BUY­ERS’ GUIDE: PORSCHE 924

The 924 has fol­lowed a fa­mil­iar tra­jec­tory from huge sell­ing suc­cess to bar­gain banger to re-eval­u­ated clas­sic. With the dross largely gone to the great scrap­per in the sky, the re­main­ing 924 stock is of the cher­ished va­ri­ety and prices are on the up, but

911 Porsche World - - Con­tents -

Porsche’s front-en­gined clas­sic

Just as one British politi­cian in re­cent his­tory will, re­gard­less of any other achieve­ments, al­ways be as­so­ci­ated with one un­pop­u­lar for­eign mil­i­tary ad­ven­ture, the Porsche 924 will al­ways be de­fined – and blighted – by one thing: its hum­ble roots.

Af­ter the com­pli­cated and not en­tirely sat­is­fac­tory 914, a joint-project with Volk­swa­gen, the 924 in­tro­duced in 1976 pro­vided Porsche with an at­trac­tive “bud­get” model with good sales prospects thanks to its largely if not to­tally con­ven­tional de­sign. But it was “Blaired” by the re­tained VW links, in par­tic­u­lar the van en­gine. Purists never for­gave Porsche for that, and this im­pacts the car even four decades on, the model (along with its 944 and 968 evo­lu­tions) still not seen as a “proper” Porsche by many.

As al­ways, the mar­ket asserts it­self and the 924 is now ris­ing in value. There has likely not been a sud­den re-eval­u­a­tion of the model, more that when air-cooled 911 prices dis­ap­peared into the strato­sphere, the wa­ter-cooled four-cylin­der cars (the 928’s as­cen­sion had be­gun ear­lier) re­mained the only af­ford­able Porsche clas­sics, and de­mand started to in­crease with in­evitable re­sults.

So here we take a back-to-ba­sics ap­proach, look­ing solely at the 924, the orig­i­nal “transaxle” Porsche, of­fered for al­most a dozen years un­til 1988. What is left out there, what are the is­sues and how much will you pay – and should we now fi­nally ad­mit it to the Porsche hall of fame?

DE­SIGN, EVO­LU­TION

To give some per­spec­tive on Porsche in 1976, it sold cars that were front-en­gined, mid-en­gined and rear-en­gined, and with few com­mon parts. How­ever, a form of logic was de­vel­op­ing, and the story of Porsche’s first wa­ter-cooled, front-en­gined car starts not within Zuf­fen­hausen but at VW’S sprawl­ing Wolfs­burg base.

The 924’s de­trac­tors might note that it was only by chance that it made pro­duc­tion in the first place. It was con­ceived as a Volk­swa­gen coupe, its de­sign drawn up by Porsche (even in those days Porsche did im­por­tant de­sign con­sul­tancy work). The driv­e­train was to be a 2.0-litre four-cylin­der en­gine, and a gear­box within a rear­mounted transaxle for im­proved weight dis­tri­bu­tion. But for var­i­ous rea­sons, not least 1973’s so-called oil cri­sis, Wolfs­burg canned the project at a late stage, in­stead de­vel­op­ing the Golf-based Scirocco.

This ef­fec­tively handed Porsche a ready­made re­place­ment for the 914. Some at Zuf­fen­hausen might have pre­ferred more engi­neer­ing pedi­gree, but it was a cheaper op­tion at a time when the fu­ture of sports cars looked bleak, thanks to the de­pressed eco­nomic cli­mate and the ap­par­ent in­ten­tion of Amer­i­can fed­eral safety leg­is­la­tors to out­law con­vert­ibles.

Porsche could not af­ford the price VW wanted for the de­sign, so to avoid the project and the 30m Deutschemarks spent on it so far be­ing aban­doned, a deal was struck whereby Volk­swa­gen would man­u­fac­ture it in the old AUDI/NSU works at Neckar­sulm and Porsche would buy cars from VW. This ex­plains the Trans­porter van en­gine, the Golf front strut sus­pen­sion and steer­ing, the VW K70 brakes – and even the rear sus­pen­sion tor­sion bars from the Bee­tle! In­side, you saw switchgear and in­stru­ments from con­tem­po­rary Audis and VWS.

But the VW joins didn’t show, and the 924 was a good looker, a “ju­nior su­per car”

as one magazine called it. The 2.0-litre, sin­gle cam en­gine, canted over 30 de­grees and fu­elled by Bosch K-jetronic in­jec­tion gave 123bhp and 122lb ft torque, fed through a four-speed man­ual or three­speed au­to­matic gear­box. The “two-plustwo” seat­ing and open­ing rear screen added the prac­ti­cal­ity.

