Excerpts from a March 1985 issue of a popular automotive magazine reads thus; “There are many good reasons for buying a Carrera. The timeless shape, the powerful six-cylinder boxer engine, the way it is put together, the urge to demonstrate that you have mastered the monster, the obvious prestige value. It’s tempting. And yet, for effortless driving pleasure and near-perfect roadability, take the 944 Turbo. It is the better car.” It’s been a few decades after, yet we still couldn’t agree less.
The 944 got the turbo treatment in January 1985, making it the finest of the Porsche 944 model line. In addition to the turbocharged engine, it got an aerodynamically optimized front apron. The original rubber buffers were gone, and it got rear diffusers with a matching paint color. The car eventually got a bow-shaped rear wing. The ’80s folks who discounted the Porsche 944 Turbo from the great sports cars of that era made a serious blunder.
This was the first car in the world to offer both driver and passenger airbags as standard equipment. Porsche introduced a cabriolet version for the last model year in 1991. If the 220-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter engine didn’t cut it for some hardcore enthusiasts, the Turbo S model released in 1988 certainly did, joining the league of great sports cars of the 1980s, thanks to the larger turbocharger producing 250 horsepower.
German automaker Porsche AG produced the Porsche 944 sports car from 1982 to 1991. It was a front-engine, RWD mid-level model based on the same platform as the Porsche 924. The 944 was offered with coupe and cabriolet body styles and originally fitted with naturally breathing engines, while the turbocharged versions came later.
Before the Boxster and 997 Carrera, the 944 model line was the marque’s most successful nameplate in its sports car manufacturing history, with more than 163,000 units of the 944 produced. In fact, it’s not exactly correct that the 944 is gone or that Porsche stopped making them. It was merely rebranded as the Porsche 968 following extensive design revisions for the 1992 model year.
So, the root of the Porsche 944 can be traced to the 924. Notably, the 924 was the fruit of a Porsche/Volkswagen project to develop and produce the VW-Porsche 914, which was sold in Europe from 1969 until 1976, badged as both a Porsche and a Volkswagen.
VW later began work on its own version of the 914 to be sold as an Audi as part of the VW-Audi partnership. However, Porsche was denied the chance to make its version of the planned VW-Audi 914 sports car (codenamed EX-425) as Volkswagen head Rudolf Leidig declared the EX-425 would be a Volkswagen exclusive. The development had already reached the testing stage when the EX-425 was canceled, with VW citing Leidig’s departure and significant financial losses.
With VW’s EX-425 tanking, Porsche introduced an entry-level replacement for the 1965 – ’69 U.S.-only Porsche 912E. The 912E used to be Porsche’s answer to VW’s EX-425 project. Porsche acquired the design and the finished development mule with a Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel injection system from Volkswagen. The car, (Porsche 924) was well received, but Porsche enthusiasts weren’t thrilled by the Audi-sourced 2.0-liter engine. Porsche responded by giving the engine the turbo treatment, but that drove the price of the car unfavorably high.
Yet, Porsche wouldn’t scrap the model line altogether. Instead, the company developed the 944 on the 924’s platform, same thing they’d done with generations of the Porsche 911. The 944 was born for the model year 1982, faster, better equipped, and generally more refined than its predecessor. It had a lower drag coefficient than the 924 despite being slightly faster and could reach 60 mph in 8.3 seconds. The handling and stopping power was equally superior. It was also more comfortable to drive; a true winner.
A Closer Look At The 1985 – 1991 Porsche 944 Turbo
Porsche produced the 944 Turbo (internally dubbed as 951) for the 1986 model year. The turbocharged and inter-cooled engine could make 217 horses at 6,000 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. The Turbo S’ more powerful engine (a larger KKK K26-8 turbocharger housing and revised engine mapping) could make 247 horses at 6,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, and a top speed of 162 mph.
Where the regular 944’s acceleration tapped at 8.3 seconds, the Turbo S could make the time in 5.5 seconds and the quarter-mile sprint in 13.9 seconds. When the regular Turbo was taken for a spin by an automotive magazine in 1987, the magazine reported 5.9 seconds for the 60 mph acceleration power.
The 944 Turbo had other ‘firsts’ to boast about besides the standard driver and passenger airbags. It was also the first production Porsche to use a ceramic port liner to retain exhaust gas temperature along with new forged pistons. It was also the first vehicle to produce an identical power output with or without a catalytic converter.
Primary features of the 1985 – to 1991 Porsche 944 Turbo includes pop-up headlights, glass rear lid with black PU rear spoiler (the 1990 model year got black rear wings as well), bumpers integrated into body shape, flared wheel arches, side door sill applications in black, rear diffuser below the bumper, and the front apron with integrated fog lights/high beam headlights and air intake below the blinkers. It also had optional front protection strips in matching body paint color.
The ’91 Cabriolet variant featured a sheet steel rear lid and a fabric hood with an electric frame mechanism, a front spoiler in matching body color, along with the same features as the coupe model. The integrated front bumper exemplifies the Turbo’s improved aerodynamics, but it also resulted in the widest blinkers in any production car. The 1988 Turbo S had power seats and an optional 10-speaker sound system.
Power and drivetrain features include standard 16-inch wheels (optional forged Fuchs wheels), a strengthened gearbox with a different final drive ratio, Brembo 4-piston fixed calipers with 12-inch discs, a slightly stiffer suspension (progressive springs) to handle the extra weight, and standard external oil coolers for both the engine and transmission.
The Porsche 944 Turbo offered the same fantastic style, balance, and handling as the regular 944, but with more punch, due to the forced induction… and that “Turbo” badge on the back!