BUY­ERS’ GUIDE: 944 Turbo

Buy­ing Porsche’s ’80s Turbo ter­rific

911 Porsche World - - Contents -

Dur­ing the 1980s the words “Porsche” and “Turbo” brought one car to most peo­ple’s minds: the widearched, big-spoil­ered 911 flag­ship in all its pomp and ag­gres­sion, the ex­clu­sive rear-en­gined su­per­car for the wealthy, and per­haps brave. But as from the mid­dle of that decade there was a se­cond blown Porsche avail­able, one en­tirely dif­fer­ent in char­ac­ter, and with an im­age that was as un­der­stated as the 911 Turbo’s was ex­tro­vert.

The 944 Turbo, ar­riv­ing in 1985, three years af­ter the launch of the 944 it­self, was ac­tu­ally more ex­pen­sive new than a 911 Car­rera, partly why it was not a par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar model. But it also suf­fered the non-im­age prob­lem of the rest of the 944 range, the Audi-as­sem­bled car still seen by many as a Volk­swa­gen cast-off that, for cost rea­sons, Zuf­fen­hausen took on in 1976 as the 924 and made it as much of a Porsche as pos­si­ble.

The per­ceived lack of pedi­gree has left all 944 val­ues a frac­tion of the 911’s, al­though they are now start­ing to rise. You can pick up a 944 Turbo for un­der £10,000, which does seem an ex­tra­or­di­nary bar­gain. But does a car that could be over 30 years old de­liver a good Porsche ex­pe­ri­ence, and what should you be look­ing out for if con­sid­er­ing buy­ing one?

DE­SIGN, EVO­LU­TION

First, some 944 con­text: the orig­i­nal 1982 944 “Lux” ap­peared with a 2.5-litre four­cylin­der “big banger” en­gine giv­ing 161bhp and 151lb ft torque. Its gear­box, a fivespeeder de­rived from the 924, was rear­mounted for good weight dis­tri­bu­tion. In Au­gust 1983 power-steer­ing be­came op­tional, and in Septem­ber 1984 made stan­dard, and the in­te­rior re­freshed with a com­pletely new fas­cia us­ing a flat in­stru­ment dis­play rather than three sunken di­als, while mi­nor im­prove­ments in­cluded elec­tri­cally ad­justed and heated door mir­rors.

With the 944’s spec sorted, Porsche launched the 944 Turbo in Septem­ber 1985 for the 1986 model year. Its 2-valve, 2.5litre en­gine used an in­ter­cooled KKK tur­bocharger and pro­duced 217bhp, and 243lb ft torque at 3500rpm, over a third more power and half as much torque again as was pro­duced by the 944 at that point.

The gear­box was strength­ened, and the sus­pen­sion springs and anti-roll bars stiff­ened. A spoiler with in­te­grated lamps graced the nose, an apron spoiler with ‘Turbo’ let­ter­ing the rear, along with an un­der­body spoiler de­signed to suck ex­tra air over the ex­haust, trans­mis­sion and fuel tank. The cabin re­ceived var­i­ous up­grades in­clud­ing elec­tri­cally ad­justable Re­caro seats. The UK price was £27,500, over a third more than that of the reg­u­lar 944.

The cru­cial date for 944 Turbo fanciers is Septem­ber 1988, when a larger tur­bocharger re­sulted in power leap-

frog­ging the 911 to 247bhp, and torque ris­ing to 259lb ft at 4000rpm. The en­gine fea­tured an ex­ter­nal oil cooler and the brakes were up­rated. In fact the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber this en­gine spec had ap­peared in a run of 70 of the Turbo SE Lim­ited Edi­tion with 928 brakes and painted in Sil­ver Rose metal­lic.

The new model was des­ig­nated the 944 Turbo SE, with the non-se model run­ning along­side it for a short time. A large ‘Turbo’ sticker on the driver’s side wing marked out the more pow­er­ful car, while ex­tra equip­ment in­cluded a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, 10-speaker sound sys­tem, topt­inted screen and split-fold­ing rear seat.

The most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence be­tween pre- and post-1988 cars is the sev­en­spoked al­loy wheels which re­placed the orig­i­nal “tele­phone dial” rims. The SE ran 7Jx16in fronts with 225/50 tyres and 9Jx16in rears with 245/45s; its price was now £41,250, over £4000 more than a 911 Car­rera 3.2.

In sum­mer 1989 the Turbo’s en­gine was fit­ted with a cat­a­lyst with no loss of power, and a 959 style ‘bridge’ rear spoiler was added. The coupe was dis­con­tin­ued in Fe­bru­ary 1991, but that wasn’t the end of the tur­bocharged 944 as in Septem­ber of that year it was made avail­able in Cabri­o­let form for the first time, this in a batch of 500, 100 of them right-hand drive.

