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Vintage Views: Porsche 944 Turbo

For decades we’ve touted the Porsche 944 Turbo as a bargain supercar, and our advice has always been simple: Buy one for less than $10,000 and enjoy one of the fastest, most capable machines of the ’80s. The 944 had a competition pedigree as well as the performance chops to run with the day’s best.

Recently, though, as prices on many air-cooled Porsches have shot up, the 944 Turbo has followed suit. At this year’s RM Sotheby’s sale at Amelia Island, for example, a 944 Turbo S fetched $46,200. At the same auction, a standard 944 Turbo still brought in $33,000.

These were extremely clean examples imported from a European collection, but is it a sign of a changing market? Is now the time to grab one off Bring a Trailer? Perhaps, but as with most questions involving the Porsche crest, the answer first requires a history lesson.

1976: Porsche released the 924. It didn’t have those iconic flares or much of an engine, but big things were in store.

1982: Porsche split the family tree, so to speak. The 924 continued as a low-cost model, while its basic DNA formed the 944. In creating the 944, Porsche added better brakes, finally tacked on those flares, and fit a real Porsche engine under the hood.

1983: The Porsche 944 finally came stateside, replacing the 924. (The 924 would remain available overseas and eventually come back to the U.S. as the 924S.)

1986: Porsche expanded the 944 model line with the turbocharged model. Horsepower was bumped 30 percent, all the way to 217. Today, these are selling in the mid-teens and higher on Bring a Trailer.

1988: A second Turbo model, the Turbo S, joined the lineup: bigger brakes, Koni dampers, stiffer bushings and a limited-slip differential. Power was boosted to 247 horsepower, and only about 1635 copies were built. Hagerty says that the best examples are now worth a little more than $50,000, and we’ve seen drivers sell on Bring a Trailer for less than $20,000.

1989: Psych! The 944 Turbo S was only a one-year beast. However, all of its goodies became standard on the 944 Turbo, which itself would be gone by 1990.

The naturally aspirated 944 lasted into the 1990s, when it morphed into the 968. However, considering the meteoric prices set by the 911 Turbos, if a 944 variant is going to score big, there’s a better than average chance it will be a boosted one.

Practical Guidance

Brian Weathered knows the Porsche 944 quite well: His shop, Midwest Eurosport; specializes in Stuttgart’s favorite marque, and he also serves as director for the Midwest Chapter of the 944 Cup Racing Series. In the late ’80s, the Porsche 944 came with antilock brakes, air bags and climate control. They were more advanced than the 911 Carrera. When buying a used 944 Turbo, part of the pre-purchase inspection should include a leakdown test. We like to see numbers under 15 percent.

The cylinders are Alusil-treated aluminum. We use a borescope and look at cylinder walls for metal transfer from piston skirts.

Piston rod bearings are a weak link. Bearings can be installed with the engine in the car, and we recommend doing them every 80,000 to 100,000 miles; on a race engine, we do them every 60 to 80 racing hours.

Timing and balance shaft belts and rollers should be replaced at 45.000 miles. After replacement, they need to be re-tensioned every 15.000 miles and then replaced again at 45,000 miles. The rubber belts break down after five years and should be replaced regardless of mileage. In racing applications, we replace belts and rollers when we do rod bearings every 60 to 80 racing hours.

First step in improving performance is to free up exhaust. Run at a minimum a 3-inch system with a muffler or resonator in the rear. On our race cars, we run a side exhaust out the right-side rocker panel-under the passenger seat is a pretty loud setup for the street.

Stock boost is around 0.8 bar. We run 1.0 bar on our race motors, which is what you’ll have after you free up the exhaust system. Porsche did a great job with the stock wastegate controller, so don’t take it off. We log air-fuel ratios and use an adjustable fuel-pressure regulator for correction.

We also recommend O-ringing the cylinder head and using a “wide fire ring” head gasket.

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crankwalk
crankwalk Dork
10/16/17 3:44 p.m.

Do people just do a balance shaft delete ever? Anybody make a kevlar timing belt for them?

 

Rod bearings/ O-ringing the cylinder head for insurance on an extra 1-2 psi of boost?

 

Needy little things for mediocre power aren't they? There's a reason people LS swap them.

Cotton
Cotton PowerDork
10/16/17 3:50 p.m.

