Should the Porsche 924/944/968 be more coveted as classics?
How looking at Datsun 240Z's brought me back to a car from my past
Firstly a bit of personal news for my Tribe, that I maybe moving from the U.K. to the United States later in the year. It is not intended to be a permanent move so for now at least I will be leaving the Daytona in the U.K. and may well use the time to have some cosmetic issues and minor mechanical issues that I've been deferring addressed. I've mainly been deferring them as I didn't want to be in a position where I would not be able to drive the car for a period of time, so this is the perfect opportunity to address that.
Now obviously with a move to another country (and indeed another continent) there is a lot to think about, like where we will live, how we will move our stuff (and the cats), but as a car person one question reasonably high up the list is what we will drive when we are over there. Not having access to the Daytona means that for me at least one of the cars (and we will need at least two for me and my wife) will have to be very much at the sporting end of the spectrum. One of the cars that has peaked my interest is the forthcoming Nissan Z. If the rumours are to be believed it is going to be very competitively priced in the US and, the leaked photos indicate it might actually look even better than last year's concept car. We will see next month.
With that I started to delve a liitle bit into Z car culture, and have spent quite a few hours watching Z car related You tube content and even trying them out of Forza Horizon . All this rather increased my desire to actually own an early 240Z (the S30) and maybe it would make sense as a classic weekend toy in the States?
Now if you have been paying attention to the car market at all you will have noticed that car prices are rising especially for classics, and the S30 Datsun Z is probably at the top of that rise on both sides of the Atlantic.
I suppose that is not really a surprise the Z is one of classics that, along with the air cooled Porsche 911, and Alfa Romeo 105 series is an ideal candidate for a resto mod and as a result has quite a following with an audience whose parents would not have been old enough to drive when it first came out. Bringatrailer sold a low mile example for an astonishing $310,000 last year and whilst that is an outlier, sales in the $40-50,000 dollar range are not uncommon. That's frankly more than I want to pay for a weekend toy. So what else is there? A Mazda RX7 would be cool but while the FB and FC versions are nice I would mostly want the FD version from the nineties (a car I have some previous history with which I will save for another article). These too are not exactly cheap right now especially for a (near) stock example. Then in something of a eureka moment, browsing through my online picture library, I came across a picture of a car I used to own a Porsche 944S2.
My of 944S2 - it's a scan from a photo hence quality is not geat
Let's have a look at the history of the 4 cylinder water cooled Porsche Coupes. The first of these was the 924 launched in 1976. The 924 had intially been planned as a replacement for Volkswagen's Karman Ghia along with the weirdly dual badged VW/Porsche 914 and was intended to be sold as a Volkswagen although Porsche was doing all the R&D work. Volkswagen got cold feet on the project which resulted in Porsche buying the rights to the car and launching it themselves. The new car was lauded by reviewers for it's excellent handling but criticised for its lack of performance and the use of numerous Volkswagen parts, especially the Volkswagen sourced 2.0 litre 4 cylinder engine which produced 123hp in euro form but a mere 90hp in emmissions strangled US trim.
As is often the case with its cars Porsche quickly set about evolving the car with the addition of a 5 speed transmission the following year and in 1978 addressed the performance with the arrival of the 924 Turbo model. While the engine was still the 2.0 Porsche did rather more than just bolt on a turbo instead giving it a thorough engineering make over. The result was 170hp and a 140mph plus top speed. These might not sound much these days but at the time 924 Turbo's performance was on a par with the 3.0 911SC (which itself only produced 180hp).
Porsche 924 Carreria GTS rear view
Next in order to boost the 924's image Porsche did what you might expect Porsche to do and took the 924 racing, with a homolgation special version known as the 924 Carrera GT. This featured an even more powerful turbo engine with 210 hp and aggressive flaired wheel arches and hood scoop. Two evolutions the Carrera GTS and GTR, followed with a GTR finishing an impressive 6th overall at Le Mans in 1980. In 1981 Porsche unveiled the 924 Carrera GTP. This significantly featured a new engine a 2.5 litre four cylinder motor loosely based on one bank of the V8 engine from the 928.
Why was it significant? In 1982 the engine would feature in a new car the 944 which would replace the 924 turbo. The engine was obviously heavily turned down for the production car and lost the race car's turbo resulting in 161 hp (US versions 143hp). While this was slightly down on the peak power of the 924 Turbo drivability was much improved and the all Porsche engine helped address the issue that many people felt the 924 was not a real Porsche. Externally the new car was distinguished by flared arches, which were not as agressive as those from the 924 Carrera GT gave the car a far more purposeful look.
