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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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

Porsche 924 Engine and Transmission

Porsche 924
The Porsche 924 used an Audi four-cylinder engine and a rear-mounted transaxle.

The one matter left to settle was where to put the transmission. Despite what one might think, front-wheel drive was an option. Though admittedly a stranger to it in production cars, Porsche never wore technical blinders. Besides, the great Dr. Ferdinand’s first car, the Lohner electric, had used it, so front drive wasn’t exactly outside the realm of the company’s heritage.

But with all the requirements, including VG’s original notion that space be allowed for a larger powerplant from some future VW, the most appropriate setup seemed to be front-engine/rear-drive -- and more specifically, a rear transaxle. Porsche’s experience there was plentiful, and management thought the configuration “technically interesting.” Even better, engineer Jochen Freund thought he could produce a good rear transaxle within EA425’s cost constraints. Most important, the layout would provide near even fore/aft weight balance, thus minimizing the potentially dangerous oversteer of previous Porsches.

Thus did VW Project EA425 evolve into the Porsche Type 924, a designation chosen to signify a complete break with the 914. (Porsche never used project numbers between 917 and 924 except for 923, the internal code for the four-cylinder 912E engine.)

The front-engine/rear-transaxle concept wasn’t new, having appeared on such diverse machines as Pontiac’s “rope-drive” Tempest compact of 1961-63 and Ferrari’s 275 GTB. But Freund’s layout was carefully designed with Baukastenprinzip in mind. The driveshaft was a tiny, splined affair, 20 mm in diameter, straight and without U-joints and encased in a tube to run in four bearings strategically placed at points of greatest torsional stress. At its ends were the gearbox and clutch, the latter bolted directly to the engine. Both engine and transmission were supported on a pair of rubber mounts.

Another “clutch housing” was provided in back for the torque converter of Audi’s forthcoming fully automatic three-speed transmission, which would be a 924 option and something new for Porsche. The manual transaxle initially offered had just four forward ratios (using non-Porsche baulkring synchronizers} driving through a single-plate clutch with diaphragm spring.

Conventional but contemporary described the engine: an overhead-cam inline four with aluminum head and cast-iron block. Slightly over-square bore/stroke dimensions of 86.5 × 84 mm gave displacement of 1,984 cubic centimeters (121.1 cubic inches). The cylinder head was a crossflow design with Heron-type combustion chambers (dished pistons, flat-face head). Unlike its VW applications, the 924 engine sipped fuel via Bosch’s reliable K-Jetronic (CIS) injection (as did the Audi 100 version). Other features included toothed-belt cam drive, double valve springs, and, for reduced heat and wear, exhaust-valve rotators.

Installation was at a 40-degree tilt to starboard, making this a “slant four,” technically speaking. It also made spark plugs hard to reach, as they sat on the right along with the alternator and exhaust manifold.

Though the 924 bowed in Europe with 125 DIN horsepower European, it went to America with only 95 horsepower (SAE net), the difference coming from lower compression -- 8.0 versus 9.3:1 -- and smaller valves. At least power was the same for all 50 states; California models used a catalytic converter to meet that state’s stiffer emissions standards; “federal” cars relied on a simple air pump.

Chassis pieces also came from the corporate bins to satisfy Baukastenprizip but were carefully selected. The front suspension comprised lower A-arms from the Golf/Rabbit and coil-sprung MacPherson struts from the Super Beetle. Out back were torsion bars and Beetle semi-trailing arms; halfshafts came from VW’s Type 181 utility vehicle (better known to consumers as “The Thing”). Bilstein shocks, cast-aluminum road wheels, and anti-roll bars would be optional. Steering was Golf/Rabbit rack-and-pinion with a slower ratio (19.2:1). Brakes were front discs from the Beetle and rear drums picked up from the VW K70 sedan that had been inherited from NSU.
These disparate elements worked together remarkably well; the 924 was certainly as much a “corporate kit car” as the 914, yet Car and Driver declared it was “still a non-conformist in the best Porsche tradition.”

Fortunately, Porsche tradition was not in evidence on the price sticker. Thanks to high-volume engineering and the plethora of borrowed parts, Porsche achieved the production economies it had missed with the 914, and buyers reaped the reward. On its U.S. debut for 1977, the 924 carried a base price of just $9,395, versus better than $15,000 for a 911.

 Porsche 924 GTP LeMans front view
The Porsche 924 GTP LeMans finished seventh in the 1981 24-Hours race.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

Porsche 924 Styling

Porsche 924 front view
The Porsche 924 got clean, contemporary styling that's held up reasonably well.

As with the Porsche 914, styling of the Porsche 924 was deemed all-important but was more competently handled. Credit goes to Harm Lagaay, then working under the supervision of Porsche’s American-born design chief Anatole “Tony” Lapine. Despite the order for a familial resemblance to the 928, the 924 was its own car, Lagaay reinterpreting familiar Porsche cues such as a grille-less nose and a strong increase in visual mass toward the rear. Emphasizing the latter was a large compound-curve rear window-that doubled as a hatch that allowed access to the luggage compartment. All 924s wore color-matched bumpers; the five-mph aluminum units on American models were mounted farther out from the body on hydraulic struts.

Though the 924 was some 10 inches longer in wheelbase than a 911, its cockpit provided similarly close-coupled 2+2 accommodations. The driving stance was appropriately low and sporty, so outward vision wasn’t the best, despite Porsche’s claim that “at no point is more than 63° of the driver’s full 360° obscured.” As in the 914, furnishings were spare but functional, though there were obvious signs of cost-conscious borrowing: VW steering-column stalks, Beetle door handles, and Rabbit/Scirocco auxiliary gauges located above heat/vent controls in the vertical face of the tunnel console.

Though aerodynamics was not a major concern in the early Seventies, the 924’s coefficient of drag (Cd) was a claimed 0.36, then among the lowest in the world for production cars.

Good points aside, the 924’s design showed a few lapses. The steering wheel, for instance, was slightly oval to increase under-rim thigh clearance, but most testers thought it did just the opposite. Directly ahead of the driver were a large central speedometer, a tachometer on the right, and a fuel-level/coolant-temperature dial on the left -- which was fine, except that conical lenses distorted the gauge faces and picked up unwanted reflections.

Of course, as the “budget” Porsche, the 924 had fewer standard features and more options than the 911, but it could be made rather plush via options. Among U.S. extras were air-conditioning ($548), leather upholstery, the aforesaid automatic transmission (available in Europe in late 1976 and in America from March ’77), stereo radio, metallic paint ($295), a removable sunroof panel ($330), front and rear anti-roll bars ($105), headlamp washers, rear-window wiper, tinted glass (a tinted backlight was standard), and a radio prep package (three speakers plus antenna, $105).

