- Best model: 924S
- Worst model: 924 Automatic
- Budget buy: Five-speed manual Luxs
- OK for unleaded?: Yes
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4212 x W1685
- Spares situation: Good
- DIY ease?: Good
- Club support: Improving
- Appreciating asset?: Rarer ones creating interest
- Good buy or good-bye?: Former as an everyday driver
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The 924 was always considered as the bottom of the barrel Porsche but now this cheap and cheerful performance car is gaining the respect it deserves
Pros & Cons
There’s no doubt that the 924 is the unsung hero of Porsche’s illustrious history. This oddball VW/Audi/ Porsche mash up not only saved the company more than 30 years ago but also enabled the German fi rm to continue to survive and ultimately prosper. When it was introduced in 1976 – fi ve years after the initial brief – the 924 replaced the 914 as the affordable Porsche. The VW/Audi parts bin was suffi ciently raided but the car was designed and developed by Ferdinand’s company and should rightly be regarded as a proper Porsche. Indeed, the 924 was saved by the company after VW/Audi decided to pull out of the joint project. However, Porsche didn’t have the capacity to produce it, so it left the actual manufacturing process to Audi! After many years of derision, both the public and hardcore Porsche enthusiasts are seeing the 924 in a new light. Today they make for a cheap, fun, easy owning performance car as well as an excellent budget entry into classic car motorsport where a dedicated race series exists.
That the mid-engined 914 was a bit of a fl op, but it didn’t hurt the relationship between Porsche and VW and so they had a second stab at things with the 924. At fi rst it was intended to be a VW/Audi sports coupé, but when it emerged in 1976, the 924 was rightfully badged as a Porsche after VW got cold feet. The sleek three-door, two-plus-two bodywork with understated good looks twinned with quasi-estate practicality, it was ahead of the game in the late 1970s (yes, we know that the Ford Capri offered a similar thing two years earlier as did the Scimitar GTE!-ed). A thoroughly orthodox design, the most contentious part wasn’t the clever rear mounted transmission assembly but the origins of its engine. In a radical change from past practices, the water-cooled, four-cylinder 125bhp 2.0-litre engine was located at the front! One the 924’s biggest turn-offs was its power source, as it is said the engine came from the Volkswagen LT commercial van! That’s true to a point, but what Porsche purists tend to ignore is the fact that the fuel-injected engine was primarily the force behind the upmarket Audi 100 saloon. Porsche’s own four-speed manual gearbox/ transaxle unit initially provided the drive before a fi ve-speed transmission took over in 1978 with a dog-leg fi rst gear position. Audi fi ve-speed units with conventional gear positions were fi tted from 1980. A three-speed automatic transmission was optional, but seldom specifi ed by buyers. Further mechanical features included allround independent suspension, twin circuit brakes, and precise rack and pinion steering – many bits were taken from the outgoing Beetle 1302 and the impresive Scirocco.
The new car made its UK debut early in 1977, with the well-specced Lux variants arriving here in the spring of that year. However, before then a special edition had already been announced in the form of the 924 Martini to commemorate the carmaker’s association with the booze manufacturer which netted two world sports car racing championships.Apart from special striping, Martinis carried a dash-mounted plaque and the interior gained a sporty touch, as did the chassis with special anti-roll bars and unique, wider alloy wheels. As you can image, genuine unmolested examples are now fairly highly sought after.
Late in 1979, much faster Turbo versions were introduced in Britain, incorporating additional air intakes in the front bodywork, Lux equipment levels with a 911-Turbo steering wheel and trim, uprated running gear and chassis with optional sports dampers, front and rear ventilated disc brakes, 15-inch spoked alloy road wheels and improved engine breathing – as well as the turbocharger itself, which made the engine good for an hearty 170bhp and 180lb ft of torque. Series 2 Turbos, introduced in 1981, featured a smaller turbocharger and a higher compression ratio to reduce turbo lag. With 177bhp on tap, they were faster, more economical and more dependable than their predecessors. For 1980 the range received minor upgrades such as standard fi ve-speed gearboxes for the UK market, a larger brake servo and a slight facelift with a colour coded fuel fl ap. After 1980 full bodywork galvanisation was employed as only the lower sections of the main body shell were zinc-coated on earlier cars. The standard 924 gained a 21mm anti-roll bar and the option of Turbo wheels. Better sound insulation was also fi tted for refi nement.
