Porsche 944Porsche For Pragmatists Published: 4th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
- Best model: S2 versions
- Worst model: Automatic versions
- Budget buy: 944S
- OK for unleaded?: Yes
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4200xW1735
- Spares situation: Excellent
- DIY ease?: Surprisingly good
- Club support: Excellent
- Appreciating asset?: Excellent
- Good buy or good-bye?: Former - if you buy the right model
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If you’re looking for a classic supercar that can be used everyday just like a modern repmobile, then make Porsche’s 944 your number one choice
Pros & Cons
Three decades on and this Porsche still turns heads. Good body protection means that unless neglected most will have kept themselves in good shape. Cabrios are taut and drive as well as roofed models.
If you think that anything other than a 911 isn’t a real Porsche, think again. True, the 944 is essentially a great development of Porsche’s front-engine, entry-level, sports car of the mid-1970s, the 924. But, how does a top whack of 137mph and a 0-60mph sprint of 7.4 seconds sound? And that’s just for the base model 944 of 1982!
Four years later the Turbo version was running out at 150mph-plus and 5.4 seconds 0-60. The outgoing, normally aspirated 944S2 of 1989 managed only a few mph less, with only fractions of seconds longer to 60mph. By the end of its ten-year run the 944 was able to run the iconic 911 pretty close.
For people wary of 911s habit of swapping ends if you lifted off during hearty cornering, and who are fazed by their ever spiralling prices, the 944 remains the pragmatic and penny-wise way to own a Porsche.
Six models make up the 944 lifespan, but we’re concentrating on the (four) non-turbos in the line-up for this buying guide, as they are cheaper and simpler to maintain – and fast enough for today’s crowded roads! In the genealogy stakes, the ‘four-four’ came on the scene mid-way through the life of the ‘two-four’ and survived it by several years. In fact, the out-going 924S of 1985-88 used the engine of the fi rst of the 944 models, albeit slightly detuned not to take the shine off the more upmarket 944.
For the record, these are the dates to remember:
1982-88: 2.5-litre 944
1989-90: 2.7-litre 944
1987-88: 2.5-litre 944S
1989-91: 3.0-litre 944S2
Whilst the 924 was almost all VW-Audi, the 944 was a lot more Porsche, although production remained at Audi’s Neckarsulm factory through its whole life. Most signifi cant change was the engine – essentially one four-cylinder bank of the all-alloy V8 motor devised for the big 928 grand tourer, canted in the engine bay. The 2479cc unit of the fi rst 944 developed a healthy 163bhp, courtesy of a single, belt-driven, overhead camshaft, two valves per cylinder operated by hydraulic tappets and Bosch L-Jetronic (and then fullymapped Motronic) injection.
Visually, there’s a strong family resemblance between the pair, but the 944 looks more mean and keen. Under the skin, the layout, with in-line, front engine linked to a rear-mounted transaxle unit by a prop-shaft encasing torsion tube, is the same.
It’s the detail that’s different. Running gear followed 924 practice, with coil spring strut-type front suspension and rear semitrailing arms with torsion bars. Steering was ZF rack and pinion (power assistance from 1985), and big ventilated disc brakes were fitted at front and rear, and the wheels were seven inches wide, 15ins diameter alloys. The gearbox is an Audi manufactured fi ve-speed unit, with a conventional VW three-speed auto unit as an option.
Inside the 944, in common with Porsche practice of the time, the interior was trimmed to high standards with plush carpets and full instrumentation, with the two rear seats really only fi t for children, however. Leather, like the sun-roof (which because of the size restrictions of the coupe roof only tilted or lifted out completely), was an option, fi tted to many of the cars sold in the UK after May 1982. The bodyshell was zinc coated, and carried a seven year (extended to 10 years in 1985) warranty against rust.
Porsche upgraded the 944 almost annually from introduction: interior improvements (including a four-speaker stereo) in 1983; electric sunroof and power steering option, and a Sport suspension pack for ’84; standard power steering, new alloy wheels (7ins x16ins front, 8ins x 16ins rear), new-style fascia and heater improvements in ’85. In 1986 the Porsche got a whole host of detail improvements, some inherited from the Turbo model introduced the previous year, of which the most important were the adoption of aluminium suspension arms and improvements to the engine lubrication system. In 1988 the 2.5-litre, eight-valve 944 lost three brake horsepower – a result of changes in emission requirements – but the following year output was restored to 165bhp when the engine was bored to 2681cc. The 2.7-litre 944 lasted only 12 months – and by then the 16-valve engine was in production.
