In the course of renaming the Boxster and Cayman by adding the 718 designation, Porsche has reduced the number of cylinders in its mid-engine sports cars from six to four. Downsizing is the motto of the hour, reducing fuel consumption and emissions being the driving force behind it. However, four-cylinder engines in Porsches are nothing new.
One of the most successful models to ever leave the factory in Zuffenhausen was powered by a four-cylinder engine: the 1982-1991 944, big brother and successor of the 1976-1988 924. Both of these models helped Porsche get through some tough times and sold well: It took 15 years to sell 100,000 911s. The 924 and 944 accomplished that milestone in just five.
The Porsche Museum looked for and sourced a particularly rare version of the 944 a few years ago: The 944 Turbo Cabriolet was only built for about a year, from the fall of 1990 to the summer of 1991. Only 528 units left the factory, making it a desirable collector’s car.
Showing 130,887 kilometers (81,329 miles) on the odometer and a charming patina, the 944 looks somewhat dainty next to the new 718 Boxster, which can be deemed as the successor in spirit, in spite of the fact that the new 718 sports a boxer or flat-four cylinder engine in its middle, while the 944 relied on an in-line four and transaxle layout. The 944’s pop-up headlights seem almost cartoonish these days. Twenty-five years ago, they were used to house powerful headlights in a space-saving way. Today, pedestrian safety needs to be considered, and headlights have evolved into a much more compact design.
A Quick Look Back
In the 1970s, Volkswagen tasked Porsche with constructing a successor to the 914. Porsche eventually assumed full responsibility of the project, and the 924 was born, breaking with mid-engine tradition. The transaxle layout and the in-line four-cylinder engine were a revolution for Porsche and created an opportunity to promote growth in the company in addition to the 911, which the V8-powered 928 also did later on. The practical, quick, efficient, agile and comparatively inexpensive 924 sold well.
In 1981, the 944 was introduced. It was positioned above the 924 and below the luxurious 928 grand tourer. While the powertrains for the 924 were sourced from Audi, Porsche eliminated this blemish by cutting the 928’s V8 in half. The resulting in-line four ran very smoothly thanks to the inclusion of balance shafts.