Every owner of a 924/944 will have heard the term ‘poor man’s Porsche’ and, whilst this may be how the hardcore, rear-engined Porsche crew regard the front-engined, water-cooled 924/944 ranges, it’s certainly not how we’d describe them! It’s a great drivers-car and, although prices are rising fast, it’s still a great way to get your foot onto the Porsche ownership ladder. What we’re saying is that it’s still an affordable introduction, and is actually an under-rated car, with great handling characteristics! The Porsche 924 – what is it, and what to look for?
Launched in 1976 as a joint project between Porsche and VW, the Porsche 924 was designed to be a water-cooled replacement for the 914 range. It featured a front-mounted, inline 4-cylinder OHC motor, which some people refer to as ‘the van motor’. However, whilst this motor is based on the Audi 100 2.0-litre unit, which went on to be fitted to the VW LT-range of vans, the Porsche-designated engines were not exactly the same. They featured a beefed-up, forged crankshaft and larger bearings in the cast-iron block case with a Porsche-designed aluminium cylinder head. Fuelling was handled by the old Bosch CIS/K-Jet fuel-injection system, which provides reliable service, despite being what some might consider to be an ‘older’ fuelling arrangement.
Of course, there were also other engine choices/models, including the 924S, which featured a 2.5 litre Porsche-designed motor, and also a Turbo variant, too – but more on these later.
The 924 is a monocoque construction, front-engined Porsche with McPherson struts at the front (which are actually quite similar to those of an early, water-cooled VW), and an independent rear end (with swing-arms that resemble the IRS VW design).
And, thanks to the front engine / rear transaxle design, the 48/52 split weight distribution resulted in a well-engineered and capable sports car.
This weight distribution is achieved via a four-cylinder (inline) engine up front, which is attached to a bellhousing (featuring the clutch arrangement), while a torque-tube connects the bellhousing to the rear transaxle unit. In short, it’s a well-balanced set-up, albeit quite different in design to the more traditional rear-engined 911 range, of course.
One of the big selling points (from 1980 onwards) was that the bodywork was galvanised in order to make it as rust-resistant as possible, however this certainly doesn’t mean that they never rust! OK, the galvanisation does mean that the later cars can be a little less rusty, but you should always delve deep in search of corrosion, as it’s rare for a UK/European car to be 100% rust free.
Look at the central jacking point on the sill – does it look as if it’s kinked upwards in the middle? If so, there’s a good chance that the sills will feature rust (and therefore the structural integrity may have been compromised).
Any Rusty Bubbles?
And, if you can see rust bubbles (or even holes), then there’s a good chance that the sills will need some work, if not replacing. At the rear, of the sill, slide under the car with a torch and inspect the inner sill, especially ahead of the rear suspension, as holes here can be difficult to repair. And, if moisture is allowed to get into the cabin at the rear for a prolonged period, then this could be just the beginning of inner sill issues (and costly / difficult welding repairs).
At the front of the sill, check for rust where the wing meets the sill panel. The lower section of the front wing is a common problem area where it is bolted to the floor. If the wing has rust, check the body here, too.
Take Your Time
Perhaps less of an issue is the front spoiler, which is actually part of the body. This is prone to stone chips and therefore will often have been repainted (usually with stone chip protection). In short, check carefully as rust will always be an expensive repair. Of course, take your time to check the bodywork as these cars are all quite old now and, as a ‘drivers-car’, it’s not uncommon to find accident damage. Crouch low and check along the sides of the car for signs of obvious paint repair but don’t be surprised to find at least some evidence of previous repair.
Next, take a few minutes to visually inspect the window seals before moving inside and checking the floors.
Remove the sunroof and check for rust around the edges and ensure the drain pipes appear to be clear (as this is often where interior water leaks begin).
More To Check
Tailgate struts are often leaky/weak, but fortunately they’re not too difficult to repair but check that things such as the heated rear window terminals are all intact and working while you’re there and inspect the tailgate seal carefully, too.
And, don’t be surprised to find the seats showing signs of wear and tear, especially on the bolsters. It’s common, but it also a great bargaining point!
Next, make sure you check the electrics properly (i.e. not just the pop-up headlights… although that’s a great place to start!) and check that the windows operate correctly (manually or electrically) along with the door locks, too. The electrical system can be a major headache in these cars; hence we’d avoid a car with a string of electrical faults and failures.
Running and driving
First things first – the motor should fire right up and idle from cold as, whilst the fuel injection system is, well, ancient (!) in design, it does cover cold starting etc, of course! You should check for all the usual problems regarding engines etc Once warmed up, check also that the heaters work and also ensure that they can be switched off, too!
A visual check should identify any leaks etc, and just keep an eye out for signs of oil in the water, as cylinder head issues could be an expensive fix.
Fortunately, servicing is fairly simple and the parts are relatively cheap, hence this is a great car for the budding home mechanic. In fact, even the cambelt is fairly straightforward to replace, so perhaps use the ‘in need of a service’ line as a bargaining point when negotiating a purchase.
We’ll cover other models shortly, but let’s assume you’re test driving a 2-litre model for now. Out on the road, performance should be crisp and, in our experience, roughly on par with an early Golf GTi. What we mean is that it’s not quick by modern standards but, if you push it hard, there’s certainly an air of fun about it. The drive should be nimble and the steering response good. If you’ve got play in the steering, then factor in a new rack and/or track rod ends. It’s not uncommon for these cars to wear out dampers and bushes, hence if you feel any odd wobbles, ‘bouncing’ or squeaks, then have a good look around when you finish your test drive. Dampers are reasonably cheap and easy to swap, but anti-roll bar bushes etc. can be fiddly to change if they’re perished or split.
You should be pleasantly surprised by the sure-footed handling of a good 924 as, even on relatively skinny tyres, the near 50/50 weight distribution results in a very capable car through the bends. This is why they’re considered to be such a great track day car… in fact, some consider them to be better balanced in the bends that a Boxster (although the straight line power will be lacking in comparison!).
Clutch and gearbox
The 924 transmission/clutch is pretty robust, however be aware that clutch problems can be not only difficult to remedy, but also quite expensive to fix, too. The basic 924 uses a conventional clutch with a mechanically sprung centre plate, however the 924S features a rubberised centre section (to reduce vibrations and soften engagement), which can weaken over time and eventually fail. Replacing the clutch is a tricky job (on any 924) and isn’t really the sort of task you’d typically tackle on the driveway, as you need to raise the vehicle all-round for full, underside-access. Removing the bellhousing to access the clutch involves the removal of the torque tube, which involves sliding the rear end back to provide adequate clearance. It’s really a job that requires access to a four-poster ramp and would be easier to tackle with a friend to help! In a shop you’d be looking at anywhere between £600 and £1000 to have the clutch swapped.
Oh, and the same goes for the release bearing, too… it’s just as much work to swap a noisy bearing, hence always listen for whirring bearings and check the clutch operates properly! Incidentally, some cars suffer from noises in the torque tube (there are 4 bearings in the entire drive shaft set-up), and this can lead to hours of dirty work to rectify, too.
On higher-mileage cars, transmission / final-drive whines are common, so keep your ears open and turn the radio down when you’re test driving a 924!
And here’s where we introduce the 924S
The ‘S’ is definitely an impressive upgrade over the standard 924. For starters, the Audi motor is replaced by what some describe as ‘half of an 8-cylinder 928 motor’! This Porsche-designed, all-aluminium, 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder motor is an impressive piece of kit (not to mention the standard fitment motor for the 944 range!).
The original, 2-litre cars produced 125bhp (in European spec – 110 in the USA, thanks to emissions rulings etc), but the new Porsche-built 924S motor was rated at 150bhp (a slightly de-tuned version of the standard 944 163bhp motor). Incidentally, the last of the 924S range (1988) saw the power rise to 160bhp, hence these are the more sought-after of the ‘S’ models.
The 924 featured 4-bolt wheels (4x108mm PCD) and drum brakes on the rear, while the 924S gained the 944-style brakes (and, consequently, the same 5x130mm bolt pattern as the 911 range), as well as some general interior upgrades etc, but the key consideration when purchasing an ‘S’ is that the new 2.5-litre engine could be more expensive to repair or replace than the old 2-litre should you have any problems in the future.
Oh, and the 2.5-litre ‘S’ cars also featured oil-filled/damper-style engine mounts, hence if you find a vibration at idle, check the condition of the engine mounts first.
Finally, one thing you might want to note is that you’ll typically need 2 repair manuals if you purchase a 924S, as the ‘standard’ Haynes-style manuals only cover the 2-litre engines in the 924 repair guide. For servicing and repair info on the 2.5-litre 924S motor, you’ll need to pick up a 944 manual, too!
This is a bit of an oddity in as much as it was based on the original 2-litre motor, albeit fitted with a modified cylinder head (lower compression ratio) and a turbocharger, which resulted in an impressive 170bhp in the earlier models and (following some modifications) 177bhp later on. It’s worth noting that the 911SC was rated at 180bhp, hence the lightweight 924 Turbo was quite a performer!
The Turbo models featured a NACA-style air-duct in the bonnet and vents in the front panel, which are popular upgrades/modifications on non-turbo 924s, of course.
Be sure to check for blue smoke and/or a worn turbocharger on the 924 Turbo models – they require regular maintenance, and are perhaps a little less robust than the normally-aspirated cars, but the performance is impressive… hence good examples command quite a premium today!
We won’t dwell too long on the awesome 924 Carrera GT model as, with only around 800 vehicles ever built, they fall into the realms of ‘serious collectors’ only, these days. With flared wings, spoilers and an aggressive air intake, the styling is impressive, to say the least. It was essentially built to comply with homologation regulations for the Carrera GT and later GTS racecars.
It’s still possible to pick up a running 924 for under £1000 if you search around, however don’t expect a stunner for peanuts money! Typically the 924S commands a higher price, but condition is usually a bigger player with regard to value than outright performance. For £3000 you can pick up quite a tidy example, which should be reliable and ready to roll. Spend £5000 and you’ll have your pick of some nice examples, and you might even pick up a fairly decent Turbo model. However, you’ll also see concourse cars priced in excess of £15000, with top examples fetching way more than that.
The 924 makes for a great ‘first Porsche’ and, as far as projects are concerned, they’re fairly simple to work on, too. Our best advice would be to take your time and seek out the very best example you can afford. Watch for rust and bad electrics and look at as many cars as you can afford to as the quality varies and there are some diamonds hidden amongst the junkyard dogs.
Photos / Owner: Daniel B.
The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Heritage Parts Centre.