Why you’d want a Porsche 944
Meticulously built with top-quality components, the Porsche 944 was expensive new but offers a lot for the money today, especially when you factor in remarkably good fuel economy and quite exceptional parts availability for a 1980s classic.
With half a 928 engine and a superb handling/performance blend, the 944 had none of the ‘VW engine’ stigma of the 924. Twin Lanchester-type balancer shafts gave the big, powerful ‘four’ great smoothness.
It was installed in a flared-arch 924 Carrera GT-like bodyshell with 924 turbo suspension and brakes, becoming an instant hit. Steady improvement over its 10-year production life only enhanced that.
Full body galvanising was a feature from the start, but don’t be misled into thinking these cars cannot rust – they can and do, and not just from accident damage. Rotten sills, rusted through from the inside, are not unusual: galvanising doesn’t fully stop corrosion. Wing rot is common, too, and some cars are full of filler: check carefully, ideally with a magnet. Glassfibre front wings are a cheap option.
A high-mileage car with full history is likely to be much less costly to run, at least in the short term, because a low-mileage car will probably have faulty electrics (condensation leads to corrosion when sitting unused), seized brakes and other problems related to limited usage. Beware of false low-mileage claims, too, especially on early cars with five-digit odometers.
Pre-1985 update models have a 1970s-style dashboard that you either love or hate, with a low-set steering wheel just above your thighs. The later oval dash is modern, stylish and attractive, with a higher-set wheel, but the gauges (especially the clock) and heater controls have proved less reliable than those of earlier cars.
There is a choice of genuine spares from main dealers (sometimes cheaper than elsewhere), quality aftermarket products from specialists and second-hand items from breakers. Check via the superb forum on the PCGB website, because many are shared with other cars – especially VW Golfs but even Beetles.
Early cars are relatively simple and have classic appeal, whereas S2s offer the highest performance outside turbos and are often quicker off the mark. They are the sensible choice and less complex than a turbo, but are not readily tunable.
Images: Tony Baker
Porsche 944: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Well-maintained engines can stand more than 250,000 miles, but look for proof of regular maintenance, no excessive oil or coolant leaks or mixing, and no smoke or rumbling on turbos.
Check that belts, chain, tensioner and water pump were recently replaced and ensure heat shields are in place; a good s/h 2.5 is £250-350.
Balljoints are integral with the cast-aluminium lower arm (steel pre-1985); they wear and can crack. Tramlining when driving indicates a problem.
Worn synchros, whining and oil leaks require a costly rebuild; a slipping or baulky clutch needs transmission out; CV joints click or vibrate when tired.
Make sure headlights go up and down correctly and give a good beam, plus that all electrical items are in good working order.
Look for sludge in oil and coolant caps indicating oil/water mix: head-gasket failure isn’t uncommon and past repair need not indicate uncured problems.
Seats can be honest witnesses to care and mileage: inspect for wear, damage and correct function; also for water ingress, especially below sunroof.
Replacement hood costs £1000-plus with fitting, so a good top with a clear rear window is a bonus; check that it raises and lowers quietly and smoothly.
Porsche 944: on the road
The Nikasil-coated aluminium blocks cannot be rebored, so get a compression test done if in doubt; it will also show gasket and valve leaks.
Replacing cam drive and balancer-shaft drive belts at 48,000 miles or four years is vital to avoid a blown engine; the water pump should also be checked and replaced if in doubt. On the twin-cam S/S2, replace the hydraulic tensioner and the (mid-head) chain that takes drive from the exhaust to inlet cam at least every 96k miles.
Listen for rumbling and look for smoke on turbos. If well maintained, the unit lasts well over 100k miles; standard maximum boost is 1.7-1.75bar. Inspect for oil leaks from the engine and power steering; oil pressure should be 5bar at speed, 2-2.5 at hot idle.
Vibrations often stem from tired engine mountings: if the bottom hose touches the offside chassis leg, that mount has collapsed. A worn or stiff gear linkage is common: upgrades using much more durable 968 bushes are available. The front suspension wears, which means replacing the entire lower arm; lowered suspension and wide wheels can lead to cracked arms with dangerous consequences. Uprating with 968CS suspension parts is an option.
Brake calipers often seize and can be costly to put right. Cabriolets may rattle and squeak over rougher surfaces; coupés can crash and thump. An ill-fitting tailgate causes extra noise. Check electric windows, mirrors, sunroof, tailgate release, seats and, where fitted, air-con for correct function.
Wheel offset changed in ’87, so you can’t easily swap alloys for a later/earlier style. Look in boot for spacesaver spare, compressor and toolkit.