Two option groups were also offered. Touring Package I ($345) delivered 185/70HR14 tires and 6-inch-wide alloy wheels (versus 5.5-inchers with 165-14 rubber), the radio prep kit, and leather-rim steering wheel. Touring Package II ($240) added the headlamp washers, a right-door mirror, and the rear wiper.

In all, the 924 was distinctive and influential. Its nose, for instance, was aped by the Mazda RX-7 of 1978, and the new-for-’84 Chrysler Laser/Dodge Daytona coupes were unabashedly cut from the 924 pattern (as their G-24 project code suggested).

Early 924 road tests showed 0-60 mph times in the 11-12-second range, top speed of around 110 mph, and fuel economy of 20-22 miles per gallon. These weren’t sensational figures, but they weren’t bad for a well-tuned 2.0-liter four in a small, adequately equipped 2+2. In a comparison test with the rival Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT and Datsun 280Z, Road & Track gave the nod to the 924, even though the Z went for $3000 less in base trim. The editors loved the Porsche on the track and praised its balance, flat cornering, and light, fast steering. It’s important to note, however, that the car driven by R&T’s editors had all the chassis options, and that the magazine did not think as highly of the standard-issue 924.

Road & Track had two big gripes: a rather buzzy engine and a jouncy ride with lots of thumping over rough surfaces. Over time, though, Porsche would apply its customary corrective balms.

European 924s were quicker and more flexible than American ones, particularly after the five-speed option, a Getrag unit, arrived for ’78. By mid-1977, Porsche had partly attended to lackluster U.S. performance, bumping output to 110 horsepower (SAE net) via a higher-lift cam, larger intake valves, modified pistons, advanced timing, and higher 8.5:1 compression (as used with automatic-transmission models in the United States, Canada, and Japan). Of course, none of this affected running on 91-octane fuel.

Road & Track felt sure that the ’78 924 could best the Alfetta and 280Z: “The Porsche’s overall design, its interior layout and its handling are better. [It] looks great (especially with the optional alloy wheels), its seating is as comfortable as a well worn Gucci loafer and the car sticks to the road like chewing gum on the bottom of a theater seat.”

Porsche 924 rear view
This Porsche 924 is equipped with optional alloy wheels and rear wiper.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

Porsche 924 Turbo

Porsche 924 Turbo front view
The Porsche 924 Turbo delivered performance worthy of the Porsche crest.

Regrettably, the 924’s engine let loose with a fair amount of noise, and R&T repeated that this racket and the car’s buzziness and Milquetoast performance were simply unacceptable for a $10,000 automobile -- especially a Porsche. This was underscored in a later comparison test with the even more formidable Datsun 280ZX, Mazda RX-7, and Chevrolet Corvette. Here, the 924 finished third (ahead of the ’Vette), despite winning six “firsts” (braking, handling, visibility, exterior finish, and interior and exterior styling). “When it’s good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad, watch out,” the magazine warned.

“Very well,” the Zuffenhausen folks likely said. “We will fix those problems -- and we will give you a turbocharged 924 for good measure.” So it was that a turbo 924 was introduced to Europe in 1979 and to America as a 1980 model.

This time, Porsche built both car and engine. The latter retained the basic 2.0-liter block (shipped from Neckarsulm) but hardly anything else. There was a new Porsche-designed cylinder head, still cast alumimum but boasting larger valves, modified hemispherical combustion chambers, and new water seals consisting of copper gasket and silicon rings. Spark plugs now had platinum tips and sat on the intake (left) side. So did the starter, displaced by the turbocharger mounted low on the right.

The blower itself, supplied by Germany’s KKK (Kuhnle, Kopp & Kausch), fed a huge cast pipe that sent boost pressures of up to 10.15 psi (7 psi on U.S. models) up and over the head to the intake manifold, then down to the ports. Compression was suitably lowered, as was then necessary with turbocharging, set at 7.5:1 for all versions. The K-Jetronic injection was recalibrated to match, and there were two fuel pumps to assure full system pressure at all times. A standard oil cooler helped deal with the extra heat of pressurized power. As on the 930, a wastegate prevented boost from exceeding the specified maximum. Porsche also fitted a blow-off valve as “fail-safe” backup.

The result of all this in European tune was 125 horsepower (DIN) at 5,500 rpm and an abundant 181 pounds/feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. American-model figures were 143 horsepower (SAE net) at 5,500 and 147 pounds/feet of torque at 3,000 rpm, the latter figure still a worthy improvement. At 2,780 pounds, the Turbo was considerably heavier than the normally aspirated 924 (and even most 911s), but its performance advantage was enormous: four seconds quicker in the 0-60 run -- about 7-8 seconds -- and almost 20 mph faster all-out. Similar gains were seen in Europe, where Autocar’s test car hit 60 from rest in 6.9 seconds and topped out at 144 mph.

To handle the Turbo’s extra surge, Porsche took typical pains with the 924 chassis. The driveshaft was enlarged to 25 mm to reduce chances of whipping, rear halfshafts were strengthened, and rolling stock was upgraded to 15
´ 6-inch rims with 185/70 rubber. Gear ratios, spring/shock rates, and anti-roll bars were all revised, too, and a larger servo boosted the brakes, which were now ventilated four-wheel discs for Europe; American Turbos retained the previous disc/drum combo. The standard and only gearbox was the Getrag five-speed, complete with the awkward racing-style shift pattern that once plagued 911s.

Most early “turbo-era” cars were prone to poor low-rpm or “off-boost” performance, as well as turbo lag, the delay in response to throttle changes caused by turbocharger inertia. Both were apparent in the 924 Turbo but not irksome. Boost on the U.S. version began at a low 1,600 rpm and peaked at just 2,800 rpm. The larger, slower-revving European turbocharger began boosting at 1800 rpm.

Car and Driver observed, “As the turbo comes in, you can feel the zooming whee! of the crossover point and, with it, the character change in propulsion. . . . The boost is right there, coming aboard quickly with a firm punch that rushes you forward, picking off normal traffic and predictably defining the correct arc through every corner.”

Internal gearbox ratios were altered to match this power and torque delivery, and were the same for all Turbos except fifth gear, which was somewhat taller for the United States -- 0.60:1 against Europe’s 0.71:1 -- though that was offset by a shorter 4.71:1 final drive (versus 3.17:1). Road & Track’s John Dinkel observed, “Even though 5th is an over-overdrive (60 mph is only 2,280 rpm), you can let the revs drop to below 2,000 rpm in top gear, tromp the go-pedal and the engine pulls smoothly, albeit slowly. Try that with a stock 924 and you’ll be greeted with a chorus of shakes, shudders, buzzes and groans of protest that won’t stop until you downshift at least two gears.”

