This article was written by Chris Duffy and published on August 16, 2016. It explains why we love our cars. Chris has owned several 924, 924S and 944 cars over the years, using them as daily drivers, autocross dogs and track cars. He is an HPDE Instructor with PCA.
The Porsche 944 is the perfect enthusiast’s car. Here’s why.
Porsche sprung the 944 on the world in 1982, as a major redesign of the earlier-and-also-successful 924. The 944 nameplate stayed with us until 1992, when it was replaced by another evolution of the front-engine Porsche, the 968.
The 924, 924 S, 944, and 968 are all members of the front-engine “transaxle” car family, and therefore what’s true of the 944 is typically true for the whole family. Between the 944 variants, and the family of cars it comes from, there’s a wide range of cars (and budgets) to choose from.
“I want to go to Cars and Coffee”
If you want a shiny car to attend social events with, the 944 has you covered. There are very few social car events that will turn away a classic Porsche. Make no mistake about it, the 944 is a classic now – the early models are now over 30 years old, so you can get a classic car registration and classic car insurance. Well-restored examples of 944s are starting to get rare and slowly starting to gain value.
The front-engine Porsche family has a really interesting story, which you’ll be able to share with new friends when they ask you about your weird looking RX-7. As an added bonus, you can ask people to try to get in the back seat, and then post the ensuing video on YouTube.
Critically, though, all of the cars in the 944 family are firmly planted to the pavement and very unlikely to do anything unfortunate as you leave cars and coffee, avoiding embarrassment and injury.
“I want to do Motorsport”
This is Porsche we’re talking about; just about any motorsport option is open. Weekend autocross warrior? Sure. Crapcan racing? Definitely. Historic racing? Club racing? All the things.
Yes, even off-road.
Importantly, the 944 is a forgiving car on the race track. If you are learning how to drive at speed, it’s an excellent platform for learning what works and what doesn’t. Safety and performance parts are readily available for whatever motorsport you decide to participate in.
Also – as sometimes happens in motorsport – if you do happen to damage your 944, they tend to be relatively cheap to repair or replace.
One last bit on motorsport – Porsche developed the 944 at endurance races like Le Mans, and therefore these cars tend to be pretty much bulletproof on the street and on race tracks.
With the 944, Porsche was very intent on transferring racing technology to the street. If your motorsport 944 is well sorted, it’s very likely that it will last through multiple events without major failure.
“I really just want to go fast”
The number one complaint about the 944 is that it is not fast in a straight line – and, considering a standard 944, that statement is entirely true. The early US-spec 944 was rated at 147 horsepower. These days, that’s the kind of power rating you expect out of something from Honda, not from Porsche.
The answer you’ll hear from many 944 owners is that power doesn’t matter, because it handles so well you can carry momentum through the turns. That statement is also true, but it avoids the reality. If you want to go fast in a straight line, a base 944 isn’t for you.
Let me introduce you to the 944 Turbo:
When Porsche introduces a Turbo variant of a car, they traditionally list it as an entirely different model, not just a higher trim level. The reason behind this is the amount of changes they make to build a higher performance car, they make lots of things stronger, not just the engine output.
What this “stronger stuff” means is that the 944 Turbo produces more power, reliably. There’s no horror stories about broken axles or clutches that you sometimes hear about other “supped up from the factory” cars.
This extra attention to the rest of the driveline also means something else: It means there’s more room in the chassis to do your own modifications, and make even more power.
Stock 944 Turbos create 250 horsepower (slightly less for the earlier ones), which is plenty. But if it’s not enough, there are many stories of 944 Turbos pushing absurd amounts of boost and producing 400 horsepower or more on stock internals. Yes, you can have a fast 944.
Want to go faster? You are crazy, but the 944 has you covered. Talk to Renegade Hybrids.
“But I want a convertible”
I’m going to go ahead and say what everyone knows but is afraid to write: Convertibles suck. This fact is why the answer is not Miata.
No, you don’t want a convertible. The roofs leak, the chassis is floppy, and the climate controls have no chance against the thermonuclear explosion that is the sun.
That said, if you want wind in your hair and increased exposure to the giant fireball in the sky, the 944 has you covered. Nearly all of them came with a large removable sunroof, which, when removed, effectively gives the car the feeling of being a top-down convertible, without all of the floppy-chassis, water-leaking, windshield-shaking issues of a real convertible.
“No, I really want a real convertible”
“I don’t want a manual transmission”
If for some reason you want a driver’s car, but don’t actually like driving, the 944 has you covered. There were automatic transmissions available throughout it’s life, and since they are less desirable, the automatic transmission cars are significantly cheaper.
It’s not easy, but it is possible to convert a car to/from automatic or manual transmission. Notably, there’s nothing to change in the engine compartment, all engine parts and engine management electronics are the same between the manual and automatic cars.
“But aren’t they hard to work on? Aren’t parts expensive and hard to find?”
No, not really.
944s are old enough that they aren’t complex. The throttle works via a cable, the brakes work exactly as you’d expect. Everything is very direct, only the latest 944s and 968s have ABS. At the same time, 944s are new enough to not have to deal with ancient technology such as a points ignition system or a carburetor (or even an unrefined EFI.)
Sure, there is some weirdness about 944 maintenance (the power steering takes ATF), but I can assure you – if you have a problem with your 944, someone else has had that problem too – and they have a solution for it.
All of the weirdness about 944 maintenance is well documented, several times over, on the internet. Forums abound with great information, but there’s also great information organized for home- and shop-based mechanics to reference at sites like Clarks-Garage.com.
If you have 10mm, 13mm, 17mm, and 19mm wrenches, you can take pretty much the entire car apart and do whatever you need to do.
As far as parts, they are a lot more available than you think. There are no problems getting ahold of wear items such as brake pads – those are available, at very reasonable prices, at your local auto parts store. More specialized things, such as a complete engine wiring harness, may be impossible to find in new condition. In those cases you just need to find a friend with a parts car.
Parts cars are very easy to find, because these cars were undervalued for a long time. You can find ridiculously cheap 944s on craigslist or even in junkyards all day, and thanks to the longevity of the family, many parts from one car will work on many other cars.
“Find a parts car” sometimes means a months-long search in classic car circles, but in the 944 family, don’t worry. There’s three on your local craigslist right now.
“I really just need a car to take to work that isn’t a 2003 Beige”
Le Mans tested reliability, 26 mpg highway.
Can you get better gas mileage in a 2003 Beige? Probably. Is better gas mileage worth the suicide risk? Probably not.
The 944 can be downright practical. There’s a back seat, that works well for stuff or smaller humans. The back hatch can carry plenty of stuff, and probably even a human if you don’t care about safety or local laws.
There’s even trailer hitches available for 944s – naturally, I wouldn’t recommend regularly towing anything significant with a sports car, but it can certainly tow a small trailer for track tires or other similar loads.
And when it rains, you don’t get wet.
“But I want to do all of it.”
This is where the 944 shines. This is why the 944 is the perfect enthusiast’s car.
On Saturday you can go to the PCA autocross, and embarrass a Boxster or two. Sunday morning, you can go to Cars and Coffee, and park your classic Porsche up front.
On Monday, you can drive your 944 to and from work, read some forums when you get home, and order that coil-over kit you’ve been looking at. Next weekend you’ll embarrass three Boxsters.
When – especially when – you want to do all of it, the 944 has you covered.
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.