Today a person handed me what I believe to be a very reasonable sum of money for my 944. With some patience and a little more work, I think I could have gotten a much better price. But the bulk of cars in my driveway/street, and the siren song of the 911 led me to keep lowering my price. Anyways, that stinging aside, I was sad to watch my 944 be driven away by another person. I have had this draft of a review saved for a while, and now seems like as good of time as any to post it. Also, I suppose I will change my name too, to something like “Neil might settle for a 2.7 and that’s okay”.
The 944 came along in the 1980s to take the reigns from what was considered to be an overpriced and underpowered 924. The first task was to create a Porsche engine, which was accomplished by cutting a Porsche 928 V8 engine in half to create an inline 4. In addition, Porsche sold the 944 at a much more competitive price than its predecessor, although it went up over the years. To match the engine, Porsche took the fender flares and additional front valance from the 924 GTS cars, and reworked the body style into a more production friendly version.
This car, the car I’m talking about, is an early base model. The early models before 1985.5 had slightly less horsepower, a slightly lower weight, and a slightly less advanced suspension.
It is quintessentially 80s. Complete with pointy nose, pop up headlights, big greenhouse in back, framed by a rubber spoiler. But in between there are bixedfender flares, making it essentially a wide body 924. The paint on these cars tends to hold up well, although some fade; but they have virtually no problem with rust in my neck of the woods. The doors close with more than a thunk. My car in particular has some sort of pearlescent coating over a metallic grey. It looks lightly purple in certain lights.
The U.S. bumpers are a bit unattractive, but other options are available. At most angles the car looks purposefully fast. At others, the hood looks almost too long. I think it’s great profile view and the box flared fenders overcome most of its visual weaknesses.
This one is tough. The interior is simple, and lots of things feel well made. The seats are great, nice bolstering but fairly comfortable. And offer a good amount of adjustment. The steering wheel has a nice feel and look, although it is in part because there is no safety bag in there. The switches have a nice feel. In the bad column I’ll start with the the heat/air sliders, which feel ineffective. The turn signal and wiper stalks also feel too thin and light compared to the resistance in the mechanism.
There are 2 back seats, and yes, they’re small. The hatch provides pretty good storage space, particularly if you fold down the rear seat, though it’s not a particularly tall space from floor to hatch/roof. But also, with the seat down, or even just the upper part of the rear seat back removed, the car has a really open feel. If you don’t need the rear seats but don’t want to remove the whole seat, I’d recommend removing the upper part of the seat back. It’s a two bolt process.
There is a panel sunroof, meaning you lift the whole damn panel out. It is a design that as best as I can tell was supposed to give more of an open feel, and not add width to the ceiling by needing a place for the sunroof to nest when open. Stock, off the lot, this was probably a good design. 32 years later, my sunroof motor is on its way out; and manual latches are a hot commodity, because they are simple, work, and save weight.
But due to the hatch, it’s a practical enough car, with enough space for an overnight camping trip for a dad and his daughter.
In terms of this interior 32 years later, early models of the 944 all get a cracked dash, and there are a variety of fixes at a variety of costs and time requirements. The seats tend to hold up well. And one final positive note, most of the electronics work well.
It’s not bad once you get it moving from a stop and keep it in the right gear and rev range. 0-60 from back in the day was quoted from Porsche as 8.3 and road and track scooted to 60 in close to 7.5 second. My wife says that it feels a touch faster an our E34 535i, which is an auto. Its less torquey than a car like that but it’s not exactly a high revving car.
The 944 had more or less 150hp and depending on spec, options, and gutting weighed 2750 pounds.
If we were to roughly group engine changes into two rough categories, mods/tuning(bolt ons, ecu tuning) and hot rodding(cams, pistons, head work); this car gains more from the latter. This gives it a bit of an unfair reputation as being unworthy of modification but you just need to do the right modifications. U.S. engines had lower compression than their euro counterparts, and the cam timing on this car is apparently very conservative.