So the 924 engine had been pleasingly transformed. Much of the old noise and harshness were gone, because the turbo helped quiet things somewhat -- though its high-pitched whistle might make occupants think John Law was in hot pursuit. Porsche also added sound-deadening at strategic places in both 924s. That also helped, if not enough to satisfy C/D: “[It] does little to hide the thrumming, hissing, gurgling and sucking that come through the firewall like the sounds of plumbing in a cheap apartment. . . .” Still, those editors felt that “once you begin to associate the aural effects with the performance they accompany, you warm quickly to your little sound-effects symphony under the hood.”

Porsche 924 Turbo rear view
The Porsche 924 Turbo went on sale in the U.S. in 1980 to critical acclaim.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

Porsche 924 Turbo Styling

Porsche 924 Turbo side view
The Porsche 924 Turbo had distinctive visual cues, but wasn't enhanced by this
paint option. Nose and hood vents helped set the Turbo apart from other 924s.

Visually, the Turbo differed just enough to be noticed: lovely “spider web” alloy wheels (optional on normal 924s), a functional NACA hood duct, four cooling slots on the nose, Turbo tail script, and a modest spoiler rimming the big back window. The last, Porsche said, reduced Cd to 0.35, which in America made this the best wind-cheater of 1980.

Differences were fewer inside. A leather-trimmed 911 Turbo-style steering wheel and shift boot were the most obvious (automatic transmission was not offered). Though the speedometer read to 160 mph (later to only 85 mph, per federal edict), a boost gauge was nowhere in sight. Porsche evidently had an abundance of confidence in the blown engine’s strength and reliability.

Considering its performance, the 924 Turbo was remarkably frugal. Most early tests reported average mpg at about 25. But there was a price for all this: a little less than $21,000 in 1980
U.S. form. Yet as the sort of exciting evolution expected of Porsche, the Turbo was just the image boost the 911’s baby brother so badly needed. “Here is another real Porsche,” crowed Autocar, “a superb high performer. . . .”

Interim changes to the normally aspirated 924 were less dramatic but welcome nonetheless. The Getrag five-speed became standard for ’79, along with a space-saver spare (except in Britain), pressure-cast alloy wheels, tinted glass, passenger’s visor vanity mirror, and stereo speakers.

The 1980 models received a non-Getrag five-speed, basically the old four-speeder with an extra gear and -- praise be -- a conventional shift pattern. Emission control and driveability improved as three-way catalytic converters arrived during the year on both 924 and Turbo, making them 50-state cars. Porsche also attended to the occasional severe judder and axle hop of previous 924s via tighter driveline tolerances, revised rear suspension mounts, and new hydraulic transaxle mounts. The result was a better, if still rather hard, ride. Finally, Stateside 924s gained a little performance thanks to an altered cam and revised ignition timing, plus lower final-drive ratios with manual shift (5.00:1 against the previous 4.11:1). Horsepower now stood at 115 SAE net and 0-60 mph acceleration at 10.5-11 seconds, yet mileage stayed the same.

Another new 1980 American item was the Sport Group, a package option priced at $2,045 for the normal 924 and $1,960 for the Turbo. These sums bought the ventilated all-disc brakes previously restricted to Europe, five-bolt “spider web” wheels wearing beefy 205/55VR15 Pirelli P7 high-performance tires (replacing four-lug rims and CN36 Pirellis), higher-rate shocks, and a 14-mm anti-roll bar to go with the stock 23-mm front stabilizer.

All 924s were little changed for ’81 -- just standard halogen headlamps, rear seatbelts, and, belatedly, rear disc brakes. This might have signaled that Porsche had something better in the pipeline. It did: a thoroughly overhauled version called 944. With that, both 924s were withdrawn from the United States for six years but continued in production for Europe, the United Kingdom, and other markets.

Porsche 924 Turbo rear view
The Porsche 924 Turbo came with handsome "spider web" alloy wheels.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

1981 Porsche 924 and the Porsche 944

Despite the 944, the 924 was far from finished. Indeed, an even more special Turbo appeared in 1981 to carry Porsche’s flag among production sports cars in that year’s running of the famed 24 Hours of LeMans. Called Carrera GT, but also known as the 924 Turbo Carrera, it sported an inter-cooler and other engine modifications that lifted horsepower to 210, 33 above that in the roadgoing European model.

Porsche 924 Turbo Carerra
The Porsche 924 Turbo Carerra brought new style to the 924 line for 1981.

A more prominent hood scoop was provided to feed air, and larger spoilers appeared at each end for better “airflow management.” A lower and stiffened suspension with 911 Turbo wheels and tires nestled within bulging add-on fender flares. Performance was formidable: Motor in England got 6.5 seconds 0-60 and 150 mph tops. To many, the 924 now had the performance it should have had all along. Not surprisingly, perhaps, price was equally formidable at about $30,000, some $7,000 above the standard issue. Today, though, it’s a prized collectible, as only 400 production cars were built to complement a handful of racing versions.

Meantime, rumors were spreading of yet another “budget” Porsche, the so-called 918. A decade of inflation and falling dollar/DMark exchange rates had pushed the 924 far upmarket by 1980, and the betting was that Porsche would counter with a new lower-priced 914/924-style “cocktail” model. Most reports mentioned a Targaroof two-seater bearing 924 styling hallmarks but based on the VW Scirocco chassis. Power would allegedly be supplied by the 1.8-liter VW four from the European Golf GTI (and the new-for-’83 U.S. Rabbit GTI), while the body would mix aluminum and steel panels with polyurethane bumpers.

In the end, Porsche resisted the “918.” True, the mass exodus of British sports cars had left a tempting market gap at the $12,000-$15,000 level, but Zuffenhausen concluded that there was no point in competing there again. Undoubtedly influenced by American-born Peter Schutz, who succeeded Ernst Fuhrmann as company chairman in late 1981, the decision to avoid this particular niche was a logical one given the market of the day. Porsche was selling every car it could build, even at inflated prices growing more so every year. It had no need for anything new, let alone a cheaper car on which it would be tougher to turn a profit. As ever, future success seemed to depend on the time-tested Porsche formula of steady improvements to cars that were already superb.

But superb was not perfection, which helps explain Porsche’s motivation for the 944. The 924 may have been a commercial success, but its credentials as a “real” Porsche were still widely doubted. Even the Turbo couldn’t shake the VW/Audi heritage of its basic design -- especially the engine, which still left something to be desired. And somehow, the fact that the Turbo was built by Porsche, not Audi, never got through to enthusiasts and critics.

