Classic Cars

The Other Porsches: 944/968

The 944 and 968 helped to win back the hearts of some Porsche purists who despised everything about the older 924.

The Porsche 944 could sort of be thought of as a second generation of the 924, even though there were several years when Porsche was selling both models side-by-side. But the better explanation of the 944 is that it is an entry-level Porsche based on the 924, but that was built entirely by Porsche. After a couple of strongly VW-based cars in the entry-level slot, Porsche wanted to prove that they could do better, and the result really was quite a nice car.

The Porsche 914 had been strongly criticized by fans of the 356 and 911, and they had absolutely despised the 924. By the Eighties, once the 928 hadn't really ever taken off either (more on this car later in the series), Porsche realized that its image was in real danger. Volkswagen now owned Audi, and the sporting history of the brand (especially from the Auto Union era) was starting to encroach on Porsche's territory. Porsche's base model was using an engine from an Audi sedan, and the 911 was most of what made Porsche distinct from Audi. That is, apart from the fact that a Porsche would cost you a whole lot more money.

So Porsche set out to make an entry-level model to replace the 924 that was entirely Porsche. The platform was the same, but this had been originally designed by Porsche anyway, and even if it was designed for a VW, Porsche had bought the design back and built it themselves. The styling borrowed from the 924-based Carrera GT, but was further tweaked to be yet more distinct. An untrained eye might have difficulty telling them apart, but an untrained eye wouldn't know the 924 wasn't a "real" Porsche either. When the 944 debuted in 1982, the most important difference was the engine.

For the 944, Porsche basically took the aluminum V8 from the 928 and cut it in half, making an all-Porsche slant-four. The engine displaced 2.5 liters and produced 150 horsepower. Though slightly less powerful, the 944 was actually faster than the 924 Turbo, and it also incorporated all of the platform changes which had made the 924 so much better than the standard car. Displacement was increased to 2.7 liters in 1989, and power got a boost to 162 horsepower. The car was not just quicker than the 924, it was generally a lot more fun to drive, and was praised by the automotive press of the day.

The general consensus was that Porsche had finally built an entry-level car that was "worthy of the marque" in the words of Road & Track. The 944 made Car and Driver's Ten Best for 1983, '84 and '85, with the Turbo model making the list for '86. The same magazine would even name it the Best Handling Production Car in America for 1984. 1986 saw the introduction of the Type 951, which is how Porsche nerds refer to the 944 Turbo. This was a far better car than the 924 ever was, and is still a sought-after model by Porsche collectors. The turbocharged and intercooled engine produced 220 horsepower.

This is significant because the 911's new 3.2-liter naturally-aspirated flat-six produced just 207hp. The 944 Turbo became the first car in the world to offer both driver and passenger airbags as standard. The Turbo S was introduced in 1988, a version which produced 250 horsepower. Suspension was state of the art, and the big brakes with four-piston calipers were borrowed from the 928 S4. The Turbo S could hit 60mph in 5.5 seconds, not bad for 1988. Porsche set out to make a new generation of the 944 for 1992, but found that they had ended up changing so much that the car as a whole different became a new model, known as the 968.

The car shared only 20 percent of its parts with the outgoing 944. The four-cylinder engine now displaced 3.0 liters and produced 236 horsepower. Porsche skipped right over building a Turbo model and went right to making the 968 Turbo S, which produced 305 horsepower and could get to 60mph in 4.7 seconds. Just 16 were built, and were sold only in mainland Europe. Rarer still is the 968 Turbo RS, of which just four were built. This produced 337 horsepower and was a track focused version of the car. The 968 was discontinued in 1995, a couple years before the introduction of Porsche's much-celebrated current entry-level model, the Boxster.

Porsche had built 163,192 units of the 944 and 12,776 of the 968. Though more expensive than the 924, Porsche had sold more of the 944 and in a shorter period of time. The car helped to improve both Porsche's image and cash flow, and it stands todays as one of the great examples of good value in a sports car.

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