Porsche 924 944 and 968 History

The Porsche 924 proved that Porsche could hit a sour note, but that it also could eventually turn that miscue into something sweet.

As the Porsche 356 begat the 911 in the 1960s, so the
Porsche 924 led to something better with the Porsche 944 of the Eighties and the Porsche 968 of the 1990s. Yet like the Porsche 914, the Porsche 924's standing as a “genuine” Porsche has long been disputed. Never mind that it echoed the 356 in using contemporary Volkswagen suspension, brakes, and steering. Somehow, like the 914, the Porsche 924 just didn’t have the usual Porsche magic.

Porsche 924
The Porsche 924 fought to earn respect; Turbo Carrera versions like this helped.
See more pictures of the Porsche 924, 944, & the 968.

It certainly didn’t have Porsche’s usual format. Not only was the 924’s engine water-cooled, it was located up front. At least the 914s had air-cooled rear engines like any “proper” Porsche should. So what if they sat ahead of the rear axle?

Even historical significance is denied the
Porsche 924. Though it was the first front-engine, water-cooled Porsche to reach production, it was actually designed after the lusher, costlier, but similarly configured, Porsche 928.

Something else made the
Porsche 924 more 914 than 911. Where the latter was conceived as a Porsche, the 924 was designed by Porsche to be a Volkswagen.

The story begins in 1970 with two key events. The first was the arrival of Rudolf Leiding to succeed the controversial Kurt Lotz as VW general manager. Leiding was a sports-car advocate and racing-minded, but he was budget-minded too.

A very good thing, as he took over a financially troubled company. The Beetle, Wolfsburg’s prime profit-maker, was waning in popularity and there was no replacement in sight, despite numerous attempts. VW’s “big car,” the 411/412, was proving a costly flop, and the in-between Type 3 range had never lived up to expectations. VW’s 1969 acquisition of Audi/NSU from Daimler-Benz brought problems of its own and put a further drain on capital reserves. To ease the budget crunch, Leiding quickly handed over much of VW’s developmental engineering work to Porsche, whose expertise was as obvious as VW’s need for inspired new designs.

To that end, Leiding set VW on a new product-planning course: Baukastenprinzip -- literally, “building-block principle.” It was a General Motors-style approach, with cars of different sizes, shapes, and prices derived from a relative handful of components to reduce development costs and improve production economies of scale. This led to two spinoffs of newly planned front-drive VW models. The Audi 80/Fox spawned the VW Passat/Dasher to replace the 411/412, while the Golf/Rabbit, the Beetle’s heir apparent, sired a Karmann-Ghia successor in the sporty Scirocco.

The second key event of 1970 occurred when VW-Porsche Vertriebsgesellschaft, the jointly owned marketing firm for Porsche-designed cars using VW components, realized that the 914 “was not going to become the lasting favorite that the 356 had been,” as the late Dean Batchelor put it. “Management, therefore, began planning a new car to be designed by Porsche for VG to sell as a VW/Audi -- no more ‘VW-Porsche’ in Europe and ‘Porsche’ elsewhere, as the 914 had been [marketed].” Coded EA425, this project was the conception of the 924.

The birth would not be easy. Batchelor recorded eight separate requirements for the new sports car: interior space comparable to the 911’s, 2+2 seating, “useful” trunk volume (presumably more than a 914’s), greater comfort than that offered by the 914, all-independent suspension, maximum use of high-volume VW components, and -- most intriguing -- a front-engine design with some technical and stylistic similarity to the luxury 928, then under development. “Once the parameters had been agreed to, components...were selected by a process of logical application.

“It was understood that air-cooled engines were nearing the end of their production at both Porsche and Volkswagen (the 911 would prove otherwise) so one of the new water-cooled units under development would be used. The one selected was a Volkswagen design, built by Audi, used in carbureted form in the VW LT van...” It was also destined for the forthcoming Audi 100 and, of all things, the American Motors Gremlin.

Porsche 924
The Porsche 924 took heat for using many Volkswagen components.

Plans were well along in 1973 when VG was disbanded and EA425 became VW’s own project. It was only fair. After all, VW had been footing the bills, which then totaled $70 million. But then Leiding announced that EA425 would be built only as a VW or as an Audi, mainly so it could be sold through VW’s 2,000 West German dealers instead of just the 200 VW-Porsche outlets handling the 914. Zuffenhausen was stunned because the decision positioned EA425 as a potential competitor for its own four-cylinder 912.

The sticky situation seemed to have been resolved when Leiding suddenly departed in 1974, his expansion program having left VW/Audi more overextended than ever. But his replacement, former Ford Europe executive Tony Schmucker, promptly told Porsche there was now no need for EA425, given that the sports-car market was reeling in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo.

Porsche nevertheless had faith in the car and decided to save it by buying the production rights. The price was $60 million, and although that figure was a slight “discount” on VW’s investment, Porsche would spend even more on further development.

The deal was sweetened for VW by Porsche’s willingness to build the car as planned at the Audi/NSU plant in Neckarsulm, located a half-hour north of Stuttgart. This was more or less a necessity, as Porsche’s Zuffenhausen facilities were completely absorbed in production of the 911 and in preparation for the 928.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see:

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  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911