It might surprise you to learn that nearly 86,000 Porsche 944s were sold in the United States between the car's launch for the '83 model year and 1991, when the last S2 variant rolled off the assembly line in Germany. For a company as small as Porsche was (and still is, for that matter), those are big sales figures. But answer us this: When's the last time you saw a Porsche 944 on the road?
With that in mind, we're starting project builds on two separate Porsche 944s—an '86 Turbo and an '89 S2. And if you live in the Southern California area, believe us that you will be seeing these cars on the road. Both are meant to be driven, although the work planned for each car is very different.
Why the Porsche 944? If you're reading this magazine, you likely know the basics. Born out of the bones of Porsche's 924, the 944 was an evolution on a theme. The same basic chassis was carried over—a front-engine, rear-transaxle, rear-drive configuration that prioritized a near 50/50 percent front/rear weight distribution for well-mannered handling. Box flares inspired by the 924 Carrera GT race cars became standard issue. The old 924's four-cylinder engine was an Audi carryover, so it was replaced with an all-Porsche four-banger. It was essentially half of the 928's V-8, and Porsche licensed a balance shaft design from Mitsubishi that allowed the big four (2.5L in Turbo models, 3.0L in the S2) to rev just about as smoothly as a six-cylinder engine. Power rivaled contemporary sixes, too, with the Turbo pushing 217 hp in stock form and the larger S2 hitting 208 hp. Four-piston front Brembo brakes in each car were capable of hauling each down from top speeds in the 150-mph range. And all this with the usability of a 2+2 hatchback body style.
In its time, the 944 was lauded by magazines such as our own for being among the best-handling cars in the world, and by its final year of production, pricing had skyrocketed to more than $40,000—significantly more than, say, a contemporary Chevrolet Corvette, but with half the cylinders. By 2010, prices on the used market had hit rock bottom. Today, a Craigslist search will reveal multiple 944s for sale in just about every state, often tired, early models, and trading for just a few thousand dollars. Like many cars, 944s got better as the years went on, and pristine examples of Turbo and S2 models are getting both harder to find and more valuable. Our projects are based on cars that have had just three owners each and less than 130,000 miles on their clocks. Here's a brief rundown:
'86 944 Turbo
From an aesthetic and performance vantage, the Auto Union Tuning team strives to produce a vehicle that performs competitively on track without sacrificing driving pleasure on public roads. We'll take a restomod approach to this neglected platform. That is, analyze the pitfalls of the vehicle's outdated technologies (such as the rear torsion bar suspension and Bosch ECU) and modify the car in a style that pays homage to what Porsche's engineers of the '80s were trying to achieve. The final product will be far from stock.
The vehicle will be modified in phases similar to what avid weekend DIYers might follow in the comfort of their own garages. Starting with basic preventive maintenance and troubleshooting of existing problems, the project will evolve to unlock the full aesthetic and performance potential of the Porsche 951 (Turbo) platform. If we can find what we're looking for off the shelf, we'll find the right partners to help us attain our goals and bring our project to life. No major system will be left untouched.
Fluids will spill, control arms will break, and boost will leak. In the end, this vehicle will be an on-track performer that can command the respect of NARP, Not A Real Porsche, naysayers and bolt-on fender body kit enthusiasts.
'89 944 S2
Our second project car takes a more restrained, oem+ approach. Completely stock, apart from an aftermarket radio installed by a previous owner, this 944 S2 will be treated to inconspicuous modifications that don't detract from the car's "survivor" status as an unmolested original. First on the to-do list will be a few maintenance items that most 944s of this age will require. Then we'll move on to some useful—but mostly invisible—upgrades to subtly improve our car's braking and handling performance as well as reliability.
We're also going to take a look at refurbishing some cosmetic items that are starting to look a little worse for the wear, just as you might on nearly any 944 you'd find in the local classified ads. We'd like this car to show as nicely as it goes, but we don't want to give Porsche purists (or Porsche Club of America concourse judges) much reason to complain.
Keep an eye out for the first installment of each project saga in european car magazine, but we dive into the more gory details on our website, europeancarweb.com.