Classified Hero: Porsche 944

The 944 remains one of the cheapest ways into classic Porsche ownership – but that doesn’t mean it's undeserving of the badge. Here’s a great one for sale in the AutoClassics classifieds

Porsche 911 purists claim that the Cayman, no matter how dazzling its road manners are, ultimately has the engine in the ‘wrong place’. Turn back the clocks 35 years, to when Duran Duran ruled the airwaves and the shoulder-pad/perm look was still in its infancy, and you’ll find that the 944 suffered the same alienation. As with the Cayman today, the 944 was branded by Porsche cliques as an imitator. It wasn’t the ‘real thing’.

However, thanks to the toffee-nosed snobbery of many, the 944 is far cheaper to purchase than the cosseted 911, with prices under £6000 (or around $8000) for good ones. Around £4000 ($5000) will get you a pretty decent example that will run for as long as you maintain it. That’s the same price as for a BMW 1 Series or Citroën C3, but you get the added decency of a car that leaves you grinning. Spend more than £8000/$10,000, and you’ll have a solid example of one of the best-handling motors from the Regan/Thatcher era.

With the engine out in front and the gearbox at the back, the 944 has almost perfect weight distribution and a handling balance many modern sports cars can only dream of. The four-cylinder engine is also the perfect introduction to those wanting to own a Porsche without turbo lag slashing your life expectancy to your first overtaking manoeuvre. The chassis is class leading, the styling tear-jerkingly retro and the power comes in spades. 911 owners don’t know what they’re missing – it’s all the fun of the fair without the seriousness.

The easiest aspect of the 944 to criticise is the engine. Its 924 predecessor may have had a 2.0-litre NSU/Audi unit as also used in the boxy Volkswagen LT van, but a fresh Porsche powertrain meant the engine bay received a mark-up transformation for the 944. Critics were correct in saying it was a mere half of the 928s monstrous 5.0-litre V8, but they missed the point. Not only was the 944 cheaper to run, but it was easily controllable compared with the wild 928.

Power steering came as standard as of 1985, alongside a freshened interior, larger fuel tank and new suspension set-up. There had never been any doubt that the chassis could cope with more power, and the much sought-after 944 Turbo arrived at the party the same year Roger Moore stepped down as 007.

With its 220bhp capacity raising the bar for others to follow, and 0-60mph in six seconds, the 944 Turbo was very, very close to rivalling the 911 Carrera. It's at this point, we think, that embarrassed 944 bashers continued on their quest of bemoaning an imposter, simply because they couldn’t admit they had been wrong. However, they were quivering up there on their pedestal as the 944 prowled around below.

The car's most appealing trait today is the ability to provide supercar performance on Kia Picanto money. The call of the Turbo is hard to ignore, but all engines in the 944 range are good. We're not kidding; the engines give the same punch as a Scottish MP at a Westminster bar without George Best consumption.

If a 944 has been maintained properly, it’ll perform like it’s just rolled out the factory gates. It’s now cheap to buy – even if running it will be another matter. But if you want to use an old Porsche as an everyday car, then you either need deep pockets or your head examined.

From the classifieds

Plugging the gap between the entry-level model and the Turbo was the milder 3.0L 944 S. The Series 2 arrived in 1989, with engines producing more power and a cabriolet version for those who wanted to replicate Bonnie Tyler’s hair without the cost of hair gel.

Following a full professional detail, this 1989 example in Detroit, USA, shines like a showroom-fresh example. Its black exterior and matching interior trim show minimal wear, so the odometer's 49,588-mile reading is believed to be correct.

Features include:

  • Power steering
  • Power brakes
  • Air-conditioning
  • Six-way seats
  • Five-speed manual transmission
  • Removable sunroof
  • Aftermarket Kenwood stereo.

Tip: If you get a glance at the service history, check that the car has been serviced every 12,000 miles.

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