Porsche 944 is First Produced

The Porsche 944 is a sports car built by Porsche between 1982 to 1991.

It was built on the same platform as the 924, although 924 production continued through 1988. The 944 was intended to last into the 1990s, but major revisions planned for a 944 S3 model were eventually rolled into the 968 instead, which replaced the 944. The 944 was a successful model and was available as both a coupe and cabriolet in naturally aspirated and turbocharged forms.

The Porsche 924 had originally been a project of VW-Porsche a joint Porsche/Volkswagen company created to develop and produce the 914 which was sold in Europe as both a Porsche and a Volkswagen. In 1972 a replacement for the Volkswagen version of the 914, code named EA-425 began development. The model was to be sold as an Audi as part of the VW-Audi-Porsche marketing arrangement. Although testing had begun in the Spring of 1974 Volkswagen decided to cancel the program due to the expense of production as well as the feeling that the recently released Volkswagen Scirocco would fill the sports coupe sufficiently. At the time Porsche was considering introducing their own water cooled front engine 2+2 coupe to replace the 912E and their model of 914 and Volkswagen's cancellation provided an opportunity. Porsche purchased the design and finished developmental. The vehicle drove and handled exceptionally well and received positive reviews, but was criticized for the Audi-sourced 2 litre engine; Porsche introduced a Turbocharged 924 to increase performance, but the price was considered too high for the time, which hampered sales. Rather than scrap the design , Porsche decided to develop the 924, as they had with generations of the 911; although model numbers would change, the 924 would provide the basis for its replacement.

Porsche re-worked the platform and abandoned the Audi engine, installing in its place a new all-alloy 2.5 litre straight-4 engine that was, in essence, half of the 928's 5.0 litre V8, although very few parts were actually interchangeable. Not a natural choice for a luxury sports car, a four cylinder engine was chosen for fuel efficiency and size, because it had to be fitted from below on the Neckarsulm production line. To overcome the unbalanced secondary forces that make other four cylinder engines feel harsh, Porsche included two counter rotating balance shafts running at twice engine speed. Invented in 1904 by British engineer Frederick Lanchester, and further developed and patented in 1975 by Mitsubishi Motors, balance shafts carry eccentric weights which produce inertial forces that balance out the unbalanced secondary forces, making a four cylinder engine feel as smooth as a six cylinder. The engine was factory-rated at 150 bhp (112 kW; 152 PS) in its U.S. configuration. Revised bodywork with wider wheel arches, similar to that of the 924 Carrera GT, a fresh interior and upgrades to the braking and suspension systems rounded out the major changes. Porsche introduced the 944 for MY 1982 to great anticipation. In addition to being slightly faster (despite having a poorer drag co-efficient than the 924), the 944 was better equipped and more refined than the 924, it had better handling and stopping power and was more comfortable to drive. The factory-claimed 0-60 mph time of over 9 seconds (8.3 seconds according to "Porsche the Ultimate Guide" By Scott Faragher) was actually rather modest. The factory-claimed top speed of 130 mph (210 km/h) was also pessimistic, Autocar having verified a top speed of 137 mph (220 km/h). The car had nearly even front to rear weight distribution (50.7%front/49.3%rear) thanks to the rear transaxle balancing out the engine in the front.[1] This gave it very balanced, predictable handling at the limits of adhesion.

In mid-1985 the 944 underwent its first significant changes. These included :- a new dash and door panels, embedded radio antenna, upgraded alternator (from 90 amp to 115 amp), increased oil sump capacity, new front and rear cast alloy control arms and semi-trailing arms, larger fuel tank, optional heated and powered seats, Porsche HiFi sound system, and revisions in the mounting of the transaxle to reduce noise and vibration. The "cookie cutter" style wheels used in the early 944s were upgraded to new "phone dial" style wheels. 1985 model year cars incorporating these changes are sometimes referred to as "1985B" or "1985 1/2" cars.

In early 1989 before the release of the 944S2, Porsche upgraded the 944 from the 2.5 liter engine to a 2.7 liter engine with a rated 163 hp (versus 153 for the 1988 2.5 liter engine) and a significant increase in torque. In addition to the increase in displacement, the new motor featured a closed deck block design and a different cylinder head which incorporated larger valves.