I've had a couple and miss them.  Sold my last one because I thought it was a pain to work on,  then I got into v12tt Mercedes.  The 951 is a breeze to work on compared to the twin turbo v12s.

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
10/16/17 3:58 p.m.

A little harsh aren't you there crankwalk?  When they were new they were far from mediocre on power.  I owned one for a number of years and never found them too needy.  Sure you needed to do a timing belt and pulleys every two years, but that was about it.  Everything else was pretty reliable.  I noticed the 240Z, let's put it this way, it would have blown my modified '71 240 into the weeds without working very hard.  In fact, you had to be well into triple digits before you even knew you were going fast.  I know most people would prefer a '70's or '80's 911, and they are built to higher standard, but in truth, the 944 Turbo drives better, and it's as fast or faster than most 911's of the period. 

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
10/16/17 3:59 p.m.
crankwalk said:

Do people just do a balance shaft delete ever? Anybody make a kevlar timing belt for them?

 

 

It's not the make up of the belt that limits their life, it's the shape of the teeth. Like the Fiat 124, the belt on the 924/44 are square. They work great being square, but because the belt stretches just a tiny bit as the RPMs rise, the square teeth start to get just a little bit off of the pullies and begin to wear. Eventually the belt will get enough wear that it can skip a tooth or two and we all know how that story ends

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
10/16/17 4:00 p.m.
crankwalk said:

Do people just do a balance shaft delete ever? Anybody make a kevlar timing belt for them?

 

Rod bearings/ O-ringing the cylinder head for insurance on an extra 1-2 psi of boost?

 

Needy little things for mediocre power aren't they? There's a reason people LS swap them.

Balance shaft delete results in cracked cast aluminum parts on the engine.  It isn't a good idea, especially for a 4hp gain (seriously they don't suck up as much power as most think).

They do or did make a kevlar belt, but honestly its not that bad to replace at the scheduled time frames, not as easy as most timing belt motors, but it isn't the end of the world.

Mine made 450hp on pump gas and got 30mpg on the highway.  They aren't young cars and they need loving owners who want to put the time into them.  I decided I wasn't one of those and sold it on to someone who hillclimbs and autocrosses it quite successfully.

crankwalk
crankwalk Dork
10/16/17 4:17 p.m.

 

Stefan said:
crankwalk said:

Do people just do a balance shaft delete ever? Anybody make a kevlar timing belt for them?

 

Rod bearings/ O-ringing the cylinder head for insurance on an extra 1-2 psi of boost?

 

Needy little things for mediocre power aren't they? There's a reason people LS swap them.

Balance shaft delete results in cracked cast aluminum parts on the engine.  It isn't a good idea, especially for a 4hp gain (seriously they don't suck up as much power as most think).

They do or did make a kevlar belt, but honestly its not that bad to replace at the scheduled time frames, not as easy as most timing belt motors, but it isn't the end of the world.

Mine made 450hp on pump gas and got 30mpg on the highway.  They aren't young cars and they need loving owners who want to put the time into them.  I decided I wasn't one of those and sold it on to someone who hillclimbs and autocrosses it quite successfully.

I'm not talking about a balance shaft delete for power it's so I don't have to MESS WITH IT every 15k and then 45k like the gentleman in the arcticle suggested. On my Galant VR4, I deleted it with factory Mirage turbo parts so that the belt wouldn't snap, get caught in the timing belt then bend valves.

 

racerdave600 said:

A little harsh aren't you there crankwalk?  When they were new they were far from mediocre on power.  I owned one for a number of years and never found them too needy.  Sure you needed to do a timing belt and pulleys every two years, but that was about it.  Everything else was pretty reliable.  I noticed the 240Z, let's put it this way, it would have blown my modified '71 240 into the weeds without working very hard.  In fact, you had to be well into triple digits before you even knew you were going fast.  I know most people would prefer a '70's or '80's 911, and they are built to higher standard, but in truth, the 944 Turbo drives better, and it's as fast or faster than most 911's of the period. 

You mention my junkyard 240Z as if it's my only reference point for how fast cars can be. LOL

I've owned plenty of fast stuff and to give you a reference, a factory SR20DET or 4g63 with a bigger fuel pump can make 40-50 more hp at the wheels than a 944 turbo without checking on pesky rod bearings, screwing with balance shaft belts, having to O-ring the head for turning up the wick 0.2 bar as the suggestions mentioned.   (Did anybody else not read all those things and think "I don't have to do any of that stuff with some Japanese 4 cyl turbo or V8 equivalents? Or did anybody even see the same section of the article I saw?)

