Dessert Storm 2.0: Marc Philipp Gemballa Marsien

The desert as the perfect adventure arena for a current Porsche 911 Turbo S? With his »Marsien«, Marc Philipp Gemballa is redefining the feeling of freedom in modern high-end sports cars in a way that is as consistent as it is compelling. By the way, the whole thing also makes for a highly entertaining tribute to Porsche’s legendary rally history.
Text Matthias Mederer
Photo Oskar Bakke & Victor Jon Goico

Marc Philipp Gemballa, it all started with the idea of building a sports car with off-road capabilities. Why did you choose the platform for the current Porsche 911 Turbo S for this project?
Gemballa: I’ve always been excited about the Porsche Rally era and Porsche’s legendary rally cars like the 911 Safari or the 959 Paris-Dakar.
An interesting fact is that the 911 celebrated one of its first successes not on the racetrack but in rally sport, specifically the 911 S driven by Vic Elford in 1967, the first time a 911 entered the Monte Carlo Rally.

All these cars have one thing in common: they were built on a 911 platform. So it was a natural step for me to look around in the 911 segment. Of course, as the most tried and tested sports car, a Porsche 911 inspires additional confidence as a reliable platform for our first project. And besides having lots of power, the 911 Turbo S also has all-wheel drive, which is essential for off-road performance.

You can hydraulically raise the chassis by 25 cm from inside the car, which is unprecedented for a Porsche 911, regardless of whether it’s a Turbo or not. Doesn’t that inevitably bring numerous technical problems with it?
Of course. We are also complying with all the homologation specifications for 2021. And we are working very closely together with selected industry specialists, many of whom were close, long-time partners of my father’s and today count among the leading suppliers in the automotive industry. Not only do they have decades of experience in their field; they also know our standards and understand exactly what’s important. Take the suspension specialists from KW, for example. My father worked with Klaus and Jürgen Wohlfahrt, the two company founders, way back at the beginning.

Today, KW is one of the leading suspension manufacturers in the world. It is amazing what the two of them have built up over the years and I am very happy to be able to benefit from their tremendous know-how, especially in the off-road sector. The communication with them is completely different. We are totally open and frank with each other. That helps enormously. And that’s the only way we can do it. I am very grateful for that. The same holds true for RUF, who are handling our engine development, or the specialists from Akrapovič, who have made a custom titanium exhaust system for us. These are all established specialists, ensuring the best possible technical solutions for our project.

"I quickly realized that a successful and lasting business model meant offering customers something very special if we want to stand out in the marketplace."
Marc Philipp Gemballa

Credit: Victor Jon Goico

The current 911 Turbo was developed and built for the road. How did you come up with the idea of converting a sports car like that into an off-roader?
The market for sports cars, tuning and customization has undergone significant changes in recent years. Today’s discerning premium clientele have very different wishes and expectations. It’s no longer about building the fastest sports car with even more power and setting the next record lap time on the Nürburgring – in part because the records today don’t last as long as they used to. These days, a new record is set every week. The horsepower arms race is over, though for a long time this had actually been the essence of tuning.

I still remember how in the early 2000s my father, together with our driver Wolfgang Kaufmann, held the lap record for the fastest street-legal vehicle on the Nordschleife. It wasn’t until four years later that Porsche narrowly beat this record with a Carrera GT. That kind of thing would be inconceivable today. the manufacturers themselves have their own extensive customization programs, with the result that the typical tuning business is becoming increasingly less important. I quickly realized that a successful and lasting business model meant offering customers something very special if we want to stand out in the marketplace.

So it’s no longer about optimizing an existing car, as is the case with classical tuning, but about expanding its character to the point of reinterpreting it?
Abstractly formulated, yes. The 911 Turbo was developed and designed to be driven on the road or the racetrack. The Turbo in particular is and will remain the benchmark in this regard. Not only has it been equipped with the best technology there is, it has also been tested and fine-tuned. Absolutely stunning! What we are doing is we are continuing to interpret the design of the vehicle on the basis of its qualities and are giving it a new terrain to run wild in. And the essential pillars here are design and technology.

Building a modern 911 Turbo S for off-road use is one thing. What comes next?
At the moment we are focused entirely on our first project, which requires our full attention and energy. The expectations are very high. That’s why all our effort and all our passion is currently going into this project – it’s the only way to guarantee delivery of a perfect product. That’s our goal. As for the future, I can only say this much: we have received lots of requests for new projects and, of course, we also have some ideas of our own, and we will be pursuing these along with the wishes of our customers.

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