In 1981 the Alpine White Le Mans special edition arrived complete with special body stripes, Le Mans script, alloy wheels and a Turbo rear spoiler. The black interior featured white welting on the seats. Again, like the Martini, these cars are now seriously collectable. In 1982 the Turbo was dropped as it confl icted with the newly-launched 944. Standard 924s gained yet another suspension update with a slimmer 20mm anti-roll bar and altered geometry settings. A limited slip differential was made optional, too. Inside, the heater was improved, air con was added to the options list and rear seat belts were installed. A year later, the 924 Turbo/ Le Mans rear spoiler became standard as did 924 Turbo sound insulation. Gas springs made that big glass hatch easier to manhandle, as well.
In 1985 the 944-powered 924S arrived in the UK, replacing the naturally-aspirated versions and powered by a de-rated US-tuned 150bhp 2.5-litre engine, which made the 924 a proper Porsche at last! It certainly went like one, boasting a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds and much more mid range punch. The end of the road for the 924S came in 1988 after more than 122,000 sales. Over 12,000 Turbos were built. Perhaps outside the scope of this feature are the Carrera race car (intended for racing at Le Mans), the Carrera GT and the 375bhp GTS (both of these latter versions were homologation specials). Only 406 GTs were made producing 210bhp. It looked like no other 924 with a meaner, 944-like appearance. Performance was 911 beating, helped by serious weight saving measures such as aluminium body parts and a stripped out cabin. These cars are now like gold dust and Le Mans legend Derek Bell refuses to sell his because he likes it so much!
So just how good is the 924? There’s no point in pretending that the it can compete with the more powerful air-cooled Porsches or enjoy the image of the superior 944 and 968. All the same, the Turbos are well up to modern standards with a potential 140mph top speed and seven second 0-60mph time. In Series 1 cars the turbocharger operates at relatively high engine speeds, whereas with Series 2 models the additional boost is delivered more progressively, and from lower revs. The more practical 924S is slower than the Turbos but it’s about as fast as a decent hot hatch. Ordinary 924s are lively but no fi reball by modern standards, especially the autos, but they all cruise well with Golf-like refi nement and good fuel economy. As long as the dampers are okay – they weaken too quickly – then the 924’s real strengths lie in its handling and roadholding qualities that belie the design’s age. Weight distribution is almost equal between the front and the rear making the 924 brilliantly balanced – no wonder it excels on the race tracks for novices as it does nothing nasty. Non power assisted cars can feel heavy when parking, though.
Fuel consumption is reasonable, at 25-30 mpg depending upon the state of tune and the sheer durability of the 924 means that, like all Porsches, it’s a very usable performance car. Even if the 924 isn’t your fi rst choice as a classic, they make superb daily drivers and the hatch facility makes them classic surprisingly practical, although the rear seats are only designed for very small children at best.
This is the best bit – thanks to the car’s unjust reputation and image, few prestigious performance cars are as affordable. Rough examples can be yours for a few hundred pounds. Don’t gett too excited about this prospect though, as cheap-924s can prove costly in the long run and restorations aren‘t really viable – unless it‘s a Martini or Le Mans special and even then you need to balance the books carefully. For a tidy model, expect to pay around £1500, although Turbos in this condition can fetch over £2000. Excellent (but not necessarily concours) cars run from around £3000, which is a real bargain. But we reckon that prices won’t stay this low for much longer, especially for the Carreras where out of the 75 UK cars perhaps less thn half are still around or on these shores. This is bound to put the prices up and expect to pay 911 prices for a good unmolested example.
