Clay, Pee, Rocks, Tiger And Tuna

Just Deserts


You might be forgiven for not knowing their name, after all, it remains niche to those outside of their main field (or should that be quarry?), but their trucks have not only helped build mighty projects, they also tamed the deserts of Dakar. This is the story of Perlini.

Officine Meccaniche Construzioni Roberto Perlini was founded in 1957 taking four years to bring to market the rugged dump trucks the company’s fame would be founded upon. Spurred on by Italy’s economic postwar growth, Perlini had fabricated their one thousanth truck by 1970. The early eighties saw them supply several Chinese operations with hundreds of trucks employed in the construction of the Xiaolangdi and Ertan dams; the former impounding the Yellow River, the Ertan holding the mighty Yangtze at bay.

Expansion was on the cards. The late 1960’s brought their first airport fire truck, later collaborating with Rosenbauer. Having renamed to Perlini International, they unveiled their best seller – the 131-33 – a rugged on/ off road tipper truck and an Italian first. But it would be trips to the desert where the Perlini name would be made (and potentially lost) which stemmed from of all avenues, a request from a world renowned racing driver.

Perlini 605D Baribbi Firetender. Image:

Having created the equipment to tame enormous civil engineering projects, the Perlini’s yearned to perpetuate the family name in the newfound desert racing scene. The final push came via the Swiss racing driver, Gianclaudio Giuseppe Clay Regazzoni. A paraplegic following a colossal accident when his brakes failed at the 1980 Long Beach Grand Prix, Regazzoni was nonetheless determined to maintain a motorsports career. His desire to race trucks in the desert (with hand controls) brought him to the Perlini’s door. The cachet of a former Grand Prix winner being irresistible, Maurizio Perlini – Roberto’s son – set to work immediately only for Clay to pull out of the program at the very last moment. With a desert raid truck now prepared, why not enter themselves?


The Perlini 105F 4×4 truck headed to Paris for the 1988 Dakar raid. Crewed by Jacques Houssat, Thierry de Saulieu and Danilo Bottaro, they managed an creditable fourth place. The sands had clearly got under the Perlini skin for a trip to Egypt later the same year saw victory in the Rally of the Pharaohs, this time with younger Perlini brother, Francesco at the helm. Such races and now victories began to command international press coverage, sponsorship and kudos (all scant in the UK) as Perlini trucks rode the crest of the dunes.

Swiftly nicknamed Red Tiger, the truck’s power derived from a two-stroke Detroit Diesel 8V-92 engine of 12.1 litres displacement. Tuned to develop around 600bhp along with an at the time monumental 1,690 Nm of torque, this twelve ton brick-shaped behemoth personified the art of desert raiding. The oleopneumatic suspension had 400 mm travel, the brakes were ventilated and three lockable differentials aided traction.

Red Tiger’s official top speed was 150Km/h but the truck could often be seen hounding Dakar’s car entries, upwards of 180Km/h which did not go unnoticed by the opposition. Jean Todt, eminent head of the Peugeot-Citroën motorsport dynasty was duly impressed to comment, “Chapeu, Monsieur Perlini. We spend 15 Billion per year on engines and our teams and your Red Tiger not only pushes us but comes in front [referring to the truck heading a Peugeot P4 driven by Maurice Chomat and Jacky Rocher] – most impressive!


1990 saw Red Tiger enter the 12th Paris-Dakar visiting Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal and beat all comers with a second Tiger placed close behind, Georgio Villa the lauded driver. 1991 saw Ari Vatanen win the car category for the third successive time, his fourth in five years. Stephane Peterhansel was motorcycle victor with Perlini taking the truck gong but not without drama. In a vainglorious gesture, Francesco, with a commanding lead (along with inexcusable arrogance) decided to complete the final three days of competition senza ricambi (Italian for no spares). Determined to promote the family wares, he managed quite the opposite – breaking the suspension, and ensnaring the truck out in the wastes. Luckily, Hassout in the second truck came through (with spares) to win. Rumblings of Perlini senior wishing Francesco back in the office may well hold truth…

The following year saw Francesco win, once more with Hassout as wingman (or should that be Tiger trainer?) against strong rivals from Hino, Mercedes and Kamaz. The team then entered the gruelling Paris-Moscow-Beijing rally for 1993. Joining them on this 10,000 mile, Rene Metge-arranged adventure were 110 cars along with over fifty trucks (30 support) taking just under a month to complete – with Perlini taking top honours. The truck had by this time turned white due to the lucrative (and now controversial) Rothmans sponsorship, yet keeping the Red Tiger moniker.

