Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Editorial Assistant
2/16/15 10:23 a.m.

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.

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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.

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