Like the Volkswagen Cabrio, the 944S2 Cabriolet isn’t a car that gets a lot of press on these pages. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the makings of a classic. Like the Cabrio, it sold in small numbers in the tight times of the early 1990s; Porsche claims it sold only 2,386 in the United States. And it has a potent power plant in the revised 3.0 16V inline-4; pushing 207 horsepower and 208 lb.ft of torque, it was nearly as potent as the first generation Turbo without the inherent lag or accompanying bills. Yet it shared the same perfect weight balance with the rear-mounted transaxle, Turbo brakes and larger roll bars along with the integrated Turbo-look nose and tail. The S2 also received the new “Design 90” wheels that helped to bring it in line with late 928S4 and 964 models.
However, the 944S2 Cabriolet has always been overshadowed. First, for the sporting drivers out there, most will be seeking the clean lines of the S2 Coupe. Then there is always the more popular 911 Cabriolet, but it’s real competition is the later 968 Cabriolet. With more power, revised looks and a 6-speed manual, those late 968s are by most accounts the ones to get. But to me, that means that a clean 944S2 is a better value while offering you most of the experience of the VarioCam. Let’s consider this beautiful LM3U Velvet Red Metallic example:
Update 6/7/18: The seller has increased the price again to $8,944 but with a no reserve $5,944 opening bid auction.
Update 5/23/18: The price of this Euro 944 has dropped from the original $9,440 ask to $6,944.
An interesting counterpoint to yesterday’s GTI is today’s early 944. They were produced at the same time; the waning days of the normal A1 production, while Porsche was at the same time accelerating production of its watercooled transaxle lineup to meet the demands of the heady 80s. There are other similarities as well; the shape is iconic, they have an oversized (for their class) 4-cylinder and a manual transmission. Both are no-frills, relatively speaking; few electronic or power gadgets adorn the interiors here. And both are heralded as driver’s car, with intimate connection to the road and experience through each corner.
But while the A1 GTI is pretty much universally lauded as a legend, the 944 remains firmly an “also ran” for enthusiasts – even within the water-cooled arena. Perhaps that’s because there were much more potent versions of the 944 out there. Beyond the mid-’85 refresh, 1986 saw the introduction for U.S. fans of the new Turbo model, 1987 saw the 16V version launch and a larger 2.7 8V – and, of course, then there were the 944S2, Turbo S and 968 models. Early 944s, then, are about as unloved as the Volkswagen Dasher.
If you’re an enthusiast, though, that means great return on your investment. And like the GTI, it’s not just entry price that is relatively low on these 944s; compared to the 928 and 911, repairs are far less expensive and the glut of examples (nearly 57,000) brought to the U.S. means used parts – or even entire parts cars – are quite easy to find. So while all of them are worth at least consideration, every once in a while a really neat example pops up that is worth a longer look:
Edit 9/30/2017 – The asking price has dropped to $11,995.
Back in June and into early July, I spent some time covering the various iterations of the 924. In each case, there was something unique or interesting about each variation of the model generally overlooked in Porsche history, but nonetheless important to the survival and success of Porsche as a company. Paving the way for the 944 model, the 924 was an efficient, reliable and (reasonably) affordable premium sports car that lived through an economic and resource crisis period. Without it and the subsequent 944/968, Porsche may well have been forced to close its doors a few times.
I looked at a 924 Turbo a little over a month ago. 931s are broken into two periods – Series 1 (launch in ’79 -late ’80) and Series 2 (’81-’82). Series 2 cars all had the 5-lug, 4-wheel disc upgrade that only some of the Series 1 were equipped with. Additionally, they had a revised ignition system, improved intake, higher compression pistons but a smaller turbocharger. The transmission was shared with the B2 Audi inline-5s. They were mostly loaded examples, so like this one they have power windows, locks, mirrors, air conditioning, rear wiper and sunroof. Outside of the wheels, these changes were mostly invisible to the eye, and generally speaking don’t make a difference in the value of the vehicle. What does is condition, and when you’re looking at a 924 Turbo you want to buy the best one that you can afford. Is this the one?