But let me bring it back. Will the last American Muscle Car, Accord Coupe, light you up? Yeah. But this has more pep than most roadsters, both of the old British kind, and even early miatas.
This is a 150 hp, 2700 pound car with a smudge over 11" discs front and rear. If you need to stop, you should be able to stop. Lots of people track these cars with no more than just ensuring that their brakes are well bled with new fluid. I find them to have good bite and have a nice progression to the pedal without being grabby.
It’s got 50/50 weight distribution, a pretty wide track, and nice feeling power steering (1983/84 you could also get non power steering). The first time I took this on a curvy road I was surprised at how solid it felt. It provides good feedback. The tires that came on my car aren’t great and I can’t wait to get something a little nicer on this car. This car won Car and Drivers best handling import back in the early 90s. It’s truly it’s best asset.
All of that great handling does come from interesting origins; the rear suspension is apparently not far removed from a super beetle’s and the front suspension is pretty similar to a mk1 golf(I used some golf control arms when I swapped on new ones).
I’m torn on this section. It’s a sports car, so it’s not meant to be floaty or soft. And it certainly isn’t harsh but I don’t think it’s something most people would choose to commute in day in and day out, in part because it isn’t the most compliant car. But most days I drive, I drive this, so it’s certainly daily driveable.
It’s the only manual I’ve ever driven for any amount of time, but it goes into all the gears with a nice reassuring feel, the throws seem pretty short. The spacing seems pretty good between gears 2-4, which are what I’m mostly using on backroads. 1-2 is a bit of a jump and 4-5 also a bit long.
I think I deducted 1 point because the transmission is fairly complex compared to most. A clutch swap is apparently a horror; and the original clutch doesn’t have the best reputation. In addition, the torque tube in between the clutch and transmission in the back seems needlessly complex.
Toys - 3
My audio sounds pretty good, and it’s got and a big completely removable sunroof panel, Besides that, it’s got... A/C. The A/C on these cars can be a bit finicky because a vacuum activated solenoid has to open a flap, something something ... but apparently the compressor and condenser tend to withstand the test of time. So that’s 3 things, I give it 3 points.
Audio - 6
The sounds of the engine and the exhaust together is nice for an inline 4 cylinder. I’m not sure if mine has the stock muffler. In general I think the car sounds pretty good actually.
Value - 9
To me, this car sat in the perfect middle ground of quickness, size, quality, looks, and usability within my budget. Non-running but okay looking “projects” go for $1,000 all day. Running versions of these cars start at $1,500, and nice ones are more in the $2,500-5,000 range. If you want something with low miles, the price does pick up a bit. Yes, there are some beat to hell ones out there. But in this price range, it’s hard to find something RWD, manual, IRS, that’s not a roadster. I would say if anything, try to spring for an “S” they get a power bump, but don’t command much of a price premium.
Total - 70 / 100
I think this is the right score for this car. In a world where even the Subaru BRZ exists, this car isn’t going to be an 80 or 90 point car. It’s a great alternative to a Miata, or a 300zx. It’s fun, but not particularly quick, although, on the right roads it feels at home and you can take your kid on a camping trip in it.
Reliability - the elephant in the review is the reliability. And really, when you are talking the big ticket items; engine and transmission, both are pretty sturdy, especially since we are talking about the NA. Running costs and unexpected maintenance are another question. Timing belts should be changed every 30,000 miles, the clutch is really time consuming(read, expensive at a shop), the fuel tanks can crack, oil leaks happened on mine quite a bit, and power steering systems die. I did have a lot of hiccups that made me ready to move on. Honestly, I wouldn’t touch one of these cars if I were going to go to a shop for maintenance. But also, I felt a bit of sadness to see it go. It’s fun and quirky, but somewhat practical car.
If you want to buy one, look for the best example you can afford. And I think it’s a car I would recommend to anyone with a $3000-5000 budget who wants a fun second car. Look for something where water hasn’t crept into foot wells(from a rusted battery tray) where lots of important electronics reside, save yourself chasing wandering idle from vacuum leaks, and an imminent clutch or timing belt job.