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Part One: Reintroducing the Front-Engine Water-Cooled Porsches

This article is the first of a series of six articles about the four-cylinder front-engine Porsches – the 944, the 924S and the early 924.  Here is a peek at the series, featured in the Florida Citrus Region ‘PCA Newsletter – the Spiel – over the next six issues.

  • Part One: Reintroducing the Front Engine Water Cooled Porsches
  • Part Two: How to Buy a Great 944 or 924S (or how to NOT buy a bad one)
  • Part Three: 944/924S Maintenance Made Easy
  • Part Four: Making your 944/924S Into Your Daily Driver
  • Part Five: The 944/924S for Track and Race
  • Part Six: The Early Car – the 77-82 924

Part One: Reintroducing the Front-Engine Water-Cooled Porsches

History is part art, part science and for some, part hobby.  Understanding the history of the 9X4 Series Porsche means that you understand the how and why they came around, why they were so popular and why they remain popular for some even today.

The Porsche 356 was a great car, and while it wasn’t cheap, it was inexpensive for the time.  But by the time the sixties came around, competition in the European sports car market was getting hot, and Porsche knew that they needed to do something profound and different – thus the 911 was born.  However, the new 911 was significantly more expensive than its predecessor, so in 1966 the 912 was born with the new body style and the old four-cylinder engine – and the “Entry-Level Porsche” was here to stay.

78 924 frontAfter the 912 came the 914, sold in Europe with the badge “VW+Audi” but sold in VW dealerships in the United States as a Porsche.  With the growth of the Porsche brand in North America and worldwide as well as its growing and successful partnerships with VW and Audi, plans were made to develop a front-engine hatchback sports car for VW dealers to use as a replacement for the 914.  The 924 was born, but not without its problems.  The deal with VW fell apart in favor of their new Scirocco, and Porsche ended up with the 924 – a huge departure from their air-cooled rear-engine cars.  So they ran with it, building the cars in their Neckarsulm factory north of Stuttgart.  VW employees actually built the cars under Porsche supervision.  Between 1976 and1982, 43,000 924 and 924 Turbos were sold in North America.  Production continued for the rest of the world until 1985.

944_TurboUsing the same basic platform, Porsche continued the line with the introduction of the 944 in 1982, coming to North America in 1983.  It was an immediate success here with its wider fenders and more sporty appearance, selling more than 86,000 between 1983 and 1991in North America alone!  The base 2.5 liter four-cylinder was durable and, for its day, powerful.  The car was fun to drive, handled well, and was very comfortable.  As the 944 grew, it added a turbocharger, 2.7 liter and 3.0 liter engines, and as the S2, lost its top.  In 1992, it had eventually morphed into the last of the series, the 968.

The 968 lasted from 1992 to 1995, bringing 4,665 into North America – 48% of them Cabriolets.  Thought as the high point of the series, the 968 is getting to be a rare and desirable model sporting its 3.0 liter, 16 valve engine.

924S blackThe series was always thought to be the “Entry-Level Porsche” throughout its nineteen-year history, but by the mid-eighties the 944 had added features and price to where “affordable sports car” wasn’t part of its description.  Remembering that the 2.0 liter 924 was still being produced for consumption outside of North America, the earlier body style was cheaper to produce.  In 1984, VW stopped manufacturing the 2.0 engine blocks used in the early 924, which left Porsche in a bit of a quandary.  Dropping the 924 would leave them without an “Entry-Level Porsche,” so the decision was made to equip the narrow-body 924 with the engine, suspension and driveline from the base 944, retaining the early car interior.  After introduction in 1986 in Europe, the newly-badged 924S came to the North American market in 1987 for just under $20,000 – entry-level.  With unfavorable exchange rates, the model was dropped after 1988.  In two years, almost ten thousand 924S were sold in North America, with 70% of them sold as 1987 models.

In all, the 924/944/968/924S counted up for over 133,000 cars in North America alone, averaging seven thousand a year.  By any measure, that is a success.

After the 968 production ended in 1995, the next “Entry-Level Porsche” landed as the 1997 Porsche Boxster.  But that story is for another time.

CCP FAB carThese unique Porsches make great weekend cars that are at home on winding roads, autocross events or track days.  With the hatchback rear window, you can even go to the grocery store or on that road trip.  Many are still used today as daily drivers and commuters, even though the newest of the series – ’95 968 – is over twenty years old.  In PCA Club Racing, the most popular race groups are SP1, SP2 and SP3 – all 944, 968 and 924S.

What makes these cars so good?  It comes down to simplicity in design and execution.  The most complicated computer in my 924S is the CD player.  No stability control, traction control – just the car and the driver.  Simplicity in design means that there is nothing that is specifically unique or special, especially in the earlier 944 and the 924S.  These cars were designed with many parts off-the-shelf from Volkswagen, which now means cheap and available.

So looking for an inexpensive track car, commuter car, or project car that is still a Porsche?  Look next time when we bring you Part Two: How to Buy a Great 944 or 924S (or how to NOT buy a bad one).

944 tree
“Ran when parked.  Needs cosmetic work.  Bring trailer and chain saw.”

Kevin Duffy, Author and Chief Geek View All

Kevin Duffy is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Daytona State College in Florida and a dedicated car guy. He divides his time between teaching criminal justice topics in the online environment and working on/driving cars, particularly Porsches. Kevin is one of the principals in InspiringLifeOver50.com.

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