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Reader test: Porsche 944

2009-09-08 09:03

Neels Bornman, Bloemfontein

Many Porsche purists would frown upon the idea of having an engine up front and, even worse, having the engine water cooled.

When the 924 swung about, anything closer to blasphemy hadn't yet been invented. An aborted Porsche/Audi collaboration, the 924 had different looks to the Porsche line-up, which at that time consisted only of the classic 911 and 928.

Fitted with a water cooled, tuned Audi 2.0-litre in-line four, the performance was, in Porsche terms, almost the same as holding a hair dryer behind a bath tub.

Porsche took over the project, since it thought that the 924 would fit nicely in its range and the 911 "was on the way out anyway", being replaced by the big, front-engined V8, the 928.

The 924 was continuously improved, adding a turbo at one stage, eventually ending up with the Le Mans-inspired 924 Carrera GT and ultra-rare Carrera GTS and GTR.

Up to that point, calling a model a "Carrera" was something Porsche had reserved for only a select few, the most obvious being the iconic 1973 911 Carrera 2.7 RS.

Porsche obviously recognised the inherent beauty of the 924's glorious chassis and proceeded to refine it and add power to it.

Race inspired 944

It was from these Le Mans racers that Porsche got the inspiration for the 944 body, a hormonally-enhanced 924. The water-cooled 2.5 litre in-line four was in essence one half of the 928's 5.0-litre V8. Not a bad thing, after all, and pure Porsche. Almost like saying someone has half of Cameron Diaz's face...

The components were coming together to create one of Porsche's most underrated cars of all time, the Porsche 944. The 924 theme was eventually killed of in the late 90s, culminating in the glorious 968 Turbo S with 228 kW under the reworked hood.

My car is a 1984 2.5-litre normally aspirated model with 121 kW at 5 800 r/min and 205 Nm at 3 000 r/min. Top speed is 220 km/h and acceleration from 0-100 km/h is 8.4 seconds.

Later evolutions of the species had a bigger 3.0-litre 16-valve engine and also a turbo fitted to the 2.5-litre.

The most notable characteristic of the 944 would have to be the superb chassis. Beautifully balanced and obviously capable of handling twice the power, it communicates all the intricacies of the road to a very relaxed driver.

I also have a 1981 911 SC and the difference between the two cars could not be bigger.

Versus a 911

The 944 behaves in the same way as the 911, in the same way bricks hang in the air. Where the classic 911 experience leaves you scintillated, palms sweating and hands shivering, the 944 leaves you confident and relaxed, knowing exactly were the limit is and, more importantly, what is going to happen when you exceed that limit.

The balanced tail breaks out gently and sweetly, easily brought under control by a quick opposite lock and throttle modulation. Doing the same in a 911 would assume you've spent 12 years at the Walther Rohl 911 Academy. It's possible, but so much more delicate than in the easy-going 944.

It communicates exactly what's happening, never leaving the driver in any doubt. Some would say that this takes all the fun out of driving, others would say that it's exactly what driving is about, and nothing epitomises this more than the 944.

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