Francesco Perlini, despite being a talented helmsman, openly admitted to his fear of motorcycles when desert racing. The height advantage of a large, highly manoeuvrable truck may be superb when scouring the terrain but barrelling over a dune to find the small figure of a marooned motorcyclist was an ever-present danger, if one which fortunately never materialised. 


The tuna part of the title derives from the spirit in which such races are entered. Prior to the 1992 Paris-Dakar, teams used the traditional map and compass to navigate. Competitors natural instinct to race diminished if either lost at night or suffering mechanical or accident damage. Nights out, be that under bivouac or by your broken or lost steed generated camaraderie that still entices the adventurous time and again to try their desert luck. The Perlini team would happily share their tins of tuna fish with rookie and world champion alike. A drink, perhaps a cigarette or two and then back into the fray.

Our Perlini tale concludes by ‘taking the piss’. The desert heat (and cold) along with that of competition can lead to what appear to be schoolboy errors. A missed degree on map-reading could see you miles off course or fail to fill up properly. Emanating from Dakar 1991, the team miscalculated the necessary fuel required for a 600Km schlep by a mere two litres. With no spare supplies, Francesco hatched an ingenious plan. Eke out the fuel by urinating the extra liquid – the truck got through. A desert myth, or motorsport legend?

Stock in trade. Image:

1994 was the final year tackling the desert before returning to the more mundane business of dump truck manufacturing. Bankruptcy occurred however in 2016. Still trading (now under the Cangleoni Group fold for the past four years), Perlini may have abandoned the desert but are still capable of shifting earth.

Data Sources: Red Bull Italia piece (translated) from 24\03\2017/

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

16 thoughts on “Clay, Pee, Rocks, Tiger And Tuna”

  1. An interesting diversion Mr Miles – clear evidence that the whisky is running out? But thank you for introducing me to Perlini – that fire engine has the look of a sporting, non-amphibious version of the Alvis Stalwart about it, don’t you think?

    I’m also reminded of a very old joke about a motorist who runs out of petrol in a very remote location. Eventually a bee settles on the fence in front of him and asks him what the matter is. The man explains. “No problem, just take off the filler cap,” says the bee – who then flies off, returning minutes later with a swarm of his mates. They then….. you can work the rest out for yourself.

  2. There used to be a company in Northern (?) Ireland making airport fire-appliances, I have no idea of their name, or if they have survived.

    1. I think it’s Timoney you’re remembering. It was set up by a member of the engineering faculty at University College Dublin in the sixties. The company is still in business, although I suspect they may have been merged into a larger international group at some point, and I don’t know whether they still do fire engines!

    2. Here’s an 8 x 8 vehicle of the current fleet of FRA airport firefighters, made by Ziegler.

      These vehicles are very impressive.
      Because there’s an official demand that any part of the airport must be reached within a given time they either need multiple fire stations or very fast vehicles.
      This vehicle accelerates its 52 tons(!) to 80 kph from standstill in 20 seconds and can do 140 kph.
      Engine oil and cooland are alway kept at operating temperature by external heaters and air pressure in the brake system is held by external compressor. The connection lines for them simply drop off when the engine is started.

    3. You’re right Michael, it was Timoney I was thinking of. I saw their vehicles in the RDS in the 70s.

  3. Thanks for the history of Perlini. Here in north America, the Perlini name is pretty much unknown. As the owner of a Tatra V8 automobile, I quickly learned about the Tatra 4 X 4 and 6 X 6 Paris Dakkar race trucks, and how their #1 nemesis was Perlini.

    1. Mervyn, While I have always wanted a pre-WW2 V8 version {t-77 or T-87] I’m not wealthy so I’ve had to settle for post war cars. I had found a badly wrecked 1954 T-600 Tatraplan in the late 1970s, but let it go due to the inability to source spare parts. The T-600 had been sold new in Canada.