1985 saw Porsche introduce a 944 Turbo producing 220hp and featured a revised nose cone, while all 944's got a heavily revised (and much nicer) interior. At the same time The supply agreement for the four cylinder engines for the base 924 ended. As Porsche wanted to keep the 924 as an entry level model it was revised to become the 924S with a detuned (148hp Euro) version of the 944's engine. Curiously thanks to it's narrower body the 924S had a slightly higher top speed.
Evolution of the 944 continued with the introduction of the 16v 944S (187hp) in 1987 to sit mid way between the 944 and the Turbo. in 1988 the power of the Turbo was bumped up to 250hp with the Turbo S and the base 944 got a capacity increase to 2.7 litres boosting torque rather than peak power. In 1989 all the non Turbo 944s (and the 924S) were replaced by the 944S2. The S2 took the 944S engine and increased capacity to 3.0 litre making it the largest 4 cylinder engine on the market and it prodiuced 211hp. Styling wise the S2 used the Turbo's front end in addition a cabriolet verison was added.
Porsche 944S2 Cabriolet
Production of the 944 finished in 1991, not before Porsche completed a short run of 944 Turbo Cabriolets, and it gave way to what Porsche would have you believe was a new car the 968. The obvious reality was the 968 was anything but new but rather a heavily facelifted 944S2 with the engine now featuring variable valve timing to produce 237hp. The car was also one of the first production cars to feature a six speed manual whilst the automatic versions gained Porsche's tiptronic system for manual shifting.
The 924 and 944 had been huge hits for Porsche both selling over 150,000 units, the 968 - wasn't. The car was an old design and didn't compare favourably to the modern Japanese opposition such as the aforementioned Mazda RX7 FD, and the Z32 Nissan 300ZX, especially in the States. In a bid to boost sales Porsche launched a special version known as the 968 Clubsport. The creature comforts were stripped out although the optional sports suspension was standard. With a 15% list price cut over the regular 968 the Clubsport proved popular with a new kind of buyer - those who wanted to do track days.
Porsche also made a tiny number (officially 14) of 968 Turbo S which used the 3.0 engine block mated to the heads of a 944 Turbo. If you can even find one for sale you probably need to start a secure messaging app service and sell it to Facebook to be able to afford it.
The 968 soldiered on until 1995 when it was dropped as Porsche readied itself for a new era with the arrival of the 986 Boxster and water cooled 996 version of the 911.
What are they like to drive and live with?
Another pic of my old 944S2 again picture is old hence poor quality
Okay for this section please bare in mind I brought my 944S2 22 years ago and sold it 16 years ago so hindsight may mean I have my rose tinted spectacles on. When I brought the car was already 10 years old and had around 80,000 miles on it. When I sold it it had a little over 120,000 recorded miles. I actually brought the car because it made a little more sense to my life style than the E36 BMW 316i Coupe I traded it for. The BMW was much newer but I was living and working in central London and used public transport for most of my commuting, so didn't need a sensible car for everyday driving. I did however need something durable enough to sit on the street outside my appartment without dissolving into a pile of rust.
In that role the 944 was more or less perfect as a modern classic that was huge fun to drive but could still handle the chores like the trip to the supermarket for the weekly shop. The rear boot was very narrow but with the back seats down it could accomodate surprisingly large loads.
The driving position was superb and the (optional) all leather sports seats are still some of the most comfortable car seats I've ever used. The car always seemed quick enough without me ever being blown away by the straight line go. Where it really excelled was on back roads as with the transaxle layout the car had fantastic balance, and the steeering was perhaps a little heavy but very precise. If the drive had one surprsing weakness it was in ventilation . A/C was a rare option on U.K. spec but S2's really needed it. The big glass rear window, combined with not the greatest fresh air system meant it could get very hot inside. I never fully removed the lift out sunroof as it is was too much of a pain but even though it could tip up it didn't help get air in the car.
The other great weakness for the car was an appetite for consumable parts. I never tracked it but even with only road driving in the 40ish thousand miles I went through two sets of tyres (first set Pirelli's, second Continentals), two sets of brakes (discs and pads) and a clutch (the latter was probably already on the way out when I brought it). The last was the most expensive as it requires the gearbox to come out to change it. I think the bill was in 4 figures for that. The car also let me down twice in that time. The first time the factory immobiliser failed stranding the car on a London street, and the second time the starter motor broke necessitating a push/ jump start. I also had the obligatory cambelt and rollers change once and it probably was not far from needing another one along with attention to the cam chain tensioner when I sold it.
Even with its issues the 944 remains the most fun daily driver I've owned and was a better steer than the BMW 323i cabriolet (E36) and Audi TT 3.2 that followed it.
So why are they not coveted?
Let's start this section with the caveat that they are not as cheap as they used to be. The days of the £1,500 Porsches from Top Gear episode that arguably set the template for the shift of the Clarkson, May Hammond era show from consumer magazine show to general entertainment, are long gone.