Pride is a strong motivator, and Porsche has always been very motivated. Since the image problem seemed to rest with the engine, the obvious answer was to give the 924 a new one -- a genuine Porsche engine. Then there’d be no question that it was Zuffenhausen’s car, even if most everyone had forgotten that it had been designed there in the first place.

Almost as obvious was the new engine’s source. The 924 had a slant four. The big 928 had an all-aluminum Porsche-designed 4.5-liter V-8. A V-8 is basically two slant fours put together, so why not slice the 928 engine in half for an all-Porsche four? Which, of course, is just what they did.

The result was an altogether superior car that lived up to its badge in a way the 924 couldn’t. More important, the 944 reassured Porsche partisans that Zuffenhausen was still on course. Don Vorderman, a critic not known for ready praise, called it “the best small sports car ever made.”

It was certainly a much-improved four-cylinder Porsche -- starting with muscled-up styling in the image of the short-lived Carrera GT. Fenders were aggressively flared to enclose broader 15
´7 alloy wheels and 215/60VR15 tires, a deep airdam was integrated with the lower front sheetmetal, and there was a smooth new polyurethane nose. The 924’s under-bumper air intake was retained, and a pair of standard foglamps was flush-mounted in the airdam. A 924 Turbo-style rear spoiler continued. Unlike the Carrera GT, whose fender flares and other panels were plastic, the 944 body was made entirely of steel. Despite Porsche’s claim of extensive wind-tunnel work, the 944’s “aero” touches lowered Cd to only 0.35, barely better than the 924’s.

Porsche 944 rear view
The Porsche 944 had a broad-shouldered stance that set apart from the 924.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

1981 Porsche 944

Porsche 944 side view
The Porsche 944 answered criticism that the 924 wasn't a "real" Porsche.

The engine on the Porsche 944 was far more effective than that of the 924. Derived from the 928's V-8, it was a single-overhead-cam design with silicon-aluminum alloy block and crossflow aluminum head. Stroke was the same, too -- 78.9 mm -- but a 5-mm bore increase, to 100 mm, took displacement to a little more than half the V-8's: 2479cc (151 cid). And for all the similarities, there were no interchangeable parts, though Porsche saved quite a bit of development and tooling money compared to a clean-sheet design.

The 944 engine was distinct in two more important respects. First, the 928's relatively simple Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection gave way to the same firm's new state-of-the-art Digital Motor Electronics (DME) system with integrated computer management of injection and electronic ignition. Second, the 944 block employed twin counter-weighted balance shafts. These spun at twice crankshaft speed and in the opposite direction to dampen the vibrations (technically termed "coupling forces") inherent in inline fours of more than 2.0-liter displacement. (A Gilmer-type cogged belt drove the camshaft; a second belt, with teeth on each side, drove the balance shafts.)

The balancer idea was novel but hardly new, dating from 1911 and Frederick W. Lanchester in England. Moreover, Mitsubishi of Japan had recently resurrected it -- with a patent. Porsche tried to avoid infringement by running its balancers in three bearings each instead of Mitsubishi's two but ultimately decided to pay a royalty estimated at $8 per car. As one Porsche executive said at the time, "There's no need to reinvent the motorcar."

On 9.5:1 compression, the U.S. 944 bowed with 143 horsepower (SAE net) at 5,500 rpm and 137 pounds/ feet peak torque at 3,000 rpm. The Euro version had 153 (160 DIN) on a tighter 10.6:1 squeeze. The factory claimed the American model would do 0-60 in 8.3 seconds, slightly slower than its transatlantic cousin. However, both would outsprint a 924 Turbo and were nearly as fast all-out (130 versus 134 mph) -- yet without the blower's complexity. Strict weight control helped. The 944 engine weighed just 340 pounds dry, while the initial curb weight of 2,778 pounds was just slightly higher than the Turbo's.

Porsche claimed no sweeping chassis alterations in turning 924 into 944 -- just the usual honing of spring/shock rates and anti-roll-bar sizes, plus attention to steering and transaxle mounts. The aforementioned beefier wheels and tires were standard equipment, as were the 924 Turbo's all-disc brakes. An optional sport package offered even stiffer shocks, limited-slip diff, and 7 ´16 alloy rims with 205/55VR16 Pirelli P7s.

The cockpit was much the same, too, though instrument markings went from white to yellow for easier reading, and a nice new tweed-cloth upholstery option made for a less sterile ambience. No-cost amenities were abundant, running to A/C, removeable sunroof, tinted glass, three-spoke leather-rim steering wheel, electric door windows, and heated power-remote side door mirrors.

A discouraging word was seldom seen in early road tests. The late Dean Batchelor remarked that a number of publications wrote about the 944 "as if employed by Porsche's advertising agency," and Road & Track was typical in judging the new "budget" model "worthy of the marque."

Predictably, perhaps, the engine earned the highest and most frequent praise. R&T found that "it fires up immediately and runs smoothly, even when cold. And Lordy, does it rev -- right up to redline in every gear except 5th. There are no stumbles, flat spots, or resonance points. Furthermore, there's low- and mid-range flexibility that allows you to drop the revs as low as 1,000 rpm in top gear and the engine pulls without protest."

The 944's handling was simply "terrific," according to Car and Driver: "You can drive like a hero without sweat popping out on your brow. The 944 is great because it responds crisply and decisively to every command, and it builds up to its limit in perfectly linear fashion. You won't find killer understeer here. And you won't find any nervousness at the limit." With standard tires, the 944 rounded C/D's skidpad at an excellent 0.81 g. R&T's like-shod car did 0.818 g.

Interestingly, R&T said the junior Porsche was now more than a match for the rival Datsun and Alfa. In fact, in a 1983 comparison test, the magazine picked it over that year's all-new Corvette, the Ferrari 308GTBi Quattrovalvole, and even the 928S. "...The 944 won simply by having so few weak points [and] the fewest complaints while being fun to drive and proving itself a useful, fine-handling, well built all-around car." In "sibling competition," the 944 "more than holds it own with the 924 and even the 911SC."

At just under $20,000 in the United States, the 944 looked like another bargain in Porsche performance, was praised because of it, and proved well-nigh irresistible. Sales were strong from the start, and the good folk in Zuffenhausen began breathing easier.

But they didn't rest, for the usual yearly refinements -- and some significant evolutions -- were on the way. The first appeared for 1984, when the original welded A-arms gave way to stronger alloy castings. Mid-1985 brought a handsome new 928-style instrument panel with more readable instruments, plus a smaller, round steering wheel to replace the never-liked oval helm. Also that year, the fuel tank grew to 21.1 gallons.