DRIV­ING THE 944 TURBO

For its day the 944’s turbo was a top in­stal­la­tion, and once the turbo is on song the en­gine of­fers a deep re­serve of us­able power. What you don’t get, ob­vi­ously, is the 911 flat-six’s fren­zied wail, the mo­tor not in the least stir­ring, even when the tur­bocharger is spin­ning.

The five-speed gearshift is short, but the dis­tance be­tween it and the gear­box inevitably means some stiff­ness, hence a firm and de­lib­er­ate push is needed each time, al­though in con­trast the clutch is, or should be, sweet and light.

The pow­ered steer­ing is per­fectly weighted, and with its level of grip, the sheer con­trol­la­bil­ity of the tail un­der power and the ul­tra com­mu­nica­tive feel of the chas­sis, the 944 Turbo was with­out doubt the best han­dling road car of its time – and is still im­pres­sive.

En­ter the 944 and you could al­most be in a 1980s Audi, the fit­tings bland but well made. How­ever, the 944 is a much eas­ier car to live with day to day than a con­tem­po­rary 911, thanks partly to nor­mal ped­als rather than the 911’s floor-hinged items, and heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion that works prop­erly.

WHAT YOU’LL PAY

While you can still buy 944s for £5000 or a bit less, 944 Tur­bos now start at nearly £10,000, and the abil­ity, with a ser­vice book con­vinc­ingly full of stamps, to el­e­vate the

price to £15,000 for a pri­vate seller, and up to £20,000 in a Porsche spe­cial­ist show­room. If you want low mileage, say un­der 80,000 miles, ex­pect to pay over £20,000.

The Turbo, along with other 944s, is a car that is mi­grat­ing from main­stream sales web­sites to spe­cial­ist clas­sic car sites. For ex­am­ple, Car and Clas­sic had 25 of them for sale when we checked. The high­est priced “nor­mal” ex­am­ple we saw was the 73,000-mile Grand Prix White coupe at Hamil­ton Grays in Lough­bor­ough, Le­ices­ter­shire for £24,950, but you now also see “time cap­sule” cars ap­pear­ing at £30,000 to £40,000. An Aus­trian clas­sic dealer was ask­ing £39,000 for a 60,000km (37,500 miles) car de­scribed as in ‘nearly per­fect con­di­tion’.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: EN­GINE

The en­gine is not par­tic­u­larly stressed by the ad­di­tion of a turbo, and re­mains as re­li­able as the nor­mally as­pi­rated 2.5, ac­cord­ing to David Barker at Glouces­ter­shire-based 944 spe­cial­ist Aug­ment Au­to­mo­tive. ‘It should show about 3.0 bar oil pres­sure at idle and 4.5 bar plus above 2000rpm, and should run and tick over qui­etly, though the oil-filled tap­pets can make a clack­ing noise if they are not run reg­u­larly, which should stop once the en­gine warms up,’ he ex­plains. Smoke from the ex­haust needs to be in­ves­ti­gated with the usual com­pres­sion and/or leak down tests and checks.

Oil leaks are an an­noy­ance, most of­ten from the bal­ance or camshaft seals on the front of the en­gine, but this is eas­ily dealt with as part of a camshaft change. It is also com­mon for the rear crank seal to leak. ‘Un­for­tu­nately this can only be fixed by re­mov­ing ei­ther the en­gine then the clutch or by re­mov­ing the gear­box and torque tube, ei­ther of which is costly and time con­sum­ing,’ David warns.

All cars are over 25 years old and the cylin­der head gas­kets will be sus­pect. ‘They tend not to ac­tu­ally fail, but they do rot away and al­low the cool­ing wa­ter to by­pass the rear of the block and en­gine,’ David ex­plains.

But what of the model’s unique as­pect, the tur­bocharger? ‘Tur­bocharg­ers can leak oil, so if the car smokes then the turbo may be the cause,’ David says. ‘Some idea of its con­di­tion can be gained by re­mov­ing a pipe from the in­ter­cooler, on top of the en­gine, and if you see lots of oil in­side the pipe, the turbo needs to be in­ves­ti­gated for worn bear­ings and seals.’

Re­mov­ing the turbo is of­ten a time con­sum­ing job due to seized bolts in dif­fi­cult places. The waste­gate can also suf­fer from long term heat dam­age, with cracked valve seats, bro­ken valves, a failed di­aphragm and bro­ken springs. ‘There are good, rea­son­ably priced, di­rect-fit af­ter­mar­ket waste­gates that work re­li­ably,’ is David’s view.

GEAR­BOX

It’s durable, so ac­cept any whines from it as ex­cus­able af­ter quar­ter of a cen­tury. How­ever, there are clutch is­sues: worn plates, noisy re­lease bear­ings, worn op­er­at­ing forks with dam­aged spin­dles and

bot­toms and also the area un­der the bat­tery in the boot.

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