A continuation of the 924
In September 1981, the Porsche 944 was introduced, replacing the 924 which had been launched five years earlier. This model, that adopted the front engine and the Transaxle transmission, was a success.
Until the mid-1970s, the concept of a product range did not exist at Porsche, as the 911, available in several versions, was the only model offered by the manufacturer. However, a first attempt at diversification was made in 1969 with the 914, without much commercial success. This small roadster was marketed under the name Volkswagen-Porsche as part of the VW-Porsche Vertriebgesellschaft GmbH, created in that very same year for the development of joint projects.
The bodywork of the first Porsche 944 strongly resembles that of the Carrera GT version of the previous 924. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche
In 1971, the 928 project was initiated in order to change the brand's mono-product image. This model, launched in 1977, made it possible to offer a Grand Touring Coupé alongside the sporty 911. At that time, Porsche management was convinced of the idea of an entry-level model and in September 1975 the 924 was presented, designed as a "small" 928. But it was not a success and the 924, suffering from a second-rate Porsche image, was taken out of production in 1981. Stuttgart however remained convinced that there was a market for an entry-level car, and management promptly responded to this commercial setback by making a second attempt. The 944 was unveiled to the press at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1981. Although externally it had the same lines as its predecessor, it was a completely different model. Unlike the 924, this time the car was equipped with a genuine sports engine and settled for a 2-litre four-cylinder engine from Audi.
During a decade (1981-1991), 162,452 copies of the Porsche 944 were manufactured in the Neckarsulm factory near Stuttgart.© IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche
A V8 cut in half
The lines of the 944 are the work of Latvian-born designer Anatole Lapine, who had headed the Porsche styling/design centre since 1969 and had previously designed the 928 and 924. Although the 944 is the direct spin-off of the 928, it differs from its predecessor in having more attractive and modern bodywork. In May 1982, the American magazine Road & Track was very complimentary: "It is full of temperament and smoothness; it steers remarkably well and yet reacts without any harshness.
And it looks good too. That comment was important, as of all Porsche 944s produced between 1981 and 1991, almost a third were sold in the US. In the first year it was equipped with a 2,479 cc in-line four-cylinder engine that shared many mechanical elements with the 4.5 litre V8 developed by engineer Gerhard Kirchdorffer for the 928, so much so that there had been talk of a 928 V8 cut in half... Porsche's latest model is based on the construction of the previous 924 and 928, with the engine and clutch longitudinally in the front and the gearbox and differential in the rear, allowing for a very balanced weight distribution between the two axles (51/49%). The transmission is powered by the famous Transaxle system, which offers excellent traction and stability.
This exploded view shows the rear-wheel drive structure of the 944 and the famous Transaxle transmission system. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche
Arrival of the Turbo
A second generation (phase 2) was introduced for model year 1985. The suspension and interior design were fundamentally revised, but above all, three engines were now available. Besides the classic 8-valve 2.5-litre engine of the 944 Luxury, there was also a 16-valve version with 190 hp (944 S) and a Turbo version with 220 hp. Three years later, a 2,681 cc four-cylinder engine producing 165 hp completed the engine range. The 944 Turbo (factory code 951) was upgraded aesthetically with new front and rear bumpers to improve aerodynamic support and an air intake between the headlights to cool the turbocharger. In 1988, the 2.5-litre Turbo version saw its power increased to 250 bhp thanks to the use of a larger turbo (type K26-70) and a more efficient exchanger. Finally, in 1989, the 944 S2 was made available as a cabriolet and was powered by a new M44/41 four-cylinder engine with a capacity of 2,990 cm3 and 211 bhp.
Porsche 944 (Phase 1 of 1981)
• Engine: Type M44/05, 4-cylinder in-line, front longitudinal
• Displacement: 2,479 cm3
• Bore x stroke: 100 mm x 78.9 mm
• Power: 163 hp at 5,800 rpm
• Power supply: Bosch L-Jetronic injection
• Ignition: Bosch transistorized
• Distribution: 1 overhead camshaft, 2 valves per cylinder
• Transmission: mechanical, rear wheels (Transaxle type), 5 gears + M.A.
• Tyres: 185/70 VR 15 (front and rear)
• Brakes: ventilated discs, diameter 28.9 cm (front) and 28.2 cm (rear)
• Length: 420 cm
• Width: 173.6 cm
• Height: 127.5 cm
• Wheelbase: 240 cm
• Front track: 147.7 cm
• Rear track: 145.1 cm
• Weight (empty): 1,180 kg
• Maximum speed: 220 km/ph
The Porsche Carrera Cup
In 1986 Porsche launched a monotype competition in Germany in which only cars of type 944 Turbo could take part. This competition, named the Porsche 944 Turbo Cup, ran until 1989, when it was replaced by the Porsche Carrera Cup for the latest version of the 911 (type 964). The German championship was won by Joachim Winkelhock in 1986, followed by Roland Asch from 1987 to 1989. In France, the Porsche 944 Turbo Cup was organised in 1987 on the initiative of the importer Sonauto, who invited the best French drivers of the time, such as Alain Cudini, Jean-Pierre Jarier and Jean-Pierre Beltoise. The participants all needed to have an international license and the cars lined up were all strictly identical. René Metge won in 1987, Michel Bourdon in 1988 and Michel Maisonneuve in 1989 and 1990.