The first twin overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder engine appeared in the 944S of 1987, with engine capacity still at 2479cc, and developed what appeared to be a healthy 190bhp. The Audi gearbox was uprated (auto no longer an option) whilst the rest of the specifi cation remained similar to the eight-valved 944.
But the 2.5-litre 944S was not a success. Power was there, torque was little better than the eight-valve engine (160lbft compared with 155lbft) and overall performance was, uninspiring. What was needed was an increase in capacity, which came in 1989 when a new longstroke crankshaft, along with the pistons of the 2.7-litre unit, took the engine to 2990cc. With 211bhp, and importantly torque of 207lbft, the 944S2 became a real stormer, with a top speed of 146mph and a 0-60mph spurt of six seconds.
But in S2 form, the revitalised 944 – a convertible version was added to the range – had a short life. The contract with Audi to build the front-engine Porsche expired in April 1991, and production ceased. When manufacture resumed at Porsche’s own Zuffenhausen factory it was with a new model, the 968, after almost 175,000 were made, over 25,000 being the tantalising Turbo. Driving “Efficiency, quality and refi nement are the Porsche’s passwords”, said Car back in 1983 and it sums up the 944 brilliantly. It’s a car that engenders admiration rather than outright excitement, yet ranked as one of the World’s best ‘lower league’ supercars in its day. Like so many other good things in life, you only appreciate what the Porsche 944 provided when it’s gone.
That engine – especially in three-litre S2 form – delivers prodigious power on demand. Two-anda- half-litres and more from just four big cylinders sounds like a recipe for a lumpy, slogging engine. But the Porsche unit is smooth and silky, with a red line at 5800rpm; all courtesy of a pair of belt driven, contra-rotating shafts situated high and low in the block to smooth out imbalances – a system, incidentally, pioneered by Dr Lanchester and patented by Mitsubishi.
Any 944 is a good and effortless performer. It’s just that some models – the 944S2 with its meatier 3-litre engine, turbo brakes and better gearing in particular – are more outstanding than others. Common to all however is surprisingly good economy if driven normally where up to 30mpg is not a pipedream.
The front engine/rear transaxle layout means a weight distribution that’s virtually 50-50, and handling that can only be described as ‘well balanced’. In normally driving, the car goes where you point it. With excessive, or inappropriate, use of the right foot the tail end can get lively, but such are the 944’s manners that, frankly, if you get to that point you should be on a race track – many owners now frequent track days and dedicated Porsche championships, where even street legal cars can, and do, compete.
Yet, despite such praise, the 944 has always been described as ‘effi cient’ rather than 911 thrilling and it does feel slightly clinical, which you love or hate. Famous, Spandau Ballet member and ex-EastEnder actor Martin Kemp found his brand new, 944 so dour, in comparison to the 911s he previously ran, that he promptly stopped at a Porsche dealer swap back over again!
By no stretch of the imagination can the 944 be described as a four-seater – it just about gets away with being a 2+2 and rear seat space is strictly for small and uncomplaining kids. But, as a daily driver, arguably no other performance cars is as practical as the 944. The rear seats don’t split fold sadly, but there’s genuine hatchback versatility available, albeit spoiled by a small load area. Like the lardier, loftier 928, the 944 is more a cruiser than 911 beater and so is far better served for most needs.
A comfortable (steering wheel height and reach excepted) if not spacious GT, the only detriments are high levels or road noise (modern radials may help) and a trim that’s functional rather than luxurious. That’s typical Porsche of course but at least it’s designed with driving in mind and is hard wearing even if the style police may now take a different view of the trim patterns and colours used!
A quick word on the 968: It’s a 944 but better in key areas and performance on all models is well up to 911 standards. The Club is probably the best all rounder being a ClubSport but with rear seats and plainer trim. If you fi nd one for the price of a top 944, then go for it instead.
It may be Porsche – and a good Porker at that – but the 944 is now 30 years old and so could do with certain improvements and tweaks. Performance, even on the 163bhp models, is still entirely adequate if in good order but there’s a wealth of off-the shelf equipment, from simple chipping to extensive head and camshaft upgrades, but really is speed is an issue then you’re better off looking for an S or S2 (188bhp and 208bhp respectively).
