If Porsche had never built a 911, the 944 would be regarded as remarkable

The 944 is the Rodney Dangerfield of sports cars, and it has been fighting for respect from the moment it was introduced in 1982. If Porsche had never built a 911, the handling and performance of the 944 would be regarded as remarkable. If Porsche had never built the sad-sack 924, 944 owners wouldn't have to deal with the stigma of having a car that looked like the one powered by an Audi tractor motor.
The major downfall of the 924 was its engine. The 944 had no such shortcoming, as it was fitted with an aluminum, 2.5-liter, single overhead cam four-cylinder, essentially half of the 928's V8. A Mitsubishi-patented Lanchester balance shaft was used to counter the vibration that made the 924 engine shake so excessively.
The new 944 motor made 143 hp at 5,500 rpm, enough to propel the car to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds and do the quarter mile in 16.3, quick for its day. Most impressive was its handling. In 1984, Car and Driver named the 944 the "Best Handling Production Car in America." A four-wheel disc setup and wide-for-the-time 215/60-15 tires complemented its perfectly balanced chassis. Visually, bolder fenders provided a handsome aggressiveness sorely lacking in the 924.
Halfway through the 1985 model year, Porsche revamped the car's dated interior, giving it a purposeful look similar to the 911 and 928. Other changes included a redesigned dash with improved ventilation, better seats, a new steering wheel and an antenna embedded in the windshield. The traditional Fuchs wheels were replaced with a modern-look wheel, which has become known as the "phone dial"-it is now worth about a tenth of the Fuchs. At the same time, there were numerous enhancements to the engine. The valves, pistons and combustion chambers were modified, leading to an increase of 15 hp. The oil pump was redesigned and oil capacity was increased by half a quart to six. The radiator was also improved. Suspension pieces were lightened and strengthened. Antilock brakes became an option in 1987, and in 1988 the car was one of the first to have standard dual air bags.
From 1986 through 1991, 944s were available in a dizzying array of configurations, including Turbo, S, Turbo S and S2 models. Horsepower ranged up to 250 in the final iterations. Unfortunately, prices climbed even faster than engine power. The Turbo cost $29,000 in 1986; the sticker for the Turbo S skyrocketed to $45,275 just two years later. A 1985 Chevrolet Z/28 cost just $14,800.
The poor US exchange rate just exacerbated the price disadvantage. That, and an increasing array of Japanese competition like the Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300ZX and Toyota Supra, plus the nearly impossible task of overcoming Porschephiles' 11th Commandment-"Thy Car Shall Be Cooled Only By Air"-led to the 944's eventual demise in 1991. The similar-appearing 968 would continue until 1995.
Second-generation 944s have held up well and a good one, for $5,500-$8,000, represents strong value for the money. When looking at one, check for oil leaks and service history. A timing belt replacement costs over $1,000, which equates to about 15% of the car's value.
The Turbo's superior performance still warrants its premium of almost $1,500 over the S. The difficulty is in finding one that has been taken care of. The risk in buying a bad one is high enough to entertain buying a non-turbo, four-valve S model instead. S cars, however, are hard to find and will cost $1,000 more than their two-valve little brother.
Today, with Porsche building water-cooled 911s and front-engined, V8-powered SUVs, the period objections to the 944's driveline configuration may seem a bit silly. Nonetheless, it will never be viewed as a first-tier collectible. Which means if you want a Porsche at a reasonable price, with sparkling performance and the added bonus of room for two sets of golf clubs in the trunk, a 944 could be just the car for you.

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