The 944 Post-mortem

I sold “Red Sonja” last week and bought an NB Miata.
When I first bought my 944 it was on the suggestion of many in the Austin automotive community. It was in good shape, it had a wonderful engine, and it was the right color. I was very excited to join the world of Porsche ownership and camaraderie. But, after a year, I have some thoughts on the car, and some more on the state of Porsche ownership in general.

  1. Porsche owners are on the whole, pretty lovely people. Of course there were some in the community who turned their nose up on me and my car. “Oh the key is on the right?” they sneered, “not a real Porsche.” Those people were dicks, but at least they were the minority. I found tons of help with technical questions, tips and tricks, or just letting me park with them at events. That I will miss about owning the 944.
  2. However, I will not miss the numerous annoyances. Finding the proper oil weight is confusing and no one seems to have a really good answer. The rear hatch lamination is terrible and turns rear visibility to near zero. The camshaft position sensor requires going under the hood if you want your car to start. The sunroof is terrible, and the clips are useless. Oh, and god help you if you have an AC system that hasn’t been changed since it was new. Lastly, the Porsche part tax is insane for this car
  3. What was awesome about the car? That engine is beautiful. It sounds good, it’s got nice power and torque for the era. The handling dynamics are along the lines of an NA Miata. I could see the car being a real track weapon if it got some love. It’s a classic car that gets a lot of love. People always let me in, gave me tons of rooms, and I always got a few friendly waves when I was out. It’s shockingly practical. I had four people in it once and was totally fine. The hatch is nice and roomy.
  4. That car is just an astounding Grand Tourer to dedicate a bullet point to it. Living in Austin with parents in The Woodlands meant a ton of trips back and forth and the car never broke a sweat. The suspension is nice and has enough give that the ride is always comfortable. The speakers were actually very nice for their age. You will want a new head unit however.
  5. Tires and brakes are cheap due to the size of the OEM equipment. You do have to use premium fuel which can add up on long journeys, but fifth gear is tall enough to make MPG stay out of the gas guzzler range.
  6. Lastly, what have I learned anything from all of this? Everybody should own a car that is at least 25 years old. They just feel like nothing else has since. They feel heavy and nimble all at once. They smell like gas and fumes and that’s good. They remind you where we have come from, and where we can go. They give us a window into just how good cars are now. Go out, drive a classic, and embrace your heritage. Who knows where we go next.


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  1. Kaido Spec Avatar

    The 944 and 914 are my two favorite Porsche’s. One of those is still on my “someday” list, and it will probably end up being the 944. I’ve always felt they were really underrated cars.
    Also, I’m almost certain I’ve seen that car in traffic. And I did let it in!

    1. karonetwentyc Avatar

      Go with the 914, then attend a few Porsche club meets. You’ll find out real quick who the people you want to get to know are.

    2. Synchromesh Avatar

      I owned a 914 for about a year. I’ll take a Miata over 914 any day of the week. I’m an aircooled fan myself but 914 is sort of like a 70s Boxster in worst possible way. I’ll just say this: I bought the 914 to replace my ’72 Super Beetle as a daily driver. Drove both, kept the Beetle, sold the 914.

      1. Kaido Spec Avatar

        I think I just have a soft spot for unloved models. The 914 and pretty much all the FR Porsches seem to get snubbed quite often.

  2. engineerd Avatar

    I like and respect Porsches, but not to the point of wanting one. Except the 944. I’d take one if someone gave it to me, and rock it like it’s 1999.

  3. JayP Avatar

    I enjoyed my 944S for the year or so I had it. I’d been looking for a 924/944 to prep for HPDEs and came across a guy selling an autox car to help finance the build of the 951 he’d got on ebay. He get screwed a little on the transaction. But I got the car relatively cheap with great mods.
    Most of the upgraded were snagged from Rennlist. Upgraded wheels, tires, replaced the trans, shifter.
    But it had been in an accident and was a salvage title. The front end was a little wonky and some brackets on the engine were missing. It was missing a bolt on the alternator.
    The materials were crappy and didn’t weather well at all. Threadbare seats, plastic cracked, delaminating everything. It was a great handling car. When it came time for a timingbelt change, I realized the cost of
    ownership was exceeding my willingness to pay. I posted to ebay and sold
    it for what I’d paid for it. A good run.

