While Porsche provided the (relatively) inexpensive 914 and 924 to American buyers during the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the debut of the 944 here in the 1983 model year resulted in the price tag on the cheapest possible Porsche starting at $18,980 (about $52,240 in 2021 dollars). While the white-powder-dusted 928 S listed at $43,000 that year (about $118,360 today), it must have pained the suits in Stuttgart to have nothing to compete for sales with the likes of the affordable Mitsubishi Starion and Nissan 280ZX. So, for the 1987 and 1988 model years, American Porsche shoppers could buy a 924 with a detuned version of the 944’s engine, keeping the cheap(-ish) price tag of the 924 while ditching the VW engine that— humiliatingly— went into American Motors economy cars and even DJ-5 mail Jeeps. This car was known as the 924S, and I’ve found this one in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.
The Porsche 944 is an excellent example of the kind of car that’s worth pretty decent money when in great condition … and worth scrap value beyond a fairly strict threshold of perceived thrashedness. I see plenty of 944s at the fixed price, high-inventory turnover, self-service yards (not to mention many more blowing up in 24 Hours of LeMons races), but I don’t feel inspired to document these cars in their final parking spaces most of the time.
This beat-to-crap early 944 in a San Jose yard, however, caught my attention for some reason.
It feels as if it’s finally the Year of the Porsche 944 in the 24 Hours of LeMons. Several well-organized, knowledgeable teams such as Porch Racing and Floridiot Motorsports have made the 944 work reliably and well enough to contend for an overall win on laps. “Der Porschelump,” however, is not one of those teams.
I had tried to buy my way into one of those cars by buying an ex-ChumpCar winning ’83 944, but unfortunately, my time with that car was cut short. Some of you may recognize me from Jalopnik, where my first paid article was about having my racecar totaled in the first driver’s stint. Oops.
So, I bought another one. A commenter on my banana’d 944 article responded that he had one for sale, so I jumped on it. Enter: My First Racecar Build.
Can someone with almost zero mechanical experience beyond brake pad swaps make a 944 with a busted water pump run?
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.
I was doing some legwork on a Reader’s Ride sort of thing that I’m hoping I’ll get to do with a Porsche 968. Time hasn’t treated the four cylinder front engined Porsches quite as well as it has the 928, and that, too, is kind of dismissed by Dr. P’s acolytes of the rear engined faith. You can buy a 968, the ultimate development of the 944 and a very nicely performing, exceptionally handling car, for less than a new Yaris or Versa will cost you and you can get a decent runner 944 for just a few thousand dollars. As for the 924, like the 914, it’s considered eine halbe Porsche.
Aside from “real racers” who insist The 24 Hours of LeMons is a joke, everyone else understands this series’ willingness to embrace engineering and artistic creativity, providing somewhat-wholesome entertainment and—best of all– giving away a metric ton of track time for little cash. As a member of the LeMons Supreme Court in their Texas races, well, bias from judicial bribes and heartless praise bestowed upon me aside…
…here’s a dirty little secret: you can go LeMons racing in any fully depreciated machine with ZERO PENALTY LAPS, no matter how awesome the vehicle was when new. Provided you bend (not break) the rules with your whip. And give everyone a good reason to love/hate you. The Poorvette is proof positive.
Full fathom five my 944 lies;
Of its wheels are spider nests made;
Those glass E-codes that were its eyes;
Nothing of it that doth fade.
Hard to believe it was more than four years ago that I rolled my 944 into a friend’s barn with the intent of perhaps uncovering it in a decade or so. Times change, plans change, people piss off their soon-to-be-ex-wives and lose the barn storage they had given to their friends. It would come out today or be sold at auction, but how do you tow a Porsche across a farmer’s field too wet for a tow truck?
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