Porsche 944 cutaway display
The 944 had 2+2 seating, like the 924, but substituted a genuine Porsche engine.

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:

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

1986 Porsche 944 Turbo

As if to answer speculation about the return of a turbocharged model a rung below the 911 Turbo in its lineup, Porsche released the 944 Turbo for 1986. Aside from the blower and correspondingly lower compression (8.0:1), its engine was basically stock, but it packed a healthy new wallop: in U.S. trim at the maximum 10.9-psi, 217 horsepower (SAE net) at 5,800 rpm and 243 pounds/feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. It’s worth mentioning that American-market engines were now nearly identical with Europe’s, reflecting Porsche’s “one spec, one performance level” policy.

Porsche 944 Turbo
The Porsche 944 Turbo had 217 horsepower to the regular 944's 147.

Per longer-standing policy, the 944 Turbo was no halfway job. For example, new ceramic inserts in the exhaust ports kept gases hotter to provide more energy for the turbo and faster catalytic converter warmup for minimal emissions. The turbo itself (again from KKK) was not only water-cooled for efficiency but gained a small electric purnp that circulated coolant through it after engine shutoff, thus avoiding oil coking of the turbo center bearing and possible damage. A boost-limiting bypass valve still supplemented the wastegate, but the DME electronics could now vary boost with rpm, providing more at low crank speeds where it’s safe, less at higher speeds. DME also now controlled ignition timing in response to signals from engine sensors of incipient knock (detonation), a traditional problem in turbomotors.

Porsche 944 Turbo engine
The Porsche 944 Turbo turbocharged the 944's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

Like newer 911s, the 944 Turbo had wider rear wheels and tires: 16 ´ 8 and 225/50VR16, versus 16 ´ 7 and 205/55VR16s in front. Brakes were fortified with light-alloy four-piston calipers, and spring/shock rates were adjusted to suit the higher engine performance. Outside were distinctive five-hole “telephone dial” type wheels similar to the 928’s, a revised nose with wide cooling slots and reprofiled bumper/spoiler, rear underbody pan (to smooth air exiting from beneath, again for better high-speed stability), and a more prominent rear spoiler. Cd was now 0.33, a useful if not startling reduction.

With all this, the Turbo had to cost more than the normal 944, and it did: initially $29,500 minimum. That was quite a “sticker shock,’’ but Porsche eased the pain somewhat by throwing in 928-style seats with electric front and rear height adjusters, plus headlight washers and more uptown cabin trim. Options now included a power sunroof ($695).

The Turbo didn’t overwhelm magazine types as much as the original 944, perhaps because it cost so much more and wasn’t as easy to drive. Car and Driver, for instance, lauded acceleration and top speed but noted that “the Turbo feels more muscle-bound than powerful” at lower velocities. “Unless you punish either the tires or the clutch by starting hard enough to keep the turbo on the boil, the [car] feels sluggish off the line; flooring the throttle after normal clutch engagement produces little response for at least a second. And in top [fifth] gear, the Turbo requires 14.7 seconds to accelerate from 30 to 50 mph, versus 12.0 for the standard car.”

Nevertheless, C/D judged the 944 Turbo as “not only fast but well rounded...very competitive with the 911 Carrera and 928S. [While it] makes its driver work harder to generate the straight-line performance that the others produce effortlessly...the Turbo delivers much of the 928S’s comfort and refinement for about $20,000 less. And it demands less skill to drive quickly than the slightly more expensive Carrera.”

Porsche 944 Turbo
The 944 sported "telephone dial" wheels and rear tires wider than the fronts.

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:

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

1986 Porsche 944S

Porsche 944S front view
The Porsche 944 arrived in 1986 to fill the 944-944 Turbo price and power gulf.

A rather obvious price-and-performance gap between the two 944s suggested the need for something in between, and Porsche obliged in late 1986 with the 944S. The attraction here wasn’t a turbocharger but a new twincam head with four valves per cylinder. Though similar to that of the recently introduced 928S4, no parts were shared.

Valvegear was unusual. A single-toothed belt drove the exhaust cam, which in turn drove the intake shaft via a chain between cylinders two and three. Other features included larger-than-944 ports and beautifully cast manifold runners for both intake and exhaust. The result was not only more power and a fatter torque curve compared with the two-valve 944 but smoother power delivery than the Turbo and almost the same punch. The specific outputs: 188 horsepower (SAE net) at 6,000 rpm and 170 pounds/feet of torque peaking at 4,300 rpm.

Porsche 944S side view
The Porsche 944S combined Turbo styling cues with a new 16-valve 2.5-liter four.

Model-year ’87 also brought Bosch’s four-channel anti-lock brake system as a 944S and Turbo option, surely one of the most worthwhile contributions to “active safety” ever devised. For passive safety, air bags for both driver and passenger became standard for the Turbo and optional for other 944s in the U.S., making these the first cars available with a passenger air bag at any price. The innovation may seem contrary to high performance, but it only reflected Porsche’s longstanding concern for safety.

More pleasant ’87 developments included higher-tech sound systems and a standard split-fold rear seat to enhance cargo-carrying versatility. A notable suspension change was switching from slightly positive to slightly negative steering “scrub” radius for improved steering control in a front-tire blowout or with one side of the car running on a lower-friction surface.

Conceptually, the 944S was a mix: Turbo-type wheels, normal 944 bodywork and features, in between price. But while twin cams and 16 valves are always neat, the S generated more mixed reactions than even the Turbo. In a September 1987 report, Automobile magazine founder David E. Davis groused that “in the mountains, the 944S wants to be driven between 4000 and 6000 rpm in order to strut its stuff. The 944 Turbo is lazier...In traffic, however, the Turbo becomes finicky -- it won’t be lugged -- and requires just as much shifting as the S.”

But the S avenged itself on the track. “It is forgiving, neutral, pitchable,” said Davis, “maybe the easiest car in the world to drive fast. It scrubs off speed obligingly, using both ends...Any tendency for the tail to come around is mild and controllable... The Turbo, on the other hand... requires both experience and finesse to be driven well at the limit.” Davis put this down to tire differences: 215/60VR15s on the S versus the Turbo’s unequal-size rubber (but an S option). “The two cars, so much alike to the casual onlooker, really define their quite different personas the moment a serious driver sits down behind their respective steering wheels.”

Summing things up, Davis thought the S was the “true next step in the [944’s] evolution... It’s lively, quick [the factory said 7.7 seconds 0-60 mph] and responsive. It has no vices. At $30,850, it is expensive, but we reckon it’s money well spent. The 944 Turbo is lower and meaner-looking...and it transmits an entirely different set of signals to its driver. It feels heavy, but it is also very fast in everyday driving [6.1 seconds 0-60, 10 mph up on top speed at 152 mph]. The combination is an exciting one, but it really isn’t a 944 anymore. It ought to have its own type number.”

