The 944, the 4-Cylinder Sports Car from Porsche

a front view of a Guards Red Porsche 944
The Porsche 944 is surprisingly good – photo by Aaron Rome

In continuing our exploration of some of the now extinct Porsche models, we come across the Porsche 944. To Porsche purist, the 944 is sacrilege. First, the 944 had the engine in the front instead of the rear. Second, it was water cooled as opposed to air cooled. The four cylinder part is a little less sacrilegious as the Porsche 356 had a flat four. At least the Porsche 944 had a manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. The 944 was Porsche’s mid-level sports car slotting in ahead of the 924 and below the 928. Of course nothing could touch the 911 but slumping sales in previous years made Porsche look for potential replacements. The car debuted at the 1981 Frankfurt motor show and would continue in production until 1991.

Porsche 944 (1982-1989)

a white Porsche 944
The Porsche 944 – Photo by FotoSleuth

There are four variations of the Porsche 944 with this being the most basic. The car had a little 2.5 liter inline 4 that produced just under 150 horsepower and most came with a five-speed manual. At least the car was light coming in at just over 2,600 pounds. Porsche claimed the car would hit 60 mph in under 9 seconds and had a top speed of 130 mph. Those were conservative numbers are some automotive journalist saw 8.3 second 0-60 times and nearly 160 mph top speeds. The car also had perfect 50:50 weight balance that helped it win Car & Drivers Best Handling Production Car trophy in 1984. The only major change for the base 944 was the increase in displacement in 1989 to 2.7 liters pushing the horsepower up to over 160.

As a side note, super tuners Callaway got their hands on a few of these 944’s (20 to be exact). After extensive engine work and adding a little turbo pushing 10 pounds of boost, Callaway was able to boost performance to 284 horsepower. This increased top speed to 165 and dropped the 0-60 times to under six seconds. Turns out, Porsche was working on a turbo of their own.

Porsche 944 S (1987-1989)

a grey 1987 Porsche 944 S
1987 Porsche 944 S – photo by Alexandre Prevot

The Porsche 944 S featured a revised 2.5 liter engine featuring four valves per cylinder and dual-overhead cams. Power increased to just shy of 190 horsepower dropping the 0-60 time to 6.5 seconds and increasing the top speed to 144 mph. The 944 S also received revised springs, bigger sway bars front and rear, and an improved transmission. While a three-speed automatic was available in the base 944, the S was only available with a 5-speed manual. Porsche produced under 9,000 Porsche 944 S’s  for the US compared to over 56,000 base model 944s. Also, if you hadn’t noticed by now, the 944 looks a lot like the Mazda RX7 at the time. That’s because Mazda copied Porsche’s design.

Porsche 944 S2 (1989-1991)

a Guards Red Porsche 944 S2
Porsche 944 S2 – photo by nakhon100

Widely regarded as the best all-around Porsche 944 to get, the S2 debuted in 1989. Porsche increased displacement to 3 liters making the inline 4 the largest production 4 cylinder engine in the world. Power increased to 208 horsepower yet 0-60 times and top speed remained around the same as the S. Brakes were also massively improved increasing from 1 piston to 4 pistons on all four corners. Visually, the S3 featured many of the Turbos styling cues especially from the front. The S2 also featured optional ABS and a limited slip differential. There was an optional Club Sport touring package although I couldn’t find much details on it. I assume it might include the limited slip. There were only about 3,600 examples that made it to the US with many becoming daily drivers. This means that finding good examples on the used market can be quite difficult.

Porsche 944 Turbo & Turbo S (1985-1991)

a white Porsche 944 Turbo
1987 Porsche 944 Turbo photo by Nicholas Hance, Reenhanced LLC

Porsche unveiled the 944 Turbo in 1985 featuring the same 2.5 liter engine this time with a turbocharger. I would like to say this was in response to Callaway’s turbocharged version but that’s probably not true. The intercooled, turbocharged engine now made 217 horsepower and dropped the 0-60 time down to under 6 seconds. Porsche also developed a trick exhaust system that meant the engine made the same power with or without a catalytic converter. Aero improvements include a now integrated front bumper. The 944 Turbo was the first car to feature dual side airbags as standard. The Turbo also borrowed brakes from the Porsche 911 and had ABS as standard.

a white and pink Porsche 944 Turbo Cup Car
1986 Porsche 944 Turbo Cup Car – photo by Detectandpreserve

Porsche made further improvements in 1988 with the 944 Turbo S. Only 1,000 Turbo Ss were produced with many enhancements over the normal Turbo. Not only did it now have a bigger turbo making 250 horsepower, it also featured adjustable suspension and bigger front brakes from the 928 S4. The car now hit 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds and hit the quarter mile in under 14 seconds. Not bad for a car that is over 30 years old! Turbo and Turbo S 944’s are typically pretty expensive running in the $20,000 – $60,000 range for good examples. Here is an excellent example for almost $80,000.

There you have it, the Porsche 944. Kind of a strange car by Porsche standards yet it made Car & Drivers 10 Best list on a number of occasions. It was also Porsche’s best selling sports car until the arrival of the Boxster. For my money, I’m looking for a 944 S2 and staying away from the turbos. For that kind of money you can find a used Cayman and it will be a lot faster and easier to maintain.

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