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
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.
View comments on the GRM forums
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.
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