Few one-make racing series have been as successful as the 924’s and enthusiasts are fast cottening on to how good this budget Porsche is. There’s quite a bit that you can do to give 944 and Boxster owners the shivers but the fi rst has to be to ensure that the basic car is up to scratch. Suspension geometry is crucial and only Porsche experts know how to get the best from one. The basic Audi engine benefi ts from better breathing with a K&N fi lter and a sportier exhaust manifold/system. The camshaft is deemed good enough for over 200bhp. Turbos can be tweaked and tuned with induction and cooling kits and raising the boost pressure. Top tuned ones models beat the hot Carrera GT. The torsion bar design allows for ride height adjustment at the rear, although usually the suspension beam has to be removed to lower the car by more than 20 mm. Koni and Bilstein dampers are regarded as the best swap, although you have to use late 924 wishbones to make them fi t. If you’re keeping the standard brakes (Mintex or Porterfi eld are considered the tops) Porsche brakes are reckoned to be some of the best in the business but you can fi t later 944/968 or 928 brakes with a special but pricey kit. Finally, if you want different wheels and have a later 924 using Turbo hubs then you can fi t Boxster rims and they’re certainly cheap enough second-hand. Call 930 Motorsport, 07000 930930 for expert advice on all matters 924.
What To Look For
- The 924 has a rugged design but thanks to lowly values most have been neglected and bodged – especially at the cheaper end of the market – and may not be a viable buy.
- It’s a Porsche, so expect to see some form of service history somewhere along the line. A diligently kept history is a good sign – and it’s always worth asking to see the records, which can tell you much about how the car has been cared for. Neglected examples can cost plenty to fi x – especially Turbos.
- Early models can suffer from bodywork rust. Pre-1980 shells were not zinc-plated all over, and can suffer from deterioration virtually anywhere except in their lowest extremities. Check very carefully… Vulnerable areas include the front wing edges, the roof gutters and the lower sections of the doors.
- Closely inspect the structures beneath the battery. Water tends to collect in the battery tray, which can disintegrate, and can run down onto the fuse box (situated lower down).
- The front bodywork and floor pans require close examination. Check for poor fi tment of the doors within the surrounding panels. Inspect the pop-up headlamps and make sure they work with precision. Repairs following a prang may not have been done to a Porsche standard.
- The sills can rot and cost up to a grand a side to repair properly – remove the trim plates if you can and check with a torch. Inner sill rot is more serious especially at the rear suspension mounts and the rear wings.
- Like some VWs, fuel tank rot is not unknown, causing poor running and leaks – they cost £250+ to renew and fi tting is a pain – the whole transaxle has to be dropped to gain access.
- Ensure that the interior is dry. Check that the bulkhead drainage system is unobstructed (or water will leak into the interior), and specifi cally inspect the sun roof seals/drain tubes, plus the rear spoiler drain apertures – they are likely to be blocked and specialists warn that it results in moisture collecting inside the car, where it can wreak havoc.
- Establish when the cam (timing) belt was last changed. Ideally the belt needs to be renewed well in advance of the recommended 45,000 mile intervals. On the Porsche-powered 924S there’s also the counter rotating balancer shaft’s one to change. If this breaks, the engine runs but will feel rough.
- Cylinder head gasket failure on a 924 usually results from neglect of maintenance. Check the state of the coolant, and watch for signs of inter-mixing of the engine oil and the coolant. This may be due to a head gasket failure, or to breakdown of the intercooler seals (Turbo).
- Look for seepage from the heater valve. Water escaping from the valve can fi nd its way into the clutch housing below.
- Check for good oil pressure. When the engine is cold, the gauge should show 5 bar at tick over. It’s okay for the pressure to drop to around 2 bar with the engine at normal operating temp. Much lower fi gures suggest that attention is required. Bear in mind that an engine overhaul is expensive on a 924 but the LT van origins mean that early cars are much cheaper to fi x.
- Watch for excessive smoke at star t up, and a f t e r lengthy t i c kover due to worn valves/guides. Heavy smoke under load signals deeper-rooted woes with pistons, rings and cylinder bores or worn turbos.
- Infrequent oil and fi lter changes will eventually result in camshaft/follower wear (indicated by a tapping noise from the top of the engine). Inspect the camshaft cover for signs of oil leaks – especially from the rear seal.
