Stellar performance, a rock-solid image, bomb-proof build quality and decent practicality. Sounds like the sort of dream classic we’d all like to own, but such a car would be financially crippling, so it could never be a reality. Or could it? Yes it could, because for a criminally small amount of cash you could have a Porsche 944 that offers all of these things, with a healthy dose of style thrown in for good measure.
While the 924 did Porsche’s image no favours with the enthusiasts, the much more masculine 944 righted the wrongs in spectacular fashion. With its flared wings and wheelarches inspired by the homologation special 924 Carrera covering wider alloy wheels, and a proper Porsche powerplant, it was no surprise that the 944 quickly became the fastest-selling car produced by the marque. Now it’s a classic, the 944 makes a huge amount of sense, but you need to buy carefully.
Taking its styling inspiration from the homologation special 924 Carrera, everything that made the 924 such a brilliant car to drive remained for the series production 944. That includes transaxle and suspension set-up, which made the jump across to higher performance and more upmarket car to great effect.
Although the 2479cc four-pot Porsche engine is often referred to as half of a 928 V8, it actually shared no parts. The slant-four configuration did however borrow the 928’s all-alloy open deck design, as well as utilising the same 78.9mm bore size. Capacity was increased by increasing the stroke.
Which one to buy?
If the car you're looking at doesn't have recent service history from a known specialist then you're probably better off walking away. There are plenty of cars that have this, and without it there's a very good chance of some serious grief materialising very quickly.
On the face of it the 944S is the one to go for from the original series, but engine parts for these are especially expensive and poor torque makes them less pleasant to drive. So unless the car is priced to sell you're better off giving them a wide berth.
As a result you’re better of either finding a Turbo or a 944 S2, the latter offering all of the real-world performance you’re ever likely to need. However, if you want the ultimate it’s worth tracking down a good Turbo; you’ll pay more for it, but it’ll always be the most valuable of the breed so it’ll prove to be the best investment – and it’s also superb to drive.
Often forgotten about are the Cabriolet models, which can be exceptionally fun, and great during the warmer months.
Performance and specs
Engine 2479cc, four-cylinder
Power 220bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque 243lb ft @ 3500rpm
Top speed 153mph
Fuel consumption 21mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1180kg
• Thanks to a fully galvanised shell, major corrosion isn’t common, but check the rear panel where the latches and numberplate are mounted, plus the bottom of the front wings. Corroded sills are also common, so ensure the underseal is intact.
• Poor crash repairs abound, given away by uneven panel gaps. Focus on the shutlines between the bonnet and front wings plus those between the pop-up headlights and the nose panel as well as the wings.
• The rear panel should have a Porsche factory sticker on the inside – it could have come off, but if it's there the car hasn't been shunted from behind.
• A strong smell of petrol from the load bay on a pre-1986 car means the fuel filler pipe seal has given way. Later fuel tanks were plastic, but earlier ones corrode and replacement means dropping the transaxle and rear suspension.
• Sunroof leaks are common because the drainage holes get blocked and the seals also get damaged, allowing water into the cabin. Check around the sunroof aperture plus the seats and carpets for signs of damp.
• A 944 engine lasts well if properly maintained. Oil and filter changes are required every 6000 miles on pre-1986 cars & Turbos, and every 12,000 miles on later cars. Also check if the cam belt has been replaced within the last 40,000 miles or four years. This is a fairly expensive job, and you should negotiate a significant discount for any car that needs one.
• A vibration at idle is a failed engine mounting. A vibration at 2800-3200rpm suggests problems with the balancer shafts, because the shaft timing is out or the drive belt has failed.
• Normally aspirated cars and pre-1989 Turbos have an integrated oil cooler that's a radiator in the water jacket of the cylinder block. If its seals fail the engine's oil will be mixed with its coolant. Later cars use a separate oil cooler; it’s better, but the pipes rust and crack. Also ensure the boost gauge shows 0.8 bar when the turbo is in action, indicating a healthy system.
• Turbo exhaust manifolds crack, along with the wastegate. Replacing either is expensive so make sure the exhaust isn’t blowing when cold.
• On the 944 S2 a chain links the two camshafts. If this breaks the engine is wrecked so the chain and tensioners must be replaced at 90,000 miles. Also, all 944 engines have Alusil-lined bores, so reboring isn't straightforward; it’s generally cheaper to source another engine.
• Clutch master cylinder leaks are common so check under the dash and on the bulkhead for fluid.
• The fitment of power steering (standard from 1985, optional from 1984) brings leaking pumps and racks; fluid collects on the engine undertray then leaks through its ventilation holes.
• The universal joint in the steering column wears. Look into the engine bay and get someone to wiggle the steering wheel; any wear will be evident.
• Brake callipers seize if not greased regularly, with rear callipers especially prone. As cars like this do tend to be left standing for long periods, it’s important to check these carefully. While rebuilds are straightforward, parts can be horrendously expensive.
• On cars with a sunroof check the condition of the roof lining. This tends to shrink as it dries out over time, leading to tearing. It’s also important to check for any signs of damp, as this could point to a car that has been left outside for long periods of time, with leaky seals.
• Later cars have the radio aerial incorporated into the windscreen. The connections break or the aerial stops working and the only solution is a new windscreen or the fitment of an aerial in one of the wings – something that isn't easily reversible.
Sep 1981: The 944 debuts at the Frankfurt motor show.
Apr 1982: The 944 goes on sale in the UK with a 163bhp 2479cc engine.
Apr 1985: Revisions bring a bigger fuel tank, redesigned dash, better ventilation and 40 other modifications.
Oct 1985: The 220bhp 944 Turbo arrives with a revised nose.
Jul 1986: The 944S arrives with 190bhp.
May 1987: The 944 Turbo gets ABS as standard.
Oct 1987: The 944 Turbo SE appears, with 250bhp. Just 70 RHD examples are built.
Jul 1988: The 944 Turbo is now offered with a Club Sport chassis, featuring adjustable suspension.
Feb 1989: The 944 S2 debuts, with a 2990cc 211bhp engine.
Jun 1989: A 2.7-litre engine is now fitted and the 944 S2 cabriolet arrives.
Aug 1990: The 944 Turbo Cabriolet appears.
Sep 1991: 944 S2 production ceases.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
While the Porsche 944 is still very much at the affordable end of the Porsche spectrum, nice examples are really starting to pick up, with prices for top condition early cars nudging £11,000. More usable examples will come in at £3500-£6500, although the more powerful S models do command a premium.
The absolute top Turbo models top out at around £25,000, but look to pay between £10,000-£15,000 for good example. Project cars can still be found for as little as £2500. The naturally-aspirated S2 model is arguably the best to drive, with prices catching those of the faster Turbo model at £20k for a top example, and £6500-£12,000 for average to good examples.
Smaller numbers and increased demand mean that the you’ll have to pay around 25 per cent extra for a Cabriolet model.