Body and Mind

The ultimate 924 meets the model that replaced it, Porsche's smart 944.

January 25, 2010

Also from Issue 181

  • 2010 GT3 3.8 vs. GT3 RS 3.9
  • 1957 356A with a 2.7 RS Powerplant
  • One-Off 993 Speedster
  • Falken Tire: Racing Against Goliath
  • Early 911T Tastefully Modified
  • 550-horsepower 914 V8
  • 986 Boxster with 3.4-liter 996 six
  • Market Update: 924, 944, 968
  • 2009 Carrera S Cabriolet Short Take
  • The $70 Brake Caliper Rebuild
  • Tech Forum: TPMS Part 2
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Porsche and Volkswagen have long lived in a state of symbiosis. Three times during their relationship thus far, Porsche has built sports cars based on VW components. The first time turned out wonderfully well: The 356 was, after all, the foundation for all that followed and the realization of an idea Ferdinand Porsche considered and acted upon with the Type 64 of 1939, long before the first VWs reached civilian hands.

The second and third attempts? They were done under contract to VW and were a bit more problematic. The first of these was the 914. Thanks to unfortunate decisions made by VW management, it was expensive. For a year, the 914 2.0’s VW-based flat four found its way into the low-price 912E as well, with only minimal success. While Americans bought 914s, the car didn’t sell so well in Europe, where it was marketed as a VW-Porsche. A 911-powered 914-6 helped prestige-wise, but did nothing for profits and was discontinued after just three model years.

Not long after 914s began stacking up at European dealerships, work began on its intended replacement. The EA425 (VW’s type number for the project) was a parts-bin special drawing from mass-production VW and Audi hardware. Apparently intended to be badged not as a Porsche but as a VW, the project was nearly complete when VW management decided against building the car. Testing, tooling, and even factory space in an ex-NSU plant in Neckarsulm had been planned out. Porsche made a tough decision: It bought the project back and then renamed it Typ 924.

Ironically, the little coupe — with whatever refinements were possible at that late date — fit right into Porsche’s mid-1970s view of the future. Like the 928 under development, the 924 would offer customers a modern sports car with a water-cooled engine mounted up front. In time, the reasoning went, the aging 911, seemingly developed to the limit and expensive to build, would be put out to pasture as the 924, 928, and their successors took its place. We all know how well that worked out.

Despite a lukewarm reception from some enthusiasts, qualified raves and blue-sky speculation came from road testers. “In a few years, all Porsches will be front-engined…” wrote one. With performance in the ballpark of such cars as Datsun’s 280 ZX and Alfa-Romeo’s Alfetta, the 924 did appeal to a different class of buyers. With a higher price tag than either, it was saved in the eyes of many not because it was an engineering marvel, which, with its unashamed use of mass-production pieces it was not, but because it was a Porsche. Less than 18 months later came the Mazda RX-7, with more performance and more appeal to those who craved technology and innovation for less money.

Porsche was paying attention, however. Suspension tuning took care of a few early complaints and a mild horsepower increase came after a year. This didn’t do anything for the noisy, somewhat rough engine, the lack of a fifth ratio in the transaxle, or the low-dollar disc/drum brake system.

The next step was obvious, at least to anyone familiar with Porsche’s 917 and 930: turbocharging. This didn’t come as a stand-alone upgrade; suspension, body, transmission, and braking were all addressed as part of the package. Attention was paid to sound- and vibration reduction, as well. Lingering effects of the non-Porsche underpinnings remained, but 143 horses (vs. the standard 924’s 110), five forward speeds, and four-wheel disc brakes simply overpowered any criticism. At over $21,000, the Turbo was twice the price of the ‘78 924.

Conspicuously absent in the 924 story so far is any mention of motorsports. The 924 could be raced for class wins, and was. Somehow, though, that lacked the image appeal of outright victories. So, in 1981, Porsche unveiled the 924 Carrera GT. The formula was simple and could be traced to several special 911 models of the recent past: Raise power and add the necessary competition goodies to enough cars rolling off the assembly line to qualify for whatever “production” racing class you’re interested in.

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