Meantime, Zuffenhausen had been wrestling with the perennial problem of how to keep at least one four-cylinder model reasonably affordable in the face of a declining dollar/DMark ratio it could do nothing about. There was also a need to perk up 924 sales in Europe, which had lately fallen off. Again, the answer was about as obvious as the 944 solution.

Porsche 944S rear view
The Porsche 944S was faster than the base 944 and cost less than the 944 Turbo.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
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  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

1987 Porsche 924S

The answer to flagging 924 sales materialized for 1987 in all markets, United States included, as an upgraded 924, also bearing an S suffix. Though it looked much like the original 924, right down to the old dash, it benefited from 944 chassis hardware and running gear, plus a good many standard extras (air, tinted glass, heated power-remote door mirrors, and power steering, windows, and antenna).

1987 Porsche 924S
The Porsche 924S put a 944 2.5-liter engine in the 924 body, to great effect.

With its lighter-than-944 shell and the smoother, more potent eight-valve 944 engine, the 924S had a higher top end than the old 924 Turbo and nearly the same acceleration. It also proved quicker than the base 944 -- to Porsche’s embarassment. But the 924S was the answer to a prayer for many Porsche fans of lesser means. And by late-Eighties standards it was fair value at $19,900 to start.

For 1988, the U.S. 924S and 944 shifted to a catalyst version of the eight-valve 2.5-liter four, previously restricted to Europe, to gain 11 horses (for 158 total) and 15 pounds/feet of torque (to 155). Tighter compression (10.2 versus 9.7:1) and recalibrated DME did the trick. The factory said the manual-shift 924S was now 0.3-second quicker to 60 (at 8.0 seconds) and 3 mph faster all out (137 mph). Comparable 944 figures were 8.2 seconds and 136 mph (up from 131).

With one exception, the four-cylinder series was otherwise little changed for ’88, though options proliferated: CD player, more elaborate 10-speaker audio, “soft look” leather upholstery. Another kind of option appeared in a Special Edition 924S and 944. Only 500 of each were built to assure exclusivity, but they were little more than the regular models with specific paint and interior and certain optional features included.

Porsche 924S
The Porsche 924S was Porsche's entry-level model, and a smart sports car buy.

The aforesaid exception was the new 1988 Turbo S, which swelled Porsche’s four-cylinder U.S. line to no fewer than five models. Inspired by the racing 944 Turbos running in the European pro-am Porsche Turbo Cup series, it was another low-volume special, only this time the run was 1,000, of which 700 came to America and 270 stayed in Germany. (We leave it to you to figure how many that left the rest of the world.)

It was worth latching on to, despite a stiff U.S. base price of $48,350. The reason was 247 horsepower, up 30 from the normal Turbo, achieved via a bigger blower giving more boost (up to 11.7 psi). Suspension was upgraded to match in the usual Porsche way. So were wheels: new-design 16-inchers, with the rears growing to 9 inches in width. Wrapped around them were meaty V-rated Goodyear Eagle VR performance tires sized at 225/50 fore, 245/45 aft. Also included were the massive ABS brakes from the 928S4, with 12-inch front rotors and 11.8-inch units in back. Rounding out “standard extras” were limited-slip diff, “full-power” front sports seats, special cloth cockpit trim, fold-down back seat, headlight washers, and rear wiper. You also got premium audio, cruise control, and sunroof, but in a cagey move recalling Sixties Detroit, Porsche made those items “mandatory options,” which inflated the true bottom line by $2,157.

Still, Car and Driver’s Tony Assenza termed the Turbo Sa bargain” -- and not with tongue in cheek. After all, this was the most exciting 944 yet, with 0-60 coming in 5.5 seconds by C/D’s watch, the standing quarter-mile in 13.9 at a racy 101 mph. “You’ll have a hard time finding a GT machine that’s as easy to drive fast and as easy to live with as the 944 Turbo S,” said Assenza. “It’s by far the stongest performing four-cylinder car in the world, and only a few cars of any stripe can match or beat its numbers. The same holds for its combination of mechanical smoothness, creature comforts and handling precision. Add all its virtues together and its least expensive competitor is the Porsche 928S4, which, comparably equipped, costs another twenty grand. See? We told you the 944 Turbo S is a bargain.”

Motor Trend also branded the Turbo S a bargain. Though that magazine managed only 6.57 seconds to 60 and 15.1 seconds at 97.4 mph in the quarter-mile, dynamic behavior earned the usual five stars. Nevertheless, editor Jeff Karr couldn’t resist chiding some nuisances Porsche hadn’t addressed, “like having the single sideview mirror control joystick on the driver’s door but positioning the left/right selector switch on the console. Or how about the tripmeter reset button disguised as a vent control knob? They’re probably still coughing beer out their noses in Weissach over that one.”

Porsche 924S side view
The tempting Porsche 924S was priced at just under $20,000 in 1987.

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:

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

Porsche's 1980s Crisis

A sharp drop in U.S. Porsche sales began in late 1987, aggravated by the biggest “crash” in Wall Street history. With its heavy reliance on the U.S. market, Porsche’s fortunes depended more than those of most automakers on the health of the dollar. When the stock market plunged, the DMark soared, which only worsened the price pressure on all Porsche products. That and more aggressive sports-car competition explains why the firm’s total U.S. sales plunged about 50 percent in just two years, dropping from an all-time high of 30,000-plus in calendar 1986 to under 16,000 by the end of ’88.

There were problems in the executive ranks, too, and they’re worth mentioning here. First, in late 1988, the Porsche board summarily dismissed wunderkind chairman Peter Schutz, some say because he clashed once too often with the Porsche and Piech families. But in his stead came Heinz Branitzki, a finance man who angered many old hands in Zuffenhausen by forcing longtime chief engineer Helmut Bott to take early retirement. Worse, Bott’s hand-picked successor, Ulrich Bez, stirred up more ill feeling with a heavy-handed reorganization of the Weissach Development Center.

Porsche 944
Even the strong-selling 944 line couldn't keep Porsche ahead of financial trouble.

Bez also decreed several costly new programs that threatened to trigger a cash crisis. Among these were another low-priced VW-based sportster, Project 995; a 959 successor, called 965, which was far more involved than the 911 Carrera 4 ultimately offered; and -- talk about heresy -- a V-8 four-door “sedan,” Project 989, which would have to sell for no less than $93,000 to turn a profit. Meantime, sales kept falling, thanks partly to a stubborn U.S. recession. Porsche soon became the subject of takeover rumors, with Daimler-Benz most often mentioned as savior.

Fortunately for Porsche and its partisans, saner heads ultimately prevailed. Branitzki retired after only about a year, and Bez was soon fired. New chairman Arno Bohn was no more a “car guy” than Branitzski, but he could read a ledger, and he soon ended the spendthrift programs championed by Bez while seeking ways to “right size” the company for the vastly changed sales situation. Though more disagreements with the two “ruling families” forced Bohn to resign in mid-1992, his replacement was a good one: engineer and former production boss Wendelin Wiedeking. By that time, Horst Marchart, a 20-year Porsche veteran also well liked in Zuffenhausen, was in charge of product development. Within two years, this new regime had trimmed the corporate payroll by about a third (from some 9,000 workers to around 6,600) and had started charting a new model course to take Porsche profitably into the 21st century while allowing it to remain proudly independent.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

1989 Porsche 944

Porsche 944 Turbo rear view
The Porsche 944 Turbo was last sold in the U.S. as a 1989 model.

Even before the dark days of the late 80s -- arguably the most difficult since Ferry set up shop in Gmund -- Porsche had decided to reduce production of its four-cylinder models to match the decreasing demand. An immediate casualty was the 924S, dropped in late 1988 as too old and too costly to sell well against newer Japanese sporty cars and especially, Porsche thought, Volkswagen’s forth-coming Corrado.

As for the 944s, the plan was simple: Do everything possible to make them better while doing everything possible to keep prices down -- which seemed virtually impossible. Even so, the ’89 models evidenced a return to Porsche’s original “giant killer” role as a producer of premium sports cars that delivered far more performance than their looks implied.

First up was a base 944 improved with a new 2.7-liter engine. This was basically the eight-valve 2.5 with a bigger bore (up from 100 mm to 104), larger intake valves, higher compression (10.9:1), and, at last, Bosch DME ignition/injection. With all this, horsepower jumped by 15 to 162, and torque swelled to 166 pounds/feet, though the peak was now 1,200 rpm higher at 4,200.

Road & Track opined that these changes transformed “the [basic] 944’s character to that of a more muscular and extroverted car.” Indeed, the magazine’s quarter-mile time was down to 15.7 seconds at 87.5 mph, and the 0-60 sprint was 1.2 seconds faster at 7.5. “Now [the 944] hustles with greater alacrity, in any gear, at any time, while requiring a lot less advance notice with the gearshift and accelerator. It simply has more flexibility and is more fun to drive.”

The latest 944 was also more civilized, thanks to added standards like central locking, power heated door mirrors, power windows, an anti-theft alarm, and an electric tilt/take-out sunroof. Of course, the additions lifted sticker price -- to $36,360 in the United States -- but Porsche Cars North America (PCNA) took pains to point out that that was only 1.1 percent higher than an ’88 model with comparable options.

Even so, R&T’s staff remained split on the value question, especially as interior appointments were still “not outstanding” for the class. “But both camps agree that the 944 is still a sensational machine and a worthy target for any manufacturer who aspires to build a real driver’s car.”

Porsche moved the target higher in early 1989 with release of the 944S2 and a more potent 944 Turbo. The latter was essentially the previous S-model with a nicer price: $47,600 -- a decrease, crowed PCNA, of 4.7 percent on an “equipment adjusted” basis. Rear rolling stock was back to eight inches, but all tires were now Z-rated.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

1989 Porsche 944S2

Porsche 944S2 convertible front view
The Porsche 944S2 was offered as a coupe and in this Cabriolet body style.

The S2 was something else. It, too, had the new standard goodies of the base and Turbo models, but it looked like a Turbo and was almost as strong, thanks to a 16-valve engine stroked to 88 mm (on the 2.7’s 104-mm bore) for no less than 3.0 liters, making it the world’s largest four-cylinder in regular production.

Despite mounting corporate troubles, the S2 showed no less engineering care than any other Porsche. For example, the new 3.0-liter actually weighed 15 percent less than the old 2.5, thanks to joined cylinder sleeves without water jacketing, shallower jackets elsewhere, and thinner block walls. Switching from cast to forged aluminum pistons didn’t save weight but did wonders for high-speed durability.

A revised intake system gave a “pulse charge” effect for more high-end power (it was noticed above 4,000 rpm) and a catalytic converter moved closer to the engine to shorten warm-up time for reduced emissions. An adaptive knock sensor and the addition of an on-board diagnostic system to allow tracing any intermittent faults in the Bosch Motronic engine computer rounded out the improvements. With all this, the big four now delivered 208 horsepower at 5,800 rpm in U.S. tune and 207 pounds/feet of torque peaking at a usefully low 4,100. And that was on regular gas, despite tight 10.9:1 compression.

Porsche 944S2 convertible rear view
The Porsche 944S2 had a rear body underpan, similar to the 944 Turbo's.

Motor Trend judged the S2 a fine piece of work. After testing a coupe in little-changed 1990 form, editor Jeff Karr enthused that the 3.0-liter “acts like a strong-running six instead of a hard-working four.” And it did. At 6.62 seconds to 60 mph by MT’s clock, the S2 was a mere 0.05-second slower than the previous Turbo S and right up there with such vaunted performers as the latest Corvette and Mazda’s turbo-rotary RX-7. What’s more, said Karr, the S2 beat those rivals in the standing quarter-mile, logging 14.85 seconds at 95.2 mph. “Even though the [944] Turbo makes 247 hp at its peak, the S2 is quicker in the real world in all but the most demanding circumstances.”

Price was definitely demanding at an ’89 U.S. base list of $45,285, way above most every other car with similar performance. But Karr had an answer to that, too: “Porsche-ness.” The S2’s price premium, he said, “buys something that can’t be found for less money . . . an intangible too tough to label and impossible to measure with a stopwatch. Call it quality, call it elegance, but something there that makes the driving experience somehow more satisfying in the Porsche.” High praise for a car whose basic design was over 10 years old.

But Porsche had prepared another dose of youthfulness in the form of its first front-engine convertible. Admittedly, the new S2 Cabriolet was a long time coming, announced in late 1987 but not genuinely available until early ’89. Nevertheless, it charmed the most jaded critics despite an initial U.S. sticker of $52,650.