- Take a look at the state of the engine mountings. If they’re ailing, they can cause a nasty vibration. Does the engine run unevenly? If so, the inlet manifold gasket may be at fault. The Bosch fuel injection system is unlikely to be the culprit, as it’s usually long-lasting and reliable.
- On the 944-powered cars, specially coated Nikasil cylinder bores can be problematic and heads gasket fail. Again a compression test reveals all – otherwise look for oil droplets in the cooling system (and vice-versa) and an exhaust displaying hosepipe characteristics. Some recommend renewing the gasket as a precautionary measure along with new piston rings (the sump can be dropped with the block in situ).
- That cam belt on this ’half a V8’ is extraordinarily lengthy and needs regular changing around every 48,000 miles. Engines are well known foroil leaks, usually caused by ill-fi tting seals. Likely places for seepage are the joints between the balance shaft housings and the block, the plugs at the rear of each balance shaft housing, and the crankshaft and camshaft front seals.
- Ensure that the transmission is smooth and quiet. High mileage 924s can suffer from worn gearbox bearings. If the unit is badly worn, an overhaul or replacement can be pricey due to the work involved in dropping the rear axle. When assessing gearchange quality, bear in mind that there’s a long linkage from the front to the rear of the vehicle, so the shift is naturally less precise than in a normal rear-drive car.
- The front end is Beetle 1302/Mk1 Golf and front wishbones tend to bend and corrode. Ensure that the joint connection from the steering column to the rack is in good condition. Lower ball joints require their rivets to be drilled out before renewing the joint and using plain nuts and bolts instead but this only costs £20 a side.
- It’s reckoned that the dampers were suspect from new and of poor quality. Budget for a set of good aftermarket types. Similarly, the suspension bushes may be past it, which ruins the handling – as does incorrect geometry settings.
- Problems can arise with the headlamp retraction system, the electrically operated windows and – importantly – the starter motor feed cable. The insulation is located close to the exhaust manifold so must be sound.
- Duff electric window switches are common but there’s enough used ones around to fi x. Check that the sunroof – if fi tted – works properly.
- The main wear point on the hardy interior is the dashboard tops, which crack. Bear in mind that if originality is critical, some of the early comical seat patterns may be hard to obtain.
- Thanks to a healthy specialist back up, owning a good 924 needn’t break the bank. Routine service items are reasonably priced and many are VW-based anyway. The trick, according to specialists, is to buy the best you can that also comes with a solid service history. Remember, although it’s a cheap car, it’s still a Porsche and needs to be maintained like one. It’s only when successive owners start cutting corners problems that arise – so beware.
- Broken 924s are cheap as chips and it’s worth considering buying one to simply to scrap for its spares. Porsch-apart (www.porsch-apart.co.uk) and Pro-9 (www.pro-9.co.uk) is a good source.
Three Of A Kind
MGB GTThere are certain similarities here, not least in their practical nature and usability. Of course the 924 is streets ahead in terms of dynamics – especially handling and roadholding, but the B can be improved to match the German. Always good value, especially rubber bumper cars which remain 924-level cheap and, of course, few other classics are as easy or inexpensive to run.
Reliant Scimitar GTEGiven this car’s credentials and the famous Royal link, it’s surprising why these excellent holdalls don’t command more money and respect. Lusty Ford V6, optional overdrive and a sound chassis make these real drivers’ cars, although they became softer in SE6 guise. Cheap for what they offer but many are sadly neglected and chassis rust can be ruinous.
Ford CapriOne of the best-loved sports hatch coupes but prices are beginning to refl ect this. V6 models always most fun but 1600GT and 2000 models are lively and frugal. Handling is pure, old-school rearwheel- drive, but roadholding only average. Later Capris from 1982 gained fi ve-speeds and can be retro fi tted to earlier models. Parts supply is good but body and trim parts are becoming rarer.
The 924 offers all you’d demand from a Porsche save for its screen price. Is it a proper Porker though? That’s for you to decide, but at the very least it’s one of the best and most sensible starter classics on the block and all that you’d want from a more modern MGB GT but cheaper. And what’s wrong with that?