This article was written for publication in the PCA Florida Citrus Region Citrus Spiel, the club’s newsletter, for publication in its “transaxle edition” scheduled for early 2021. We thought that you folks would enjoy it too.
The term “transaxle cars” refers to the front engine, rear transaxle Porsches that were built between 1976 and 1995 with the general designations of 924, 928, 944 and 968. While the 928 was the V8 luxury sport coupe of the bunch, the other three were powered by four-cylinder engines in various configurations. Our discussions here will center around these four-cylinder Porsches.
Without going into a bunch of history, suffice to say that the humble beginning of the series was a somewhat underpowered mid-seventies coupe that was meant to replace the 914 in the Porsche/VW lineup. Porsche introduced this joint-venture car as their own in 1976, albeit with an VW/Audi 2.0L fuel injected engine and Audi transaxle, together with a lot of parts from the VW parts bin. The US version was a whopping 95 horsepower, and while the reviews of the day were very generous, that fervor didn’t last. Porsche people wanted more, so in 1983 the North American market got the 944. Sexy lines and more power from the 2.5L engine made it a winner, and from there the turbo, sixteen valve, 2.7L and 3.0L engines came to be. And Porsche sold a ton of them – about 330,000 in its nineteen-year run. During the same time period, Porsche also sold an additional 61,000 928’s for a total of almost 400,000 front-engine water-cooled cars. By comparison, Porsche sold about 275,000 911’s during that same period.
With the introduction of the higher horsepower Boxster and the 996 in the late nineties, interest in the front-engine cars waned. By the early 2000’s you could pick one up for well under $10K. Since they were good drivers, could easily be used for commuting, grocery runs and such, they accumulated a lot of miles and when they were worn out, they were mostly discarded. Many that remained were “rode hard and put up wet.” In a lot of cases, budget repairs with non-Porsche parts and procedures were common. With sometimes hundreds of thousands of miles, dashboards and interiors showed wear, paint faded, and the mechanicals just wore out.
But in the last ten years or so, popularity for these nostalgic 80’s sports cars has come back. Prices started to creep up for good, solid, stock examples, and a strong aftermarket rose up to meet the demand for both new and used replacement parts. International parts manufacturers started tooling up reproduce many of the “No Longer Available” parts, and businesses popped up to both service them and to also harvest parts from cars that were no longer road worthy. The transaxles were back.
Why these cars have increased in popularity today is a long and personal discussion, but it has been happening for a while and looks to continue. The market is showing us that with pricing and sales, but to prove it, we went to Hagerty’s Online Valuation Tool to see what is happening. What we found was quite interesting.
Hagerty Insurance maintains a section of their website where you can look up the current and historical values of almost any classic car. They grade cars as #1 (Concours), #2 (Excellent), #3 (Good) and #4 (Fair.) Concours speaks for itself, and a #4 in fair condition is what we may call a “beater” – runs, most everything works, but it needs a lot of help. We looked at values in the #2 “good” condition, as most of these cars on the market today fall into that category. However, Hagerty’s tool assumes that the car is in stock condition as far as equipment is concerned. For them any car with an appreciable amount of aftermarket parts (upgrades?) will detract from its value – an important point to remember.
We looked at values from 2006, 2013, 2017 and today to give us a good range of time. We left out the Great Crash years as those numbers may not represent true values, and it is a time that most of us want to forget. Here is what we found.
In 2006 you could buy a 1983 944 in good condition for about $3,000. By 2013, value increased to $5,300, then to $6,700 by 2017 and $8,800 today. A Series II 1988 944 would have been $3,400 in 2006, up to $6,300 by 2013, up only slightly to $6,400 in 2017 and $7,500 today. Yes, the Series I 944 is showing a higher value than the Series II – surprising. And we found across the board that the rates of value increase is much higher than the rates of inflation.
The 951 (944 Turbo) was $5,100 in ’06, $9,800 in ’13, then up to $11,900 in ’17 and $15,500 today. The 944S2 shows a similar value history, but these were also lower production numbers each year that they were available and therefore “more rare.”
The ’76-’82 924 and the ’87-’88 924S values have increased slightly over the years with the current year value for the 924S showing $8,000 in good condition and the 2.0L 924 coming in at $6,300. The market is small for the 2.0L car, and although Porsche made a lot of them, very few are still around in “good” condition.
So what happens when we find a car in what Hagerty classifies as “excellent” condition? This is not quite a concours car but is original and almost perfectly preserved or restored to stock condition. What happens is that the prices skyrocket. Our ’83 944 is worth $23,500; the ’88 944 goes up to $19,000; the ‘91 944S2 shows $33,000 while the ’88 951 is a $37,000 car. Even the 924S can sell for $15,500, and a couple of recent sales show that to be true. An excellent 2.0L 924 can bring almost $20,000.
What does all this tell us? Hagerty’s values are gleaned from auctions and other public sales records, so the values of “excellent” cars come from a very small sample. It also tells us that if you want one of these nicely preserved or restored Porsches, be prepared to spend a bit for a stock spec car. It also says that for these increasing values to apply to your car, it should be as close to stock “as delivered” as you can get. Everything has to work as designed with few “enhancements” added to it.
If you think that buying a 924, 944 or 968 is an “appreciating investment,” you will probably be disappointed. However, you can buy and maintain one, enjoy it, take it to track days, autocrosses, the office and the grocery store, and when it comes time to sell it to the next enthusiast, you can get your purchase price back. You can’t do that with a Honda or a Ford – or almost anything else on the road. Your cost of ownership is the maintenance that you do to keep it in top shape.
If you are considering a front-engine water-cooled car, remember that a pre-purchase inspection by someone familiar with these cars can be a real money-saver. There are some problems that must be identified before you make the deal to ensure that initial repair and maintenance costs won’t break the bank. Low-mileage cars that have been sitting – not being driven – can hide a multitude of “deferred maintenance” costs. Get a second – and third – opinion. Then climb in and enjoy!
Kevin bought his first Porsche in the early 80’s – a 1978 924, and he’s been hooked on the front-engine water-cooled Porsches ever since. In retirement he does what he can to keep them running by rescuing, restoring and servicing them at 924S944.com where you can find over a hundred and fifty original articles about these wonderful Porsches – including an April Fool’s Day article from 2018 announcing Porsche’s reintroduction of the 944 that fooled thousands of enthusiasts! (One reader was so excited about the prospect that he actually got permission from his wife to go to the dealership and order one!)
Love the article, thanks.