By on August 11, 2014

If you could afford just about any sports car short of the exotics, why would you restore a more than 20 year old front engined four cylinder Porsche? That was the question that I asked orthopaedic surgeon Miles Singer, who completely rebuilt his Porsche 968. Miles is good at rebuilding things. I first got to know him through his wife, Debbie, a razor sharp PhD chemical engineer with whom I worked at DuPont. One day in 2001, while commuting to work on my bicycle, I entered a crosswalk on a very stale signal. The guy in the Infiniti SUV sitting next to the Airborne delivery truck in the curb lane didn’t see me till I popped out in front of him just after his light turned green. I actually saw the bumper hit my left knee. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground and my lower left leg was at a funny angle to my thigh.

At the hospital they told me that I had a broken knee. The technical name is a tibial plateau fracture. The human knee is kind of a Rube Goldberg contraption. Most of our joints have something close to a ball and socket but the knee is really just two surfaces sliding against each other with some cartilage in between and all sorts of ligaments and muscles at odd angles strapping it all together. As long as it’s used as designed, things are okay, but it’s really not designed to bend in from the side. If that happens one of two things can happen.

As the joint bends inward, the inside edge of the joint between the tib/fib in your lower leg, and your femur, your thigh bone, starts to separate. If you’re lucky, you just blow out your medial collateral ligament. That’s the strap that holds the joint together on the proximal, inside side of your knee. As I said, if you’re lucky, you tear a ligament, if you’re not lucky, as the joint bends inwards, the outside of the bottom edge of the femur is being levered downward into the top of the lower knee, the tibial plateau. The femur is the largest, strongest bone in your body, when it moves, other parts will just have to get out of the way and in my case, it broke away a big chunk of the bone below it.

I needed surgery to insert a metal plate to hold the pieces together while they mended and bone grafts taken from my pelvis to fill in the empty space left by crushed bone. Since they were going to wait at least a day for surgery, I decided to give my friend Debbie a call and see if her husband worked on knees. I’d seen him about my chronic low back pain and was impressed with how complete the workup I got was. I was also impressed by the fact that he drove a Porsche 968, with BX N NX vanity plates. I may have been his only patient who could identify it as a 968.

Why not have a knee specialist put my knee back together? Like I said, I was impressed with how Miles worked and reasoned that if he could work around spinal cords without crippling folks, he could probably put my knee back together just fine.

Which is what he did. By the end of that summer I was back on the bike again. Fortunately the cartilage was just displaced, not torn, so the geometry and lubrication of the joint is back close to what it was before the accident. It’s not perfect, the knee sometimes hurts from the pounding when I run real hard on pavement, but then there’s a reason why I took up cycling in the first place, I don’t particularly like to run.

My day gig is doing machine embroidery and recently I got a call from Debbie about embroidering some surgical scrubs with the logo of Miles’ practice, Specialists in Spine Surgery. I happened to ask her if he still had the 968 and she said not only does he still have it, he completely rebuilt it and still drives it. “He’ll never get rid of it, he loves that car,” she said.

Now I don’t want to be indelicate discussing other people’s finances but Dr. Singer does okay. Outside of six figure exotics, he can probably afford to buy new just about any sports car on the market today, certainly a new Boxster or Cayman if Debbie won’t let him pop for a 911. So why restore a 20 year old car that plenty of Porsche Cayenne & Macan owners couldn’t identify? It’s not quite vintage and while the 944 and its variants are respected by enthusiasts, the front engine Porsches have never really caught on with Porsche purists because the engine’s in the wrong place as far as they’re concerned. An air-cooled 911 it’s not. Restoring a Porsche that not even all Porsche fans like doesn’t make a lot of sense.

To answer that conundrum I spent an hour or so talking with Miles about his car and taking the accompanying photographs (when I wasn’t trying to shoot the red tailed hawk that swooped over our heads and onto a tree branch across the street).

He bought the 1993 model car when it was three years old and said the he just fell in love with how balanced it is. The 968 has the same “front mid engine”, rear transaxle setup that the 928 has and it’s the same layout that the Corvette has been using since the fifth generation car. With that layout you can achieve very close to 50/50 weight distribution front to back. If I’m not mistaken the Nissan GT-R has a similar layout, as does the Lexus LFA. While that layout may not provide the ultimate 10/10ths cornering grip of a car with the engine mounted midships behind the driver, many consider it to be ideal for handling and feel.

