So, you’ve loaded up eBay, Facebook marketplace or whatever regional equivalent of your choice and found yourself a rather lovely Porsche 944 you’re quite keen on buying. We’ve all been there, and if you’re reading this either you’re about to purchase yourself a 944, or are at least thinking about going down the transaxle Porsche route. Here’s a Porsche 944 buyers guide.
The Porsche 944 is a car that up until recently, was considered a little bit of an ‘underdog’ as far as classic Porsche is concerned. However, it has had a massive resurgence in popularity over the course of the past few years, becoming one of the most desirable classic Porsches that are still reasonably priced.
That being said, there has been a lot I have learned about owning a 944 over the past couple of years that I wished I knew before taking the plunge. So, with that being said, here’s five things I wish I knew before owning a Porsche 944.
1). Maintenance means everything.
It’s probably no form of exaggeration when I say that maintenance on the 944 (or any historic car for that matter) is probably one of the most important aspects of anyone’s current or future ownership. I’m not going to stare at my monitor and say that once you buy your 944, that it’ll be plain sailing – because it won’t.
The 944 can be a pricey little bugger when it comes to regular care, let alone when you start factoring in any age related repairs that you’ll need to carry out. When looking to purchase, generally it’s a great idea to go for cars that have great service history, and care. As much as it’s very tempting to go for a beaten up cheap 944, you’ll spend more getting the car back to a decent road worthy standard than you would just outright buying an example that is a little more expensive up front but has good service records.
It’s also worth mentioning that when buying a 944, be sure to have some funds set aside for a good service before you start blasting about in it. Be sure to double the amount you think you’ll need to fix an issue as it’s possible if the car hasn’t been looked after that you’ll find other issues that need your attention on the way – but we’ll talk more about that in the next point.
2). Timing belts & water pump.
Ah, yes… the dreaded timing belts. Now don’t be alarmed, but this is probably going to be one of the most important points on this list. Because the Porsche 944 uses an interference engine, the timing belt is arguably the most important part to change when you first get your 944.
What is an interference engine?
An interference engine is essentially a type of engine design where different parts of the engine can be in the same ‘area’ at the same time – mainly, the pistons and valves. So what’s this got to do with the timing belt? Well as the name suggests, the timing belt controls the positioning of the pistons and valves, so if your belt slips or breaks – you’ve got an incredibly expensive repair bill on your hands.
What is the benefit of an interference engine?
The benefits of an interference engine are that you can maximise the effectiveness of compression ratios. In loose terms, these ratios can hugely benefit tuning and engine to get the best performance possible.
So when should you replace your 944’s timing belt?
The general rule of thumb is to replace the belt every 30,000 miles (48,000km) or every five years if you haven’t driven that amount of distance. Why is this? Well, the short story is purely of peace of mind so that your engine doesn’t decide it wants to merge the pistons and valves into one solid object. The longer answer is that over time rubber perishes and is more susceptible to snapping under tension. If your car has been sat for a long time, it’s worth replacing the belt even if it looks healthy. The same precedent goes for if you’re not sure when the last time the belt was changed. Yes, it’s on the costly side. But it will save your engine from buggering itself up.
Regarding the water pump, this is a part of the timing system so it’s just good practice to replace both at the same time considering you’re in the area.
3). The community.
The one thing that isn’t spoken about much when researching the 944, is just how enthusiastic and welcoming the wider 944 community is to new / would be owners. They’re always incredibly willing to help and offer their best advice when it comes to issues or questions you may have about the cars – particularly as for many years the 944 wasn’t a hugely popular ‘Porsche’ due to it being front engine and water cooled. Naturally this means the community of enthusiasts surrounding the car are very close and engaged.
Here’s some sites and groups I can recommend joining if you’re looking for some help or conversation.
Porsche 944 Owners Group – Facebook
There’s plenty of knowledge out there, so if you ever feel you need some insight, never hesitate to ask. From my own experience, everyone has always been helpful and don’t judge you for asking silly questions.
4). Give repairs a go yourself.
The lovely thing about the Porsche 944 is that despite it being a Porsche, parts and repairs aren’t actually too costly to carry out. This cost is reduced even further if you learn how to work on your car yourself instead of a garage. Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking your car to a garage (or even Porsche themselves) for any work you may need on your car. However, you can save a lot of money if you attempt to sort things yourself.
There’s almost an unlimited amount of resources and tutorials online showing the steps on how to fix the majority (if not all) of the common and more specific jobs needed on all 944 models. Once again, the Facebook groups are a very good source of information as well as channels on YouTube such as Casey Putsch and even our own build series on my 1989 Porsche 944 S2 here at The Back Roads.
And if you can’t find what you’re looking for? Ask. It’s as simple as that. If you ever have any concerns or questions – don’t be afraid to ask. You’re even welcome to ask any questions you may have in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them to the best of my knowledge and ability.
5). Insurance & security.
Something that isn’t often covered in these sort of write ups is the topic of insurance for your 944. One thing that concerned me before I purchased my 944 was the prospect of insurance costing near enough the same price of the car. At the time of buying my car, I was the ripe old age of 22 and for those of you reading this that are outside of the UK – the long and short of it is that if you’re under 25 and into cars, normally you can expect your insurance to cost upward of £2000 for anything mildly performance related.
However, I come bearing good news! This is not the case with the Porsche 944. The insurance for my 3.0L S2 for the first year was only £1100 for 8,000 miles annually. Now, two years later, it’s dropped to around £500 a year for 10,000 miles which is more than enough for a weekend car.
This price will naturally vary depending on your usage and location, but definitely shop around for the best price. If you’re in the UK, I can highly recommend Admiral for their very competitive pricing for performance models that I’ve owned.
Let’s talk about the security of your 944.
