The first-gen Cayenne is arguably the worst Porsche ever. Not that there isn't plenty of competition for this booby prize: The 924 is slow, the 914 is slow and has a gear linkage like shaking hands with a corpse, and the original Panamera resembles a whale schwanz. Yet for many Porsche fans, the original Cayenne marked the point at which Stuttgart pivoted from being a company where performance and heritage were utmost, to another mass manufacturer churning out crossovers and profits. Also, it looks like a 996 crossed with a cankle.
But wait. Hark. Is that the sound of a straight-piped 4.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8, brapping towards us like a Rubenesque Valkyrie drunk on several liter-steins of Hofbräu? BFGs! Hellas! Skidplates! Rothmans livery! Oh, Cayenne, all is forgiven. Cue up Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls and let's hit the gravel.
"It was really just surprising and humbling to have people like Jeff Zwart tell me, 'your car is the talk of [Monterey] Car Week,'" says owner Peter Oszczygiel. "We kind of went a bit viral."
Why does this car look so right? A couple of years ago, Porsche draped the livery of several of Zwart's Pikes Peak winning racing Porsches over a half-dozen Macans, looking to lean on racing pedigree while launching the then-new GTS model. It didn't really work—the crossovers looked like dad-bod sports fans wearing their favorite players' jerseys.
In theory, this 2004 Cayenne Turbo should be the same story. A modern Porsche trying to pay tribute to the past can often fall into a trying-too-hard trap of pure lameness. Think of a base 911 wearing Gulf livery. You'd want to set fire to the poor thing, just to put it out of its livery.
With his Cayenne, Peter's picked an even bigger hero to worship. In 1986, Porsche won the Paris-Dakar race in dominant fashion, coming in first and second place with specially prepared 959s (a third 959 placed sixth). The image of a Rothmans-liveried 959 hammering through the red sands of Africa and past the pyramids is holy iconography for a Porsche purist.
When Stuttgart tries to draw a direct line between its racing past and its highly profitable present, we heave a world-weary sigh. When some guy in a Steve McQueen shirt climbs into a sky-blue-and-orange PDK-equipped Carrera 4S, we try not to roll our eyes. But when two tons of fat-assed mall-rat comes blasting through the dirt to embrace its true, mud-spattered inheritance, you have to cheer. It's like Mom picked up an M60 and went off to take out The Expendables.
Part of the joy of this thing comes from Oszczygiel himself. He's a Porsche guy's Porsche guy. He and his business partner Ryan Chung run , a Vancouver restoration shop specializing in air-cooled Porsches. It's an interesting place: Despite a fastidious attention to getting details right—like sourcing the correct date-stamped seatbelt connectors for a 1970s 911—they also co-sponsored Akira Nakai's trip to Vancouver to cut and build a pair of his wild, widebody RWB machines. Flatsix embraces both the purist and the outlaw.
“I bought my first Porsche when I was 15,” Peter says, shaking his head, “and I'm sorry to say that I kind of bastardized it. I've been trying to track it down though, I had a lead...”
And if he found it?
“I'd have to do it up correctly,” he says. “Hot rodded a bit, but correct.”
The Cayenne started out as something of a joke. One of Flatsix's mechanics came across it in dirty but serviceable condition, and approached Oszczygiel.
“What do I want a Cayenne for?” he said. “I was thinking about building an LR4 with a Camel Trophy look as a daily driver and something to tow with. But he kept after me: 'You restore Porsches and you don't even daily drive a Porsche?' And then the idea just popped into my head, fully-formed.”
Further, this isn't just a wrap on a stock Cayenne. The front bar and the exhaust are both custom-fabricated pieces done by Adam Trinder at AMT machineworks. You might remember Adam as the guy who swapped a Kawasaki motorcycle engine into the back of his Mini. He's experienced at building rally cars—brother Scott Trinder is a former Western Canadian rally champ—and built the front pushbar and skid plating to take a granite punch on the chin.
"Adam asked me, 'Are you sure you want me to rivet mud flaps to the bodywork of your Cayenne?'" Peter laughs. "I said, sure, no turning back."
BF Goodrich K02s on OZ rally wheels, a mild lift for the air suspension, a Recaro racing bucket for the driver, and some tuning for 550 horsepower completed the initial build. Further plans include a long-travel suspension to better handle choppy off road work, and a roll cage and four bucket seats.
As it stands, the safari'd Cayenne drives smoother than you'd expect on the road, and like a beast off it. It's completely ridiculous, snorting through the three-inch exhaust like an angry boar and sliding around wildly. There's no down time for the hilarity—you're either cackling with glee behind the wheel, or laughing hysterically at the audacity of this thing whenever you hop out.
With Chung debuting a restored, Trans-Am style 1970 911T at the Porsche Club of America Werks reunion in Monterey, the rally Cayenne was the perfect tow rig for the trip down from Vancouver. Peter says that when they rolled into the event, every head swiveled to look. It was both hilarious and unnerving.
Yes, Oszczygiel is going to build another one. He's already sketched out plans for Braid wheels and homologation-style monochromatic paint. That'll be the street version while this one goes under the knife to become even better in the dirt. He'll also be bringing the Cayenne to this year's Rennsport.
But really, this machine has already fulfilled its mission. It's proved that, just maybe, a Cayenne can actually be cool. It let a bit of the hot-air stuffiness out of Porsche fandom, at a moment when the diehard folks badly needed to crack a grin. And it shows that passion for cars doesn't have to be serious, that we all first fell in love with cars for the sheer childlike joy of it. Now, let's just see if a set of K02s and some auxiliary lights can't fix the Bentayga too.