Porsche 968 is First Produced

The 968 is a sports car sold by Porsche AG from 1992 to 1995.

It took over the entry-level position in Porsche's lineup from the 944, with which it shared about 20% of its parts. The 968 became the final model in an evolving line, starting almost 20 years earlier with the introduction of the Porsche 924 and ending with the Turbo S, Turbo RS, and Turbo RS Lemans, which are three separate versions of the 968.

Porsche's 944 model debuted for the 1982 model year, was updated as "944S" in 1986 and as "944S2" in 1989. Shortly after the start of production of the S2 variant, Porsche engineers began working on another set of significant upgrades for the model, as executives were planning a final "S3" variant of the 944. During the development phase, 80% of the 944's mechanical components were either significantly modified or completely replaced by the engineers, leaving so little of the outgoing S2 behind that Porsche management chose to introduce the variant as a new model, entitling it 968. In addition to the numerous mechanical upgrades, the new model also received significantly evolved styling both inside and out, with a more modern, streamlined look and more standard luxury than on the 944. Production was moved from the Audi plant in Neckarsulm (where the 924 and 944 had been manufactured under contract to Porsche), to Porsche's own factory in Zuffenhausen.

The 968 was powered by an updated version of the 944's straight-4 engine, now displacing 3.0 L and producing 240 PS (236 hp/177 kW). Changes to the 968's powertrain also included the addition of Porsche's then-new VarioCam variable valve timing system, newly-optimized induction and exhaust systems, a dual-mass flywheel, and updated engine management electronics among other more minor revisions. The 968's engine was the second-largest 4-cylinder ever offered in a production car up to that time. A new 6-speed manual transmission replaced the 944's old 5-speed, and Porsche's dual-mode Tiptronic automatic became an available option. Both the Variocam timing system and Tiptronic transmission were very recent developments for Porsche. The Tiptronic transmission had debuted for the first time ever only 3 years prior to the debut of the 968, on the 1989 Type 964 911. The Variocam timing system was first introduced on the 968 and would later become a feature of the Type 993 air cooled six cylinder engine.

The 968's styling was an evolution on that of the outgoing 944, itself styled evolutionarily from the earlier 924, but elements were borrowed from the more expensive 928 model in an attempt to create a "family resemblance" between models, and the swooping headlamp design, inspired by those of the 959, previewed similar units found later on the Type 993 911. Along with the new styling, the 968 featured numerous small equipment and detail upgrades, including a Fuba roof-mounted antenna, updated single lens tail lamps, "Cup" style 16" alloy wheels, a wider selection of interior and exterior colors, and a slightly updated "B" pillar and rear quarter window to accommodate adhesive installation to replace the older rubber gasket installation. Because some parts are interchangeable between the 968, 944 and 924, some enthusiasts purchase those parts from Porsche parts warehouses as "upgrades" for their older models.

Like the 944, the 968 was sold as both a coupe and a convertible. Much of the 968's chassis was carried over from the 944S2, which in itself shared many components with the 944 Turbo (internally numbered 951). Borrowed components include the Brembo-sourced 4-piston brake calipers on all four wheels, aluminum semi-trailing arms and aluminum front A-arms, used in a Macpherson strut arrangement. The steel unibody structure was also very similar to that of the previous models. Porsche maintained that 80% of the car was new.

