Porsche 944 (1981-1991)

Premiere: 1981 September 16, IAA Frankfurt Motor Show press day

© Porsche
MY1982 C MY1983 D MY1984 E MY1985/1 F MY1985/2 F MY1986 G MY1987 H MY1988 J MY1989 K MY1990 L MY1991 M
944 2.5 120 kW without catalytic converter, Europe
944 2.5 110 kW USA/Japan (Cat) Cat available also in Europe
944 2.5 118 kW 944 2.7 121 kW
944 S 2.5 140 kW 944 S2 3.0 155 kW
944 Turbo 2.5 162 kW
944 Turbo S 2.5 184 kW 944 Turbo 2.5 184 kW
944 Turbo Cup 2.5 162 kW 944 Turbo Cup 2.5 184 kW
944 Challenge 110 kW
944 GTR by Fabcar 392 kW
MY1982 MY1983 MY1984 MY1985/1 MY1985/2 MY1986 MY1987 MY1988 MY1989 MY1990 MY1991
3-speed automatic optionally available for base version 944
New dashboard
Wider axles/wheels with added offset, optional ABS
S2 Cabriolet
Turbo Cabriolet

The predecessor, the 924, was initially designed for Volkswagen. It was beautifully done by Porsche and the technical concept of front engine and rear transmission was top notch, but it didn't have the Porsche engine. The natural evolution of the 924 would be to equip it with a real Porsche engine. The base for the 944 engine design came from the aluminium V8 of the 928. One bank of it was used, so to speak, and with longer stroke a 2.5-litre inline-4 was created. So, the history of the 944 starts with an engine. But not with the series production engine! The history of the 944 starts with a racing engine.

Although the exterior design of the 944 was finalized by the beginning of 1981, the presentation was postponed to September 1981 for the IAA (Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung) Frankfurt Motor Show. This meant the first thing '944' to arrive publically, was the 2.5-litre 16-valve turbo engine called '944 Le Mans' that was installed in one of the 924 GTR racing cars for the Le Mans 24 hour race in June 1981. The text on the engine read '944 Le Mans' (it was the name of the engine, not of the car). Walter Röhrl and Jürgen Barth finished with excellent 7th place overall. The 944 LM engine was the first Porsche engine to use fully electronic fuel injection system in racing.

301 kW 2.5-litre inline-4 turbocharged 16 valve '944 Le Mans' engine (Porsche type 949) in the 1981 924 Carrera GTR. Note the shape of the '944' logo - it will look like this also on the rear panels of the series production cars. © Porsche

Although the '944 Le Mans' engine was a powerhouse, experimental highly tuned engines are never installed in series production cars. For the first years of production, turbocharging would not be offered at all for 944. The normally aspirated series production engine developed 120 kW without catalytic converter (which was not compulsory in Europe).

2.5-litre normally aspirated 8 valve series production engine© Porsche
2.5 I4 8V n/a© Porsche

With its 2.5-litres of displacement the engine was quite big for a 4-cylinder and in order to make it run smoothly, balancing shafts were used with a patent from Mitsubishi. The 944 engine happily started from the first turn and ran really smoothly - it was so sophisticated compared to the 924. It was a strong step forward in terms of power compared to the normally aspirated 924, but not compared to the turbocharged 924 engines (not to speak of the 924 Carreras which were really powerful).

Both the 924 and the 944 were designed under head designer Anatole Lapine. Most of the credits with the original narrow body 924 went to Harm Lagaay who worked for Porsche until 1977 (Lapine left by the end of 1988 and then Lagaay returned as his successor). The 944 got its exterior design mostly from the 1979 widebody 924 Carrera GT prototype, just that new rear fenders were designed. Not all the design features from the 924 GT prototype made to the series production 924 Carreras, but they all made to the 944. The production 924 Carrera versions were even better looking than their prototype was, but the design that the 944 got from the 924 Carrera prototype, is definitely a very good one. Compared to the 924 Carrera, the 944 got real widened rear fenders (924 Carreras had rear wheel arch extensions over the narrow body of the 924). So, the rear end of the 944 was better than of the 924 Carrera, but the front was more agressive on the 924 Carrera. What you pay is what you get - the 944 was much more affordable than the 924 Carrera.

