I think this will be the first 944 I have posted, which is kind of weird. Any time I find myself looking at a model I don’t typically write about the first thing I do is search through our archives just to make sure we didn’t already feature it. And then a funny thing happened. I was reading through a few of Carter’s old posts on the 944 and how the model never really has commanded the attention of enthusiasts the way the 911 and 928 have. Whether we think of the 944 during its actual production or on the present secondary market they aren’t the Porsches people dream about. They never were a poster car. Suddenly I found myself nodding my head. He might as well have been explaining my own thoughts to me.
I write about the 911 a lot and the 928 somewhat frequently. Those are the cars that attract my notice; they are the Porsches that linger in my mind; I notice them on the road. The 944? Not so much. I typically pass them by. Even if I see one on the road today I might only give it a second glance if it’s in very nice shape. So how did we end up here with this Alpine White 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo appearing as one of my posts? Pretty much for exactly the reason just mentioned: it looks really good and comes in a pretty eye-catching color combination. Bright red interiors were quite the thing in the ’80s and it doesn’t get much brighter than Can-can Red. Contrasted with Alpine White it really stands out!
Edit 9/30/2017 – A little over a year later, the 5th owner of this high-mileage 944 Turbo has placed it up for sale with a $15,000 ‘Buy It Now’ after adding only about 20 miles to the odometer. The auction is also no reserve and the starting price is exactly what the seller paid in 2016. The seller even gave us props! – Ed
It’s easy to become obsessed with low mileage, absolutely pristine museum pieces. Walk up to one at a show and it’s like stepping into the DeLorean with Doc Brown, because apparently wherever that owner’s car is going they don’t need roads. On the other end of the spectrum are cars that have accrued countless miles; an old, torn pair of jeans that has more stories behind it than threads in its behind. Occasionally, though, a car pops up that is a testament to careful enthusiast ownership while still having been used for its original intent and purposes. Wearing mileage as a badge of honor rather than, as many do, acting like it is a death sentence, they are impressive cars without consideration of mileage but moreso when one does. Generally these high mileage heros turn up as Audis or Mercedes-Benz products that have rolled odometers into the stratosphere. More than occasionally we’ll come across an E28 BMW nearing a quarter million. Porsches, however, usually don’t see those types of numbers – especially highly prized turbocharged models. But though today’s 1989 Porsche 944 Turbo is pushing 300,000 miles, it looks like it has only seen a fraction of that number:
Let’s get the not-so-subtle elephant in the room out of the way – this car isn’t, and probably never will be, a collector example of a 944 Turbo. Heck, perhaps the 944 Turbo will never be appreciated on a more grand scale, either, though I personally find that one pretty baffling.
Okay, can we move on?
Let’s say that instead of just hoping that some day your car will be worth a mint, or indeed even caring what other people think about your vehicular choices, you just want have a car which looks good and is enjoyable to drive. Let’s not forget, this advice is coming from someone with somewhat polarizing vehicle choices…so, take the advice with a grain of salt, but I’m going to persist in my argument that the 944 Turbo is the car for you. A true David of the 1980s, the 944 Turbo was the understated and unassuming Goliath slayer, turned down by the factory so as not to have its performance overshadow the 911 range. Being faster than a 911 is pretty much verboten in Germany and especially in Stuttgart, but nearly everyone that experienced a 944 Turbo in the 1980s came away with the impression that in every statistical (and in some non-statistical ways) it was a better car than the Carrera.
But, as one of our astute readership noted, certain cars – the Audi Quattro, the BMW M3 and M5, and of course the 911 range – were the cars of certain groups of individuals dreams. The 944 Turbo really wasn’t. There weren’t many people that hung 944 Turbo posters on their walls, because there was always something from Porsche that was a little bit more special – the 928 was more futuristic, the 911 was more comforting as a predictable classic and “Turbo” was synonymous with only one Porsche in history.
That model wasn’t the 944, nor was it the 924. And though both of those respective cars outperformed their brethren in period and were very impressive outside of the Zuffenhausen lineup, the market of today in many ways continues to mimic the original sales trends. The 944 Turbo outsold the Quattro, outsold the M3 – neither, it should be noted, limited production cars. But today, probably in part because of its success, the 944 Turbo just doesn’t get the wows, the attention, or the press of its contemporaries. Of course, there’s one more thing it doesn’t get as a result – their price:
The world of collector cars is full of hyperbole. Yesterday’s Quattro is a great example of this; take a legendary car and start pontificating about how it’s a collector model, and reason, objectivity and affordability fly out the window. Certainly we’ve seen this most in the Porsche world; the whiff of air-cooled over the past half decade has translated into moving the decimal point one position (or more, in some cases) to the right.
But that doesn’t mean automatically that all cars that come to market are fakers. Some are the real deal – good values in the marketplace and a collector car that should be both a good return on investment and enjoyable to own. They can be quite eye-catching, too, so while you’re rolling down the street looking like a million bucks your smile will be all the wider.
So which scenario is this 1986 944 Turbo – the real deal, or more fluff for the nutter market?
