1989-91 944 S2
price range: $6,000-10,000
Okay, we selected the 1989-91 944 S2 as our first choice for a great street/track car, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook the “right” 944, 944S or 944 Turbo. All 944s are great handling cars, cheap to buy, relatively inexpensive to own and operate and display a wonderful balance. The 944 will do everything within its power to make you look good on track, and if you do end up off track, more times than not it was the driver at fault. Then consider this, should you have an “incident” in a 944, it is not a major life changer for most people who can afford to go to the track. Ball up your new 997 or smoke the motor in your new Cayman, and there is considerable financial pain, not to mention the long explanation to your significant other. Used parts are plentiful for the 944 and are generally reasonably priced.
So why the 944 S2? Well, it just fits nicely between the normally aspirated and somewhat underpowered 944 (0-62 in 8.4 sec.) and the powerful but more expensive to own and operate 944 Turbo S (0-62 in 5.7 sec.), coming in with a 0-62 time of 6.9 sec. We might add the 968 as another good choice, but it’s not as plentiful in our six- to ten-grand price range.
The 944S2 incorporates a lot of the heavy-duty Turbo equipment with a reliable 3.0 liter, 16-valve motor up front that produces a smooth 208 hp, a substantial gain over the 190-hp 944S that it replaced. Adding a computer chip and better air intake will take you to around the 225-hp mark. The S2 shares the stronger gearbox and driveshafts with the 944 Turbo, so the entire driveline is very suitable for high-performance driving. The S2 also uses Turbo front bodywork for better aerodynamics and much improved looks. Out back, the under-spoiler from the Turbo can be found, which helps duct air out from under the car and directs cooling air around the gearbox.
The S2 shares the same big brakes as the 944 Turbo S and the 928 S4. If you are both lucky and patient enough to locate an S2 with the factory sports suspension, you’ll find even more Turbo parts attached under the car, like 30mm front and 20mm rear anti-roll bars that will help on track weekends. The only downside to any 1989 and later 944 is they have gained a bit of weight, coming in at 2,888 lb. Of course, shaving weight off a weekend track car is half the fun; adding components like race seats and removing the rear cargo carpet and spare tire go a long way to dropping pounds.
Problem areas for the 944 S2 are mostly maintenance based, and when you are tracking a car that maintenance schedule is bumped up. Oil changes, brake fluid, rotors, brake pads and gear lube all require more frequent attention. Brake parts are now considered wear items that will need replacing annually, and wheel bearings will also last longer with an annual repacking. Regarding price, can you find a 944 S2 for less than $6,000? Yes. Will it last through a track weekend and get you to work on Monday? Probably not.
Driving the S2 around town, on long trips or on your favorite race track is a pleasure. Since the level of sophistication is limited to ABS, you will be driving the car without the aid of electronic controls. You’ll learn about momentum, smoothness and consistency, all things that make a great driver. Then, after you have mastered your driving skills, you may decide you’re ready to step up to that cup car. The car will not be the fastest car on the straights, but here
are two things I offer students. Straightaways are for fast cars, turns are for fast drivers and this: It is infinitely more fun to drive a slow car fast then it is to drive a fast car slow. Given some track time in a 944 S2, you’ll come to understand both.