In 1976, Porsche won the World Sportscar Championship for makes with successful runs in both the 935 and prototype 936 chassis. The 936 was triumphant at Le Mans in the already famous Martini livery, while a series of 935/76s carried the colors in Group 5 FIA sports car racing. It was there that Porsche introduced the ‘slant nose’ aerodynamic bodywork that became the hot mod on 911s in the 1980s; however, in the 1970s you could get a very nice slantnose Porsche – replete with Martini Racing colors – for a lot less than a 911 Turbo.
To commemorate the success of the 1976 season, in 1977 Porsche released a limited run of Martini-colored 924s. Option M426 was the Martini World Championship Edition, and it cost $450. Add in a removable roof like this one for about $350, and the sticker price of this car just passed $10,000. For that sum, Porsche gave you quite a lot of visual enhancement; bathed only in pure white, the 924’s 8-spoke alloy wheels were color-matched to the body. Martini stripes ran the length of the sides, their design mimicking the wedge shape of the 924. Inside, a special two-tone interior of scarlet corduroy and black leatherette was offset with Martini stripes stitched into the upper portion of the seats and blue piping ran throughtout. A commemorative plaque was added to the back of the center console, too, reminding you that the car you were driving was from the house of a champion. You held a real leather steering wheel, and helping execute your commands was achieved by Porsche adding sway bars to the suspension both front and rear. It was a series of small changes that resulted in a neat package, and one that is sought by collectors of the transaxle design today:
It’s easy to overlook the importance to Porsche of the 924 model, but it was a significant and successful model – purists be damned. Not only did it make Porsche a viable company so that those precious air-cooled dinosaurs could be produced, but it laid the platform for many enthusiast favorites down the road both inside and outside of Germany. Of course, the most tangible benefit was the later 944 and 944 Turbo spawned from the bones of the 924, but highly prized models from other manufacturers were also influenced; the Mazda RX-7 was a blatant copy for example, but you can also see aspects of the 924 seep in to the Toyota Supra and Nissan 300ZX designs later in the 1980s.
Like its similarly revolutionary big brother 928, for some time the market did not recognize the importance or the significance of these designs. But while the 928’s needle has begun to head up the tach, the lowly 924 remains an absolute budget bargain for classic Porsche fans. One model that has gained some appreciation of late is the 924 Turbo. Though the technology was relatively primitive compared to more recent turbocharged mills, the 931 packed a potent punch in the early 1980s. Even in detuned American-market form, the 924 Turbo had nearly 150 horsepower from the pedestrian but heavily revised Volkswagen 2.0 liter at the same time that a 5.0 liter Corvette hit the market with 180 lazy horses. The Turbo was upgraded over its relatively short life span too, and models like this 1980 came equipped with a sport package that included 16″ forged wheels, upgraded 4-wheel disc brakes and a sport suspension:
One of my first days instructing at a high performance driving school, my student walked up to me after the morning meeting and told me he was under the weather and not up for driving. But, he said, he didn’t want to miss out on track time, so would I be willing to drive him around Lime Rock Park in his car? Sure, I said, and we strolled over towards his ride – a track prepared Porsche 968 on Michelin Sport Cup tires. I have to admit I was slightly apprehensive; a car I was unfamiliar with wasn’t the end of the world, but that day track was wet and while I had been the wheel man a few times in my father’s 924S on track, most of my seat time was spent in my front-drive Audi Coupe GT. But out on the track we went, and the 968 quickly proved why it gained a reputation as such a superlative driver’s car. Near perfect balance matched with smooth power delivery. The limited slip differential in that particular 968 also helped to translate the power to the ground, and on a soaked track we were one of the fastest cars that session within two laps – it just felt natural to push the car. Down the “No Name Straight” (which both has a name and isn’t a straight), the 968 twitched lightly under full throttle but was never out of control and never once felt uncomfortable. Even before then I had a high regard for the watercooled front-engine Porsches, but it solidified my love even more and it’s always nice when I see a track prepared 968: