While cars like the Audi Quattro and BMW M3 may have popularized boxy flares with their racing credentials to back it up, in my eyes no one pulled off the muscle-bound economy look better than the Porsche 944. The addition of several inches of width and wider wheels to the 924 chassis meant an entirely new feel that mingled with supercar lines instead of Volkswagen lineage. Simply put, they were the most sensual looking German car in the 1980s, and that got even better late in the run with some subtle aero additions that enhanced and updated the look. The smooth Turbo bumpers and rear diffuser carried over to the S2 model, along with some lovely “Design 90” wheels that were also highlighting the 964 model. As Porsche moved to a full update of the watercooled transaxle cars with the introduction of the 968, the outgoing 944S2 even adopted the new “bridge” spoiler design from the not yet introduced model.
Turbo looks without the associated power wasn’t an unknown quantity for Porsche, but the 944S2 was no slouch in its own right. Powered by the M44.41 3-liter inline-4 that had been enlarged from the double overhead cam 944S motor, the 208 horsepower wasn’t as much as the 968 would sport but was still awfully close to what the original 944 Turbo had produced in power. Better yes, with instant torque the S2 was, and still is, a very entertaining drive. Hardly cheap, on paper they were not immediately the smart choice for a sports car buyer in 1990 and 1991, as twin-turbocharged monsters from Japan were all the rage and often less expensive than the best part of $50,000 a 944S2 would cost you. With only around 3,600 imported to the U.S., they’re a bit rare to see but offer great Porsche build quality, performance and even practicality in a very attractive package:
Update 8/28/18: This clean 924S sold for $5,000. What a steal!
Rounding out my trio of affordable VAG 2-doors is, of course, the Porsche 924. Not that one would consider the 924 very affordable by the end of the run, mind you – but, then, it was cheap by Porsche standards. In 1987, the Scirocco had grown 8 more valves and was a competent performer – more than the match for most of the competition. Base price had also grown to almost $14,000, and equip one with power options to match its more luxurious Audi and Porsche cousins and suddenly you were close to $16,000 out the door. But it was still a big leap to the Special Build Coupe GT, which crested $21,000 with a few options. While it offered a bit more luxury than the 16V, there wasn’t any improvement in performance from the 130 horsepower NG 2.3 10V. To get more grunt, you had to turn to Porsche.
Porsche’s “budget” 944 had also grown in price, and by ’87 you were looking at – no surprise – a $5,000 increase over the Audi to get a more prestigious badge. So to bring the 944 back to its sub-$20,000 base price roots, Porsche brought back the 924. The car that was originally suppose to be the Scirocco and was, for some time, the bread and butter of Porsche’s sales was a 924 in body only as it now had 944 underpinnings. The Super 924 was therefore a bit of a sleeper, offering slightly better performance than the base 944 due to better aerodynamics of the pure design and lighter weight. Base price was briefly $19,900, so in dealerships that sold both Audi and Porsche products, this was a heads-up competitor to the late GTs. And though they ostensibly had similar missions, they were remarkably different cars. Today, little has changed but that the two remain in the same price bracket:
Update 12/18/18: After apparently selling last year off of eBay, the second of this duo has returned for sale with a new seller, new photos and a higher $17,500 asking price.
I’ve been ignoring the 944. It’s not that I have changed my opinion, or no longer love the thorn-in-Porsche-purists collective sides. But after spending plenty of time telling everyone what an incredible value the 924/44/68 series are for a while, I just capitulated that the market was unwilling to lift these well-built sports cars to a level which they deserve to be. Or, at the very least, I really felt like they should be on level footing with models that were their contemporaries; the Turbo, for example, which still regularly trades well below Quattro and M3 prices despite superior performance.
Yet while my attention swayed, some light has been shed on the model. As insane prices continue to reign in Munich and the Quattro has begun to rise precipitously over the past year, what was once a sure-bet value has commenced rapid appreciation – at least, in some cases. The high-water mark recent was just set with a 66,000 mile Grand Prix White 968 Coupe which sold for $36,250. That’s big money for the big four-cylinder. While not every single example is going to similarly take off, the writing may be on the wall.
So today I’ve got two 944S2 models to consider. Down on power (211 v. 237 with VarioCam) and a gear from the later model, they’ve always played second-fiddle to the Turbo S/89 Turbo models and the updated 968. Both are presented in the neat color of Baltic Blue Metallic. One is pristine, and one’s more of a project. Which is the one to grab?
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?
It’s easy to get lost in a sea of low mileage, crazy asking price 1980s cars – they’re out there, and in reality not particularly hard to find. But then there seems to be a gulf between the cars that are above average with sellers hoping to capitalize on market trends, and forlorn project cars in need of more help than their value. While it would be wonderful to contemplate the salvation of every single example, it’s simply not economically viable. Nor, too, is the idea of just buying the best example in existence and paying a ridiculous premium.
Look in the right place and there is still a happy medium for enthusiasts. Today I’ve located two quite affordable options of 944 Turbos. The miles aren’t crazy, the condition of both is quite good, they each have unique options that make them appealing in their own way. And, each is a no reserve auction. So which is the one you’d want to take home?