Singer used the Porsche as a daily driver for years and when it came time to think about maybe replacing it, Miles decided instead to rebuild it. That’s the word he kept using. I don’t know if it was intentional, though it makes sense, because Miles’ car (that’s what Debbie calls it, she’s never really driven it because it’s got a manual transmission and a clutch that’s rather heavy) isn’t a restoration. It’s not a 100 point show car. It’s not quite as it was when it left the factory because Miles has built it the way that he wants it, though he’s done it in a manner that has some integrity to it. Though not stock, all the bits except for the roll bar (the car is tracked a couple of times a year) are Porsche factory bits. The 944 was an expensive car to build and while the 968 was being developed, Porsche profits were declining. To save money, the 968 came naturally aspirated. When he rebuilt his 968, Dr. Singer added the turbo that came on the sixteen 968 Turbo S cars that were made for the European market, which explains the NACA ducts on the hood. Those turbo motors are rated at 305 hp and 368 ft-lb, good for sub-five second 0-60 mph times and a top speed of 180 mph. Singer’s 968 is likely rated higher than that because the factory 968 Turbo S used the 944 Turbo’s 8 valve SOHC head, while Singer used the 16 valve DOHC head that came with the car. Turbo versions of those engines can make 400+ horsepower.

The front fascia is Euro spec and the air inlet / fog lamp inserts are also from another model 968. Singer has also mounted a pretty aggressive splitter up front. In back is the 968 Turbo S’ wing with an adjustable mid section. The car is painted Grand Prix White.

IMG_0191

For comparison, a 944 Turbo. Full gallery here

Stock from the factory, the 968 had a 3 liter four putting out 235 SAE horsepower which featured then new variable valve timing. To keep the big four running smoothly, there were two counter-rotating balance shafts. The 924/944 transaxle borrowed from the Audi FWD parts bin was replaced with a Porsche designed six speed manual, with a four speed Tiptronic developed by Porsche, ZF and Bosch collaboratively as a new option. As with the 944 and 924 before it, the 968 featured a semi-trailing arm rear suspension with transverse torsion bar springs,  a source of complaints about ride quality in the earlier cars, so attention was made to tuning the 968 for a better ride while retaining the car’s notable handling agility.

The 968 was supposed to be the entry level Porsche that no longer had the stigma of being a hand me down VW with an Audi truck engine, barbs that had slighted the 924 (which actually started out as a VW project) and, less fairly, the 944. The 968s were built in a Porsche factory in Zuffenhausen, not Audi or VW plants like the 924 and 944. Eighty percent of the car was said to be new (though to save money the interior was pretty much carried over from the 944), with new exterior styling by Harm Legaay along with Dick Soderberg and Tony Hatter that incorporated 928 style exposed popup headlamps, and a squarer, bulkier rear end. Though critics then said and now say that the 968 delivered on the earlier four cylinder front engined Porsches’ promise, with significantly better performance,  0-60 in less than six seconds and a top speed over 150 mph, it didn’t sell well. Fewer than 13,000 were built between 1992 and 1995. A bit of an orphan in the company, with few advocates, the 968 came out as the midengine Boxster was being developed. By the time the Boxster was shown as a concept at the Detroit auto show in 1993, the 968 and 928 programs were dead, though those cars stayed in production for a while. They’d be the last front engine Porsches built until the company got into the SUV business with the Cayenne.

The front engined four cylinder Porsches were a bit unloved. Porschephiles dismissed them as lacking sang pur, and even the company itself seems to have regarded them a bit as the step-child with the wrong colored hair. None of that matters to Miles Singer. He loves his car.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

 

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15 Comments on “Unloved by Porsche & Purists, This 1993 Porsche 968 is Well Loved Nonetheless...”


  • avatar
    danio3834

    Nice story about a man and his car. I know a few guys with front engined Porsches and they love them for what they are, fun cars.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    “Restoring a Porsche that not even all Porsche fans like doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

    The only reason to restore a car is because you love it. It doesn’t matter what’s “in” with the cognoscenti.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Great car, great project, I have always liked the 944 and 968. Usually we only get to see someone’s possibly crazy project in ads after they decide to sell it. I would love to know how much the good doctor has in this thing.

  • avatar

    The PCA mag did a feature on a similar build a few months ago. Factory 968 Turbo S cars are exceeeedingly rare in the US, so this is one way to get all of the lulz without driving around one of something-teen cars here.

