By on August 9, 2010

As established in a previous article, the Volkswagen-Porsche 914 was rather more profitable for Volkswagen than it was for Porsche. No wonder, then, that VW was anxious to repeat the experience. This time, Porsche was explicitly hired as the engineering subcontractor, and the end product was meant to be badged solely as a Volkswagen. The result was what you see above: “EA 425″, a front-engine sporting hatchback using the four-cylinder water-cooled engine from the Audi sedans (and, infamously, the Volkswagen LT van).

The energy crisis made VW reconsider the production of a rear-wheel-drive sporting car. The bigwigs decided to produce the Scirocco instead. At that point, somebody had the bright idea: Hey, let’s sell the project back to Porsche and build the cars for them! Cue the ominous music…

Was the resulting Porsche, badged “924″, a true Porsche? That’s a debate which has raged for thirty-five years now, and both sides have a few points to make. It was engineered by Porsche, yes; on the other hand, the “engineering” was in large part a reshuffling of existing VW Group components, from the engine to the front suspension, which uses the lower control arms from a Mk1 Golf/Rabbit.

The 924 and its descendants were mostly assembled by Audi at Neckarsulm. Not until the arrival of the 924-based 968, twenty years later, did production shift entirely to Porsche in Stuttgart. To some degree, the 924 and its successor, the 944, are Audis — a point made again and again at Porsche Club of America events.

The Euro-market 924 wasn’t a bad steer, weighing about 2600 pounds and extracting 125 horsepower from the Audi four. The power-to-weight ratio was about the same as what we get from the US-market 2011 Fiesta, which isn’t explicitly underpowered. Unfortunately, when the 924 crossed the ocean it picked up a few hundred pounds and dropped to 95 horsepower (110 from the second year of production onwards). As a result, the proud new owner of a Americanized 924 was likely to get smoked at traffic lights by everything from the Datsun 240Z to the Chrysler Cordoba.

The 924 was a relatively reliable car by the standards of the era, but it simply wasn’t close to being fast enough. Porschephiles don’t require that their cars be the fastest ones out there, but they do need to be able to drive away from everyday family sedans, a task the 924 simply couldn’t accomplish.

Inside and out, the 924 was too obviously Audi-esque, a situation made no better by the decision to market Porsches and Audis through a common American dealer body in the Seventies. Anybody who sat in an Audi 4000 and then walked across the showroom to a 924 could plainly see that the two cars had more in common with each other than they did with the air-cooled 911 Targa sitting next to them. Furthermore, when Audi brought out the 5000 Turbo it was easily capable of smoking a 924… for less money. This was a bad state of affairs,

I will spare TTAC readers the usual rant about Porsche treating its American customer base like a bunch of ignorant dummkopfs, since you all get the picture by now, right? Only Porsche could expect to sell a car this slow for this much money ($9,395, at a time when the Corvette based at $8647.00) and only Porsche buyers would line up to buy it. Speaking as someone who was alive and enthusiastic about cars when the 924 debuted, I can attest that 924 buyers were really simply affirming their allegiance to the almighty 911 with their purchases. Nobody really wanted a 924; they wanted a Porsche. Unfortunately for them, the 911 started at $15,200 and had a habit of grenading its engine.

Porsche moved quickly to address complaints about the 924′s performance… not by fixing the 924′s performance, but by introducing a more expensive Turbo model. Let me state for the record that I adore the 924 Turbo. I think it looks fabulous and I really wish I’d purchased one when I had the chance instead of buying my 944. Still, the 924 Turbo was expensive ($20,875 on its debut, when a Corvette cost $13,140) and unreliable compared to plain-Jane 924s and it never sold terribly well. On the plus side, it was awfully hard to catch on the roads of the late Seventies, and it made for a really nice SCCA racer.

I’ve read, and have been told, a few different theories on what the 924 did for Porsche’s bottom line. Some commentators have stated that it was profitable; others, such as Karl Ludwigsen, have noted that VW/Audi extracted a very high price for the production and assembly of the cars.