  4. roguetoaster Avatar

    After lending a hand with nearly every repair on the early 944 owned by my Dad for the last two years I have picked up a few tips for prospective owners.
    Early cars are far less expensive to buy, maintain, and operate. Prime example being a control arm, which on an early car is about $25, as opposed to over $600 for a late arm. Granted, the early one is steel, with bolt on VW reminiscent ball joint/bushings. Most parts that are different between the year split follow this common theme. Further, there seem to be far more early cars being parted out, which means a plentiful supply of electronic/trim/plastic bits.
    Wheels are troublesome if you have an early car. Offsets are weird, and will require spacers/adapters to run later wheels. Further, some cars seem to have come with spacers from the factory, so check the stamped offset and presence of a spacer before buying.
    If you want a fast car, the standard 944 isn’t it. My little 1.8L E30 easily runs away from the Porsche in a straight line, but both cars are fairly even in the twisties, with the LSD in the BMW really giving the edge. As the late car is no faster it’s really only between wanting the very 60’s race car cockpit of the early model, or the much more fighter jet cockpit of the later years.
    Having now driven a turbo, S2, and the base model I can firmly say that the turbo is great fun, the base isn’t very special, and the S2 is the one to own. This also seems to be the opinion of most 944 aficionados, and S2s are priced accordingly, but are much less of a maintenance headache to own.
    If you buy one I strongly suggest finding one with no rear end noise at all, as you do not want to have to pull the entire car apart just to change a faulty throw out bearing. Further, a working sunroof, and rear wiper are essential. Plan to upgrade the lights as soon as you want to drive at night as well. Don’t be deterred by the timing belt not having been changed or lacking history, as it’s not as much of an ordeal as forums make it out to be. Full HVAC function is also vital, as parts are mostly unavailable new, and repairs will be arduous. Most importantly, drive it on the highway and in traffic to see if you can live with the rear visibility issues.

  5. nanoop Avatar

    Finding the proper oil weight is confusing and no one seems to have a really good answer.
    It’s simple: you need 2 bar of oil pressure at 1500rpm when really warm. A healthy cooling system will do this with 40 weight, maybe 50 when hot. Thicker when the pressure is lower. Get 10W unless you drive it around 0degF, then get 5W or 0W. When warm, the W grade doesn’t matter, so just fix any leaks instead of trying to make it stop only when cold.
    The sunroof is terrible, and the clips are useless.
    Yes. My guess is that it was designed by the genius who decided to put the hatch pins outside of the weather stripping, and apply little catch pans with drain pipes to the latches. Guess what will freeze in winter and surprise you with the noise of pneumatic lifters lifting a glass dome?
    The tax is ok, other 30yo cars simply don’t have any spare parts any longer. Workarounds exist (wiper motor). 50 bucks will supply tens of hours of work. Ask Boxster owners how much an AOS job costs, you could fix a 944 clutch for that.
    I hope you gave her in good hands, and return to the transaxle P-cars at some time in your life.

  6. mad_science Avatar

    I’m feeding this entire discussion right into my confirmation bias towards American or Japanese cars being the better classic/old/project/whatever car to own.
    For the cash (what? 3-6k?), I’d rather have a Mustang, Miata, Supra, etc…
    I do understand their appeal as LeMons racers, though. So many nonessentials and annoying failure modes to drive the price down, but a stripped chassis (maybe with a few clever access holes?) wouldn’t be too bad to work with.

    1. roguetoaster Avatar

      You know there are a couple of stock clever access holes, such as one convenient spot to place a tube to fill the transaxle from inside the hatch. Ultimately, it’s one of those things that’s a unique driving experience, after all, it’s a slow Porsche with a decidedly old school feel. I wouldn’t discourage someone from buying a good one, but I would want to give them forewarning of what it might be like to have the car.
      As to country bias, try a nice last year sedan/coupe E30 in 318i/is form. Mine has been nothing short of amazing to own in the 7 years I’ve had it, easy to work on, good mileage, cheap parts, and a fun, if not remarkably competent chassis. It’s really all the car anyone actually needs and nothing more.

  7. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Nice, balanced writeup. I think you could credit Porsches in general for being very durable, serviceable, bargains, in the performance and sports car world. As you note, there are some hefty costs associated with running a Porsche rather than, say a VW. But compared to other, rather high performing and relatively low volume production, Porsches, running costs and MTBF are about one tenth of some other manufacturers. Maybe the Datsun/Nissan 240-280Z challenges this equation. But Porsches seem pretty robust and inexpensive, in comparison to Italian, British and German competitors.

  8. JBsC6 Avatar

    With the low pricing on boxster s I’d go that route if I wanted to own a Porsche…
    The repair and maintaince of all Porsches seem nuts to me. I recommend corvettes as they are faster and are inexpensive to maintain,
    Nice write up.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      I can’t imagine a Boxster is a great ownership prospect with such a hassle to access the engine.
      On the other hand, I wonder how many issues a more modern dohc 2.something litre 4-cylinder swap would solve