Crapwagon Outtake: 1987 Porsche 924S

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

The lure of the cheap “exotic” car can be irresistible for some gearheads. Just open up eBay Motors sometime and type “ project” into the search bar. Instantly, dozens of cars, old and new, are there to haunt your bargain-hunting dreams. In a quick glance, I spotted a Viper, a Z32 300ZX, and even a Local Motors Rally Fighter that can all be picked up for a fraction of the cost of a clean one.

The problem with any project, of course, is the time and money required to complete is typically underestimated, often by some unforeseen order of magnitude. Many of these “projects” will likely be listed on eBay in twenty years as “barn finds”, in basically the same state — save for entropy — as today.

Take today’s feature car, the 1987 Porsche 924S.

For a shade under $5000, this is an affordable entry into the Porsche brotherhood. The car appears clean, straight, and reasonably well cared for, though the odometer looks to have rolled over. This car resurrected the 924 moniker for a lower-cost alternative to the fat-fendered 944, and could represent a good bargain for the first-time Porsche owner.

Or not.

I think the book time for a clutch replacement is somewhere in the neighborhood of nine hours. At typical P-car shop rates, your $5,000 bargain has cost another two to three grand in parts and labor. If you can handle the work yourself, can source low-cost replacement bits easily, and be able to tie up a stall in your garage for some time while repairs are done, this might be feasible.

If I had the space in my garage, I’d be tempted by this, as my mechanical skills aren’t that bad. My last clutch job (on the Miata) did require some help, as I’d just had hernia surgery a week prior. I just wasn’t up to the task of benchpressing the transmission.

Like any car, this Porsche will require a pre-purchase inspection to assess what the car needs. If there are good, recent service records, and the inspection comes out clean, this may indeed be a good deal.

Otherwise, at the sign of the first major repair bill, the new owner may start searching for a barn.

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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4 of 29 comments
  • Syke Syke on Oct 16, 2015

    I owned that exact same car for three years, found it to be a wonderful experience, and repeatedly kick myself both for: a. Trading it in, and b. What I traded it in for. Bought it back in 2010 with 115k on the clock from a local guy who refurbishes Porsches (mainly air-cooled 911's) for the grand total of $3500.00. As the car didn't come with service records, and the seller was honest enough to give me a complete rundown on what he thought could be problematic in the future, I automatically budgeted for a new timing belt, water pump, and ancillery parts done within a week. Cost me a big over a thousand for the complete job at a local independent Euro auto specialist shop that knew the model very well. Over the next three years it cost me one trip per year for repairs, usually to the tune of about $500.00. The car was eminently reliable, only breaking down on me once (the relay to the electric fuel pump died), and was easily the most enjoyable car I've ever owned. A wonderfully practical sports car, good on gas, comfortable, a practical errand runner, and one hell of a back road bomber. So why did I trade it? In 2013, having just buried my wife after a seven year terminal illness, I started thinking that I really shouldn't be putting off a number of promises I made to myself over the years, because who knew how long I'd have to cash them in. The big one was that I'd never owned a roadster, hell, there hadn't been a convertible anything in the family driveway(s) since dad's 1960 Impala. And while the Porsche was damned near perfect, a big part of the impefection was that the roof was fixed. Found a 968, unfortunately with Triptronic. Talk about de-balling a wonderful car! There should be a particular circle in hell for people who order cars like that. It came down to a '06 Miata and an '06 Solstice. To my surprise, the Solstice hit me better on the test rides (both of which scared the hell out of a couple of salesmen). Long term: Within two years the Solstice had been sold. While it was wonderful to drive on an hour by hour basis, it sucked rocks living with it on a month by month basis. I realized that every time I drove it, I was missing the 924S. And once I get the new garage built (spring), I'm going back looking for another 924. Or a 944. Or a 968. I want that wonderful drive back. Advice to the readership: If you either have the ability to work on one of these by yourself, or have the backup of a good independent shop with experience on them, BUY ONE! You won't be sorry. Yes, the repairs aren't cheap, but its a Porsche, not a Chevrolet. You get what you pay for.

    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Oct 16, 2015

      You probably bought your car at the right time. At 115K, most of the stupid stuff that goes wrong on these cars had already gone wrong. Mine only had 59K on it when I got it, and everything broke. Helped along by the fact that my car probably did a ton of sitting in the FL heat, so when I started driving it, all the seals went. It leaked everywhere. It was too original. I have no doubt that once sorted out it would stay that way, but the cost and time involvement in getting it there led me to get rid of it and buy a new Fiat Abarth. Which actually cost about the same to keep for two years as the old Porsche did, but I did not have to lift a finger other than to send the check in every month! And I put 10X as many miles on it. They really are fantastic cars to drive though. The handling is superb, and so is the ride.

  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Oct 16, 2015

    It is very difficult to keep these '80s German cars on the road without a substantial cash commitment. Their rubber suspension components and fuel and brake lines rot and their obscure sensors, wires, and switches go bad. Even if you're handy, these electrical glitches can vex even the best of them, including $125 Per Hour Hans at the local German Car Emporium after you give up and have it towed there. Here's your cautionary tale for the day.... Someone paid 9k for it, thinking he could save it. He hasn't been able to, and it looks like he's spending a butt ton of money trying to do so. Honestly, I'd leave the 924 in the gutter where you found it, IMHO.

    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Oct 16, 2015

      How can they not be? They are 30-odd year old cars now. Effectively, they are restoration projects if you want to actually use them. If you have the time, or the cash to pay someone else they are wonderful cars. Once you get them up to par, they stay that way for a very long time. But getting them there can be expensive in time, money, and often both. Really, the best bet as always is to buy one someone else already restored. Though even then, the running costs of a 944/924S are not cheap, mostly due to the timing belt setup. I have owned numerous '80s European cars, Porsche parts are simply in a different league of expense. I assume mostly due to their very small volume nature. My Alfa GTV-6 was similar to the 924S in that anything that was specific to it cost a bloody fortune, but all the bits shared with other Alfas were very reasonable. But at least with the Germans, you can still get all the parts, if sometimes at a price. Good luck restoring anything '80s and Japanese...

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...