Regardless of profitability, the 924 did lasting damage to the Porsche brand. It helped perpetuate the idea that there are “real” Porsches and “fake” ones and that the almighty 911 is the only true path to Porsche ownership. The dismissive way in which Toyota Corolla owners speak of Boxster drivers on the Internet is proof of this. No other successful car company deliberately sells cars which don’t quite offer legitimate entry into the owner community. We don’t think of Ferrari 458 Italia owners as somehow being second-class citizens compared to 599 Fiorano people, and the Lexus ES owner sips the same free coffee as the LS owner, but in Porsche-land there are two distinct classes of citizen. It’s been that way since the 914 replaced the 912, and it continues today. You might even argue that nowadays we have three classes of owners: real Porsche people (911), wannabes (Boxster/Cayman), and utter idiots (Cayenne/Panamera).

In the United States, the 924 was replaced by the Porsche-engined 944 and 924S, but in Europe it hung around until 1986 or thereabouts, providing an economical, inoffensive reason to wear expensive, offensive Porsche-brand clothing. I think that a base 924, without spoilers or flared fenders, actually looks fairly modern on the streets today. It was an attractively styled car, and it was a nice car… but it was never really a Porsche.

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41 Comments on “Porsche’s Deadly Sin #5: Engineering Project EA-425...”


  • avatar
    twonius

    How is it that with porsche being the most profitable brand in the world no one else has attempted to build a unit-body, rear engined car?
    It seems you could make something cheaper than a 350z or miata since you can use the same transaxle setup from a family car. Or am I over-estimating porsche buyers.

    Ok I forgot alpine.

  • avatar
    niky

    I actually think of the ES350 as not being a real Lexus, if that helps.

    Actually… the growing schism within the Porsche brand helps Porsche. It allows them to sell a kajillion Cayennes without damaging the reputation of their precious 911 through association with these more “pedestrian” products. And if they do sell a low-end sports car, as reported, at the Audi TT level (below the Boxster), their “prestige” and “exclusivity” remains intact, no matter how many they sell.

  • avatar
    Morea

    Nobody really wanted a 924; they wanted a Porsche.

    Says it all…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    The dismissive way in which Toyota Corolla owners speak of Boxster drivers on the Internet is proof of this

    How can people driving that rubbish POS econobox dismiss anyone?

    When you think you have seen all…

    Last week I saw a white 944 Turbo. It wasn’t particularly fast, but moved nicely in the highway. It had the fuch wheels.

    I don’t know how to spot a 924 from a 944.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      924 looks quite different from a 944 (look at one side by side). The easiest way to distinguish them is the 924 has round fender lights – on fenders that are narrower than a 944. The front valence is also much smaller and made of metal versus the 944 larger plastic and better air induction valence.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      That went right over your head. He was using the Corolla as a stand-in for any run of the mill vehicle that a random, regular person would own. There isn’t a specific instance or trend of Corolla drivers trashing on the Boxster. He could have said Cobalt, Civic, Sentra, Accord, Camry, Malibu, Fusion, Focus, Sebring, etc, etc, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      @Quentin

      You may be right, but bashing the Corolla is so right and fun…

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Corolla as a entry level sedan for a person looking for A to B transportation… just like the other vehicles I listed. In the S trim, it is a smart looking little car. The engine is efficient and moves the car well for day to day driving. They could have done far better on the interior materials, but I can’t help but comparing it against my MKV VW GTI’s interior, which feels fantastic for it’s class. So, my perspective is skewed. That said, I doubt parking brake handles break off 3 year old Corolla’s like my GTI’s did last week.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    At those “power” levels, even a 2nd gen V6 Camaro would have smoked it.

    And AFAIK, those handled nice too.

  • avatar
    cole carrera

    I have like $100k, for a new car. I like Porsches, I’m thinking Porsche. Now I know the Cayenne is not true, isn’t real… I don’t need to five feet high.

    But the Panemera? An idiot? ME? If only JB knew better.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      IMO The Panamera Turbo is the best non-911 Porsche they currently sell. All the guff about its ugliness belies the real truth – cars don’t have to be “pretty” to be good-looking, and the Panamera, up close and in person, is really not as bad-looking as many suggest …just a little odd. And once you’re inside, driving it, destroying CLSs, Rapides and Quattroportes as you go (admittedly all better-looking), you’ll care how it looks even less.

  • avatar
    jaje

    And yes I am a defender of the 924S / 944 cars b/c I race one.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Curiosity struck me with the interior pic. Why it seems all German cars have such a big accelerator pedal?

    • 0 avatar
      benzaholic

      @Stingray:
      So the floormats don’t get stuck under it.

      See what I did there? I slammed back at Toyota. (Even though Corollas weren’t really affected by that issue.) I’m a witty guy.