From 1993 through 1995, Porsche offered a lighter-weight "Club Sport" version of the 968 designed for enthusiasts seeking increased track performance. Much of the 968's luxury-oriented equipment was removed or taken off the options list; less sound deadening material was used, electrical windows were replaced with crank-driven units, upgraded stereo systems, A/C and sunroof were still optional as on the standard Coupe and Convertable models. In addition, Porsche installed manually adjustable lightweight Recaro racing seats rather than the standard power-operated leather buckets(also manufactured by Recaro), a revised suspension system optimized and lowered by 20mm for possible track use, 17" wheels(also slightly wider to accomodate wider tyres) rather than the 16" as found on the Coupe and wider tires, 225 front and 255 rears rather than 205 and 245 respectively. The 4 spoke airbag steering wheel was replaced with a thicker rimmed 3 spoke steering wheel with no airbag, heated washer jets were replaced with non heated, vanity covers in the engine bay were deleted, as was the rear wiper. The Club Sport has no rear seats unlike the 2+2 Coupe. Club Sports were only available in white, black, Speed yellow, Guards red, Riviera blue or Maritime blue. Seat backs were colour coded to the body. Club Sport decals were standard in either black, red or white but there was a 'delete' option. All Club Sports had black interiors with the 944 S2 door cards. Due to the reduction in the number of electrical items the wiring loom was reduced in complexity which saved weight and also the battery was replaced with a smaller one, again reducing weight. With the no frills approach meaning less weight, as well as the optimising of the suspension, Porsche could focus media attention on the Club Sport variants fast road and track abilities. This helped to slightly bolster the flagging sales figures in the mid 1990s. The Club Sport variant acheived a 'Performance Car Of The Year' award in 1993 from Performance Car magazine in the UK. Club Sport models were only officially available in the UK, Europe & Australia, although "grey market" cars found their way elsewhere.

A UK-only version called "968 Sport", was offered for 1994 and 1995, and was essentially a Club Sport model(and was produced on the same production line with similar chassis numbers) with electric windows, electric release boot, central locking, cloth 'comfort seats'(different to both the standard and the Club Sport). With the added electrics the larger wiring loom was used. The Sport Variant also got back the 2 rear seats, again in the cloth material specific to the Sport. At £29,975, the 968 Sport was priced £5,500 lower than the standard 968, but had most of the latter's desirable "luxuries" and consequently outsold it by a large margin (306 of the 968 Sport models compared to 40 standard 968 coupés).

When you think of a Porsche the chances are you imagine a 911. It is the benchmark against which all others are measured. But if you want a used Porsche and have a budget of 15 grand, don't go for one.

That sort of money would buy a 911 that's at least 12 years old and has covered 100,000 miles plus. It will also be old-fashioned to drive compared with Porsche's latest offerings. No, if you want a brilliant Porsche for 15 grand then buy a 968.

Some purists snub the 968, accusing its four-cylinder engine of being somehow "un-Porsche". The same people suggest that its short showroom life is further evidence of an unsuccessful and unloved car.

They are talking complete rubbish. The 3 litre motor does not raise the pulse in the same way as a 911's flat six but it produces an honest 240bhp plus a healthy dollop of torque. The 968 is also one of the finest handling front-engine cars in the world. Its weight distribution, partly due to its rear-mounted gearbox, is virtually perfect. Marry this to a near faultless driving position and you have a magnificent driver's car.

Second-hand, the choice is between coupé and cabriolet, with its electric roof. The coupés came in three guises. The standard 968 is the most luxurious. As with the cabriolet you can expect air conditioning, leather trim and electric windows, plus electric mirrors and seat adjustment.

The 968 Club Sport is a stripped-out racer with few creature comforts, making it a superb track car. But think hard before you buy: the front seats cannot be adjusted for height or recline and there isn't even a rear seat for kids. This car may be too raw to be a realistic proposition.

The 968 Sport sits neatly between the two. Seats can be adjusted and you will even get a sunroof. Buyers also had an options list so you may find one with such luxuries as air con and leather. The Sport strikes a wonderful balance between driving dynamics and comfort, making it much sought after second-hand.

So, coupé or a cabriolet? The coupé is more rigid and will ultimately perform better but if you are a cruiser not a racer you're unlikely to notice. Next choose the gearbox. The six-speed manual is one of the best, the four-speed tiptronic is not. The auto is just acceptable if you insist, otherwise go for the manual.

Look for oil leaks; 968s weep a little oil and it is nothing to worry about, but big puddles mean you could be facing a nasty bill. They are also prone to power steering pump failure and any loud groans going from lock to lock may indicate a new pump is needed.

Don't be deterred by high mileages, as engines and gearboxes are durable if regularly serviced. And for any remaining doubters, in June 2001 a friend bought a used 968 Sport, a 94 L with 62,000 miles and full Porsche history. He used it almost daily, adding 11,000 miles, and has just sold the car privately for £250 more than he paid.