A close look at the GTS is revealing: You could easily mistake it for a 944 until you check the details. The side quarter windows and rear window are Plexiglas. Racing-style pins keep the fiberglass hood closed, and a plastic GTS badge sits below the rear spoiler. The GTS’s fuel tank fills from under the rear hatch, while the battery lives in the spare-tire well. The GTS’s interior is severe, with a lot of painted surfaces, a pair of 935 seats, and shells for doors. It does have carpet and insulation, however. These were installed at the factory per the buyer’s wishes, according to the invoice.
In contrast to the single-purpose air of the GTS cabin, the 944 is almost sybaritic inside. There’s plenty of padding, the usual complement of audio, A/C, and ventilation controls, the whole panoply of GT car fittings and amenities. Somehow, the 944 feels larger inside even though it isn’t.
There isn’t anything unusual to be seen under the GTS’s hood. Everything is clean, laid out neatly for quick service during competition. The space in the 944 seems far more crowded, even though there’s no turbo with its large housing and piping runs.
Those contradictions continue when the respective ignition keys are turned. The GTS engine is less refined, though totally without temperament. It idles smoothly enough — as smoothly as it does anything, that is. First gear is in the old-fashioned race-car location: down to the left and back, outside the H-pattern. But once you’ve remembered that, starts are fuss-free.
What starts in the GTS are not, however, is rapid — at least not without the kind of forceful driving techniques you don’t employ in someone else’s pride and joy. Low compression means precious little torque off the line; nothing really happens until the boost gauge (a dial not supplied in either 924 Turbo or Carrera GT) shows 1.0 bar, which is usually somewhere above 3000 rpm or thereabouts. At that point, the engine is getting with the program and speed starts to builds at an impressive rate. Drivers of modern turbo cars have little experience with what was called “turbo lag” back in the day, but it was a fact of life in the 1970s and 1980s.
The rest of the controls feel just right. Steering, clutch, and brakes all require moderate effort; this is not a tiring car to drive. Moreover, you sense that Porsche engineers pared out a fair number of pounds (more than 300 when compared to the 944), and that’s all to the good. This is a nimble, delightful car to drive, and would probably be a blast on the track — at least once the driver adjusts to the delay between asking for power and getting it. I didn’t have a chance to work the GTS hard, but it imparted a feeling that there would be no nasty surprises waiting out toward the ragged edge. I got the sense that once the GTS was up to speed, it would be easy to keep it there.
Time for the 944. The newer car felt almost soft by comparison, but that was relative. It certainly earned the accolades it received from testers when new. In turns, it felt slightly less precise than the GTS, which may have had as much to do with tires as anything else. Oddly enough, despite the balance shafts, the engine felt slightly rougher than the GTS’s; it wasn’t much quieter, either. The 944’s horses, fewer in number, were nicely responsive at low speeds. I will say I found myself echoing one complaint leveled at production 924s and 944s: The driving position is not comfortable and there’s not a thing you can do about it. The steering wheel is too low (and too vertical), leaving little space for both human thighs and seat cushions below. Didn’t notice that in the GTS.
For the most part, each of the cars left the impressions I expected. The GTS was ostensibly a racer, but there is a wide gap between a racer from the assembly line and one that has been directly prepared for the track. It lacked the hard edges of a car in full numbers-on-the-side trim, but still impressed as being ready to go out for some serious lapping. As has been the case with other homologation specials I’ve driven, the GTS felt as if it should be the mass-production car from which race cars are derived. It was a purposeful but sweet little machine, and imminently lovable.
The 944 was state-of-the-art for its class in 1985. Now, 24 years later, it does not feel as outmoded as you might expect and remains very likeable. As a combination daily driver and weekend canyon runner, it would be hard to beat, delivering quality, comfort, and performance in a pretty reasonable package. Visually and dynamically, it is a far more appealing proposition for the 21st Century than a Nissan Z of similar vintage.
It’s not easy to imagine a world without the 911, one in which all Porsches are front-engined. Good as they were, impressive as they still are today, neither 924 nor 928 had what it took to push the traditional Porsche layout off its pedestal. That said, I’d take a GTS in a heartbeat. I’d opt for a 944, too, but that would take two heartbeats. The GTS invites you to pull your helmet on for a fast run around the Nürburgring; the 944 suggests you toss your luggage under the hatch and settle in for a nice, long road trip. In other words, the 944 speaks to the mind, while the GTS connects with the soul. At the end of the day, that’s what really counts in a sports car.