This is where the exterior design of the 944 came from, the 1979 924 Carrera GT prototype © Porsche
One of the 944 prototypes in the design studio. As the 944 had higher air drag than the 924, here an aerodynamic 944 prototype is made without rear spoiler, with flush door handles and flush wheels covers. © Porsche
Note: the wheel covers say '944'. Not visible here, but the 944 used 5-bolt Porsche wheels from day one (with the 924 this feature was reserved only for the top versions). © Porsche
A 944 prototype with side blinkers from 924 Carrera GT (which in turn got them from the 928)© Porsche
Porsche 944 1981 prototype
1981 prototype - the only visual difference with the production version are the frames of the the bumper lamps© Porsche
1981 endurance test of the 2.5-litre 944 engine inside a 924 Carrera GT body not to reveal the final looks of the 944 yet. It can be told that this car is not the turbocharged 924 Carrera because it doesn't have the intercooler opening in the bonnet. Former Porsche racing driver Rudi Lins on the car, photographed by endurance test driver Gerhard Plattner.© Porsche
Ready for production. Interestingly the '944' logo on the number plate is made using the typeface (font) that was in use for 924 until 1978 model year. Maybe the '944' with this typeface looked like '911' from the distance that they wanted to use it? On the production cars the '944' logo was made using the newer font.© Porsche
Optional front spoiler with fog lamps © Porsche
The rear rubber spoiler came from the 924 Carrera GT © Porsche
© Porsche
Porsche 944 cut show car
The bodies were fully galvanized at the Audi plant in Neckarsulm where the 924 and 944 were made© Porsche

In 1981, 4-wheel drive system for 911 was experimented and in 1982 it found its way to one experimental 944. It was a 944 with rear engine and four wheel drive.

944 with rear engine and 911 experimental 4WD system © Stuttcars.com
You are looking at a lot interesting: 1) the transmission is a 911 4WD prototype transmission, 2) the engine is a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder inline engine that is designed to lay on one of its sides (pistons move horizontally like in a flat engine). © Stuttcars.com
This rear spoiler was later offered through Porsche Sonderwunsch (Special wishes) department. Here it hides the rear engine and air box behind the right side ribs. © Stuttcars.com
Front wheel drive system from 911 4WD prototype © Stuttcars.com

This 4WD system, designed for 911, didn't go into production, though. The engine in the car came from a project where Porsche had designed a "flat inline-4" engine for Volkswagen to use under floor - that didn't go into production, either.

The 944 was introduced in USA a year later (in 1982 as a 1983 model) and as the US customers hadn't seen the 924 Carrera versions sold in Europe, for Americans the 944 was even greater news from Porsche. The US and Japanese versions had to have the catalytic converters and in addition with internal modifications to the engine the power was reduced from 120 kW down to 110 kW.

Piston comparison © Porsche

In addition to the loss of power, the US-version had to be fitted with heavy, almost military strength, front and rear bumpers. On the European models the bumpers were made of strong GFRP (glass-fibre reinforced plastic) and simply mounted to the structural members of the body. Consider that there were no speed limits in German highways and the GFRP bumpers were enough as designed by Porsche engineers (these bumpers needed to be replaced in the case of an accident). In order to sell cars in USA, the cars had to correspond to US DOT (Department of Transportation) regulations. Although from 1974, a 55 mph (88 km/h) speed limit was effective throughout the USA, the cars had to have bumpers strong enough to drive through a house. The bumpers for US versions were made longer, they were made of thick cast aluminium, they were equipped with heavy rubber bumperettes and they were mounted on shock absorbers before mounted to the body. That's some serious weight to drag around every day with no other reason than a badly made federal law.

US version with its bumpers designed by DOT and not so much by the top designers at Porsche. US version has side marker lamps front and rear and no side blinkers. © Porsche
Porsche 944 USA front bumper
USA version front bumper (build code M036)
European version of the aluminium front bumper (build code M058, optional equipment). This bumper was also fixed on shock absorbers like American bumpers, but this version is ultra rare as most of the European cars were ordered with standard plastic bumpers.

In the end of June of 1982, Longest Day of Nelson 24 hour race in Nelson Ledges, Ohio, USA, was won with the new 944 (in 1981, it was won with the 924). The event was held close to the longest day of the year, hence the name of the event. The reliability of the new 944 won the turbocharged and V8 muscles of USA. The 944 was driven by Freddy Baker, Bob Nikel, Gary Witzenburg and Tony Assenza.

1982 Nelson Ledges 24h: Popular Mechanics' winning 944

As a governmental initiative for car makers, Porsche also studied to run engines on methanol. While many 1979 924 test cars were modified to run on M15 methanol (15% methanol, 85% petrol mix), pure methanol (M100) was used for special 944 test engines in 1982. The basis was the 110 kW US version, but with methanol the modified engine put out 120 kW (the same as the non-cat European 944).