Be careful not up upset the legendary handling by mis-matching spring and damper rates and anti-roll bar settings just to fi rm the chassis up a bit – speak to a good Porsche specialist about this, although the Turbo spec is a good an upgrade to start with. Ditto the brakes, which were also fi tted to S2s although we gather fi tting 928 anchors is also a good cost-effective swap. Tyres should always be of top quality – just as Porsche engineers meant the 944 to wear.
The 944 can be bargain, but buyer beware! Even with the excellent second-hand spares network that exists, parts for Porsches can be expensive. The golden rule is to spend as much money as you can on a top-condition car rather than to consider a restoration project because if you go down that route you’ll never get your money back, as 944 simply aren’t collectable as a 911, or even a 914 for that matter.
It goes without saying that the late model 944S2 commands most money. Expect to pay £6000 plus for a privately advertised good example and a couple more grand for a convertible. Really top-notch examples, coupe or soft-top, can command £8-9000, especially if purchased from a specialist dealer. Early (944S) 16-valve cars are not so desirable and so demand less – but they’re still worth having for perhaps as little as a couple of grand. Amongst the 8-valve cars, the later 2.7-litre models rarely show on the radar, but 2.5 versions abound in the classifi ed ads in specialist publications. As little as £2000 can still bag you a reasonable car, a good ‘un is more likely to set you back £3500-£4000.
On the face of it the 944 is essentially a more credible version of Porsche’s front-engine, entry-level, sports car of the mid-1970s, the 924. If the lacklustre, but hugely important (after all, it did save Porsche from bankruptcy), 924 lacked anything befi tting a wearer of the famous Stuttgart badge it was performance. And the 944 offered just that - in spades. How do a top whack of 137mph and a 0-60mph sprint of 7.4 seconds sound? Not bad? Then consider that’s just for the base model 944 of 1982. Four years later the Turbo version was running out at 150mph-plus and 5.4 seconds, whilst the outgoing, normally aspirated 944S2 of 1989 managed only a few mph less, with only fractions of seconds longer to the big Six-Oh. By the end of its ten-year run the 944 was able to run the iconic 911 pretty close. For people wary of tales of 911s swapping ends if the driver lifted off into a fast corner, and fazed by the price on the showroom screen sticker, the 944 was the alternative way to go Porsche motoring. Nowadays it’s the affordable and accessible alternative: whilst classic 911 prices climb ever higher, 944s have depreciated much like (dare we say it) any normal car. And talking of normal cars, the hatchback 944 is as practical and versatile as a Volkwagen Golf – and as usable, too. So check out the 944 - the practical Porsche.
What To Look For
- If the 944 is to be your fi rst Porsche then, don’t worry about overreaching yourself. So long as you buy a good car and choose a known specialist, spares and repairs can be quite containable. For example, typical 6/12,000 mile checkovers at an independent Porsche agent costs between £175-250 respectively and there are plenty of specialists and Porsche dismantlers around.
- Independent specialists Hartech Ltd (www. hartech.org) quote these prices, excluding VAT: Supply and replace timing belts £250- £290; water pump £350; clutch £690-£770; front pads and discs £220-£280.12,000 ‘Gold’ service £310-£330. Replacement front wishbone £175 (exchange).
- Quality OE-standard parts aren’t dear. For example German, Swedish and French Car Parts produces a special brochure for Porsches. Remember also that as the 944 is based upon the VW-inspired 924, a lot of common VAG parts are also employed.
- Don’t be fazed by high mileage, these cars can take it. More important is a pile of documentation that proves it’s been regularly serviced and details any major work such as clutch and cam belt replacements. Beware of any car (such as iffy left-hand drive models) devoid of any maintenance history.
- The bodies may have been galvanised, but they can still rust in all the usual places – although it’s not a common problem. Ill-fitting rear hatches (often caused by over-enthusiastic slamming) and poorly replaced front screens sometimes cause problems, and sunroofs are notorious leak-points. If it’s a convertible, lift the fl oor carpets to check rain has not been coming in around the hood.
- The cars are well made and panel gaps should be uniform. If they’re not then suspect accident damage has been repaired!
- Mechanically these cars are fit for over 200,000 miles if serviced properly. The specially coated Nikasil cylinder bores can be problematic so, if possible, have a proper cylinder compression test carried out as part of any pre-sale examination (some professional inspection companies do this anyway) and see that oil pressure reading is a healthy fi ve bar once hot and on the move.
- Cylinder heads can give trouble with gasket failure. 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 experts even recommend renewing the gasket as a precautionary measure along with new piston rings (the sump can be dropped with the block in situ).
