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The Porsche 944: History, Changes, Specifications

All things Porsche 944 on Automobile.

Porsche 944 Essential History

Early Days

By the late 1970s, Porsche's rear-engine, air-cooled 911 was looking old and tired. The solution at the time was to introduce a new series of front-engine, water-cooled cars to sell simultaneously: the Porsche 924 and 928. The 928 was the brand's flagship grand tourer with an in-house designed V-8 engine, while the 924, on the other hand, would replace the aging 914 as Porsche's entry-level sports car. The plan worked well enough: sales were strong, especially for the 924, but Porsche purists complained about the 924's lack of both power and prestige from its Audi-derived four-cylinder engine. These complaints echoed those of the Volkswagen-powered 914 it replaced.

The solution was to evolve the 924 into the 944 for the 1983 model year. The 944 would at last be a true Porsche with a new 2.5-liter, water-cooled, inline four-cylinder engine that was designed as an approximation of half of the 928's V-8. Porsche, having considered a six-cylinder engine instead, decided to license a balance shaft design from Mitsubishi to give the inherently rougher inline-four a smoother revving character to help justify its premium price tag. A rear-mounted five-speed transaxle gave excellent weight distribution. While the interior of the early 944 remained largely the same as the 924, the 944's box-flared exterior design echoed that of the 924 Carrera GT road and race cars for a much more aggressive look more befitting of Porsche's brand image.

Later Variants

Changes to the 944 came quickly and soon there were several different variants. Halfway through the 1985 model year, Porsche updated the 944's interior to a much more contemporary design with an oval-shaped instrument panel. For 1986, the big news was the Porsche 944 Turbo, with a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine producing 217 hp and turning the 944 into a world-class performance car. Along with the larger engine came large multi-piston Brembo brakes from the 911 Turbo, a body kit with a better integrated front bumper and rear underbody spoiler, stiffer suspension and a stronger five-speed gearbox.

In 1987, a 16-valve version of the 2.5-liter four powered the new 944 S variant, raising power from 147 hp to 187. In 1989, a new 2.7-liter, eight-valve engine with 163 hp was introduced for the base 944, and the 944 S2 replaced the 944 S (now available in coupe and convertible form), with a new 3.0-liter, 16-valve naturally-aspirated engine making 208 hp, plus all the benefits of the Turbo-style body and chassis. By now the Turbo model was up to 247 hp, and a Turbo S variant, launched the year before, included an even more purpose-built suspension with height-adjustable coil-over shocks, various chassis stiffeners, and larger anti-roll bars, plus even larger Brembo brakes, larger wheels and tires, and a standard limited-slip differential (optional in other 944 models). Porsche 944 production ended in 1991 ahead of the launch of the evolutionary 968.

Porsche 944 Highlights

When the Porsche 944 was new, period magazine road test reviews, including those seen in Automobile, declared the car a Porsche for a new era. The 944 Turbo was about as quick as the contemporary 911 Turbo around a racetrack—only it was far easier to drive, with excellent balance and handling traits and none of the 911's viciously tail-happy antics. Ergonomics were also far superior to the dated 911's and with the 944's 2+2 hatchback design, practicality was also a strong point.

The Porsche 944 had good visibility in motorsports, with 944 S2 models competing in the IMSA Firehawk Endurance Series in the late 1980s and a global Porsche 944 Turbo Cup series, often run as a support race to more established race series. The Porsche 944 Turbo Cup models were specially built as spec racers and it's believed some 192 were produced. Today, some racing organizations have created spec racing series for the base 2.5-liter 944 as a relatively inexpensive way of racing competitively in a Porsche.

Porsche 944 Buying Tips

Generally speaking, the most desired Porsche 944 models for road use are the 1986-on 944 Turbo and Turbo S and 1989-on 944 S2. These models can be difficult to tell apart at first glance due to them having the same smooth-nose body style, but on the road, they drive very differently. The 944 Turbo ultimately makes more power and is very receptive to even more power from aftermarket modification, but the Turbo engine as a product of its day is laggy, with power not arriving until boost has built up past 3,000 rpm. The 944 S2, conversely, has plenty of torque down low making it feel peppier in around-town driving, though it would fall behind a Turbo in terms of ultimate performance around a track or on a drag strip. A late 944 Turbo and Turbo S should run from a stop to 60 mph in under 6.0-seconds, with a 944 S2 doing the same in about 6.5 seconds.

Early eight-valve 944s are not very quick cars, with 0 to 60 mph times in the 8.5-second range, but they are the least expensive to buy today, all things being equal. All 944 models' cams are belt-driven and require regular replacement of their timing belts to prevent breakage and subsequent engine damage. Also, while 944s are relatively affordable classic cars, Porsche parts and labor aren't cheap. Routine maintenance items, such as belt changes, clutch replacement, and other jobs, when taken together, can quickly add up to a lesser 944's full market value. With the Porsche 944 it is almost always cheaper to save up for a good car, rather than restore a needy example.

Porsche 944 Articles on Automobile

A dynamic, box-flared German that won't break the bank.

What to look for when buying one of the best used Porsche values.

The Wheelers Dealers crew fixes up a decrepit 944 on MotorTrend.

Porsche 944 Recent Auctions

Porsche 944 Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1983
  • Last year of production: 1991
  • Total sold: 163,192
  • Original price (base): $18,980
  • Characteristic feature: Often named as one of the best-handling cars of its day, the Porsche 944 holds up well decades later with solid performance, practicality, and comfort.

Porsche 944 FAQ

Is a Porsche 944 worth buying?

The Porsche 944 makes for an excellent first—or tenth—classic Porsche. While decades old by now, the driving experience feels relatively modern, and with the practicality afforded by two small rear seats and a large hatchback cargo area, the 944 is highly usable for more than mere pleasure drives.

Is the Porsche 944 going up in value?

Over the past five years, we've seen Porsche 944 values increase significantly, though they have plateaued by now. Currently, we wouldn't expect to see significant market gains on a Porsche 944 of any type, though we don't expect the 944 to lose value either.

How much is a 1984 Porsche 944 worth?

A 1984 Porsche 944 has the base-level, 143-hp, 2.5-liter inline-four engine and the older 924-style interior, which some find less desirable. An average 1984 Porsche 944 in good "driver" condition is worth perhaps $5,000 to $8,000, or about half the value of a comparable 944 S2 or early Turbo.

How much is a 1986 Porsche 944 worth?

A 1986 Porsche 944 still has the base 2.5-liter inline-four engine, but also has the updated "oval dash" interior, which makes the car far more livable, with a more modern look and greatly improved ventilation. Expect it to bring similar or perhaps slightly higher prices than a comparable 1984 model.

1989 Porsche 944 S2 Specifications
ENGINE: 3.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4/208 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 207 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
LAYOUT: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe/convertible
L x W x H: 168.8 x 68.3 x 50.2 in
WHEELBASE: 94.5 in
WEIGHT: 2,900 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.5 sec
TOP SPEED 140 mph