      Also, an easily identifiable difference between the 924 and the 944: the 944 fenders, over all four wheels, were flared out with a distinct horizontal top crease. The 924 fenders were smooth and much less manly.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      Looks like that floor mat is resting on the pedal…..better saw off the bottom of that pedal and strap the mat down with plastic wire ties.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      LOL @ SUA joke

      Seriously, it looks like the pedal has a pivot point in the floor.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      Yes, the throttle does have a pivot point on the floor. This is a relatively common design. It looks just a tad longer than the throttle pedal in my car but doesn’t really seem out of the ordinary for a bottom-hinged pedal.

    • 0 avatar
      corsa

      Most (all?) German cars have bottom-hinged throttle pedals. As does my 1965 Chevrolet….

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I remember driving my first 924 when I was 18, and thinking…”that’s odd, it’s so slow.” Up until that point, I thought Porsche = Fast. Then I drove a 924 equipped with an automatic…and burst into laughter. But it also left me feeling sad.

    The later Turbos are a hoot, especially the Turbo S. Beyond fantastic handling, they could be made to go even faster without a lot of work. My friend took me for a late night ride to show me his 944 Turbo S. He gave me a big smile and then punched it in third gear. That’s the only time I’ve ever been scared in a car. I’ve never felt anything so fast, at least not with four wheels.

    That line about the Corolla drivers? Classic.

  • avatar

    The 924 chassis is quite nice – its just the engine is a bit underwhelming. And since no one cares too much for the 924 it makes it the perfect engine swap candidate. A semi modern turbo four for one the Japanese makes would be nice but the rear mounted gearbox makes for a complex swap. But a Renegade Hybrids V8 swap kit would be grand fun.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Left unsaid is the reaction of the buff books to this Audi-Porsche. I can’t claim to have read every issue of C/D or R&T of the time; nor can I claim total recall.

    That said, I don’t recall anyone in the buff books pointing out, with such devastating statistics, how much of a dog the 924 was. It may be fair to say that part of the reason the Porsche aura persisted was the willingness of so many buff book writers to keep their mouths shut.

    And, as I have written before, having lived through the decade, the period from about 1973-1986 was pretty abysmal for car enthusiasts.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    “The dismissive way in which Toyota Corolla owners speak of Boxster drivers on the Internet is proof of this”.

    Brilliant.

  • avatar
    Boff

    I was part of the NARP crowd as well with my 1989 944S2. It was simply a delightful car, but it was really the antithesis of the contemporaneous 911. Beyond the obvious layout dissimilarities, it featured neutral, forgiving handling and a normal driving position and control relationships. It even had a great heater (the best I’ve ever encountered in a car)! But I’ll be the first to admit that it didn’t have the character or heritage of the 911, and that I yearned for a 911 one day myself even as I owned it. That said, I did love the 944 from the first review I read in Motor Trend as a kid, and the various iterations of the 944 have much to recommend them. I could even stuff my whole drum set in it!

  • avatar
    Syke

    Having just finished my first year’s ownership of a ’88 924S, which has been a great deal of fun to drive, solid, and reliable; I can only say ‘thank you’ to the combination of Volkswagen and Porsche for bringing this car out. It suits me very well for my personal driving demands (heavy on the twisties, not really caring about how pinned I get to the seat back) and was an excellent choice for my first sports car since the mid 1970′s.

    And then there’s the extra little advantage to that car: The way it gets up the nose of a 911 purist. Oh sheer delight and joy! It’s so much fun reminding them that, as it was designed by Porsche, badged as a Porsche, and sold as a Porsche, it’s as much a real Porsche as that tail heavy wonder they worship.

    This fall’s Classics on the James vintage car show will have Porsche as it’s featured marque. While mine is far from a showable, concours vehicle (try: well cared for and loved beater), it’s going to go in line. Why? Just to sit there amidst all the long lines of 911 boredom, and remind the punters that Porsche actually knew how to put engines somewhere other than dragging behind the rear wheels. Hopefully a 928 or two will show up, we’ll have an enjoyable day.

    “There goes the neighborhood” is a wonderful concept, especially when dropped on the overly stuffy prigs.

    Almost forgot: While I’d like to own a 911 someday, I’m not really lusting after one. A nice 928 with manual (rather rare) or a Cayman are much higher on my want to own list.