To examine Porsche these days is to sense the sadness that comes with witnessing the mortality and descent of any oligarchy.

The company continues to make sovereign sports cars: pedigreed, blueblooded and indestructible machines. A Porsche is still built to behave very quickly as a single system. Porsches show no slack, no noticeable transitions between the functions of braking, steering, accelerating and flattening a chassis against a road. They are among the best.

Yet Porsche sales are face down in the mud.

Last year, the company sold a piddling 15,737 cars in the United States, a horrible 50% drop from its boom year of 1986.

The first half of this year is starting to look like the last half of the Lakers' championship finals. Porsche had sold only 3,600 vehicles by June 1, and at this pace, all public relations positivism to one side, 1989 could be Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen's first serious sight of Armageddon.

The rock: Sharp depreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Deutschmark has pushed Porsche's prices way above the competition and maybe even beyond the value the car once represented.

The hard place: The Japanese--and in some cases American manufacturers--have been marketing cars with Porsche's performance numbers but at half the sticker prices.

The final nail: Even Porsche's devout began buying elsewhere rather than investing in styling that to naked eyes and image shoppers really hasn't changed in more than two decades.

"January and February were almost frightening," a spokesman for Reno-based Porsche Cars North America said. "We also recognize that (this year) we are not going to be selling 30,000 or even 17,000 vehicles . . . but it (the current sales situation) is not something that is going to put the company outof business.

"I don't want to appear sanguine about it, but there are some bright spots." He said sales of the everlasting Porsche 911 with a silhouette that hasn't budged much since 1964, have started shifting upward. The entry-level 944 seems to be holding its own. "They're still not good figures but there does seem to be some life in the sports car market. We are doing things and hopefully there will be some results."

What Porsche AG of West Germany is doing may best be seen as biting the bullet while swallowing most of the gunpowder.

It has cut its West German work force. Next, it reduced and rearranged production of its 12-vehicle line. Porsche then executed the un-American and inconceivable--it actually reduced prices on some models and by as much as $3,000.

Sadly, throughout this corporate depression, Porsche hasn't introduced any really new cars because no company dedicated to quality and craftsmanship can move that fast in any pinch.

Memories on Wheels

So the Porsche Carrera 4 is a 911 with all-wheel drive. There's a soft, rounded-off Speedster geared to memories of the '50 s and '60s but only 400 will be made. Porsche has improved this car, refreshed that one, added a cabriolet here and a turbocharged version there.

Even the "new" Porsche 944S2 is simply a reinforcement of an existing series--a bored-out version of last year's 16-valve 944S and a tacit admission that the earlier car just wasn't as tractable, nor as salable, as had been anticipated.

Whether the 944S2 will be a stronger seller, given the current climate, remains moot. Clear, however, is the S2's improvement over its ancestors--with that added endowment of a $3,000 price reduction.

Redesigning the block, enlarging the cylinder bore and increasing the stroke gives the car 3.0 liters of displacement and 208 horsepower compared with the 2.5 liters and 150 horsepower of last year's stock 944. This, Porsche says, makes it the most powerful, conventionally aspirated four-cylinder engine in the world.

$15,000 Worth of Extras

The S2 arrives w th a checker's tape of standard equipment that, if it could be declined as options, might knock $15,000 off the sticker. The list includes alloy wheels, heated rear windows and mirrors, anti-lock brakes, driver and passenger air bags, sun roof, Blaupunkt radio, cruise control, power windows and steering, central locking, electrically adjusted mirrors . . . und aller dieser Jazz.

On the road, the S2 is a free-revving, feisty prowler working fully to the standards that are a norm for Porsche, yet seem to be an impossibility for other manufacturers. The car is nimble in first with second gear hooked to an afterburner that's good to about 60 m.p.h. On the freeway, one can play around all day with third and fourth because the range there is from 60 to 125 m.p.h. In about 15 seconds.

But it's the breadth and balance of the five-speed box, a feeling of always being in a gear appropriate to the pace, no matter our medium transgressions, that sets Porsche head and shoulders above the competition--if below eye level in sales.

