Based on the 924 – the car that saved Porsche in the 70s – the Porsche 944 was a fantastic evolution of the original. Here’s how to buy one
It’s generally acknowledged that the Porsche 924 was the car which saved Porsche but despite its success in the marketplace it was a long way from the pure-bred sports machinery Porsche fans were used to. Although developed by Porsche under contract, it had in fact been originally conceived as a VW/Audi coupe, until VW management cancelled the project and Porsche acquired the rights, the car filling the gap left by the recently axed 914.

With a 2-litre VW engine producing 125bhp, the 924 offered GTI-style performance to European buyers, but in emissions-regulated US trim it was good for just 95bhp, which in conjunction with the three-speed automatic was a very long way from 911 Turbos and Le Mans heroics. The 170bhp 924 Turbo improved matters but also served to highlight the limited performance potential of the old 1960s Audi engine.

The catalyst for improvement came with the knowledge that VW was to end production of the EA831 unit and sensibly, Porsche had developed its all-new V8 engine for the exotic 928 with an eye to producing a four-pot version on the same tooling.

Essentially one bank of the V8 engine, the 4.5-litre capacity of the 928 engine meant that a single bank worked out at 2.25 litres – an unusually large capacity for a four-cylinder powerplant, especially one destined for a sports car. To avoid an agricultural roughness, the design incorporated twin balancer shafts which ran at twice engine speed and which Porsche claimed gave the engine the smoothness of a six-cylinder powerplant. Ironically, this meant that the new Porsche powerplant required a royalty to Mitsubishi which had developed Lanchester’s original balance shaft concept into a workable modern system.

The new engine was to be a 2.5-litre unit in production form which meant retaining the 100mm stroke of the V8 but increasing bore size by 3mm. The end result produced 163bhp at 5800rpm with 151lbf.ft of torque but its real selling point was Porsche’s claim that over 90 per cent of the maximum torque was available from just 2500rpm.

Since the engine shared the V8’s all-aluminium construction, it was 11kg lighter at 164kg than the 924 engine despite being physically larger.

The rest of the running gear followed the layout of the 924, with the rear-mounted gearbox receiving higher fourth and fifth gears plus a strengthened input shaft and the larger-diameter propshaft borrowed from the 924 Turbo. The VW parts were largely abandoned too, with the Beetle-derived rear suspension parts replaced by new Porsche componentry and the interior receiving a makeover with new mouldings and switchgear.

The wider body was similar to the style debuted on the limited-production 924 Carrera GT but with the wide arches now in steel, while the 944 sat on identical 7×15 wheels to those found on the 911SC. The end result was a car which had an aggressive stance a world away from the neat but unassuming 924 and Porsche’s aim was to attract new buyers to the brand.

The 944 was launched in June 1981 and introduced to the UK in May 1982 after a press launch in April. The car would remain in production until 1991 when it was replaced by the similar-looking but heavily revised 968, meaning the basic design of the 924 had lasted Porsche for 16 years. With the 944 being on sale for longer and being the younger car, it’s the more common of the two and a nicely sorted one can be a joy to own, with a definite Porsche sparkle which is very different from the vanilla 924. A down-at-heel example however can be deeply disappointing, so here’s what you need to know.


Porsche galvanised the 944’s bodyshell which gave it a fighting chance but that doesn’t make it immune to salty British winter roads and the sills seem to be particularly prone to corrosion. The visible outer sill is in fact just a cosmetic cover, so you’ll need to feel behind this to gauge the state of the sill itself which can often be surprisingly corroded even on outwardly presentable-looking cars.

Elsewhere, check the condition of the suspension mounting areas and also the floors.

If the boot seems damp, then suspect the rear lamp seals and the hatch seal, especially if the glass hatch itself rattles on bumpy roads. There’s a fine line between adjusting the lock pins tightly enough to keep water and exhaust fumes out but not so tight that the electric release won’t work. The rubber was unavailable for a while, meaning that many were simply adjusted too tightly in an attempt to seal them which crushed its profile, but luckily they’re now available again at reasonable cost.

Drains for the factory sunroof can also block up, causing water to drip from the sunroof aperture but it’s an easy job to rod the drain pipework through with a length of wire. Interior leaks can also be caused by a loose roof aerial or perished gasket at its base.

The windscreen rubber for the 944 is a multi-part affair and when incorrectly fitted can cause terrible wind noise, so get the car up to 50mph or so just to check.

Engine and transmission

The 944 left all the VW associations behind and the engine is a purely Porsche development. It’s a big capacity for a four-cylinder unit but the balancer shafts do make it acceptably smooth and the strong torque gives it a muscular feel.

All versions use a cam belt which needs replacing along with the balance shaft belt every four years and it’s recommended to swap the water pump, rollers and tensioners at every other belt swap. The 16-valve engine uses a secondary chain driving the intake came from the exhaust and the tensioner pads can wear over time, but this should be obvious from the rattling noise.