Naturally with any labour of love, it’s very easy to become attached to your 944 with the amount of time and emotion invested into driving, maintaining and enjoying the car. The absolute last thing you want is for someone to come along and try to take that away from you.
There’s a few options regarding this ranging from aftermarket Porsche approved & 3rd party alarm systems – all the way to kill switches and GPS trackers. In reality, the more security the better, and it’s entirely down to you on what you feel is the correct addition for your situation.
Personally I have a kill switch on my 944 that stops all power from reaching the fuel pump meaning the car won’t start as it isn’t getting any fuel. I’m likely also going to invest in a modernised central locking system as well as a basic GPS tracking for extra peace of mind.
Good to know info.
With our main points out the way, I wanted to talk about some honourable mentions that I that weren’t quite worthy of a dedicated section.
Rear gas struts.
You may have noticed that the 944 has a rather lovely rear glass hatch. Naturally this hatch is supported by gas struts inside the boot of the car which upon pressing the boot release, lift up the boot for ease of access. When these struts start to age, they lose their effectiveness and no longer lift the boot up under its own power.
The first instinctive move is to replace them, right? Well, you may have to be careful. It’s a common issue on the 944 that if you replace the rear struts with brand new replacements, the glass can start to delaminate and part away from the metal frame due to the pressure of the new struts exerting force on the older glass and frame, particularly if they’ve been twisted or opened unevenly in the past. It’s good to mention that it’s not the struts themselves that cause the separation but the years of use then combined with a new, powerful part.
Annoyingly, there’s not really a way around this and even if you spend the time to repair this issue, there’s no guarantee it may not rear its ugly head again in the future. Now I must stress that this doesn’t happen to everyone. Some people replace their struts with no issues whatsoever if the hatch is looked after – but just be aware it’s a problem you could face if you do.
If you are looking to change it, there is a way you can lessen the blow with slightly lower power struts which shouldn’t cause the above issues. Check that out here.
The DME relay.
The DME relays on the 944 are notoriously one of the weakest electrical parts on the car. This small relay is unironically what gives the 944 it’s ‘electrical problem’ stereotype – when in fact, it’s a really easy fix. What you have to remember is that the 944 is using very early computer tech in it’s ECU and DME, so naturally with age they start to throw problems here and there.
The good news is that new DME relays are relatively inexpensive so I would strongly suggest you buy a couple back up’s and keep one in the car for emergencies.
A topic that isn’t discussed often is the prevention of fires in classic cars. Fire is one of the biggest killers for classic cars due to age and wear on vital components that aren’t always visible to the naked eye. The biggest of these issues being fuel lines. Most fuel lines are rubber which unfortunately degrades with age making them more likely to leak. Although it might not be necessary to replace your rubber fuel / brake hoses right now, I would suggest investing in a small fire extinguisher to keep in the cabin in case of the unthinkable. A fire extinguisher could be the difference in you preventing extensive damage and losing the car.
Don’t touch the trip counter while moving.
Please, what ever you do. DO NOT press the trip counter button while you’re moving. Unfortunately due to the 944 being the best part of 30 years old, the cogs inside the odometer are brittle. Although pressing the trip meter button isn’t the direct cause of the issue, because of the age of the cogs inside it can be the final nail in the coffin and often is. Fortunately, the parts aren’t too costly – but it’s an annoyance you can avoid.
Now it goes without saying that when purchasing any car, bodywork is important. I don’t need to sit here and tell you that the bodywork will need to be checked over for the usual rust spots on the arches, but more importantly – the sills. The sills on the 944 are a well known rust spot and although they may seem fine on the surface, the insides could well have the texture complexation of an old washing up sponge. Before purchasing, it’s worth asking if the sills have ever needed to be replaced or if they’re due a replacement.
Protect the dashtop at all cost.
This is slightly more trivial, but finding a 944 with no cracks in the dash is becoming a rarity these days. And what’s even rarer is finding a replacement dash in your correct year and colour that’s good condition without costing a small fortune.
In order to protect your dash, we suggest regularly treating your interior to a nice clean up to ensure the surfaces are regularly maintained. If you live in an area that sees regular sun, I’d also recommend getting a dash protector to avoid the heat causing cracks in the future.
A power struggle.
Now, this is something I really did wish I knew before buying the 944. If you’re looking for stupid power gains, this may not be the car for you. The one issue I’ve found with the 944 is that extracting power out of the engine is a very expensive challenge which in most cases doesn’t provide much in the way of results. Can you turbo and supercharge the 944 engines? Yes. Will it cost more than it’s worth? 100%.
Most people end up going down the LS V8 swap route as the engine weighs a similar amount to the stock engine so it doesn’t upset the balance and weight distribution, as well as being the most straight forward way of gaining a lot more power. But that being said, power isn’t the sole purpose of this car. The 944 was designed with driver experience in mind and provides just the right amount of power that you can have a lot of fun without getting into trouble. The car is incredibly predictable meaning you can enjoy finding your own limit as well as the cars without much worry of danger.
And that’s it! I’m aware that’s likely a lot of information to digest, but the goal of this write up was to let you know what I wish I were told before I took the plunge. That being said, I’ve never looked back and despite my own 944 being a project for the past two years, I love it to bits and whenever I do drive it – it provides me with an experience that I am yet to match. These cars can and will be very reliable as long as you carry out regular maintenance and don’t cut corners.
With the 944 also gaining value incredibly quickly in recent years, there’s been no better time to buy and enjoy yourself an affordable way into classic Porsche ownership.
Besides, who doesn’t like pop up headlights?
Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow us on Facebook & twitter for more and if you’ve got any suggestions you think we’ve missed, feel free to pop them in the comments section below and we’ll approve them.
Check out our Porsche 944 S2 build series below!