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Model Guide: Front-engined, four-cylinder Porsche sports cars — Part II

Friday, February 17, 2017

Article by George Beuselinck
Photos courtesy Porsche

The information presented below is meant to be an overview of the 944 Turbo and Turbo S, 944 S2, and 968, and key features that make them unique. PCA has a great Tech Q&A forum open to Test Drive participants and PCA members that cover issues with these Porsches and their remedies. Other online forums, such as Rennlist and Pelican Parts, can be excellent resources where you can find information covering ownership experiences, DIY projects, and quirks and intricacies of the cars. When you're ready to start looking for your turbocharged or 16-valve 944 or 968, The Mart is a great place to start. And remember; always take your prospective Porsche to a qualified technician for a pre-purchase inspection.

Click here to read Part I of the front-engined, four-cylinder Porsches, covering the 924, 924 Turbo, 944, 924S, and 944S

After the moderate success of the 924 and 924 Turbo cars, and the greater success of the higher powered normally aspirated 944 and 944S cars, Porsche made the decision to improve the model line even more using developments of its favored technologies: turbocharging and 16-valve cylinder heads.

In the case of the 944 Turbo, Porsche lowered the compression ratio of the 8-valve motor and then plumbed in a KKK turbocharger and intercooler, adjusting the boost until a compromise of power and reliability was reached. They also made improvements to the braking system (four-piston calipers), transmission, aerodynamics, and suspension.

Above: 1986 944 Turbo

The 1986 944 Turbo was built with 220 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, and had a top speed of 152 miles per hour — quite an improvement over the non-turbocharged 944s of the same year. In 1987, it received an antilock brake system and was the first vehicle to offer driver and passenger airbags as  standard features.

In 1988, a special upgrade to the 944 Turbo was released and sold alongside the normal Turbo, called the 944 Turbo S. Its main argument: more power (250 hp), and more torque (258 lb-ft). Initially Porsche only planned limited production of 1,000 Turbo S models in its unique signature Silver Rose Metallic paint and burgundy interior. However, demand was high enough that Porsche produced more than 1,000, and those later cars were not painted in the special color.

Above: 1988 944 Turbo S

The engine upgrade was made standard for the 1989 944 Turbo (the last year it was sold in the US) and continued until 1991 for the RoW Turbos (including Canada). In addition to the power increases, the Turbo S and ’89 Turbo also included the M030 sport suspension option, larger brakes, as well as larger forged wheels and tires. In the US, the 944 Turbo was available only as a coupe, while in some other countries it was also available as a convertible.

Above: 944 Turbo

In 1989, Porsche introduced the 944 S2, with a new 3.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a 16-valve cylinder head. It made a healthy 208 hp, and thanks to the increase in displacement, 207 lb-ft, most of which was available low in the rev range. The S2 came with ABS and airbags standard and was also offered as a convertible starting in 1990.

Above: 1989 944 S2

In 1992, Porsche discontinued the 944 series and replaced it with the 968, itself based on the 944. As the ultimate water-cooled four-cylinder car of the marque, the 968 had an upgraded, higher-power version of the 944 S2 engine rated at 236 hp and 225 lb-ft. It achieved such lofty power and torque numbers through the company's first street-car application of a new technology Porsche called VarioCam, which adjusted the inlet camshaft timing to optimize power and torque throughout the rev-range. The 968, available as a coupe and convertible, also was equipped with a new a six-speed manual transmission or a four-speed Tiptronic automatic as an option.

Above: 1993 968

The 944 Turbo, S2, and 968 shared the same underpinnings (as well as with the 944, 924S, and 944S), resulting in a 50/50 front/rear weight balance and neutral handling at the limits of adhesion.

In addition to the models available to the general public, the 944/968 series produced many lightweight and racing specials.  As with any Porsche, if you are considering buying one, make sure that you have a pre-purchase inspection done by an expert of that model.

Things to keep in mind when shopping for a 944 Turbo/944 S2/968

Top three problems that should make prospective buyers walk away from a 944 Turbo/S2/968

  • Indications that the car has been abused and not properly maintained.
  • Lack of maintenance records
  • Strange noises in general, which may indicate balance-shaft timing problems, clutch problems, defective motor mounts, or other driveline issues.
  • Vibrations under acceleration, which may indicate other driveline issues (e.g. CV joints, bent drive shaft, and other clutch problems.)
  • Failure to pass a pre-purchase inspection by a 944 specialist or qualified technician.
  • Depending on budget, high-cost repairs in the near future, such as clutch (especially in Turbo models) or engine reseal.

Other common issues to look out for that may not be grounds to walk away

  • No evidence of timing belt change in last 30,000 miles or chain tensioner (944 S2/968) in last 60,000 miles
  • Non-functional sunroof or cabriolet top
  • Electrical problems caused by aftermarket radio or unskilled mechanic/owner
  • Rear hatch separation from frame caused by lift struts that are too strong.

DIY-friendliness of 944

  • 944 Turbo (8/10 difficulty: 16-hour clutch replacements, jigsaw puzzle of exhaust system)
  • 944 S2 / 968 (6/10 difficulty: 8-hour clutch replacements, straightforward exhaust system)

George’s favorite model and why

If I could have only one 944 model, I would make it a 944 S2. Torquey engine, less complex than a turbo, ABS, airbags, and classic styling

Above: 1992 968 Cabriolet


Above: 968 cutaway


Above: Crudely translated using Google Translate: "What is happening if you drive 24 hours full gas? Nothing if it is a Porsche."


Above: Crudely translated using Google Translate: "Guaranteed free from limousine additives."

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