      After the fall of the Iron Curtain I managed to find two 1962 T2-603 cars, one out of the Czech Republic with only 65,000 km, and one from the former DDR. I still have the Czech example, but sold the DDR car to a museum in New York. That car had been rumored to be a former Stasi vehicle, and when I cleaned out the car on it’s arrival in the US, I pulled the bottom of the back seat, and found a brown paper bag containing a large [1.5m x 1.0m] Stasi flag that I kept.

      The car I still own has the original short windscreen and fuel filler cap under the front bootlid, but it was sent back to the factory for various updates in 1968, and at that time it was updated to the wide-spaced headlights, 4-wheel disc brakes, and full syncro gearbox and electronic ignition. The car from the DDR was original to the 1962 specs including the narrow-spaced 4 headlights. I shoulda kept that one as well.

    2. Many thanks Bill. I gather it was common for cars to go back to the factory for updating. The only Tatra I’ve seen was an early T77 in a high-end restoration shop in Chicago in 2013, partly disassembled. It actually goes under the hammer at Amelia Island next month. Somebody in West Cork owns a T87 but when I visited his property the car had been sent back to the Czech Republic for an engine rebuild.

    3. I’m amazed at the number of T-87 cars running around in the UK and Ireland. I was attending a TRUK [Tatra Register UK] meeting in the early 90s and had an opportunity to drive a well-restored 1948 T-87 for the first time. It was an interesting drive that I’ll never forget [on rural English country lanes]. When comparing it to my 1948 Packard Super 8 two door fastback, I felt the Tatra was quite “Agricultural” in it’s operation. But I still want one!

      In 1989 a friend from Germany drove his Tatra T2-602 over to England, and the 2 of us used it for 2 weeks driving all over the backroads [and a few M roads], with me doing most of the driving as I was used to UK driving. I was very happy to find the Tatra went around various roundabouts at far higher speeds than many sports cars.

  4. What I can’t for the life of me understand is how a company like Perlini, which has been successfully offering a special product for decades, can suddenly go bankrupt. Then, after a (cheap?) takeover, continues to be quite successful with the same portfolio.
    I can imagine that what the junior branched off from the company’s coffers for his racing activities somewhat reduced the profit. But until the insolvency? I think Signora Perlini would have said to her husband beforehand, ‘I’ll tell your son to find a cheaper adventure, we also need money for my kitchen help’. And the way I see an Italian Signora, Signor Perlini would not have dared to contradict that.

    1. Makes me think of Laverda, or even ISO Rivolta. At least Laverda’s harvester business survives under AGCO’s umbrella.

    2. Add MV Agusta.
      They made a fortune from building helicopters of their own design or under license from Bell but threw the money out of the window for becoming world motorcycle champion fifty times and building 600 road bikes.

    1. Andrew, I’m familiar with the T-600 website, but not the Margolius one. I will let Kirsten Tisdale, the editor of the Tatra Register UK, know about them. I have a signed copy of The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka by Ivan and John, I believe I may have the first copy to arrive in America. I have had a longing for Tatra cars ever since I was about 5 years old and saw a line drawing of the new T-603 published in a 1957 Time Magazine. I told my dad it was the most beautiful and interesting car I had ever seen, and someday I would have one. I just had to bide my time for about 30 years, until the Iron Curtain came down.

      It is because of this early interest in Tatra that I accumulated a large paper database of Soviet bloc automobiles, and after the collapse of the USSR I contacted the ZIL plant to see if they had an historical office, only to discover they had NO records of the older ZIS/ZIL [or ZIM] cars, and I ended up sending THEM color copies of the original brochures I had found!

      The Time Magazine article was about the T-603 the Czech embassy in Washington had. I grew up in the Washington DC suburbs, and kept watch for the car. That big black streamlined sedan was almost never used because it was said to be too conspicuous, and within a few years it was exported back to Europe, much to my dismay! In the early 1990s the embassy would invite me to various functions if I would drive my T2-603 so it could be put on display. I guess by then they were wanting the car on display to garner interest!

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