Even so I trawl of the classifieds shows that pretty much all non Turbo versions of the 924 and 944 can be found for under £10,000. £10,000-£20,000 will find all the standard production cars here. Only exceptional 944 Turbos and 968's are likely push over the £20,000 mark. Obviously I'm excluding the homologation cars like the 924 Carrera GT as they fall into a completely different price bracket. While none of these prices are loose change they are considerably less than contemporary 911's and even in same cases lag behind their Japanese rivals that were noticably cheaper when new. Why is this?
The first reason in my view is the evolution of the Porsche model range in subsequent years has resulted in these cars being seen as something of an evolutionary dead end for Porsche. All of it's subsequent sports cars have been mid rear or rear engined, and all modern Porsches for better or worse have had some kind of 911 influenced styling. This results in the 4 cylinder coupes not really having the look expected of a Porsche and maybe they have been a little forgotten about? The cars were not really embraced by the Porsche community either. When I brought the car I joined the Porsche club GB but despite 944 owners making up a significant chunk of the membership the club only seemed interested in the 911 and 356.
Next one of the reasons the cars were so good in the first place was their durability, which meant most were used as daily drivers. This means many have covered very high mileages and are rather used up. Their low values somewhat preclude expensive restorations. They also come with Porsche ownership costs too and there are not so many dedicated 944 specialists as I guess specialising in 911's is more lucrative?
Finally and this relates a little to the first two points the cars are not particularly good candidates for restomodding. The 4 cylinder non turbo engine in the 944 and 968 is a great engine but Porsche left very little on the table for aftermarket tuning companies. to work with. Even some 20 years ago when the car's weren't that old there were few tuning options available for non turbo 944's.
All my research into tuning my S2 said the cheapest and easiest way to do it was trade it in for a 944 Turbo or even a 911. With the subsequent changes in Porsches history there isn't really a candidate engine for an engine swap if you want to keep to the same brand (if someone has figured out how to put the Turbo V8 from a Cayenne in a 944 please let me know). You could always swap in an engine from another manufacturer (LS V8 or a crazily tuned Japanese 4 cylinder) but that seems a little wrong. What ever can be done to any of these cars they will struggle to create that outlaw vibe that everyone seems to want with old 911's these days.
Which to buy today?
Back when I brought my 944S2 is it was an easy choice as it made the best alround compromise between performance and useability that was in my budget. Today the newest 968's are knocking on the door of 30 years old and I doubt anyone is looking to use one as a sole everyday car so the formula has changed.
The base 924 makes a surprising amount of sense as a starter classic. They are still fairly cheap to buy, will be far better to drive than an MGB GT for the same money and with its use of many Volkswagen parts shouldn't be that expensive to run and modify. You will always have to get over the stigma of people saying it's not a real Porsche though.
Moving up the scale the 924 Turbo is a lot faster but the early 80's turbo tech might make this a more challenging ownership proposition, so a 944 is probably a better choice. I much prefer the post 85 cars with the updated dash and the one year only 2.7 litre versions are probably the ones to seek out. Officially they are no quicker but they appear to be one of those cars that Porsche underrated the performance on.
Then and now I don't see any reason to seek out a 944S when S2's are not much more money and signifcantly better cars. Either way ensure that the right attention has been paid to cambelts (common to all 944/968's) and timing tensioner (more specific to the S, S2 and 968) to avoid the car becoming an expensive garage ornament.
The 968 offers different styling a little more power and a six speed box, but are these enough to justify any price premium over the S2 I'm not so sure, although the Clubsports are very desirable as track cars. It is worth noting that Porsche fixed a few of the maintenance challenges in the 968 (clutch changes no longer required the gearbox to come out).
Today I would probably seek out a 944 Turbo, They are the fastest of all of these cars and also by far the most upgradable. They maybe the most expensive to buy right now but they are still significantly cheaper than 80's 911's despite (arguably) being much better cars when new. While it's not a candidate for Luftgekuhlt coolness, would you rather look good on instagram or go for a great drive on a country back road in one of the best driving cars of the 1980's?
All pictures by me. I'm a bit light on pictures of these cars in my photo library so I have embedded some you tube clips for reference notably from the Retromod channel. Copyright and opinions in those clips with the respective owners.
Opinions are my own based on ownership (even if it was a few years back) We also had a 924 and 944 in my family when I was much younger.. Pricing is from searching UK classifieds. It would seem in the US pricing is broadly the same if the £ sign is changed for a $.
Casey Putsch's you tube has quite a lot on Porsche 944 maintenance
Hagerty's Jason Cammisa recently posted a film on the history of these cars.