We see a lot on social media asking about the ownership experience for a 944 or 924S. With thirty-plus years on the clock, we thought that we would share some of our experience for those who are curious about what real ownership is like.
We live in a bit of a different time in the Porsche World. The “vintage” 911’s – the 80’s and early 90’s – are still pretty expensive, and repairs on the air-cooled cars can also be quite pricey. Looking for a Porsche that is in the sub-$15,000 price range means a choice between two models – the introductory-level Boxster and the 944 series of models. If you love a convertible, the Boxster and the 944S2 Cabriolet are the only drop-tops to consider. But we have heard a lot of comments saying that repairs on an early Boxster (up to about 2002) can be prohibitively expensive, especially when considering the cost of an engine replacement or rebuild. IMS replacement as well as chain rails and tensioner considerations are also an issue.
The 944 series of Porsches including the 951, 924S and S/S2 models are in the same price range, but also have their problems. Not the least of these issues is the fact that a 1983 944 is approaching forty years old and a 1992 944S2 is twenty-nine years old. In car years, that makes any of the 944’s the automative equivalent of “senior citizens.” In its defense, the 944 was designed and manufactured with some of the more “modern” conveniences such as Air Conditioning, power disk brakes, power steering and power windows.
So what is the ownership experience of the 944’s?
Full disclosure here: we are biased toward the 944 family of cars, and we have owned a 2001 Boxster S that was not necessarily the best experience. However, the mid-engined open-top nature of the Boxster makes it unique for Porsche and a success in its own right. But is had its problems and cost a lot to fix and maintain.
The first rule of vintage car ownership is simple – old cars require a lot of care and maintenance, Porsche or not. Things wear out after a few decades, and those things need to be addressed and repaired. We find otherwise nice looking cars in need of things like suspension bushings, shocks and struts, motor mounts, fuel lines and rubber engine air ducting in need of replacement with new. And don’t forget the clutch, clutch hydraulics, brake calipers, pads and rotors, as well as the master cylinder and rubber lines. Failure of these components can leave you stranded. And if you are paying a shop $100 an hour or more to do these repairs, your bargain sports car can get expensive very quickly.
Top Tip #1: When buying a 944, buy the very best you can afford. If you have a chance to buy a “fixer-upper” for $3,000 or a well-preserved and loved model with full records for $14,000, go for the better car. While the “fixer-upper” may seem to be a great deal, but by the time you pay the mechanic to get it running right, repair the interior, get a decent paint job and fix the climate control, replace the brakes, and get the door handles working, you will have spent that $14,000 and maybe more.
Top Tip #2: If you cannot do any of the repair and maintenance work yourself, go buy a Toyota. Sure, having the mechanic replace the clutch or rebuild the engine might be okay, but you should be able to fix the basics, do basic maintenance like change the oil and spark plugs, and use a basic knowledge of cars, engines and their systems to care for the car. Part of the experience with a classic, vintage Porsche is getting some grease on your hands.
Top Tip #3: Using any 40-year-old car as your only and primary transportation is for foolish people. This is not to say that you cannot use a 944 as your daily driver, but you should also have a Plan B in mind when (not “if”) your Porsche decides to take the day off. We have one friend, John, who uses his 1988 944 NA as a daily driver; his Plan B is a 1970 MGB Roadster. His thinking is that at any given time, at least one of the two is running and driving. Sometimes, though, he’s wrong! Don’t be like John! These cars sometime require maintenance and repairs that will take days or longer.
We have been driving and repairing and fixing and upgrading Porsche 924, 944 and 924S cars since the early 1980’s. Our first 924 required a lot of maintenance that included flatbed towing on occasion, but one thing about it locked us in – it was a blast to drive, even with its anemic 110 horsepower. At the time (and even now) paying others to fix it every time there was a problem was not affordable on a working person’s budget, but the lure of the driving experience helped us learn the skills, acquire the tools and parts and even build the facilities (garage) needed to keep it right. That car was passed on to our son, and we acquired another and another and, well, the rest is history.
So what is life like with a Porsche 924S or 944?
Living with an older sports car is always a bit of a challenge. We have had good and bad experiences, but most experiences have been good, some really great. To get the most out of your car, there are a couple of tips that have helped us over the years.
- When something breaks or doesn’t work as designed, fix it. This sounds pretty straightforward, but even the small stuff makes a difference. If the passenger window quits working, figure out why and make it right. If the hatch leaks or doesn’t work right, fix it. And when something mechanical isn’t right, don’t depend on “Mechanical Self-Healing” to fix it.
- Budget for repair work. I once used a 924S as a daily driver with the thinking that if I used it every day for work I wouldn’t have a car payment. However, I banked about half a car payment every month to use for repair work when it became necessary. Do that. You will thank us later.
- Parts are available, but sometimes take a few days to arrive. The local parts store may not have the components in stock, and some stuff is no longer available, meaning searching your new network of 944 folks for used parts. That means down time.
- Have fun with your car. Join PCA or SCCA or some group and go out and have fun with your car. Go on organized drives, do autocross events and go to all the Cars and Coffee events you can find.
- Learn about the history of the model. You will spend a lot of time at gas stations and parking lots answering questions about your car. Have the correct answers available, and enjoy all the new nutcase friends that you will acquire. And be able to describe the difference between a Porsche 944 and an RX7 – you will get a lot of that.
- Take pride in your ride. Even if its a mechanically-perfect beater with faded red paint and torn seats, it’s still a Porsche. Show your love for the car and the marque every day.
In all, owning a Porsche 944 and its cousins and siblings can be rewarding, challenging, frustrating and great fun all at the same time. The overall ownership experience is also a contradiction; we have never sold one of our Porsches out of disgust or malice – “I have to get rid of this thing!” although we have sold other brands and been happy that they were gone. We regretted selling our own “Sparky” – ’87 924S that we rescued from the crusher – only to have it come back two years later. He is part of the family now and will remain in the family for a long time.
Lastly, as the market fluctuates we see value and pricing go up and down. A 944 Turbo that would have sold for $6,000 five years ago is now $15,000. Two-liter 924’s from the seventies are going for up to ten grand in online auctions. Like everything, it cannot last forever. If you think of 944 ownership as an “investment,” you will probably be disappointed. We always thought that if we bought a 944 and later sold it for the same price, the money spent on repairs and maintenance was the cost incurred for all the fun we had with the car. If we sell it for more, that’s good too!
If you have a 944, love it. If you buy one, fall in love with it. In the long run, you won’t be disappointed.