Porsche 944 price guide
- Show: £30,000+
- Average: £17,000
- Restoration: £7000
- Show: £15,000
- Average: £12,000
- Restoration: £1500
Porsche 944 history
1982 944 introduced, replacing 924 turbo
1983 Optional power steering, electric sunroof, 16in alloys, ‘sport pack’ suspension
1985 944 turbo launched (220bhp, 0-60mph in 5.9 secs, 158mph); many detail upgrades to 944
1986 ABS and sport suspension options; Aug: 190bhp, 16v twin-cam 944S offered (7.9 secs 0-60mph, 142mph); 944 down to 160bhp in ’87
1988 944 now 2.7, 165bhp, 0-60mph 7 secs, 137mph; 250bhp turbo S added (1000 built)
1989 Jan: 944 S2 introduced: bigger brakes, 211bhp, 2990cc; turbo 250bhp
1989 Sep: catalytic converter standard in UK; S2 cabriolet launched
1990 944 turbo coupé discontinued
1991 944 turbo cabriolet added to range; also S2 SE, with 225bhp and uprated suspension
1992 May: 944 replaced by 240bhp 968
The owner’s view
“I had a 944S in the ’90s,” recalls owner Ewan Clark. “It was my first performance car in my early 20s and was reliable, practical, usable and exciting. A valve stem broke and destroyed the engine, so I had one from a crashed S2 put in: it was brilliant.
“I swapped that for a 944 cabrio, sold that to my mother and bought a turbo. After a while driving Lamborghinis, I felt drawn back to a 944: I love the looks and it’s a hell of a car to drive – so well balanced. I’ve done 1000 miles in a day without fatigue.
“I bought a late turbo for £4k and spent £10k at JMG to get it perfect. Next up is KW suspension for a more compliant ride. You need to see what work has been done when buying: you can’t run a 150mph car for pennies, but the club support is superb.”
Great value (though nice ones are going up), the Excel didn’t have the pace to quite match a 944, but had ’70s style and exclusivity. Build quality and reliability reflected the cheaper price new; a practical DiY prospect now.
Sold 1982-’92 • No. built 1327 • Mpg 20-27 • 0-60mph 7.1 secs • Top speed 134mph • Price new £26,400 (1991) • Price now £4000
MAZDA RX-7 S2
Thirsty if driven hard, Mazda’s rotary had a distinctive appeal and came alive with a turbo, offering 944 pace for a fraction of the price, with cabriolet options, too. Almost all have vanished: parts will be an issue for the survivors.
Sold 1985-’91 • No. built 197,180 • Mpg 14-23 • 0-60mph 8.4-6.7 secs • Top speed 134-148mph • Price new £24,999 (turbo cabrio, ’91) • Price now £2k
Porsche 944: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Prices for the 944 have risen fairly steeply over the past decade, but it remains a good-value classic buy today, whether you prefer the smooth, flexible power of a normally aspirated 944 or the supercar kick of a turbo.
Beware corrosion, clocking and misuse – they can turn your prize into misery. And a fastidious service history will repay a small price premium tenfold in the longer term.
- Still well-priced
- Fantastic parts availability
- Performance with practicality
- Surprisingly thrifty on fuel
- Rots, despite galvanised body
- Quality spares can be expensive
- Porsches are seldom cheap to maintain
- Still lots of knackered ones about
Porsche 944 specifications
- Sold/number built 1982-’92/163,820
- Construction galvanised steel monocoque
- Engine all-alloy, ohc (dohc on S and S2, with 16v) 2479/2681/2990cc ‘four’, Bosch L-Jetronic injection; intercooled Kühnle, Kopp & Kausch turbo; 160bhp @ 5900rpm-250bhp @ 6500rpm; 151lb ft @ 3000rpm-258lb ft @ 4000rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual transaxle (or three-speed automatic on Lux 2.5/2.7), RWD
- Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear semi-trailing arms, transverse torsion bars, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering ZF rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted bar earliest cars, 3.3 turns lock-lock
- Brakes 282/290mm front/rear ventilated discs, with servo; turbo-on 300mm f/r, bigger calipers from ’89; ABS optional 1986, standard ’88
- Length 13ft 10in (4216mm)
- Width 5ft 8in (1735mm)
- Height 4ft 2in (1270mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 101/2in (2400mm)
- Weight 2629-2970lb (1195-1350kg)
- 0-60mph 7.5-5.6 secs
- Top speed 137-161mph
- Mpg 19-30
- Price new £40,904 (cabrio, ’91)