The market rage surrounding BMW’s M products and their lesser stablemates and all things Porsche air-cooled continues to mask one of the best all-around performers of the period – the Porsche 944 Turbo. This was the car which brought supercar performance to the masses in a package that was both reliable and practical. Perfect balance meant you could approach the limits of the chassis, and it rewarded you for doing so. Over 200 horsepower gave you super-human acceleration normally reserved for small-batch thoroughbreds. And there was even a race series to give the 944 Turbo the credentials to back up the Stuttgart crest on the hood. They were exceptionally well built using high quality materials, and quite a few people who owned them treasured their foray into the exclusive world of pioneering Porsche forced-induction. The original purchaser and steward of this 951 appears to have done just that:
Where does the 944 Turbo lie in the collector market? That’s a fantastic question. For such a limited model produced over a relatively short span of time, there’s an amazing array of models and changes that occurred over the run that alter the car’s perception, the car’s performance, and – most importantly – the car’s value.
Starting in 1985, the “951” took the idea which had been pioneer with the 924 Turbo and Carrera GT/GTS/GTR and brought it to a much larger audience in a much easier to digest package. Every successive model year saw some changes, from the addition of anti-lock braking in 1987 to the upgraded “S” package in 1988, replete with Cup-inspired Koni suspension and turned-up engine performance for near 250 horsepower. This package carried over, largely unchanged minus the deletion of the S designation, for the entire 1989 model year in the U.S.. Of course, the power, performance and package of the 944 Turbo immediately brings it into comparison with the other two revolutionary small displacement sports cars of the time; the BMW M3 and the Audi Quattro. Each had their own unique character, each has their heavily devoted, mind-can’t-be-changed-that-they-were-the-best-ever fact sheets, and each has their flaws. So how to they stack up in the market today?
Following up on Rob’s “presence” post about the 928, here we have the embodiment of presence and speed in the 944 Turbo S. But we have much more than that, too, in this particular example.
As I talked about at length in the last 1988 Turbo S post, there was a lot that made this car more special than the regular Turbo – and, arguably, more special than the 911, too. But the market on 944 Turbos has been all over the map, with nice examples struggling to break $10,000 at times and excellent examples three to four times that. So where does this Turbo S lie?
Well, we have a great combination of factors that make it quite desirable. First, it’s one of the S models. Second, it’s a claimed one owner car that appears to be close to 100% original. Third, it’s got very low mileage, with only 37,700 accrued. But the coup de grâce that beheads the typical unrealistic asks in the Porsche world is that this is a no reserve auction. Rarely do we get to see all of these things combine and get a real feel for the market.
Porsche is famous for launching a special edition just about every six minutes, and in the late 1980s they launched quite a few for 1988. First off, they created a special edition of the 944 Turbo. The new option M758 “Turbo S” included a new turbocharger with redesigned vanes and a remapped DME which increased boost to a max of 1.82 bar. The resulting M44/52 had 30 more horsepower and 15 lb.ft torque to a max of 247 and 258, respectively. But the “S” package was far more than just more boost, as the cooling system was revised, the clutch and transmission were beefed up with hardened first and second gears.
Brakes were borrowed from the 928 S4 and now measured 12″ in front with four piston aluminum calipers. Wheels were Club Sport 16″ forged, polished and anodized units measuring 7 inches in front and 9 in the rear. Suspension was also beefed up with the M030 package; this included adjustable rebound Koni shocks and adjustable perch coilovers in front. Limited slip differentials (Code 220) were not standard, but a must-select option.
Within the already limited edition S (of which about 1,900 were shipped to the US), there was another special edition. The “Silver Rose” launch cars took all of the special aspects of the M758 S package and added a unique color (Silver Rose Metallic, LM3Z) and a very unique Burgundy Studio Check interior. Outside of the Turbo Cup cars, these very limited original models have become the most desirable of the 944 Turbos:
We’ve talked quite a bit about increasing values on Porsche 944 Turbos, and especially the high market price of the 1988 944 Turbo S and S-specification 1989 models which are highly prized. While in 1989 you could not opt-out of the S trim features (hence no S designation), in 1988 you could. With more power, bigger brakes, and better suspension, why would you? Well, because in 1988 ticking the “M030” option box to get the S-specification cost you a staggering $5,510, and Porsche then declared you “needed” another $2,000 worth of options like cruise control and a nice radio – but, ironically perhaps for Porsche, not a limited-slip differential, which you had to tick option 220 to get, too (*it was a mandatory option in 1989). That brought your already pretty pricey 4-cylinder Porsche from $40,000 to a nose-bleeding $48,000 – around double what you’d pay for a Porsche 924S. So, it was no surprise that while the S specification was popular, it was not chosen by roughly 2/3rds of 944 Turbo buyers in 1988. Still, it feels almost unusual to see a non-S 944 Turbo today as so much attention is focused on the special upgraded model. When you see a 944 Turbo that looks like today’s example does, though, it’s worthwhile choosing the lesser:
We’ve often lamented on these pages about when enthusiast cars used to be more affordable. Pick your poison; there were days you could buy a pretty sorted E30 M3 for under $10,000, a clean 911 in the teens, a pristine W113 Pagoda for under $20,000. At least for the foreseeable future, those days have left us, and enthusiasts on a modest budget need to pick and choose between the few remnants of a once vibrant sub-$10,000 market. I’ve spent a fair amount of time predicting and watching the ascension of the 944 turbo – the understated, underrated giant killer from Porsche. It’s been no surprise to see soaring values on clean 944 turbos, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that once again another classic has been priced out of sight. But if you’re willing to prioritize driving over shows, there are still some great deals to be had out there: