James Mackintosh 13 years ago

Used Car Buying Guide: Porsche 944/968

Remind me later
Are you really itching to gain entry into the Porsche Club of America, but don't have $100k laying around for a 911? More importantly, do you not succumb to the notion that the only real Porsches have engines with no coolant mounted in the wrong place?  Then you might be interested in the "bastard children" of the Porsche range, namely the 944 and the 968.  I'm excluding the 944's predecessor the 924 from this guide for a few reasons: they're not pretty, they're not much fun, and the only really good ones are so rare you'll never see them, ever. A little history, first.  The 944 was the replacement for the unloved 924, which started out life as a joint project between Volkswagen/Audi and Porsche, and was intended to end up as an Audi product.  Audi ditched the project mid-development, so Porsche picked up the ball and ran with it.  The original 924 wasn't a bad car; it just wasn't a good Porsche.  For one thing, it didn't even use a Porsche engine - the 2.0L single-cammer was from the Audi 100, and it made a rather unimpressive 95 bhp - later 110bhp with the introduction of a catalytic converter to replace the smog equipment. It handled well enough, but it wasn't especially noteworthy.  It was an entry-level car of mixed heritage, and it felt like it.  There were bright spots on the 924 map (like the intercooled turbo Carrera GT and race-ready GTS) but for the most part it was mediocre, and real Porsche people knew it.  That wasn't a charge they could level against the 924's replacement, the 944. Porsche 924 Turbo The 944 took the decent backbones of the 924 and improved on them in every way.  For  one thing, the aesthetic difference between a 924 and 944 was pretty dramatic.  Imagine it like this: the 924 was the nerdy kid who was in the book club in middle school who got beat up all the time.  The 944 was that same kid who got sick of that crap, went to the gym every day for three years straight and became a professional cage fighter.  The 944 looked mean.  It was all down to those sexy flared-box fenders that really filled out the 944's figure.  Yeah, it's the oldest trick in the book - it worked for the Audi Coupe (to Audi Quattro), the Lancia Delta (to Integrale), the BMW 3-series (to M3), and for more other cars than I can remember. Also, the 944 received a completely new engine.  The 2.0L single-cam Audi mill went into the trash, and a new 2.5L all-aluminum straight-four was fitted.  This I4 was basically one cylinder bank of a 928 S4 V8, and with it's relatively large displacement Porsche found it  necessary to fit it with twin counter-rotating balance shafts, similar in design to Mitsubishi engines dating back to the  mid-70's.  This kept the operation of these big-bore fours relatively smooth.  The 944 cranked out a much more respectable 150bhp in US spec. With the standard 5-speed manual, Porsche claimed the car would accelerate to 60mph in approximately 9 seconds and top out at 130mph; those numbers are generally considered to be conservative, with magazines testing the regular 944 as being closer to the 8 second range and near 140mph top out.  The handling was very balanced, thanks to a rear-mounted transaxle driven by a nearly 6-foot-long torque tube.


The stars of the range are undoubtedly the 944 Turbo and Turbo S.  The 944 Turbo used a single KKK K26 turbocharger along with significantly revised internal components to create 217bhp and 243lb-ft of torque, an increase of 67bhp and 92 lb-ft.  Performance was world-class: 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, quarter mile in 14.8 seconds, and a top speed of 152 miles an hour.  The Turbo S, introduced in 1988, bumped power output to 247bhp and 258 lb-ft (350nM) by the use of a larger turbo housing on the exhaust side as well as a remapped computer.  0-60 dropped to 5.5 seconds (according to a C&D test), the quarter mile went by in 13.9 seconds, and top speed was up to 161mph. Porsche 944 Turbo S engine All turbos received other goodies, too: a Turbo-specific front air dam with integrated foglamps, wider 16" alloys (regular 944's have 15"), an auxiliary transmission cooler, a boost gauge integrated below the tachometer, and upgraded suspension.  The Turbo S got radically reworked suspension components - adjustable Koni shocks front and rear with adjustable ride height on the front, progressive spring rates, a larger front anti-sway bar, stiffer bushings, larger rear torsion bars, as well as chassis stiffening brackets in the front frame rails.  The Turbo S was truly a world-class performance car, with perfectly balanced handling, strong brakes, and enough power to pull away from pretty much anything else on the road back in 1988.  For 1989, the regular Turbo was upgraded to Turbo S engine specs, and the Turbo S was no more. The rest of the 944 line benefited from continual development, as well.  The 944 lineup was expanded to include the high-performance 944 S  in 1987.  The biggest difference was the fitment of a 16-valve head to the naturally aspirated 2.5L model, which bumped power to 187bhp.  The Turbo and Turbo S retained the 8-valve head.  In 1989, the base 8-valve n/a motor was bumped up to 2.7L, giving a 12bhp hike to 162 horsepower. 944turbo The final evolution of the 944 line arrived in 1989 with the S2.  The S2 used the 16-valve head, but displacement swelled to a full 3.0L (rather huge for a four-cylinder!) and output was a healthy 211bhp, nearly as much as the early Turbos.  This, as well as an extremely limited number of Turbos, was available as a convertible. It is worth noting that 924 production overlapped 944 production between 1982 and 1988 when the 924 finally died.  There is a 924 of interest; the 924 S was basically a regular 944, only in a 924 body - designed to bring a Porsche back to market with an MSRP below $20,000.  These are good-driving cars even if they suffer from the less than stellar ergonomics and dowdy looks of the 924 body, and represent a huge bargain today. 951 The 944 went out of production in 1991, replaced by the 968 in 1992.  the 968 was originally going to be called the 944 S3, but Porsche felt the differences between the S2 and 968 were great enough to justify a new name.  It only shared about 20% of components with the S2, so the new name was justified.  The 3.0L 16v I4 was updated with Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing system, new intake setup and a new exhaust manifold, as well as a dual-mass flywheel.  The transmission was updated to a 6-speed manual, and power jumped to 240bhp. 968 The 968 was also available as a convertible, and in some markets as a light-weight CS (Competition Sport) model.  The CS is the pick of the litter, featuring track-tuned suspension and much fewer luxury goodies to reduce weight, as well as some nifty sport seats. The primary pull of the 944 is it's affordable entry price, but don't be fooled by this: just because it's cheap to buy doesn't mean it's cheap to own.  Parts prices and labor rates are still at typical Porsche levels, which is to say rather exaggerated. So how much should you pay for a 944?  Well, it varies widely by year, model and condition.  Early 944's can be found for less than 2 grand all day long, whereas the super-rare Turbo S (approx. 1600 produced) can fetch up to $20,000 in good condition.  Regular Turbo models are plentiful enough that they don't command much of a premium over regular 944's any more, but expect higher running costs to compensate.  Cabriolets fetch a large premium, with S2 Cab's ranging from 10,000 to 18,000 dollars. 944turbo-2 What should you look out for?  944's are relatively robust cars, but like anything old and European, they have problem areas that can be pricey to fix.  Here are some things to look out for. - Oil leaks. If it's small, don't sweat it.  However, these cars tend to leak at the front main seal, which is a relatively easy fix, and at the rear O-ring on the upper or lower balance shaft, which isn't.  Avoid cars with a leak around the oil pan, as this is labor-intensive and quite expensive to repair. -Clutch. Check the maintenance records, as the clutch will eventually wear out, and you should budget $1200-$1500 for parts and labor to replace it.  It's an eventuality. -Trans Concerns: on 968's, check maintenance records for a transmission overhaul, as it probably needs one.  Pinion bearings are a rapid wear item with this six speed.  Also, when the trans service was done, was the flywheel replaced?  The 968 has a fancy dual-mass flywheel which costs over $1000 just for parts.  On all cars, make sure the drain and fill plugs aren't stripped, as this can be a MAJOR pain in your rear. -Water Pump: lasts between 50,000 and 100,000 miles.  Pain in the butt to replace, but make sure it's been done or you'll be quite sorry. -Timing belt: Ok, this is critical.  Having your timing belt (8v models) replaced only costs about $300 with labor, and a new head can cost about $2000 with labor.  Which sounds better to you?  Replace every 30,000 miles or so, check maintenance records for history of this.  Also, the belt needs to be re-tensioned every 15,000 miles or so - which costs about $100.  Just do it. -16 valve models (944S, S2, 968): Chain tensioners.  Check the maintenance records (because the car you're looking at has them, right?) to see when this was serviced.  Just like a VW VR6, chain tensioners can go bad, which can cause the timing chain to slip off, which can cause you to need a new head.  Believe me, replacing the tensioners is cheaper and much less painful. -968's: also check the cam sprockets/pulleys, as they tend to sheer teeth and throw your timing off, which is no bueno. -Turbo models: how's the turbo?  All turbos die eventually, even with the best of care.  Does the car shoot white or blue smoke under high boost?  Does the turbo make a very loud whistling noise?  You could be in for a replacement soon.  Thankfully, K26's aren't all that hard to find.  Or you could be a man about it and put on a T3/T04E. Once all these things check out, you should be good to go.  A 944 or 968 can provide years of driving pleasure and Porsche snobbery for a relatively bargain price; you just have to find a good one.  And if those 911 nerds throw your nose up at you, remind them that back in the 80's, your 944 Turbo would walk on their 911 Carrera.  That'll make them feel better.