Dakar, it looks likely. This was a very popular part of the 2021 race. Many fans hope that this class will be permitted to run the same course as the regular participants in next year’s rally.
Check out this cool highlight video!