    • 0 avatar
      Rotarded

      @ Syke

      “Having just finished my first year’s ownership of a ‘88 924S, which has been a great deal of fun to drive, solid, and reliable; I can only say ‘thank you’ to the combination of Volkswagen and Porsche for bringing this car out. It suits me very well for my personal driving demands (heavy on the twisties, not really caring about how pinned I get to the seat back) and was an excellent choice for my first sports car since the mid 1970’s.”

      As a Porsche and VW enthusiast who doesn’t possess the snobbish sentiments towards “real” and “fake” Porsches, I completely agree. It seems everyone forgets just how much Porsche always had in common with VW, and I can only say ‘thank you’ to the combination of VW and Porsche for the true 911 itself. It was a sporting evolution of the utilitarian Beetle. I don’t find this offensive. Why? Because I respect the concept of the original Beetle and VW’s use of boxer engines that were characterful and simple at the same time. With such a combination, Porsche/VW was able to create the first true everyday sports cars (and yes, this includes the 914,924 and 944…the “non-Porsches”).

      I saw this installment in Jack’s series coming ever since the first deadliest sin on the 996. It’s always been a hot topic. Incidently, I often find that those who accuse the 924 of not being a true sports car are those who drive commuter cars/have little true sentiment towards the automobile and take public opinion as sacred or dream of driving a 911 all their lives, but never get to do so. Who’s the wiser in this case? The person who embraces the “fake Porsche” for the character-filled and raw driving experience of a car they truly enjoy or those who smirk at such “Porsche-posers” and never get to drive anything more sporting than a Civic, all whilst dreaming of that 911 they’ll never drive? With their lack of true automotive passion and respect, why do they actually dream of that 911? Because they’ve been told to do so.

      The true enthusiasts are those who don’t adopt ill-informed opinion/society imposed superiority complexes and go with their gut as to what truly brings them pleasure. Be this a 924 or a 930 Turbo. Quite often, those who have had an affinity and/or experience with air-cooled and early water-cooled VW’s tend to adopt an even greater affinity for the Porsche cars…these cars feel familiar yet they induce a seperate passion in their own new ways. It’s a linked passion, made from two linked car manufacturers. Then there’s those who are truly blessed (financially) who can own, restore and enjoy the entire line-up of Porsche/VW cars ranging from measely Beatles and Type 2 vans all the way to Carrera RS’s, 935 race cars and whatnot. They won’t be pointing fingers as to which car is “real” and which is “fake”.

      In my eyes, this is not a deadly sin.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    “As a result, the proud new owner of a Americanized 924 was likely to get smoked at traffic lights by everything from the Datsun 240Z to the Chrysler Cordoba.”

    But what about the beautiful, wonderful interior? And it was made in Europe!

  • avatar
    davey49

    Luckily for Porsche there are a whole lot of wannabes and utter idiots.

  • avatar

    The 944/968 is about the only Porsche that ever appealed to me.

    I have to say that I loved how the Porschephiles smacked down Stuttgart with their rejection of the 928. How dare they put the engine in the wrong place? A pox on all their houses.

  • avatar

    As the owner of a 987 Boxster S, I must say I’ve not run into any “not a real Porsche” or “Porsche-wannabe” comments from PCA members or track mates. It’s a quick, capable, beautiful car worthy of the marque. I suppose there are extremists out there who must have a fussy, air-cooled 911 to be at peace with themselves. But I’ve never run into any.

    A friend of mine with both a Cayman S and a 911 GT3 actually gets more compliments (at the track) on his Cayman, which is decked out with aftermarket wheels and festooned with numbers and other “Porsche” appliques and looks great. The corner workers love the car and never black-flag him.

  • avatar
    hurls

    I may be the odd man out, but I actually lusted after a 924S or 944 when they came out because they reminded me of a 928! I still have never driven a 928, but I still want one… moreso than a 911. Though I can’t imagine maintaining one at this point in time.

    I guess I’m the guy Porsche was marketing to when they came out with the front engined cars (only too young to buy a car at the time they came out, and still too young (i.e., poor) by the time they went away.

    I came very close to buying a 924S as my first new car in 88…ended up buying a Miata in 89 instead. Wonder if the Porsche would still be in my driveway in perfect running condition with no major repairs 20 years later like the Miata is :)

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Some fnd told me is not hard to tune 450 HP from 944 turbo, whilst 911 is much harder to squeeze more HPs.