In 1983 in Europe there wasn't really any public information available on the forthcoming Turbo-version of the 944, but in USA, on June 25, 1983, a prototype of the 944 Turbo was entered at the Longest Day of Nelson 24 hour showroom stock car race.

1983 Nelson Ledges, 944 Turbo prototype
1983 June 25, Nelson Ledges, Ohio: a 944 Turbo prototype before the 24 hour race © Mark Windecker

Engine wise this very early prototype was similar to the later production cars. The brakes were from regular 944 as the initial plan was to use 944 brakes also on the production Turbos. Visually it already had the 944 Turbo front spoiler and front fenders (slightly different from normal 944, to fit with the new front spoiler). This prototype didn't yet have the slim side louvres nor the trademark rear under spoiler of the later production 944 Turbos. Inside, the prototype still had the old 924-derived 944 dashboard and seats.

1983 Nelson Ledges, 944 Turbo prototype crash
1983 June 26, Nelson Ledges, Ohio: crashed 944 Turbo prototype is towed to the pits for repairs © Performance Plus
1983 Nelson Ledges, 944 Turbo prototype
As can be seen, the 944 Turbo prototype didn't have the side valances and rear under spoiler specific to later series production Turbo© Mark Windecker

Thanks to almost 50/50 weight distributon, in 1984, Car and Driver magazine named the 944 the Best Handling Production Car.

© Porsche

In 1983, for 1984 model year, 944 got the so-called Phone Dial design wheels. They were in the size of 15" and with 951 spare part code meaning they were designed for the 944 Turbo (at that development phase it was planned to keep the "small" brakes from regular 944 also for the future 944 Turbo).

From model year 1984 the roof panel became electrically operated © Porsche
Porsche 944 early cruise control arm
Cruise control © Porsche
© Porsche
Porsche Sonderwunsch (Porsche Exclusive) wooden decorative offers for 944 in 1984 © Porsche
Porsche Sonderwunsch (Porsche Exclusive) leather decorative offers for 944 in 1984 © Porsche
Porsche Sonderwunsch (Porsche Exclusive) offers for 944 in 1984 © Porsche

In spring of 1984 Rothmans cosmetic edition 944 was made, a batch of 100 numbered cars ordered by the French importer Sonauto (the subsidiary of Porsche AG) to celebrate the victorious Rothmans-sponsored Porsche 956 that had won Le Mans 24 hour race in France in 1982 and in 1983. At the time when the Rothmans 944 was sold, Rothmans-Porsche factory team decided to boycott the 1984 Le Mans race.

The advertising reads "Why stop with a win", meaning that after Rothmans sponsored Porsches had won Le Mans, why not to get a street car with Rothmans' touch.© Porsche

There was a German Metalworkers Union (IG Metall) 45-day strike from mid-May until the end of June 1984 that postponed the production of a few thousand ordered Porsches.

It was on June 30, 1984, that a 944 Turbo prototype was entered for the second time at the Longest Day of Nelson 24 hour race. The car had new rear under spoiler and new dashboard - it was more or less ready for production. The car was in almost stock condition, just that a Matter roll cage was installed. Although the car already had the 944.2 seats, the new sports seat was probably not available yet and the driver's seat was exchanged to a 944.1 sports seat. Under the bonnet it was also quite stock with the exception of the aluminium induction pipes not being anodized black as on the series production cars. The VIN code of this 944 Turbo was WP0ZZZ95ZFN1500001, so by the VIN it was a 1985 model and first of them. At the 24 hour test the car was driven by Jim Busby, Freddy Baker and Rick Knoop. They won the race with huge margin in front of a regular 944.

1984 Nelson Ledges, 944 Turbo prototype
1984 June 30, Nelson Ledges, Ohio: a 944 Turbo prototype with chassis number WP0ZZZ95ZFN1500001 © Mark Windecker

The 944 Turbo was finally announced at the Geneva Motor Show (Salon de l'auto Genève) on March 7, 1985. A full drivetrain and chassis was on the display to show that it was not just the engine that made the 944 Turbo, but also Brembo brakes with 4-piston aluminium calipers, a stronger gearbox and many other parts. The Turbo produced identical power output with or without the catalytic converter. At least that's how it was announced in Geneva.