Launched in Ger­many in Fe­bru­ary 1975, and com­ing to the UK in March 1977, mi­nor changes were made al­most im­me­di­ately, in­clud­ing a leather steer­ing­wheel, her­ring­bone seat cloth and rear fog lights. But the process of teas­ing the car away from VW be­gan in mid-1978 when the orig­i­nal Audi gear­box was re­placed by a 911-de­rived unit, with first out on a lef­t­and-back dog­leg.

That con­tin­ued when in Novem­ber of the same year the 924 Turbo was an­nounced, a model that would not come to the UK for an­other 11 months. The orig­i­nal VW en­gine block and bot­tom end was re­tained, but a new cylin­der-head with re­vised com­bus­tion cham­bers, 3mm larger ex­haust valves, and new pis­tons for a lower com­pres­sion ra­tio were fit­ted. The Ger­man-made, KKK tur­bocharger de­liv­ered over a third ex­tra power and half as much twist­ing force again, 168bhp and 181lb ft torque.

The prop and drive shafts were thick­ened, and the gear­box ra­tios changed slightly, while the springs and anti-roll bars were stiff­ened, and the brakes up­rated with a mix­ture of 911SC and 928 parts. Wheels went up an inch to 15-inch di­am­e­ter, but the main ex­te­rior dis­tin­guish­ing marks were ex­tra air in­takes on the nose and a rear spoiler that formed the screen sur­round. A four-spoke steer­ing wheel was fit­ted.

In Au­gust 1980 the specialist built 924 Car­rera GT with its 210bhp turbo en­gine was put on sale to ho­molo­gate a Le Mans race car, the 400 made priced at around £20,000, dou­ble that of the reg­u­lar 924 Turbo.

The 924 sur­vived the launch of the 944 in 1982, and that sum­mer the Turbo’s rear spoiler found its way on to the 924 and higher spec 924 Lux, while syn­chro­mesh on re­verse gear was added. In Au­gust 1983 an elec­tric rear hatch re­lease was fit­ted, and a year later an elec­tri­cally heated screen and washer noz­zles ap­peared.

The fi­nal phase of this body shape was the 924S, ar­riv­ing for the 1986 model year, in Septem­ber 1985, and stayed un­til early 1988. It re­ceived the “big banger” four­cylin­der en­gine from the 944 ex­cept with lower com­pres­sion en­abling it (like early 911s) to use “two-star”, as lower oc­tane petrol was then still called. Power was 158bhp and 155lb ft torque.

Mi­nor changes were made to the in­stru­ments a year later, and elec­tri­cally con­trolled and heated ex­te­rior mir­rors were made stan­dard. Some of these fi­nal cars were the Le Mans Lim­ited Edi­tion, with sports sus­pen­sion, body side run­ning strips, re­mov­able sun­roof and sports seats.

DRIV­ING THE 924

Thirty years ago the 924 with its near perfect front/rear weight bal­ance was a rev­e­la­tion, with beau­ti­fully bal­ance hand­ing much su­pe­rior to the 911, but the en­gine, rough when revved hard, let the car down. These ob­ser­va­tions still ap­ply to­day, which is why the best choice is the 924S with its ex­tra pulling power and re­fine­ment. How­ever, power-as­sisted steer­ing – an op­tional ex­tra un­til made stan­dard six months from the end of pro­duc­tion – is es­sen­tial, as steer­ing is heavy, es­pe­cially when park­ing.

The Turbo has a hint of 911 char­ac­ter in that you must work harder to en­joy it. It still feels a quick car, but only when the en­gine is worked hard, be­cause turbo lag leaves it flat be­low 3000rpm. The un­fa­mil­iar dog leg gearshift gate adds to the fun.

Sit­ting in a 924 is like be­ing in a 1970s Audi, ex­cept lower down, and the log­i­cal and con­ven­tional con­trol lay­out is a world away from a 911. Nonethe­less it felt stylish and solid then, and a well pre­served ex­am­ple will re­tain that aura.

WHAT YOU’LL PAY

For many years the 924 was pond life in the Porsche world, cars chang­ing hands for a few hun­dred pounds. No longer: the cheap­est ad­ver­tised price we saw was £1999 for a 1983 barn find, and a typ­i­cal

price for a good run­ning if far from perfect car, usu­ally with well over 150,000 miles, was £4000 to £5000.

