Admit it, who hasn't hankered for a Porsche but thought it only a dream? Then wake up to reality because you could sit in one of Stuttgart's finest for the price of a fleet favourite.
The 944 is known as the 'Practical Porsche', due to a blend of supercar looks, dazzling performance and its ability to carry two big kids in the back, plus a bit of luggage as well.
Buy wisely and Porsche's famed reliability and durability could keep running costs down to GTi-type levels, but get it wrong and a potential prime Porker - as the trade affectionately calls the marque - will turn out to be a real bank-busting swine.
Launched in 1982, purists accepted the 944 from the outset as a proper Porsche, unlike its smaller brother, the 924, which was designed originally for Audi. Looking like a 924 after extensive gym training, the 944 was pure Porsche mechanically and an instant hit until its demise in 1992, when it made way for the 968, which is little more than a 944 in a change of clothing.
The beauty of the 944 lies in its timeless looks, which were unchanged for a decade. Slap a personalised number plate on an early Eighties model costing a few thousand pounds, and everybody thinks you've won the lottery. And, thanks to galvanised bodies and tough mechanicals, you can safely buy old 944s and run them for surprisingly little.
There's a good spread of meaty power units, all of which were based upon the original 2.5-litre, four-cylinder design. None disappoints - even the automatics - and all can crack over 130mph, but the real thrill of the 944 comes from its safe handling, compact size and the sheer day-to-day useability a 911 cannot match.
A change to a 2.7-litre engine in 1988 saw power hike to 165bhp - just five horses over the 2.5, but torquier - while a favourite with many buyers was the earlier 944S, launched in 1986. Slapping a 16-valve head on the 2.5-litre powerplant yielded 190bhp and 140mph. This hot 944 was replaced by the even mightier S2, using an enlarged 210bhp, 3.0-litre engine.
Still not enough? The turbo should satisfy you with a whopping 250bhp. Introduced in 1985 with 220bhp, the turbo ran up until H-registrations, with more power and a limited-slip differential for 1988, and can be picked up for under 10,000 with ease. But you'd better be on your guard, as this car has a real licence-threatening kick to it!
The super sexy cabriolet appeared in 1989, chiefly in S2 guise, but there are some rare turbos around, produced after February 1991. In contrast to the myriad of mechanical changes, the 944 underwent few cosmetic ones. Early models used a 924-style interior and dashboard layout, but this was changed for 1986 model year cars, together with the more popular 'pepper-pot-style' alloy wheels.
Generally, the later the model, the better the spec. Electrically-powered seats arrived in 1988 (turbos had them since launch) along with ABS and automatic heating control. Catalytic converters arrived in 1990 and a useful split/fold rear seat came in 1991.
The trick of buying a 944 and running it cheaply is to get a good one. An HPI-check to see if it's straight is essential, because many have dodgy pasts. And a proper service history is paramount; 944s may be as hard as Rocky, but too many cash-strapped owners, trying to run a Porsche on a shoestring, only ran them into the ground instead. Avoid them like the plague.
Look for smoky engines caused by worn bores or valve guides, listen out for common transmission clattering during idling and check for worn dampers, warped disc brakes and corroded alloy wheels with cheap tyres.
During a test drive, check whether the car runs straight and still feels good and tight. Six-figure mileages should pose no problems for 944s, so suspect clocking if the car feels older than the speedo reading suggests.
Porsches are sophisticated pieces of machinery, so if you don't know what to check, get someone who does. Better still, rope a Porsche dealer in on the act. For around 80 (depending upon labour rates), a main agent will thoroughly check any potential buy with the same 74-point inspection all approved used Porsches receive. You can even purchase a proper Porsche warranty after the check-up; it's a great 'peace of mind' package and one seriously worth taking up.
Naturally, using main agents will be the most expensive route to buying and maintaining a Porsche - and how - but there's a thriving industry of established independent specialists who can cater for older cars for considerably less, and it's intelligent use of these which will keep your running costs reasonable.
Finally, buying insurance may be a problem for young or risky drivers, so make sure you obtain some quotes first. Try a specialist broker, before you even consider heading for the forecourts. ^
If you're in the market for a newish pocket rocket, then you could easily make the jump to a mature Porsche. The toughness and practicality of the 944 ensures this classic is one of the most useable supercars yet. Our money goes on the S2 which offers storming performance without turbocharger worries or added insurance penalties, and 10,000-11,000 will secure a nice one. Those with less to spend can still find an older example with years of life left in it, for the price of a decent 205 GTi. See, dreams can come true!
1989 Porsche 944 S2
We like: Looks, performance, surprising frugality, image, practicality, durability, galvanised body, Porsche warranty deal
We don't like: Potential spares and repair prices, insurance costs, tired, over-valued examples, likelihood of theft, jealousy factor
Typical main dealer parts prices for a 1989 S2 (inc VAT): Clutch assembly 700, exhaust system, 436, CAT 936, front brake pads 82, alternator (exch) 488, headlamp 51, major service 305
Insurance: Groups 18-20
Service intervals: 12,000 miles
From Chris Wilson:
Nice cars. Iffy trim, like 928's they can look scruffy inside quite early. Rear hatches can leak and/or rattle. Speedos on the oval dash cars lose their odometer function easily (plastic gear, unavailable separately fails). Engines generally sound, but high mileage ones suffer hydraulic tappet wear and can go tappety sounding. Belts need replacing at correct interval. Cam belt and balance shaft belt a PITA to get at. Usually at least one idler needs replacing too. Turbos reliable as on any other car, again a PITA to change. Gearbox (transaxle to be pedantic) suffers synchro wear, having to control a rotating prop adds extra load to the synchros. Not the nicest box, but most road car rear mounted transaxles on front engined cars are similarly baulky if rushed.
Cars handle brilliantly for the age of the design. Not much keeps up with a well driven 944... Brakes not up to track day usage without better pads and race fluid. As there is a Porsche series for them info on suspension settings etcetera is prolific if you attend a race meeting where they participate.
I have had a couple and like them. Working in the engine bay is not for the feint hearted though. They have a poor mans Porsche image if the snobbery aspect worries you. Parts are available from Porsche, the aftermarket or from breakers. There should be no problem running one for years to come. I'm seriously toying with the idea of selling my R33 Skyline that I use as a fun car for track days and buying another 944 turbo and modding it. They make great fun cars, and stand mileage and abuse better than most cars.