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Project 944 Turbo - Avoiding Boil Over & Coilover Install

A new timing belt, water pump, and KW V3 coilovers for our Porsche 944

Brian Lerche
May 24, 2016

As we previously mentioned in our Project 944 introduction, the goal for our Turbo is to upgrade the 951 platform to perform competitively on-track without sacrificing driving pleasure on public roads. But first things, first. Like most cars that are nearly 30 years old, especially Porsches, we had leaks. Thankfully, they weren't oil leaks, but still leaks nonetheless. After a quick diagnostic, we discovered that the dripping fluid was water, and this leak was accompanied with a warm-running engine. Interestingly, the 944's cooling system would only kick in when the engine was under full-throttle load. The likely culprit was the water pump. While the car was going up on the lift for the suspension, it also made sense for us to attack the timing belt. Our car shows 128,000 miles on the odometer currently, and the previous owner changed the timing belt roughly five years and 30,000 miles ago. That's bumping right up against Porsche factory intervals, and a snapped timing belt is not something we want to risk.

The installation itself was very straightforward; the engine was brought to TDC, and the intercooler pipes had to be removed as well as the airbox. From there, it was just a matter of undoing what was done, loosening the tensioner, and using paint to mark the cam gears and crankshaft to the old belt, then transferring the marks to the new belt. This last step helps with adjusting timing when installing the new belt.

Project porsche 944 project porsche Photo 2/9   |   At roughly 128,000 miles on the odometer, the current timing belt has been in service roughly five years, 30,000 miles. The belt might've been fine, but done roughly five years ago, a snapped timing belt coupled with what our future plans are for the project is not something we want to risk.
Project porsche 944 new rollers bearings Photo 3/9   |   In addition to the timing belt, new and updated timing belt rollers/bearings were also installed

With the timing belt removed, it was time to tackle the faulty water pump. Removing the pump was also very straightforward. Held down by 11 bolts, the old water pump came out with ease. With the pump off, we also decided to use the opportunity to install a low-temperature thermostat that will come in handy later on when the vehicle will be seeing track time, or worse yet, L.A. traffic in the middle of summer.

Project porsche 944 water pump Photo 4/9   |   The new water pump that will hopefully address our coolant leak and overheating issues
Project porsche 944 water pump install Photo 5/9   |   With the intercooler pipes and airbox removed, getting the water pump is relatively easy.

All in all, the entire project took a little more than three hours to complete and potentially saved a ton of headaches down the road. New fluids were added, and after a 10-minute test drive, we walked away triumphantly with no leaks and a cool engine. With all of the boring stuff out of the way, it was time to get down to business. Suspension business.

We sourced a set of coilovers from KW Suspension. We opted for the KW V3s, which come with 16-way adjustable dampening, a 340-lb/in spring in the front, and a 285-lb/in in the rear. The system also incorporates a helper spring that should improve the car's handling on the track and its ride on the street. The KW setup should be a major improvement over the dated torsion-bar rear suspension and stock front spring rates, which contributed to understeer from the factory.

Project porsche 944 kw v3 coilovers Photo 6/9   |   The KW V3s are almost too pretty to install, almost. Note the smaller helper springs on both the front struts and rear shocks.

With the vehicle up on the lift, it was time to get to work. Things got off to a good start, as the front coilover swap was largely a plug-and-play endeavor—the old spring and shock assembly came out easily and the KW replacement was a direct fit. The rear torsion bar removal, however, proved to be a challenge. Porsche used spline-style locks to secure the bars, and it took a few online sources (like the wonderful, free 944 resource and some improvising in order to release them.

Project porsche 944 kw v3 rear coilover Photo 7/9   |   The rear coilover fits nicely in the space that was originally intended for just a shock. With the rear torsion bar still in place, the spring rate from the coilover augments rather than replaces.

This is a very labor-intensive process, taking more than two hours each time an adjustment was made to the bars. We re-indexed the torsion bars minimally—by just two teeth on the splines—but with that small adjustment, the rear of the vehicle was now so low that it was unable to roll off the jack's lifting points. Online sources suggested this adjustment shouldn't have given such a dramatic drop, so we assumed the bars were already adjusted for lower ride height by a previous owner. The rear torsion bars are kept in place as the KW rear coilover setup is not intended to support the full weight of the vehicle. Even if we were to use higher spring rates, the rear lower control arms weren't designed for that much load. For future work to the suspension, we may consider fabricating all new lower control arms and upping the rear spring rate to 600 pounds, a setup that should allow us to remove the torsion bars altogether.

With the vehicle off the lift, it was time to stretch the legs of our 944 to let the suspension settle prior to our final alignment. First impressions show that the KWs have smoothed and sharpened up our car's steering. Our 944 maneuvered in a much more predictable manner, even on the uneven road conditions surrounding the shop. Unfortunately, with our lowered ride height, we weren't left with much room for adjusting the alignment. While this is a solid first step in improving handling dynamics, we have new camber plates, suspension bushings, control arms, and more rear suspension tweaking on our to-do list. Logically, it would have been best to tackle all of the aforementioned all at once, but with the systematic approach we are taking with this build, we felt the need to approach larger refinements first, followed by fine-tuning.

Porsche 944 turbo project car Photo 8/9   |   Porsche 944 Turbo Project Car
Porsche 944 turbo project car Photo 9/9   |   Porsche 944 Turbo Project Car
By Brian Lerche
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