The wrecks that were once around are gone, and the How Many Left web­site re­veals why. The num­ber of sur­viv­ing 924 mod­els dropped from 2001’s 3450 to 1500 in 2007, and to 584 to­day; the 141 924S cars around now is un­der half the to­tal of 10 years ago; and even the 924 Turbo has dropped from 100 to 60 sur­vivors in 10 years.

Stray into clas­sic car specialist ter­ri­tory and prices jump to five fig­ures. Glas­gow­based Peter Vardey Heritage was ask­ing £13,000 for a 1985 ex­am­ple with just 33,000 miles. But what surely high­lights the 924’s chang­ing sta­tus more than any­thing is that Porsche Cen­tres are now tak­ing an in­ter­est. Dealer group Dick Lovett, which has PCS in­clud­ing a Porsche clas­sic cen­tre, had re­stored a 1982 924 and was ask­ing £29,990 for the 78,300 mile car at its Bris­tol site, and wanted £26,995 for a late, 1988-reg­is­tered 924S Le Mans at its Swin­don PC.

The 924 Turbo has al­ways been in a dif­fer­ent class, and while you may see one for £10,000, they are more likely to be seen at clas­sic deal­ers with a £20,000 sticker.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR EN­GINES

The 2.0-litre 924 en­gine is tough and durable and high mileage is not a prob­lem – in any case re­place­ment units are plen­ti­ful and not ex­pen­sive. More of­ten the prob­lems are with the in­jec­tion sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly on a car that has been left stand­ing for a long time, cor­ro­sion and dirt hav­ing built up in the sys­tem. It’s of­ten bet­ter on a barn find to strip and clean the sys­tem be­fore turn­ing the key; fuel sys­tem parts are avail­able as new, sec­ond­hand or re­built with good avail­abil­ity.

The turbo en­gine is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Although us­ing the same en­gine block, much else is dif­fer­ent and now hard to source, such as the ECU, crank sen­sors and the turbo it­self; should the turbo fail, re­build­ing rather than re­plac­ing it is prob­a­bly the best course. Be­ware that while a broken belt does no dam­age on the nor­mally as­pi­rated unit, a failed belt on the turbo bends the valves.

The 2.5-litre 924S en­gine is also re­li­able and long last­ing but there are a num­ber of things to check out, start­ing with the oil pres­sure, ad­vises David Barker of transaxle Porsche specialist Aug­ment Au­to­mo­tive in Glouces­ter­shire. ‘Look for three bar of oil pres­sure when hot at tick­over, and over four bar above 2000rpm,’ he says. ‘Also look out for smoke from the ex­haust – both these points sug­gest an en­gine that is well worn.

Next on the list is to en­sure the cylin­der­head gas­ket is not blown or leak­ing, as they are prone to fail­ing. ‘This is not nor­mally due to a com­pres­sion leak, but be­cause wa­ter is not be­ing cir­cu­lated to the rear of the head,’ David ex­plains. ‘The usual symp­tom is over­heat­ing un­der load – do not ig­nore this as it can cause pink­ing, with con­se­quent pis­ton ring fail­ure, which usu­ally means the block has to be scrapped. On my own cars I au­to­mat­i­cally do the head gas­ket af­ter pur­chase.’

The en­gine block in­cor­po­rates an oil cooler, and if this de­vel­ops a leak you’ll see oil in the coolant, or wa­ter in the oil. Still on leaks, en­gine oil leaks are com­mon, David points out: ‘These can usu­ally be rec­ti­fied around the front of the en­gine with crank and bal­ance seals – but a leak be­tween the en­gine and gear­box is usu­ally the rear crank seal, which can re­al­is­ti­cally only be re­placed along with the clutch.’

A less se­ri­ous is­sue is worn en­gine mounts. ‘If the en­gine feels rough and vi­brates at tick­over, this is usu­ally worn out mounts, in par­tic­u­lar the one un­der the ex­haust man­i­fold,’ David tells us. ‘After­mar­ket mounts are ok, but they are not as good as the fluid-damped Porsche items for vibration damp­ing.’

TRANS­MIS­SION

Clutches last well but re­place­ment is not a sim­ple job. ‘This is an ex­pen­sive is­sue, as re­place­ment in­volves strip­ping the whole of the rear of the car to get to the unit on the back of the en­gine,’ David warns. ‘There is a spec­i­fied wear mea­sure­ment on the op­er­at­ing fork, which is worth check­ing be­fore pur­chase as the cost of the clutch job is likely to come to a high per­cent­age of the car’s cur­rent value.’