    I dig it. I’ve never been a fan of the headlights on these, but that 3.0L sure is sweet…

  • avatar
    319583076

    I’m a big fan of the 944 and 968, they are great cars although they come with your typical German-engineered problems.

    911s are neat cars, but highly irrational and not indicative of the best that Porsche can build. I’ll never understand why the fanboys hobble the company.

  • avatar
    baconator

    968s are considered one of the all-time great driver’s cars in Europe, and really should be here. Here they were ungodly expensive at the time – just under $90k in today’s dollars. Right now a good 968 will sell for above an average 996, which is about as it should be.

    This car is more than “rebuilt,” as it’s got a turbo setup that goes beyond the stock (and not at all slow!) 968 Turbo S setup. With any increase at all in boost it’s likely a car that gets down into a low-four or even high-3 second 0-60 time and a 12-second quarter mile. 400 horsepower is easy to get from one of these motors when it’s running the 16v head and the turbo.

    The suspension ride height is also not stock – these cars have a lot of aftermarket suspension options and it would be interesting to hear what the good Doctor has put on.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Yeah, this is more of a resto-mod, but that’s okay. The 968 is probably what I’d get if I were in a mood to buy a Porsche, but the problem in the US is that there are easily a dozen other budget-friendly alternatives that provide the same or better driving experience.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Mister Singer, congratulations on your outstanding push feed Porsche restomod.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    My dad had a convertible one of these he picked up around 2000 when I was in high school and held onto for several years. It was a really fun car and great to drive to Prom in, and aside from the extra torque, really reminds me of my AP2 S2000 in its overall character. Overall it was fairly reliable, though it wasn’t without some random failures over the years. It is a shame Porsche stopped making them.

    It wasn’t without its little German idiosynchacies though, the biggest being the operation of the convertible top. Instead of having easily accessible latches, you had a strange allen-type key that you had to insert into holes on the corner of the windshield frame and turn from Auf to Zu (they didn’t bother to make English language labels for Open and Closed), and getting the key in the lock mechanism was a challenge in and of itself.

    The shifter throw was a little bit long, and I’ve never been a fan of 4-spoke steering wheels, but otherwiste it was an outstanding car. It had a much better feel to me than any of the first generation Boxsters I’ve ever driven.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Screw the car, I want to know more about knees!

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    To split a hair, the 928 shares the front-mid engine rear transaxle layout of the 924, as the 924 came first. Since the 968 is a direct descendent of the 924, it really shares nothing but some styling queues with it’s big brother the 928.

    Lovely cars when they are right, but my goodness they cost the Earth to put right. BTDT, lost the t-shirt. These cars (the Porsche engine versions anyway) are just as expensive to maintain and restore than an air-cooled 911. Cost of entry is a lot lower though.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      “These cars (the Porsche engine versions anyway) are just as expensive to maintain and restore than an air-cooled 911. Cost of entry is a lot lower though.”

      That’s the kicker, here. Lots of folks seem to get into a 924, 944, 968 as a “poor man’s Porsche” only to find out that it’s not. As a result, they end up really abused and then back on the market for even less with an even larger bill to get them “right” again.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        You better believe it. The single biggest killer of these cars is and has been the timing belt service. To do it correctly costs from $1500-2000+ every 30-40K miles or 4 years. And to set the tension correctly, you really are supposed to have a very expensive Porsche tool. No problem for the first owners, maybe not too much of a problem for the second owner, but the 3rd, 4th, 5th… Once they became $5-10K used cars this is what killed an awful lot of them. If you have Joe’s garage that doesn’t know water cooled Porsches do it, they may well do more harm than good.

        I had a 924S for a while that was a nice, original, unmolested 60K car, but it had sat in a garage in FL for a LONG time. It was going to cost a fortune in money and time to get right – all the rubber needed replacing. I have the money, but not the time so I moved it along. But it was a LOVELY car to drive. So balanced, and just a really nice ride/handling mix. Great steering. Just enough go. I’d like another one someday, but someone else needs to do the work. In hindsight I should have just paid to have mine done and not bought my Abarth, but oh well.

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    The ortho surgeon who repaired my hip told me this joke:

    What’s the difference between an orthopedic surgeon and a carpenter? A carpenter knows more than one antibiotic.

    Good guy and a hell of a surgeon.

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