That price partly reflected a convoluted conversion process again involving Audi in Neckarsulm but also a new factory that had been set up by American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) in nearby Heilbronn. As Car and Driver’s John Phillips III described the process, unfinished coupe bodies “are shipped from Audi to ASC, where the tops are torched off. . . . The rocker sills and doorjambs are buttressed, and a pair of crossmembers are sandwiched by a second floorpan. In this half-finished condition, the S2 Cabrio goes back to Audi for its Porsche-built engine and drivetrain. And then it is shipped again to ASC, where it is fitted with a unique windscreen -- 2.4 inches shorter than the coupe’s, which accounts in large part for the Cabrio’s charming [911] ‘Speedster-esque’ appearance. At the same time, ASC installs plastic caps atop the rear fenders (for aesthetic reasons only) and fashions an entirely new rear deck, making this the first 944 with a trunk.”

Unfortunately, there was scarcely room in that trunk for a deep-dish pizza. The coupe’s token rear seats were omitted to make stowage space for the top, though that did leave a useful package shelf with a couple of lidded “gloveboxes” below. The top itself was rather vexing. As on 911 Cabrios, it was a multi-layered canvas affair, fully insulated and powered, but it folded into a bulky lump and only after being released from the windshield header with a rather clumsy little Allen-type wrench.

On the other hand, the droptop S2 was surprisingly draft-free at speed, even with the side windows down (also recalling 911 Cabrios). Porsche managed to hold the expected weight increase to just 123 pounds while preserving about 98 percent of the coupe’s rock-solid structural feel. As a result, the new open S2 felt and acted much like its closed companion on straight and curved roads alike.

Porsche 944 S2 convertible with top up
The Porsche 944S2 came with seven-spoke alloy wheels. This is a 1990 model.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

1992 Porsche 968

Neither the new S2s nor the “value-priced” standard 944 were enough to spark four-cylinder sales, and world production for the ’89 series was a disappointing 8036. With Porsche’s cash starting to run low, product efforts were increasingly focused on the more profitable 911 family, so it was no real surprise that the S2 coupe and Cabrio were the only 944s to return to U.S. showrooms for 1990. Both were virtually unchanged except for still lower prices. In reductions that came midway through the 1989 sales season, the coupe fell to $41,900, the convertible to $48,600.

Porsche 968
The Porsche 968 bowed for 1992 as the final evolution of the 924/944 design.

It was a timely thing to do. Road & Track’s Peter Egan still thought the 944 “a true driver’s car, with excellent (50/50) balance, superb brakes and responsive, linear steering with good feedback. . . . More than most of its competition, the 944 manages to feel both sophisticated and tough at the same time. And the current S2 is the best 944 yet. . . . Whether [the cabrio] is a good value . . . depends, I suppose, upon the ease or difficulty with which the buyer acquires this amount of money.” Car and Driver’s John Phillips was less equivocal, calling the 1990 Cabrio “a real deutsch treat. But who will reach for his checkbook first?”

The answer wasn’t long in coming, and it wasn’t the one Porsche wanted, as four-cylinder production hit a new low of just 4,104 units for calendar-year 1990. But there was nothing to do except carry on, so the S2 coupe continued into ’91 with only a wing-type spoiler and a window sticker reading $1,450 higher; the Cabrio was untouched, but its price rose by $1,750.

Sales turned up a little in 1992, and the reason was called 968. On the surface it looked like little more than a 944S2 restyled with 928 cues. (The restyle is credited to Harm Lagaay, by now in charge of Porsche’s design studios.) There were even the same sort of exposed, laid-back headlamps that flipped up to vertical when switched on and 928-type tail styling. But although Porsche was running low on money, it didn’t show, for the 968 was no less thorough a makeover than the 944 had been a decade earlier.

Improvements began under the hood, where the big twincam four was treated to a revised cylinder head with higher 11.0:1 compression, smoother intake passages, freer-flow exhaust, and a new wrinkle called VarioCam -- Porsche’s answer to the power-boosting variable-valve-timing systems on newer models from BMW and several Japanese makes. Car and Driver’s Pat Bedard thought VarioCam “at best inelegant -- it amounts to a plastic rubbing block, controlled by the engine computer, that adjusts the length of the drive chain between the intake and exhaust cams.” Maybe so, but the idea behind it was sound. Below 1500 rpm, VarioCam allowed only a small amount of valve overlap for a smooth idle and low emissions. Between 1,500 and 5,500 rpm it retarded timing to promote better cylinder filling for more torque. Above 5,500, timing was advanced for maximum power. With all this, the 3.0 muscled up to 236 horsepower at 6,200 rpm in U.S. trim and 225 pounds/feet of torque peaking at 4,100 -- the highest torque output in the world for a non-turbo engine of this size.

Like the 944, the 968 transmission still sat near the rear axle, but the manual gearbox now had six forward ratios instead of five. And for the first time since 1989 buyers could have a four-cylinder Porsche with an automatic transmission. It was a good one, too, an adaptation of the 911’s sophisticated four-speed Tiptronic, priced here at $3,150. (See Chapter 3 for operating details.) Chassis-wise, the 968 was a tweaked carryover of the 944, but 17-inch wheels and tires were newly optional (at $1,352). Rim widths were unchanged from the last S2s (7.5 inches fore, 8 inches aft), but the wheels looked like they’d come from the all-conquering 959, and the tires were run-flat Bridgestone Expedias, similar to those on the latest 911 Carrera 2. Continued for the coupe only was an optional sport suspension package with larger front brakes and firmer shocks with adjustable rebound damping.

There was little new inside, so the 968 inherited all the old 944 ergonomic quirks -- but then, Porsche had only so much money to spend. Speaking of which, the four-cylinder line had been adding “boutique” options over the years, just like 911s. The 968 continued the practice, listing items like “partial leather” front seats (hide on wearing surfaces only, a stiff $668), heated seats, a CD player or changer ($1,347 for the latter), headlight washers, and the beloved “paint and upholstery to sample” (price variable with outrageousness). More mainstream extras included a limited-slip differential ($895) and metallic paint ($803).

Happily, buyers didn’t pay more up front, at least for the coupe. Because economizing measures in Zuffenhausen were starting to bear fruit, Porsche could price the closed 968 a whopping $4,000 below the previous S2 model: $39,350 in the United States. That was a bit deceptive, however, because luxury tax and a few options would lift take-home prices to the mid-forties. And the 968 Cabrio was $3,300 more than its S2 predecessor, a hefty $51,900. With that, Car and Driver predicted “price [is] the trip line where the 968 may fall on its face.”

Porsche 968
The Porsche 968 had a 236-horsepower four-cylinder. Cabrios started at $51,900.

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911

Retiring the Porsche 924, 944, and 968

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.

Porsche 968
The Porsche 968 was a better performer than its reputation might suggest.

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.

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.

Porsche 968
Coupe or Cabrio, the 968 cabin was a fine place to enjoy the pleasures of Porsche.

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.”

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:

  • Porsche new cars
  • Porsche used cars
  • 2007 Porsche 911
  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911