The “torque tubes”, drive shafts that ef­fec­tively brace the en­gine and gear­box to­gether, are also prone to fail­ure, ev­i­denced by a high pitch bear­ing noise com­ing from around the gear lever, which stops if you de­press the clutch. ‘Re­pair­ing the tube is not ex­pen­sive, but as with the clutch, the whole rear of the car needs to be stripped,’ says David. ‘If ei­ther clutch or tube fails, I would do both to­gether at the same time.’

SUS­PEN­SION

The sus­pen­sion works well and is ro­bust, and although the front wish­bones rust, they are cheap and easy to re­place. David has some ad­vice on shock ab­sorbers: ‘They’re of­ten old and weak, but are easy to re­place – I sug­gest up­grad­ing to Ko­nis or Bil­steins, both of which work very well.’

Sheer age can play a part. ‘Af­ter many years of be­ing dis­man­tled and re­assem­bled, it is not un­com­mon for the sus­pen­sion set­tings to be in­ac­cu­rate, and a proper four-wheel align­ment, car­ried out by an ex­pe­ri­enced op­er­a­tor, is very worth­while,’ David sug­gests. Up­graded shocks and align­ment should pro­duce a sweet han­dling ve­hi­cle.’

BRAKES

The main is­sue with the brakes, apart from the usual rusty discs and worn pads, is the one-sided caliper de­sign. ‘In time, the caliper slides rust up, par­tic­u­larly on barn find cars, and it is then nec­es­sary to re­move the calipers and do a thor­ough clean-up, and grease the slides,’ David tells us. The hand­brake shoes are of­ten ig­nored, too, and need to be re­placed so that the sys­tem works ef­fec­tively.

ELECTRICS

Age is not usu­ally kind to electrics, and there can be all kinds of prob­lems, for ex­am­ple old, per­haps poorly in­stalled alarm sys­tems giv­ing trou­ble, but David ad­vises one spe­cific check: ‘The cars are prone to cor­ro­sion prob­lems in the fuse box con­nec­tions – ju­di­cious scrap­ing and clean­ing of pins and fuse con­nec­tions usu­ally re­solves the is­sues.’ There can be is­sues with the ECU con­trol sys­tem on the 2.5. The ECUS them­selves fail, as do the air­flow me­ters and crank sen­sors.

BODY­WORK

924s have gen­er­ally held up very well over the years, and by old car stan­dards do not rust that much, but there is much to check, nonethe­less. ‘The front wing bot­toms go, as do the ex­ten­sions be­hind the rear of the sill into the rear wing,’ David re­veals. ‘Front valances get scratched and bent on kerbs, and it is not un­com­mon to find the bot­tom of the bat­tery box holed or rusted out – this does need to be dealt with, as the fuse box is un­der­neath! A badly rusted 924 is not worth the ef­fort – choose a bet­ter one!’

IN­TE­RIOR

A cracked dash­board top is now the norm. ‘In re­cent years I have not seen a 924 without at least some cracks,’ David ob­serves. ‘Worn seats are also com­mon, but there are plenty of de­cent sec­ond­hand ones out there.’

VER­DICT

For­merly a “cheap” Porsche, the orig­i­nal transaxle model is now an “in­vest­ment”. This is a dou­ble-edged sword: if you have one, you can watch it (hope­fully) ap­pre­ci­ate, and it now makes sense to spend money on it whereas it wasn’t be­fore – but we can never again think of the 924 as bud­get, dis­pos­able trans­port. But they haven’t gone gold yet, so if you want to ex­pe­ri­ence this par­tic­u­lar Porsche ex­pe­ri­ence, now is the time. Buy a de­cent one and you won’t be dis­ap­pointed. PW

SPOT­TED FOR SALE

Back in 1975, when you could still buy an MGB, the Porsche 924 was very much the modern sports car, even if some of its un­der­pin­nings were a bit more or­di­nary

Above: In­te­rior was well screwed to­gether. Seats and steer­ing wheel were straight from the 911. Dash top is prone to split­ting in the sun. Right: Later 924S re­ceived the 2.5-litre, four­cylin­der en­gine from the 944, de­tuned slightly to 158bhp

Con­sider this: Without the 924, there would never have been the 944 or the 968, or the ho­molo­ga­tion 924 Car­rera GT vari­ants and Le Mans cars. Nor would there have been the bigsales that drove Porsche through the ’70s and ’80s

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