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
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?
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.’
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.’
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.’
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.
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.
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!’
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.’
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