The cars we loved.
The 944 was Porsche’s step up and eventual replacement for the 924 as the entry-level Porsche. First on sale in 1982, it overlaps the 924 by seven model years. Eventually the 944 would grow up to be a true alternative to the 911, but a more contemporary version of Porsche’s vision of what a sports car for the masses could be.
The biggest distinction between the 944 and 911 was in the drive configuration. The rear engine, rear wheel drive 911 followed Porsche’s classic configuration, while the new 944 followed along the path of the 924’s front engine rear wheel drive theme. Another important distinction was the use of 4 cylinder engines in the 944, at one point going up in displacement to 3 liters, making it the largest production 4 cylinder in the world.
The 944 was always a great overall performer, focusing on suspension dynamics over horsepower, but that all changed in 1985 with the release of the 944 Turbo. Turbo charging added 50% more power to the 2.5 litre engine bumping its power to a staggering (for the mid 80’S) 224 hp. The new engine could run on lower octane fuel with no penalty in performance, making it very rare amongst high performance cars. In addition to an increase in power, the suspension and interior got upgrades as well. The 944 now had a 911 like dash and special seats to distinguish it from the 154 hp normally aspirated model. A string of progressively higher performance 944s would follow starting with the “S” versions (for super) of the normally aspirated and finally turbo models. By now the 944 had become the petro darling of the automotive press, winding up on many top 10 lists.
By the late 80’s the 944 S and 944 Turbo S had dual airbags, anti lock brakes and 16 valve engines that were now up to 2.7 liters, but still 4 cylinders. The price had gone beyond that of a Corvette, while offering similar performance. O to 60 times in the 5 to 6 second range and a top speed of 150 mph was coming close to that of some lesser versions of the 911. At well over $30k,a loaded 944 Turbo was big investment, especially since the wide body style finders, large glass hatch and wrap around spoiler were being copied by everyone from Mazda (RX7) to Mitsubishi (Starion TSi) at half the cost. Besides coping the looks of the 944, some of its lesser competitors were beginning to catch up in performance for significantly less money. Despite its high price, it sold well. A reputation for great handling and Porsche mystique played as big a part as the availability of a cabriolet in sales success.
A more competitive market prompted Porsche to re-engineer the 944 with the intention of revamping the car completely. So many mechanical improvements were made that the 944 that it was actually an all new car by the beginning of the 90’s. Porsche decided to end the run of the 944 and sold the revamped model as the 968 with a sleek 928-like front end. A 944 or any Porsche for that matter can be an expensive proposition as a used car. Good examples of the 944 can be had, mostly because they were so expensive when new, that owners tended to pamper them and hold on to them longer.
The job of entry-level Porsche was handed over to the mid-engined Boxster in 1996, a roadster with far less practically than the 944 and a more all out performance orientation (in its later years). Porsche would not have another front engine rear wheel drive car until the Cayenne SUV in 2002.