Thierry Sabine’s passage through the world of competition would be meteoric. His contact with Africa would start thanks to Jean Claude Bertrand who would be one of the pioneers of rally-raid type events on that continent. At that time, we talked about the seventies, motor racing, motor racing, they had little to do with the current concept. When Sabine put the first Dakar (Paris-Algiers-Dakar) on the competition table in 1979, it was about a real fight for survival for the participants, a survival not only as competitors but as human beings. Its creator had planned an adventure in which, above being the first, was the fact of resisting, of arriving. Sabine’s Dakar responded to her spirit and had little to do with today’s Dakar, with the factory teams, the powerful sponsors, the generators, the press trips … Back then it was a challenge for amateur pilots, sometimes with little or no experience, with financial budgets that would make the most modest of today’s participants smile but, above all, an insatiable thirst for adventure.
Among them we can find the Marreau brothers, Claude and Bernard, winners of the 1982 edition with a Renault 20 4 × 4. Originally from Nanterre, they were the sons of Robert Marreau, owner of a mechanical workshop. From a very young age they had felt the call of adventure. So at the end of the summer of 1967, with a very limited budget (in fact, all their savings) they set out to go around the world in a Renault 4 L. After several months, the money ran out and they had to return home. . But with a 16 mm camera they had made a documentary that they presented at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, under the title of “L’autre côté du temps” which is awarded as the best amateur film of that edition.
Between the late 60s and early 70s, they faced the challenge of crossing Africa, between Cape Town and Algiers, beating the mark of Colonel Debrus. And they do it with a Renault 12 Gordini in 1971, covering 15,432 km in 8 days, 22 hours and 18 minutes (at 71.96 km / h on average). In addition, they carry out numerous humanitarian missions to the Sahel and in 1976, Claude and Bernard participated with an R14 in the 5×5 Abidjan – Nice.
Thierry Sabine’s call
When Thierry Sabine presented his Paris-Dakar project in 1978, the Marreau brothers were the first to sign up. The registration fees were 8,000 euros and they negotiate with Sabine with a knife between their teeth, achieving a discount of 40%. This means that they have a thousand francs of budget left to run….
Claude and Bernard thus face their first Dakar, in 1979, with a Renault 4L. It was still far from the monstrous factory prototypes: it would be Peugeot with the 205 Turbo 16 derived from Group B who would start that era. But this 4L was a bit special because they had prepared it with great care, a job that took 700 hours. Thus, it was equipped with a Group 2 Renault 5 Alpine engine that gave 137 CV of power transmitted to the ground through a 4×4 drive from the specialist Sinpar.
With less ground clearance than their rivals’ ATVs, the Marreau have to get off the sandy roads to roll through brushy areas. Soon the rest of the competitors nicknamed the two French brothers the “Desert Foxes”. Upon arrival, the 4L ranks fifth. And a year later, with the same car, they were no less than third overall.
The good role of Claude and Bertrand did not go unnoticed by Renault, who decided to support them. Thus, in February 1980, a naked body of a Renault 20 arrives at the Nanterre workshop. They cut, weld, reinforce and modify the car. The floor in the rear comes from a Renault Traffic van, with its rigid axle. The R20 also receives a 4×4 drive from Sinpar and a gearbox adapted to it. And under the front hood they install the engine of an R18 Turbo from 1,565 cc and 133 hp of power. The exhaust pipe exits through the sheet metal of this hood and rises along the windshield pillar, in the style of a snorkel.
With this car they participate in the 1981 edition, but they do not finish because of an accident. A year later they try again. This time they are supported by a second R20, of the same type, with the number 151 (the brothers had 150). The idea is that this second car serves as a donor of parts in case of need. But it would not be necessary and Claude and Bertrand won the test brilliantly.
Encouraged by this success, they participated again in 1983 and 1985 with a Renault 18 4 × 4, with which they finished in 5th place. Then they will do it with a proto Lada (abandoned in 1986); with a Mitsubishi (13th in 1988); and then with a Buggy (abandoned in 1993). The Dakar was already another test where a home team, if you allow the expression, could do nothing against the great factory formations.