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Model Guide: Porsche fun on a budget — the 924

Monday, September 11, 2017

Article by Rob Sass
Lead image: Porsche 924S being driven at an autocross. Photo by Damon Lowney at Porsche Parade 2015 in French Lick, Indiana.

The 924 was a car that seemed to have left a legacy to last a lunchtime. At least until recently. The car that was overshadowed by its transaxle siblings is finally garnering some interest. Its clean styling, simplicity, and ease of maintenance combined with superb balance and solid construction are finally starting to win converts. Here’s a quick rundown of what to know about the model:

Above: European 1976 Porsche 924. The biggest visual differences between US and Euro 924s are the front and rear fascias. US cars received large rubber bumper inserts, which, at the front, replaced the fog lights. Image courtesy Porsche.

The 924 was introduced in mid-1976 as a 1977 model. The first cars were rather brutally received by the automotive press. With just 95 horsepower from its 2.0-liter Audi four-cylinder, 0-60 miles per hour took in excess of 11 seconds. Porsche paid scant attention to noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) isolation and the 924s suffered from an appallingly stiff freeway ride. 1977.5 models have 110 hp and a numerically higher final drive ratio. Acceleration was improved marginally and some effort was made at better NVH isolation. A three-speed automatic transmission was offered later in the year, but the only manual choice remained a four-speed in the US. The color palette of early 924s was the most interesting with some of the brighter blues, greens, and yellows still offered. The Martini Edition was an attractive choice with its Martini stripes (that mimicked the competition livery of the day) and red velour interior. On the downside, it was an early 1977 car with 95 hp and the original harsh ride. Air conditioning was a port or dealer addition in the 924 until the 1980 model year.

Above: 1977 Porsche 924 Martini Edition with Martini Racing-inspired pinstripes. Photo by Damon Lowney (Porsche Parade 2015 at French Lick, Indiana).

Changes in 1978 were minor — Porsche added hydraulic transmission mounts and new rubber suspension mountings at the rear. The freeway hop that so many testers complained of was banished, but as Road & Track stated, the car’s compliance, or its ability to soak up small, sharp bumps, remained poor. A Limited Edition car was available in 1978 with Dolomite Gray paint, pinstriping, and a striking op-art checked Pasha interior.

The 924 finally gained a five-speed gearbox for 1979. Dubbed a “snail shell” box for the shape of the fins on the casting of the transaxle, it was derived from the Porsche 901 gearbox found in early 911s. Like that transmission, it was a dogleg five-speed with reverse down and to the left, off of the “H” pattern. The Sebring ’79 special edition was pushed out to boost sagging US sales; it was bright red with yellow and white stripes and a loud, red tartan interior.

Above: 1979 Porsche 924 formerly owned by Porsche Panorama Editor Rob Sass. Note the spoiler-less rear hatch; the 924 Turbo introduced the rubber spoiler that became synonymous with the later 944. Photo by Rob Sass.

The big news for 1979 was the addition of a long-awaited turbocharged car to the lineup. 1979 Turbos were rare, and identified primarily by the VW Rabbit-sourced fuel filler cap that all 924s had up to 1979. Most were two-tone silver. The K26 turbocharger used initially gave the car acceptable power through most of the rev range — boost started at about 1600 rpm — and by 2800 rpm it was a making its maximum boost of 7 psi. The performance difference over the naturally aspirated car was substantial: 0-60 took just 7.7 seconds for the 924 Turbo.

The Turbo was brand new late in the 1979 model year, so it continued pretty much as before with the exception of the cheap-looking black-plastic VW Rabbit-sourced exterior fuel filler cap, which was replaced by a proper fuel-filler door that hid the cap and was body-colored and flush with the sheet metal. This carried over to the naturally aspirated car as well. Other changes included the addition of a Bosch three-way oxygen sensor and catalytic converter that allowed Porsche to raise the compression ratio and improve 0-60 performance by about a half-second. Fuel economy also improved by a whopping 20%. Suspension settings were changed, making the ride more compliant over sharp bumps. Road & Track also noted that improved sound-deadening made the car quieter and less buzzy. An Audi-sourced 5-speed gearbox with a traditional “H” pattern replaced the Porsche snail shell box (on naturally aspirated models only), thus the car lost its distinctive dogleg first gear. In all, the 1980 924 was a significantly improved car.

Above: 1980 Porsche 924 Turbo with rare two-tone paint and the M471 performance package with wheels that later would grace the 928. 924 Turbos can be identified by the NACA duct on the passenger side of the hood, the air-intake openings in the nose panel, and the rear rubber spoiler attached to the end of the glass hatch. Photo by Art Mason.

1981 brought the so-called “Series 2” 924 Turbo with a different turbo and modified digital ignition and timing control electronics as well as the aforementioned Audi five-speed gearbox. Both are problematic for owners today as the digital ignition and timing control (DTIC) unit and the modified turbo are NLA through Porsche or any other channel. Sales of the naturally aspirated car began to wind down near the end of the year in anticipation of the 944. 

There were few changes in this model year for either car. It would be the last year in the US for the 924 Turbo and the last year until 1987 for the naturally aspirated car. 924s became increasingly challenging for dealers to sell down as nearly everyone knew that the 944 was on its way. It’s not uncommon to see in-service dates of mid-1983 for the last of the 1982 924s, which in many cases spent epic amounts of time on dealer lots before finally finding an owner (at a deep discount).

Above: 1987 Porsche 924S. By Vetatur Fumare – CC BY-SA 2.0

The 924 returned to North America for 1987 as Porsche’s entry-level car. Now labeled the 924S, it retained the dash of the original Audi-engined 924 (and that of every 944 until mid-year 1985) but it did get the Porsche-built 2.5-liter balance shaft-equipped four-cylinder that made a relatively smooth 150 hp. Like all of the narrow-body cars, it was lighter than the 944, and in its final year, 1988, it got another 10 hp as well as three-point safety belts in the rear for additional peace of mind for families with small children.

Pros Cons
Clean styling by the great Harm Lagaay Lack of power in Audi-engined cars, which are somewhat coarse and buzzy (although not nearly as bad as you’ve been led to believe)
Wonderfully balanced chassis Some parts tough to source (particularly 1981-82 Turbo)
Excellent rust protection Interior materials several cuts below contemporary 928 and 911
Lots of inexpensive parts courtesy of the VW/Audi parts bin Rear drum brakes on some cars
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