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Vintage Views: Porsche 944

Porsche’s air-cooled sports cars are legendary, but in the 1970s the manufacturer saw a future in something unconventional for them at the time: water cooling.

The water-cooled, front-engined 924 replaced their entry-level 914 in 1976, but despite good sales, the newer model wasn’t a huge hit with the Porsche faithful. It had nice lines, but it lacked a soul.

The 944, released stateside for the 1983 model year, would cure those ills. Sure, it looked like a beefed-up 924, but this one replaced the Volkswagen-derived inline four with something born and bred in Porsche’s workshops. That new 2.5-liter engine was simply half of the V8 found in the earlier Porsche 928, the brand’s cuttingedge supercar. Boxy fender flares seemingly ripped from the Le Mans-bred 924 Carrera GT helped the new 944 stand out in traffic.

The 137-horsepower output may sound puny today, but it was enough back then–especially when combined with an amazing chassis. The 944 retained the basic suspension layout from its 924 cousin: a MacPherson strut front suspension, followed by a torsion bar rear. The 944’s cornering capabilities simply outpaced the rest of the day’s field. Even by today’s standards, it’s a wonderful car to drive.

Porsche didn’t rest on its laurels, though, and continued to add more speed to the equation. The 217-horsepower 944 Turbo was added to the model line for 1986. Though these cars were a little heavier and saddled with turbo lag, they proved to be much faster around a track. Porsche had itself a modern supercar.

Customers could also buy an even faster Turbo S for 1988. Only a thousand copies of the Turbo S were offered, but those specs were adopted by the standard-issue 944 Turbo the following year.

The non-turbo car evolved, too. A 16-valve 944S arrived for 1987. Two years later, it was replaced by the 944S2: 944 Turbo bodywork plus a 3.0-liter, 16-valve engine that made an honest 208 horsepower.

Slowly, though, the 944 faded away from showrooms. It had run its course, and the company was healthy enough to push forward on 911 development. The standard 944 and 944 Turbo left us after the 1989 model year. The 944S2 soldiered on until the 968 replaced it after 1992.

This new and improved GT car proved to be the answer to Porsche’s prayers. More 163,000 examples were produced in both turbo and naturally aspirated forms, making it the most successful Porsche until the Boxster. Not only is the 944 a stronger performer, but it’s often credited with keeping the company afloat during the ’80s.

Despite its place in the Porsche history books, prices are still very reasonable. You can find a good non-turbo example for about $4000. If you’re looking for a turbo version, you can expect to pay closer to $10,000.

Since so many of these cars were made, they’re taking longer to appreciate than the 911s. Don’t worry, that low price doesn’t mean it’s a second-rate car. In fact, these cars have generally aged very well and are welcomed by Porsche faithful.

Shopping and Ownership

Paragon Products has been providing technical assistance to 944 owners for decades. For some maintenance tips, we talked to company owner Jason Burkett.

If you’re looking for a 944 to buy, get the best car you can afford. Fixing up a basketcase can get expensive. One of the big things is to check and see if someone else has paid to do the clutch at some point. A clutch job in these cars is a pain in the butt.

If there isn’t any history of the timing belt/balance shaft belt and rollers being serviced, that would be the absolute first thing to do. This car has an interference head design, so if the timing belt breaks, things get expensive. While you’re in there, plan on doing a water pump unless you know for sure it’s recently been done.

If you have to choose between a Series 1 car (1982-’85.5) and a Series 2 car (1985.5–’92), go with the Series 2 car because of its updated dash and widened track. Also, all of the Turbos are the later style.

Staying on top of the timing/ balance shaft belt situation is very important. Sometimes people ask, ”My car sat five years and the belts look good; should I replace them?” Yes. This stuff isn’t that expensive and you’ll be crying if something does fail, so replace them. This is a good time to check for front engine leaks, as that’s the opportune time to seal up the front of the engine.

When doing a clutch job, do it all: disc, pressure plate, throw-out bearing and what we call a “clutch accessory kit.” Yes, you need it. It doesn’t matter how good the stuff on the car looks. Doing a clutch is probably one of the worst jobs there is on a 944, and you certainly don’t want to have to go back in there because you cheaped out on pressure plate bolts or flywheel bolts.

While owning a 944, you may come across some of the following common problems. One we see often is an odometer that quits working. This is actually repairable. You will need to disassemble the gauge cluster and replace a gear. Step-by-step directions can be found on our website.

If you feel vibration in the steering wheel, it could mean that your motor mounts need to be replaced.

Sometimes, hot air gets blown through the vents in the car, even if you have the air conditioning on full blast. A threaded rod that controls the heater door is attached via a very small and brittle plastic support and metal clip. The support ages and eventually cracks, throwing the clip to the floor and releasing the heat to the cabin. Again, step-bystep directions for fixing this can be found on our website.

Want to put your 944 on track? Make sure that the oil level is always at the top mark before every session. It may seem like common sense, but it’s especially important in a 944. If your car will be heavily tracked, it’s wise to install an oil cooler. Owners of cars with aluminum control arms should check for ball joint looseness before every event. Ball joint rebuild kits are available through Paragon Products.

When looking to add upgrades to your 944, remember, suspension is king. These cars are already pretty well balanced, but the stock stuff is most likely worn out. Just a new set of Konis will make a huge difference. Stage two is to replace the factory anti-roll bars with either the factory 968 M030, Weltmeister or Tarett setups.

Stage three would be to increase the spring rates. This is relative easy on the front with either the Weltmeister lowering springs or our adjustable ride height kit. For the rear, you can either use larger torsion bars or ditch the torsion bars altogether and go straight to coilovers. Re-indexing or removing the torsion bars is a decent amount of work, so a lot of folks don’t want to mess with them. That’s fine, but they should tread lightly on the amount of spring rate they run on the front so they don’t make the car understeer more than it already does with the factory setup. For folks who don’t want to mess with the torsion bars, I usually advise them to go with 200 lbs./in. front springs and then just lower the rear to match.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
reflexr
reflexr New Reader
6/10/15 11:26 a.m.

We built ours in the backyard from 5 different cars, now we want to race it(uh, that's why we built it), and wish we had GRM stickers to put on it.

Our facebook page: www.facebook.com/TSBRacing?fref=ts

Support a 944 racer, help make it happen for TSB Racing on @indiegogo https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tsb-racing/x/8733240#/

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