After selling just 862 four-cylinder cars in all of 1991, Porsche Cars North America was relieved to deliver 1,242 of the 968s -- still small potatoes by even BMW standards, but a satisfying 44 percent increase. Total series production rose, too. Again, the number wasn’t large, just 5,238 worldwide, but it represented a 28-percent gain.
There were plenty of reasons to like the 968, though styling may have been the least of them. To most eyes it was clearly a 944 in a 928 suit, and not everyone approved. But road manners were still eminently rewarding, and cornering power was better than ever; Car and Driver reported a body-tugging 0.93 g for its coupe with the optional suspension and wheel/tire packages.
The Porsche 968 was a better performer than its reputation might suggest.
There was more straightline go, too. Some observers questioned the need for six speeds in a car with such ample low-end torque, but as sixth was geared about as tall as the 944’s fifth, the extra cog allowed closer spacing of the lower ratios for improved low-end snap. C/D clocked 0-60 at 5.6 seconds, Road & Track at 5.9. “Ten years ago,” C/D recalled, “the 944 ate up 7.5 seconds getting . . . to 60 mph. [[. . . The [968’s] penalty is a drop in our observed fuel economy from 26 mpg to 20.” Well, Porsches do invite hard charging. As for the Tiptronic, it worked just as well here as it did in the 911, robbing a little low-end grunt in exchange for self-shift convenience.
The 968 saw virtually no change for the next three model years -- including price. Was Porsche quietly taking a loss on its four-cylinder line? Quite possibly. After all, a weak dollar was then eroding both sales and profits in Porsche’s biggest market, a key factor in the company’s close brush with death. Yet raising prices was not an option when rivals like the Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 300ZX were fast being priced beyond the reach of their intended audience.
But the main reason the 968 languished was new chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking, who decided to the entry-level Porsche back to its roots as the cornerstone of a new recovery plan. The 1993 unveiling of the Boxster concept thus marked the beginning of the end for the long-running “front-four” Porsches. Production wound down during 1995, just short of the series’ 20th birthday.
Needless to say, enthusiasts salivated at the idea of an affordable new mid-engine Porsche that promised to be far more exciting than the old 914. And it would be all-Porsche, not a joint-venture compromise like the 914 or original 924. Yet like both those forebears, the Boxster would prove another successful, cost-effective response to changing times. Because it was designed to share many parts with the next-generation 911, it allowed Porsche to field two new cars for (almost) the price of one. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. You can learn all about the Boxster by clicking here.
As for the 924/944/968, the old debate over whether they’re “real Porsches” still rages, and probably will for a long while. But there’s no debating the commercial success of the front-four models. By expanding Porsche’s market base far beyond what the 914 accomplished, they more than earned their keep while introducing thousands to the joys of Porsche ownership. And regardless of how they started out, these cars became “more Porsche” with each passing year, thanks to Zuffenhausen’s traditional persistent, passionate honing. To our way of thinking, it’s that which makes a 924, 944 or 968 as much a “real Porsche” as any 911. If they suffer by comparison, it’s only in style, not substance. And happily, they’re now starting to be appreciated as the world-class sports cars they always were. They might never bring six-figure bids at a toney collector-car auction, but money has never been the only measure of merit when it comes to automobiles.
Car and Driver’s Larry Griffin echoed this view back in March 1992: “In its basics, every Porsche provides the rewarding give-and-take that marks great machines. In a world sometimes aswirl with cars that sacrifice passion for ‘perfection,’ we see the 968 as as another of Porsche’s innumerable half-steps of progress on the emotional road. Just as after-images linger in the eye past the fading of the light, years from now some of us will still be able to call up accurate memories of how this car went. In that, if not in numerical test results or on the bottom line of price versus performance, the 968 is a winner out of the box.”
Coupe or Cabrio, the 968 cabin was a fine place to enjoy the pleasures of Porsche.
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