There are a lot of ways to skin a cat but that sure is a lot of time, work and money to keep up with that maintenance schedule for 220 whp in a little decent handling RWD platform.

My $0.02.

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
10/16/17 4:41 p.m.

Agreed to some extent, except most aren't making 220hp since they'll support a good amount more than that out of the box. 

The maintenance schedule isn't as bad as the article implies, but I guess setting point gaps or adjusting valves isn't something you'd be interested in either and those are things people still needed to do back when the engine was originally designed.

What factory produced 4-cylinder motor in 1986 was making 220hp?

Chrysler didn't do it until the Turbo III in the Spirit R/T 1991 and it had some pretty bad issues with the cylinder heads cracking that weren't solved until later.

The 4G63 made 167hp in 1986 in the Lancer

The fact is that Porsche was milking the 924/944 platform for all it was worth since the costs to import the cars were going up around that time frame.  While the development of the 924/944 saved the company from bankruptcy and kept the 911 from dying off completely, it was still a platform designed in the early 70's for VW (who decided to go with the Scirocco instead) with an engine designed in the late seventies.

Remember, the original plan was to replace the 911 line with the 924, 944 and 928 as the 911 sales were stagnating and the new president decided a new direction was needed.  The 911 faithful rioted, the president was ousted and the 911 was saved.  The 924, 944 and 928 were already there though and selling well enough to allow them to keep racing and building 911's, so they kept it going for as long as it was economically feasible.

They were good enough cars for Mazda to copy for the 1st and 2nd Gen RX-7's.  :)

crankwalk
crankwalk Dork
10/16/17 5:18 p.m.
Stefan said:

 

The maintenance schedule isn't as bad as the article implies, but I guess setting point gaps or adjusting valves isn't something you'd be interested in either and those are things people still needed to do back when the engine was originally designed.

 

I actually do all of those things on most of my current vehicles but it's because they are old and mostly stock these days.

My point is the article made it seem like it's not only a good idea but darn near required to do a lot of work to run barely anymore boost which is a big turn off for me especially when much faster alternatives are out there for less money that came just a couple of years later. If you like them , you like them though. I get it.

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
10/16/17 6:23 p.m.

Simply not true.  You can't run massive amounts of boost, but mine was around 300hp without significant mods, and nothing internal.  The big difference between it and many other cars you mentioned, is that the Porsche excels at high speed touring.  There are not many cars as capable from that era that are so easy to drive fast.  Like I noted previously, you had to be going close to 130 or so before the car even felt like it was going fast.  Even in say my 370Z, it was not even close to being as stable a platform.  Steering feel was also nice.

Many people compare the RX7 to these, and yes, I owned one of those back in the day too, but while a nice car, it was not in the same league in terms of driver appeal.  The specs on these do not do them justice.  Are they worth the extra maintenance?  To some yes, to others no. 

Cotton
Cotton PowerDork
10/16/17 6:31 p.m.

In reply to crankwalk :

I ran more boost on my last one with just chip and exhaust.  No other supporting mods.  I dynoed it and did much better than the factory specs would lead you to believe.  I want to say I was 230ish hp and 250ish tq to the wheels,  but honestly that was a lot of cars and a lot of dynos ago,  so I'd have to dig the sheet out to be sure.  Regardless it was a stout car and a fun DD.  

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
10/16/17 6:36 p.m.

also remember, the 944 was the yardstick that Mazda used to get the Miata's handling "just right". More than a few 944s met their end at mazda's hand

crankwalk
crankwalk Dork
10/16/17 7:06 p.m.
racerdave600 said:

Simply not true.

Not my words. I'm just stating what Brian Weathered mentioned in the article. I'm sure they can be pushed past that but his section about rod bearings being a weak link, silly balance shaft schedules, and o-ringing the cylinder head makes them look way more needy and less stout factory than a japanese turbo rwd equivalent.

I was never a huge fan not because of the VW lineage or because they were water cooled or was one of those people who thought they  weren't real Porsche's (Hell, my 75 911 was water cooled). Better at high speed touring than an s13? Sure, I guess? That's about it for me though.

  

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