The Porsche 944 was produced from 1982 until 1991 and was brought in as a replacement for the 924, a joint project between Porsche and Volkswagen that failed to find favour with buyers – largely due to its unpopular Audi-sourced 2-litre engine. A turbocharged version of the 924 was launched in 1979, but it became clear that the car had reached the end of the line.
Rather than scrap the idea of an affordable front-engined GT car altogether, Porsche opted for the same trick they’d mastered with the 911, to simply improve and relaunch the current design. The first casualty of the redesign was the 2-litre Audi engine, criticised for being underpowered and agricultural. A 2.5-litre Porsche designed four-cylinder engine would replace it, this time with the addition of two rotating balance shafts, which minimised the roughness of the four-pot motor. The new engine produced 150bhp that, while smooth, was not especially potent.
As well as the engine, the styling was also hugely improved. Wider wheel arches were chosen and improved suspension gave the wider 944 a more squat and aggressive appearance. The extra power was kept in check by beefier brakes, and the 944 was generally accepted to be a much more poised motorcar, in part due to its near 50 50 weight distribution. Early cars were fitted with cookie cutter wheels, whereas later models adopted Teledial alloy wheels.
In 1985 some additions were made to the model, though most were mechanical. A Porsche radio system was added alongside an uprated alternator, while the mounting of the rear transaxle was modified to reduce vibration. In addition, both the fuel tank and sump were increased in capacity and a new dashboard and door panels were added. In 1987 anti-lock brakes and airbags were added.
Also in 1985 came the introduction of the Porsche 944 Turbo, the first major performance improvement since the model’s inception. The car featured the same engine as before but with the addition of a turbocharger, pushing total power output to 217bhp, significantly improving straight-line speed.
Three years later we were treated to the arrival of the Porsche 944 Turbo S. Still using the 2.5-litre engine, only this time in a higher state of tune, it achieved a maximum power output of 247bhp.
In addition to the 944 S introduced in 1987, the 944 S2 joined the model lineup in 1989 sporting a new 3-litre engine – the largest production four-cylinder engine of the time. Power was 208bhp and a cabriolet version would arrive in 1990. At the end of the production run in 1991 Porsche unveiled the 944 Turbo Cabriolet, a model that many fans of the Stuttgart brand had been calling for. Very few cars were produced, and even fewer made it to UK shores – something in the region of 100.
The Porsche 944 has recently entered the bargain basement, and is nowhere near as popular as either the 911 or larger capacity front-engined Porsches. Providing corners haven’t been cut on maintenance, a 944 is one of the most sensible routes to Porsche ownership.
Insist on a comprehensive service history by either a main dealer or a specialist. Opt for a car that has been used regularly, even if the mileage is slightly higher – these cars don’t like sitting for any great length of time.
Plenty of early cars are available for less than £2000, while 3-litre and turbocharged models will set you back much more. £6000 is enough to secure a half decent turbo, though it will bag you a very nice naturally aspirated model. The very best can be as much as £20,000, but you shouldn’t have to spend more than £10,000 to get most models – even the coveted late run out 944 Turbo Cabriolet.
VITAL STATISTICSENGINE 2479cc/4-cyl/SOHC
TORQUE 151lb ft@3000rpm
TOP SPEED 138mph
GEARBOX 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Check the snout for accident damage. Being low, it's prone to the odd knock and the fog lamps can get cracked. Make sure the pop-up headlamps actually do. Engines are generally robust, but service history is very beneficial, and essential if the price is high. Timing belts need replacing every 48,000 miles but these days, the four-year interval is more relevant. The engine choice is 2.5 8v (Lux), 2.5 16v (S), 2.5 8v (Turbo), 2.7 8v (Lux) or 3.0 16v (S2). Power ranges from 150bhp to 250bhp for a Turbo S. Note that the 16v engines use a small timing chain between the camshafts. This needs replacing when the timing belt is done and pushes the price up. Expect to pay from £500 upwards for a belt change. Watch for head gasket failure too. Regular coolant changes are absolutely essential. It's often forgotten. Watch for exhaust smoke from Turbos.
The Turbo and S2 have an underskirt that sits beneath the rear bumper. Check the rear lights for damage, though second-hand replacements can be as little as £20. On Cabriolets, check the roof carefully for damage. Only 5000 Cabriolets were built. Make sure the roof operates correctly and that it is not damaged. A replacement is likely to be around £500.
It's a myth that the 944 is rustproof, though panels were galvanised. This coating isn't immune though, and rot is entirely possible in the sills and bottom of the front wing. Repair work can run into the thousands, as more rot may be lurking under the surface. Replacement parts may not be galvanised, so check any repairs very thoroughly indeed. Check the flanks for further signs of accident damage as it is very possible to lose the back end if over indulging. Check that the sunroof works and that neither it nor the tailgate have allowed water into the cabin.SUSPENSION & BRAKES
No 944 is young anymore, so watch out for tired dampers causing a skittish or bouncy time in the corners. Watch out for track-thrashed examples too. Worn balljoints and bushes all add up to sloppy handling. The brake calipers can suffer from corrosion, especially if a car has spent a lot of time sitting. Watch out for seized brakes causing excess heat or a pull to one side.
Tyres are critical and a good indication of care. Big brands are good and what condition are the wheels and tyres in? Are there signs of kerbing or unusual wear? A history file that includes a recent alignment check is encouraging. Tyres that are worn along one edge less so. While the front suspension uses coil springs, the rear uses torsion bars. These can occasionally require re-indexing – where you reset the ride height – but not often.
Cloth trim can deteriorate with time, though you may be able to score decent second-hand items for not too much outlay. That situation is unlikely to last however. Make sure all electrical equipment works, including front and rear wipers, electric windows and the sunroof. The roof uses quite a complex mechanism, so fixing it isn't easy and could have an impact if you decide to resell.
The gearbox is mounted at the rear to improve weight balance. A sloppy linkage isn't too tricky to sort out but check that the clutch has good bite. As you release the clutch, you may hear a rattling which is usually the torque tube. These can get noisy but failure is thankfully rare. The Volkswagen-sourced automatic gearbox is also tough, but watch for gears slipping or excessive noise when selecting Drive or changing gear.
The 944 Lux is brisk and enjoyable. Turbos are undeniably quick but the S2 is only a second slower to 60mph, and arguably the sweeter drive. Available torque is staggering thanks to one of the largest capacity four-cylinder engines of the past 40 years.
They can be cheap to buy, but can be seriously costly to renovate. There's a world of difference between a good one and one that's fighting fit, which isn't necessarily reflected in values.
Reviewed by ClassicCarsForSale.co.uk on