They’re not silent engines but watch out for excessive top end noise beyond the usual clatter and injector sound which could signify worn cams and valve train.

In good health the engine should feel lively and responsive, but it’s common to find at least one of the many vacuum pipes perished or leaking and this will make it feel really soggy, as will a failing air flow meter. Similarly, check the condition of the oil and coolant pipework and also the radiator which is vulnerable due to its position low in the nose. Take a look in the header tank too, since it’s not unknown for failing oil coolers to allow coolant and oil to mix.

Usefully there’s an oil pressure gauge built into the instruments and you want to see 4 bar at speed or 2-3 bar at idle.

One of the car’s strengths is its balanced handling courtesy of the rear-mounted transaxle gearbox, although this means the gearshift can be rubbery and vague if not set up properly or if all the linkages and bushes are worn. With patience though it should be possible to get it right, in which case it should feel acceptably positive and certainly better than the transaxle Alfas.

In extreme cases, a severe vibration can be caused by failing bearings in the torque tube housing the propshaft but these can be replaced by a keen DIYer or the entire unit sent off for rebuilding.

The transaxle layout does make clutch replacement costly due to the amount of labour involved, since both torque tube and gearbox must be removed.

Suspension, steering and brakes

Like so many German cars of the era including the Mk1 Golf, the 944 kept the left-hand drive servo and master cylinder position, adding a cross-linkage to operate it from the pedal box on the right. This introduces a longer pedal travel and less positive feel and although lost motion can be adjusted out to some degree, it’s just how it was designed.

Other than that, the brakes are a conventional set up and problems like seized or dragging calipers should be obvious.

Age means many 944s have started to ride low at the rear which looks terrible, but can be adjusted out to some extent using the eccentric bolt on the torsion bar mounting. If this doesn’t provide sufficient adjustment, the torsion bars can be re-indexed by rotating the arms on the splines but although the spannering work is quite basic, this is a time-consuming job.

On later cars, knocks from the front suspension can mean the bushes or balljoints in the front wishbones need replacing, with a complete arm including balljoint being the easiest solution if that’s the issue. The later aluminium arms are more costly than the early pressed steel version and are sometimes out of stock but although in theory the balljoint is non-replaceable it’s possible to buy a balljoint repair kit.

Interior, trim and electrics

The cabin of the 944 is typically ’80s German car and shares more than a few detail parts with VWs and Audis of the era. As ever though, it’s the Porsche-specific parts which are either hard to get or costly and that includes the dash moulding for the earlier (pre oval dash) cars which is often cracked. The easiest solution is a moulded dash cover which is simply glued over the existing upper half of the dashboard, while a complete remanufactured dash is available for the S2 cars.

If the electric seats aren’t working, suspect the switch unless the wiring is obviously damaged but new ones are available and are simple to fit. If the fabric looks tatty then check whether the colour and pattern is still available as the choice is very limited these days with many owners opting for a leather retrim instead which looks nice but is non original.

The electrics on these cars are pretty basic and if you’ve ever worked on an ’80s VW then it will all be pretty familiar from the old style fusebox to the VW/Audi switchgear.

One problem specific to the oval dash cars is a non-functioning odometer, resulting from a design fault which means that if the reset button is pressed while moving, the plastic gears will disintegrate. Rebuild kits are available but it’s a fiddly task.

If the speedometer doesn’t work on an oval dash car, it may be the pulse generator in the rear axle. It’s not available new but used parts are around and it’s a simple if grubby job to change. If it’s the speedometer head itself, be prepared for a wait to find a good used one.

Porsche 944: our verdict

A good, well sorted 944 is a joy to drive, with its torquey if rather growly engine and beautifully balanced handling. A neglected one though will be a big disappointment and leave you wondering what all the fuss is about, so tread carefully and drive a few before buying.

As for which model, the Turbo is already strong money and the eight-valve car lacks outright pace, so our choice would be the 16-valve 944S or S2 and to find the best one you can from an enthusiastic owner.

Porsche 944 Timeline


Porsche 944 is launched in Europe in June


UK sales begin from May


Power steering becomes available as an option


Power steering becomes standard on automatic cars


The 220bhp 944 Turbo is launched as Porsche type number 951. The oval dashboard is introduced, with seats lowered 30mm and the wheel raised by 18mm to provide more space. Aluminium suspension arms are introduced and a staggered 7×16 and 8×16 wheel option is introduced


The 16-valve 944S is introduced boasting 190bhp


ABS and sports suspension are made optional


The 8-valve car moves to 2.7 litres and 165bhp. The 944S2 is introduced, bored and stroked to 3 litres with a lightened block and revised manifolding for 211bhp. The 944 Turbo gains the 250bhp specification of the 1000-off limited-edition Turbo S produced in 1986. In the spring, a convertible model is announced, using the 944S2 engine


Porsche 944 production ends