Or is handling the superlative of a Porsche?

In truth, the Porsche probably corners no flatter, no faster than other entrants in its 150 m.p.h. performance class. The steering reads no more, no less, and the suspension seems no stiffer, no softer. But the car feels infinitely superior and from that comes the blessing of increased driver confidence.

Feeling of Safety

Or as automotive photojournalist John Lamm once noted: He feels safer at 170 m.p.h. in the Porsche 959 than he does at 55 m.p.h. in a Chevrolet Nova.

It is a security created by much more than a motor and double overhead this and semi-trailing that. It has to do with establishing a driver's center of bottom closer to the gravel. And building expensive seats to hold him--or her--there. It's a matter of balancing a chassis. And chintzing on no unseen suspension attachment to maintain that symmetry.

ThenPorsche assembles this total driving system as though its own CEO's life, limb and comfort depend upon it.

Our test car was a relative old-timer with almost 6,000 miles on it. By IMJ (International Motoring Journalist) standards, that's a thrashing roughly equivalent to eight Paris-Dakar rallies. That would explain a broken lock on a console box, a hatchback catch that often didn't and glitchy door locks.

We were never comfortable with the rear-window hydraulics when they are fully extended. They raise the hatchback almost beyond the reach of smaller folk. They certainly were stiff enough to make closing the lid an exercise in leverage roughly the equivalent of humping a 40-pound bag of Kibbles 'n Bits from a high shelf.

I’ve toyed with the idea of buying a Porsche 944 on more than one occasion. The first time was in 1982 when Porsche introduced the car; the problem was that at the age of 15 I didn’t have a driving licence. By the time I did, it was obvious that group 20 insurance was going to exclude me from ownership until I was over 25. When I was of age and could finally afford one, the 944 had built itself an unfortunate reputation and was known as “the poor man’s Porsche”.

But now, more than 23 years after I first saw the Porsche 944, I have started to get excited about it again. The reasons are simple. Aesthetically the car has aged well. The flared arches, large rear screen and pop-up headlights place it firmly in the 1980s but endow it with a coolness sadly lacking from many sports cars of that era. Also, the Porsche 944 is now as cheap as it will ever be; it’s on the brink of true collectability — a tidy example will cost you no more than £3,000 while a mint example can be yours for £6,000.

Originally the car was powered by a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine with just 165bhp, hardly enough to get the pulse racing. But the car’s superb 50/50 weight distribution meant it cornered well and by keeping up momentum the 944 could still cover ground at a fair old lick. In addition to a very pleasant five-speed manual version Porsche offered a not-so-pleasant three-speed auto that is best avoided.

On the road a Porsche 944 feels surprisingly modern in terms of its driving dynamics. As in any sports car you sit low in the cabin and rearward visibility is not the best, but the seats are generous and the dashboard is clear and well laid out. Boot space is also pretty reasonable and on late models a split folding rear seat gives more luggage room.

Late in 1985 Porsche introduced the 944 Turbo. Using the same 2.5 litre engine, the addition of a turbocharger pushed power to 220bhp. In October 1988 the 2.5 litre unit was replaced with a 2.7 litre motor, giving the 944 Turbo 250bhp and a 0-60mph time of around 6sec. In the following January the non-turbo 944 received a new 3 litre engine with 211bhp. Although in outright terms these 3 litre cars are not as quick as the turbo models, they are considered by many to be the most practical to own, the most reliable and cheaper to run than the Turbo models.

For many buyers the 944’s attraction is not its reasonable price and negligible depreciation, but its practicality as an everyday car. With regular maintenance used 944s will happily clock up 200,000 miles without major incident.

However, neglect will cost you dear. Failure to replace timing belts every 30,000 miles can mean the need for a new engine, which can be as costly as replacing the whole car. Turbochargers also have a shorter life expectancy than the rest of the car and any 944 that has covered more than 100,000 miles may need a new one sooner rather than later. Fortunately Britain is dotted with non-franchised Porsche servicing specialists who can maintain your car inexpensively, and many will provide a pre-purchase inspection.