  • avatar
    msquare

    Would you believe there was a time when the 911 was basically on life support and the 944/928 were considered the future of Porsche?

    The front-engined Porsches came out under Ernst Fuhrmann’s reign as CEO. Fuhrmann thought the 911 was done, still in production only to keep American buyers happy. Peter Schutz succeeded him in 1980 and revived it with the 911 Carrera, which of course was succeeded by the 964 and 993 variants.

    Ferrari did have a similar “real vs. not real” dilemma when the Dino came out in the late 1960′s. Not being a 12-cylinder car, it was originally presented as a separate brand. The V8-powered 308 started out as the Dino 308 GT4, but the GTS/GTB (Magnum P.I.) cars confused the issue.

    I think the main reason nobody cares about that anymore is that the V8 cars are great performers in their own right. If the 914 and 924 were up to snuff in performance and quality from the get-go, none of this would be an issue. No one disputes the purity of the 928 because for a significant part of its history it was superior to the 911.

  • avatar
    cole carrera

    Do more new porsche’s

  • avatar
    Grahambo

    I’m with Syke, Jaje and Rotarded and the other defenders of the 924-944-968 above. I bought my ’83 944 in 1991 for relatively little money, and, though it has depreciated a couple grand in the last 20 years, I appreciate it now more than ever. It certainly lacks raw power (although it is torquey and quick enough to still be lots of fun) and some modern accoutrements (poor HVAC, remedied with the redesign in 85.5) but, otherwise, is just about perfect from a handling, steering and braking feel perspective. In response to the poster with the Miata (probably one of the few cars still made today that feels as pure, unfiltered and just “right”) it has had no major mechanical malfunctions in 27 years and runs great today. You have to keep up with timing belts and water pumps (and non drivetrain stuff like window regulators) but overall its a very simple (especially compared to today’s inordinately complicated performance cars) and robust design that can still function as a daily driver. When I was younger I used to have a bit of an inferiority complex with the “its not a 911/true Porsche” gibes, but with maturity comes wisdom and a well maintained 924S or 944 is a wise way to spend not much money for a superbly made, built to last, car with extraordinarily satisfying handling and an engine that will easily go well over 200K with minimal expense but just a modicum of care (unlike essentially any 911 – not to mention the vastly superior wet weather handling afforded by the balanced front engine/rear transaxle design of the 924/44/68) If you are looking for all that with a LOT more power at the expense of additional complexity (and everything that goes along with that), you can go Turbo, S2 or 968. Just be sure to get a well maintained example.

  • avatar
    vaujot

    I start sensing an underlying theme of the series: 70s cars hampered by emission control systems hampering performance (911 2.7, 914-4 and 924), with the later two therefore being underpowered for the US market. At least the 924 was not underpowered for the European market when it came out.
    The whole Porsche hierarchy thing is in my experience one of mostly people who don’t have Porsches (the Corolla drivers, this group makes up the overwhelming majority), secondly buyers of entry level models who lust after a 911 (as far as the 924 and 944 are concerned, this group is larger than it should be) and only to a tiny part of 911 drivers (usually the extreme air-cooled purists).
    My guess/suggestion for one of the next installments of the series:
    Porsche 3512.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I’m not sure that I agree about this being a sin. Every car from Porsche can’t be perfect, and I think the positive testimonials + enduring appeal of these little buggers makes up for them being slow + overpriced upon release.

    Let’s not forget that when this came out the Corvette was probably in its darkest days, with its base model weighing in at 3700 lbs, punishing a choked up 350 that could only muster 180 HP. So while the Vette may have had a marginally better power to weight ratio, it was still a dog, with significantly worse gas mileage, build quality, ride quality, handling & IMO a garish + cartoony design. Thinking about it now, aside from the RX-7, which was still a 2 seater with its own issues, and the E21/E30 3′s, I can’t think of a car from the 70s that offered the same amount of practicality with such a quality driving experience (outside of the slow engines, which were just a consequence of the times). Can you?

  • avatar
    JeremyR

    [The 924] helped perpetuate the idea that there are “real” Porsches and “fake” ones and that the almighty 911 is the only true path to Porsche ownership. The dismissive way in which Toyota Corolla owners speak of Boxster drivers on the Internet is proof of this.

    I don’t see how this is proof of anything. In any case, Corolla owners (or even Porsche owners, for that matter) are in no position to decide what is a “real” Porsche.


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