- Being half a V8, the unit features special counter balancing shafts to give it V8-like smoothness. These shafts are belt driven and when they break, the engine feels rougher than usual. Of course a rough engine could also be due to a failed cat (how about a new MOT/ emissions test as part of the deal?) and these cost well over £1000 at a Porsche dealer…
- That cam belt is extraordinarily lengthy and needs regular changing, say every 48,000 miles. On twin overhead cam engines the drive chain between the exhaust and inlet cams needs to be changed at the same intervals. Check out the paperwork for these jobs as it’s an important part of the car’s maintenance.
- Engines (especially pre-’86) are well known for oil leaks, usually caused by ill-fitting 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. The gaskets between both the cam carrier and the head, and the sump and block, also need to be examined.
- Check the oil dipstick. If lubricant is low, there’s a possibility the current owner has not been particular enough in keeping the oil level right up – an absolute must with these engines. Check the condition of the oil. Any suspicion of water could mean failure of the ‘O’ ring seal between the oil and water in the heat exchanger part of the fi lter housing.
- Early cars suffered from soggy engine mountings, usually revealed by vibration on tickover. Budget for a new set (it’s not dear) if the unit is wobbling at idle or listing to one side. Also, the bonnet uses fl uid struts to hold it up. These frequently become tired and some owners then employ a broom handle! Yet renewal is simple and costs around £15.
- Gearboxes are usually bullet proof, but differentials can whine. This you could live with (immediate failure is unlikely) but eventually you’ll have to get it re-built.
- Suspensions are tough and only require the usual checks. Dampers and springs will wear out, as will anti-roll bar bushes. If the car feels loose and clunks on a test drive, then inspect the latter closely followed by the front wishbones (pattern parts are a third of the price Porsche charges!). See that the power steering is okay and doesn’t leak, but amazingly a Porsche repair kit is cheap.
- Similarly 911-style brakes are easy to check and service. Worn discs common but inexpensive to fix, but watch for seized callipers. Disc thickness, should not be allowed under 18.5mm front, 18.6mm rear (944/944S) and 26mm front, 22mm rear (944S2).
- Trim is Porsche durable, but many 944s are ratty due to neglect. Shabby trim (S1 seat material is almost non-existent), worn seats (including no go electrical ones), broken switches, torn gear lever gaiters and spent air con systems are not unknown. The power windows can slow up with age as can the sunroof (which may leak), plus the exterior door handles tighten up.
- Don’t overlook a tatty hood on the cabriolets. Porsche dealers want over £3000 for new covers plus fi tting – not cheap! Ensure that the power operation is as it should be.
- Check that the handbook and service documents are present and correct. Lift up the boot mat to inspect for water leaks and ensure that the space-saver spare and air compressor are still sitting where they should be while you are there. And inspect the rubber rear ducktail spoiler; usually they lose their colour over time.
- Test drive a good few models to get a feel of the thing. If it’s the fi rst time you’ve driven a Porsche you may reckon it’s the business – when in fact by 944 standards it’s a dud!
- If you’re serious about getting a good 944, join either Porsche Club GB (http://www.porscheclubgb. co.uk) or TIPEC, The Independent Porsche Enthusiasts Club (http://www.tipec.net) and consult their respective 944 Registers.
Three Of A Kind
Porsche 924Granted, an ordinary 924 is no match for its bigger brother but if you’re talking 924 Turbo, the 944-engined 924S and the magnifi cent Carrera GT then it’s a different matter. Carreras can cost up to £30K but the Turbo and 924S are cheap buys and as quick as a base 944. Look out for special edition Le Mans and those decked in Martini livery.
Porsche 968Essentially the 968 is just an improved 944S2 but what more recommendation do you need? Three-litres, 240bhp, six speeds with a stripped-out hard core Club Sport fl agship, the 968 takes 944 competence a step further but with more modern kit and yet the 968 remains a backwater model that goes largely unappreciated. Which means great value for money.
Porsche 928Launched around the same time as the 924 this big brother of a V8 was hailed as the World’s best GT in its day. Not really a sports car and the majority came with automatic transmission, only the later 928GT really showed its mighty teeth. Astonishing value for money and built superbly – but even minor repair costs can easily outweigh the car’s real world value so buy with care.
If you’re after an effi cient, eloquent classic supercar, then, no other can match the qualities of the 944 – and that includes the 911. Fast yet functional, the Porsche feels more like a ‘super Golf GTi’ to drive and own and is just as versatile. What’s wrong with that?
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