The Porsche 944 offers driving thrills at affordable prices. Get in quick, though...
If you don’t think the 944, and the truly remarkable price/performance package it delivers for MGB money, is a real Porsche, it begs the question: what is a real Porsche?
Let us not forget that the very first Porsche, the 356, borrowed heavily from the VW Beetle, which was designed by Ferdinand Porsche. Then there’s the Porsche 924 – a significant machine, not merely because it saved the company from bankruptcy, but also because it offended Porsche purists.
What became the 924 had in 1976 started as a Porsche design project for VW/Audi. Then, when Volkswagen backed out, it become a Porsche assembled by Volkswagen with bits from the VW/Audi parts bin, including the Audi 100’s four-cylinder engine. Not only was it water-cooled but, for the first time in a Porsche, it was put at the right end of a car.
The Porsche 924 served the company well, slotting in comfortably below the 911. In 1982, with the 924 still in production, the 944 was introduced to fill in a growing gap between the 924 and the base 911SC.
The floorpan was 924, as was the profile (although butched up a bit), but the four-cylinder engine was Porsche’s own, essentially half the 928’s V8 canted over. As with the 924, the gearbox was mounted in the rear transaxle to provide near-equal weight distribution. However, despite the common genes there’s a gulf between the first 125bhp 924 and the initial 163bhp 944, with its sub-eight-second 0-60mph time and near-140mph top speed. The sub-supercar/hatchback/coupé had become a GT.
I suppose you should also know that it’s a tight-fit 2+2 coupé and, although production was still contracted out, the 944 retained Porsche’s famed build quality and came with a zinc-galvanised body.
It also evolved rapidly. The 944 Turbo of 1985 punched out 217bhp to hit 60mph in 5.9 seconds and top out at 152mph. In 1987 the 944 S, with 16-valve head, filled in between the 944 and Turbo. In 1989 the S2 increased capacity to 3.0 litres, and with 211bhp was only a little shy of the Turbo, although the Turbo S launched in 1988 brandished 247bhp. Then, for the last two years, there was a cabriolet, available with normally aspirated and turbocharged motors. That’s only a precis, because along the way virtually every aspect of the 944 was developed and improved.
In its ten-year life the 944 sold 175,000 units and, along with the 924, helped restore financial security to Porsche – until Black Monday and the stock market crash of 1987 kicked the company into turmoil once more. Driving enthusiasts will tell you that the 944 is an extremely sweet performer and handles superbly, without that sphincter-tightening tendency to swap ends that 911 zealots so relish but which real-world motorists are relieved to live without. And as more people become aware of its talents – and more ratty ones head towards the scrapyard, increasing the car’s rarity – so the 944’s values are starting to rise.
Until recently the 944’s problem was one of perception. Your man in the street carped: ‘Yeah, but it’s not a real Porsche.’ But let’s remember that they once asked that about the VW-Porsche 914…
UK LAUNCH At launch in 1982 the 944 cost £12,999, bridging the gap between the base 924 at £9103 and the 911SC at £16,732. That also pitched the 944 just beneath the pacier £13,998 924 Turbo. For wider-world comparisons, Mazda’s RX-7 came nearly four grand cheaper at £9199, while the Lotus Eclat was in base 911 territory at £16,750. Ferrari’s Mondial was £24,500, just £750 less than the Porsche 928S.
944 EVOLUTION At launch in 1985 the 944 Turbo cost £25,311; the 944 S, appearing two years later, cost £23,977; and in 1989 the final evolution S2 was priced at £31,304.
TODAY After decades in the doldrums, the 944’s descent to the bottom of the values curve has ended and prices are beginning to bounce vigorously upwards for good-quality examples. Unlike air-cooled 911s, later-built models have higher values, on account of youth and model evolution. Most valued are Turbos and the last S2s: the highest online asking price in the UK trade is £24,995 for a low-mileage 1991 Turbo S; a rare 1992 Turbo cabriolet, one of 100 right-hookers, is on offer for £19,995. In Belgium there’s a 68,000km 1991 S2 cabriolet, described as mint, up for £20,000. Amazingly, though, in the UK auction market, only two 944s have ever topped £10,000, and average 944 auction values over the past 24 months stand at just £4625. Away from the trade sales market, double that buys very nice examples of any but very superior Turbos, S2s and cabriolets. This is MGB money, for chrissakes, and it’s buying you a whole load of dynamic excellence.
Words: Dave Selby/Octane Magazine