Curbside Classic: 1986 Porsche 944 Turbo – VW’s Loss Is Porsche’s Gain

(First posted 3/10/2012)   The Porsche 924 and 944 were the first Porsches with a front-mounted, water cooled engine. In the not too distant past, these Porsches, along with the more expensive grand touring 928, were sneered at by many Porsche enthusiasts who thought the Porsche marque started with the 356 and ended with the 911. When compared to some of the vehicles in Porsche’s current lineup, they look pretty good. While some may not find them as timeless as a 911, they are clearly sporty vehicles, unlike a 4500 pound Cayenne SUV.

Before the 944, there was the 924. Originally it was planned as a VW model to replace the 914. It was designed by Porsche and used many more VW and Audi parts than its predecessor, at Volkswagen’s request. After everything had been designed and engineered, VW backed out of the deal, so Porsche decided to sell it themselves, though VW contracted to build the cars for Porsche. It was introduced for the 1976 model year.

While the car was graced with the Porsche name, that did not translate into tire-burning performance. The inaugural 924 was equipped with the 2.0L VW/Audi inline four-cylinder engine with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and a four-speed manual transmission. The 924 was praised for its handling but was not fast, with North American-market cars having only 95 horsepower.

Power was steadily increased, however. The addition of a catalytic converter midway through the 1977 model year bumped horsepower to 110 and a three-speed automatic transmission became available as an option, the first Porsche to be so equipped. A new model, the 924 Turbo, came out the following year with a 10-psi boost resulting in 170 hp. Finally, the car had some decent power.

A special homologation version of the 924 Turbo, the 1980 924 Carrera GT, would pave the way for what would become the 944. 406 were built to certify the model for racing and included plastic front and rear fender flares, front and rear spoilers and an intercooled, 210 horsepower version of the 924 Turbo’s engine. In 1982, the 944 appeared, looking very much like the Carrera GT but with steel fender flares and a normally-aspirated 2.5L 150 hp engine. The engine was no longer supplied by VW-Audi, being an all-new design that used half of the 928’s V8 as a starting point.

Now the car had more muscular looks to match its improved performance. In 1985, the 944 got an attractive new instrument panel, finally replacing the one that had been on the car since its introduction.

The big news, however, came in 1986 when the 944 Turbo was introduced. It used the same 2,479 cc engine as the standard 944, but with an intercooled turbocharger that produced 217 hp at 5800 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque.

Zero to sixty came in 6.1 seconds and top speed was 152 mph. For all this performance, fuel economy was not bad, being rated at 19 city and 27 highway. A smoother front fascia with integrated fog lights and an underbody spoiler beneath the rear bumper improved aerodynamics, resulting in a drag coefficient of 0.33 and a frontal area of 1.89 square meters.

Interiors were suitably sporty, with leather bucket seats, console and full instrumentation, including a boost gauge. The 944 Turbo was the top of the line, so power windows, seats and a nice stereo were included. The Porsche 944 also has the distinction of being the very first production car with dual airbags. They were introduced for 1987. Other than adding a convertible version for 1989, the 944 would continue in the same basic format until 1991. It was heavily facelifted with a 928-esque front end and became the 968 for 1992-95.

A lot of times, I will deliberately go looking for CCs and will find nothing. This 944 found me. I had just left my place and was slowing down for a stop sign when I saw this Turbo sitting in the parking lot of the local community golf course. As I’ve always been partial to Porsches, I had to stop. This one appears to be an ’86 as it does not have airbags. It was in very good condition, and with the exception of an aftermarket stereo, looked original. The owner is clearly a Porschephile, judging from the PCA decal in the rear quarter window. For a time in the late ’90s, these were seen as cheap fun, and I saw quite a few 944s at the time that had clearly been driven hard and not maintained. I hadn’t seen one in quite a while, so was happy to see such a nice example. Porsche may not have planned on having the 924 and its derivatives in their lineup, but with a nearly 20-year production run, I think it worked out for them.