Porsche 968; photo courtesy of TopSpeed.com
Porsche 968; photo courtesy of TopSpeed.com. Click image to enlarge


By Chris Chase

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Photo Gallery: Porsche 924/944/968

In a way, the Porsche 924 was an accident. Volkswagen had contracted Porsche to design a sports car, but VW backed out late in the process for a number of reasons, including the 1973 oil crisis. Then, according to 924.org, Porsche bought the rights to the car, and the rest is history.

The 924’s drive-train belied the fact that it was originally conceived to be a more budget-oriented VW: it used a 2.0-litre engine making 115 horsepower in Canadian-market tune, a four-speed manual transmission and solid front disc and rear drum brakes. But even still, the car was praised at the time by one writer, who called the 924 “the best-handling Porsche in stock form,” thanks in part to near-perfect weight distribution achieved by placing the transmission at the rear of the car.

Verdict

Highs: Relatively low prices; great handling

Lows: Having to listen to people tell you your car isn’t a “real” Porsche

Over the next few years, Porsche made a number of improvements to the 924 aimed at raising its performance potential. A five-speed manual was introduced in 1979 and four-wheel disc brakes were made available on the 924 in 1980. A three-speed automatic was offered starting in 1977.

In 1979, the 924 Turbo was added. Known internally as the 931, it used a turbocharged version of the 2.0-litre engine: 1979 and 1980 versions had 150 horsepower, and a compression ratio boost in 1981 upped output to 156 for 1981 and ’82. These cars got a five-speed manual transmission and four-wheel disc brakes from the start.

Porsche 924 - courtesy of TopSpeed.com
Porsche 924 – courtesy of TopSpeed.com. Click image to enlarge

In 1982, the 924’s successor, the 944, was introduced. It was based on the 924 but used a new engine – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that was apparently based on the V8 used in the 928. Power output here was 150 horsepower in base form, 217 in a turbocharged version introduced in 1986 (also known as the 951), and 188 in the 944S, which debuted in 1987. A 944 Turbo S was added in 1988, fitted with a larger turbocharger that allowed for 247 horsepower.

In 1989, the base 944 Turbo was dropped (leaving just the Turbo S) and non-turbo cars got a larger, 2.7-litre engine good for 162 horsepower. In 1989, the 944 S2 was introduced, with its massive 3.0-litre, 208-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. In 1990, the 2.7-litre model was discontinued.

In 1991, the 944 was replaced by the 968. Like the 944 S2, it used a 3.0-litre four-cylinder, but made 236 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission was standard, and a four-speed automatic with Porsche’s Tiptronic manual shift feature was optional.

Detailed technical information on all three cars can be found here and here.

With cars this old, reliability problems tend to be more a result of wear and tear than any design flaws that would have manifested themselves when new. That said, there are some documented issues to watch out for in these cars. This FAQ (a frequently-referenced resource in many enthusiast forums) covers some of them, including timing belts (the 924S, 944 and 968 engines are interference type, which will suffer serious damage if the belt fails); bad motor mounts will result in excessive vibration at idle; seals in the oil cooler used in 924S, 944 and 968 built from 1987 to 1991 are prone to failure, which allows oil to get into the cooling system and vice-versa; power steering fluid leaks are common and can cause expensive damage to ball joints and steering components; water leaks into the passenger cabin are common, and the 944 had a history of fragile OEM clutches.

Porsche 944; photo courtesy of TopSpeed.com
Porsche 924 cutaway; courtesy of 924.org
Top: Porsche 944, courtesy TopSpeed.com; Porsche 924 cutaway (bottom) courtesy 924.org. Click image to enlarge

One enthusiast posting at TheCarLounge.net – who claims to be a former Porsche/Audi service advisor in the early 1980s – says electrical issues were the biggest problem in early 924s. A failure-prone radiator fan relay led to frequent overheating, and those early cars suffered from lots of interior rattles, too. He feels that 1979 and later models were far superior in terms of reliability. He has high praise for the 944, which he said was so good that it changed the minds of many Porschephiles who hated the 924.

Another Porsche enthusiast and former 924 owner says his car was unbreakable mechanically, and that parts were cheap; he too, though, says that electrical issues are the big problem with these cars. His advice is to do your research before you buy, and learn the life expectancy of parts so that they can be replaced before they break. Also, look for one that has been well-maintained by its previous owners. A cardinal rule for any used car, following this tip will help you avoid expensive – and unexpected – breakdowns.

I’ll leave it at that and suggest that if you’re serious about owning one of these cars, it would be time well spent to check out the links in the Online Resources section below, as there is a wealth of useful sites dedicated to these cars.

I couldn’t find fuel consumption numbers for the original 924, but in 1988, a 924S Natural Resources Canada figures were 11.7 L/100 km city and 8 L/100 km highway, and I’d expect that a 2.0-litre 924 would do at least as well; a 944S was rated at 12.4 L/100 km (city) and 8.1 L/100 km (highway), and the 944 Turbo was rated at 12.7 L/100 km (city) and 9.1 L/100 km (highway). Move forward to a 1994 968, and the ratings were 15.5 L/100 km (city) and 8.8 L/100 km (highway).

Accurate values for older cars can be hard to come by. Canadian Red Book lists prices as far back as 1992, and it suggests values ranging from $8,125 for a 1992 968 to $15,050 model, with less-common convertible models being worth a few thousand dollars more.

The 924/944/968’s status as a generally underappreciated car means that prices are indeed lower than what you’d pay for, say, the more recognizable 911. There are two 1977 924’s listed on AutoTrader.ca at the time of this writing, going for $2,900 and the other $3,500. A search for 944s brought up many listings, ranging in price from $2,800 to $25,000 for a 944 Turbo with “lots of aftermarket parts.” All of the 968s listed on AutoTrader are priced well above $20,000. Ebay is a good place to look too; I found a number of these Porsches listed there. There are a number of cars listed in the classifieds at the Porsche Club of America, Upper Canada Region website (PCAUCR.org), including a “mechanically impeccable” 1990 944S2 for $12,000, and a 1985.5 944 in need of only some “minor interior detailing” going for $6,500.

The 924, 944 and 968 are frequently labelled “the poor man’s Porsches,” but those who have owned and driven them disagree. What seems to be the general consensus is that while these cars don’t offer the same sort of performance that the vaunted 911 does, they can be a far more affordable way to get a foot in the door of the German sports car realm.

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