This is how the 944 is made into a Turbo. The side sills on this photo are painted as is the bottom of the front spoiler (they were unpainted black plastic on production cars). The photo is missing the nose panel, headlamp covers and front fenders which are slightly different from the regular 944.© Porsche
1985 Porsche 944 Turbo: to save weight, passenger side mirror was optional in Europe until the end of model year 1986© Porsche
Comparison: front wing shape of the 944 and the 944 Turbo (in addition the headlamp covers and nose panels are slightly different)
© Porsche
© Porsche
The Turbo featured a new integrated front bumper, black plastic side valances, a rear under spoiler and 16" Phone Dial wheels © Porsche
Porsche 944 Turbo (951) 1986 phone dial wheels
© Porsche
The unique rear under spoiler cleared the air roll behind the car (with the regular 944 there was the problem that the exhaust gases tried to enter the cockpit) © Porsche
Air conditioning was optional in Europe, but became standard for US versions © Porsche
© Porsche
© Porsche

Car and Driver magazine commented on the 944 Turbo in April 1985 as follows "Holy tire smoke! This little mutha hauls zass!".

At similar price compared to the 911 Carrera 3.2, the 944 Turbo was in many ways a better car - it had superb protection against corrosion, it was quick on the race track, its handling at high speed maneuvering was as predictable as it can get in a car, its cockpit was ergonomic (you could rest both of your elbows while driving), it had more headroom for the kids at the back and the enormous boot could even hold a baby trolley (entry level Porsches are for young people, right).

The 1985 model year brought so many changes to 944 in the middle of the model year. The new interior seen in the 944 Turbo became immediately 944's standard interior from around May 1985 (the car is called as 944.2 or 944 85.5). The new dashboard required a new bodyshell. Power steering that greatly distanced the 944 from 924, used to be optional for 944.1, but was made standard for the 944.2. While the 944.1 speedometer was connected to the front wheel hub (like in the early Volkswagens and in 924), the 944.2 had a more sophisticated solution - the speed sensor was mounted into the gearbox. The front and rear control arms were now made of aluminium. Earlier 924-type metal fuel tank was replaced by a larger plastic unit. The catalytic converter became optionally available in Europe (was always standard in USA and Japan). While the interior was made nicer, there was a minor setback externally - the rain gutters were replaced by smooth trim strips, so when it rained and you opened the window, the water poured into to the car.

This is 944 II - see the dashboard and seats, and the rain gutter that isn't it anymore© Porsche

Less than 200 Turbos were made with 1985 model year VIN, making them really rare.

The US version can be told not only by the side lights, but also by the front spoiler lamps. They include fog lamps on the sides and are dummy in the middle, where European versions have additional high beams (in addition to the ones in pop-up lamps) © Porsche
Porsche 944 Turbo, Derek Bell, Al Holbert, and Al Unser jr.
Porsche racing drivers Derek Bell, Al Holbert (also Head of Porsche Motorsport North America) and Al Unser jr. US model can be told by front and rear side lamps and the long rear bumper. © Porsche

At the 1985 IAA Frankfurt Motor Show in September, a 944 Cabriolet study was shown. The cabriolet body was made by Baur. The car on the show already had wider axles and ABS (the first 944 Cabrio prototype had narrow axles like the production cars at the time). The Frankfurt show Cabriolet had the front design of the 944 Turbo, but it had normally asiprated 16 valve prototype engine of the later 944 S.

1985 944 Cabriolet study shows the face of the 944 Turbo, but has a normally aspirated 2.5 16V engine© Stuttcars.com
Note the airbag in a 1985 car. The rear seats had separately folding backrests (optionally made available from 1987 model year).© Stuttcars.com
The design of the rear end of the 944 Cabriolet study was significantly different from the later production version© Stuttcars.com
Full-red rear lamps on the Flamingo Metallic prototype© Stuttcars.com

On January 29, 1986, a 944 Turbo with catalytic converter started to around the world record attempt from Porsche Cars North America Headquarters in Reno, Nevada, USA. The car was European version, with German number plates BB-PW167 (BB number plates on a Porsche tell it's very likely a test car). The car was driven by Austrian professional long distance test driver Gerhard Plattner. This stock 944 Turbo covered 5 continents without any technical problems; the car was driven through the coldness of Canada (-18° F/-28° C) and the heat of Australia (+41° C/+106° F). The car arrived to its starting point in Reno after 31 days and 25.570 miles/41.140 km, averaging 825 miles/1327 km a day despite the off-days when the car was on the cargo planes. This was the fastest trip around the world in automotive history - and with a car with catalytic converter using unleaded fuel.

Porsche 944 Turbo catalyst test
© Stuttcars.com
Bleifrei rund um die Welt = Around the world with unleaded © Stuttcars.com
Endurance test driver Gerhard Plattner is thanked by Porsche CEO Peter W. Schutz. He is handing over a Guinness Record book (1987 edition).© Porsche

The 944 Turbo was used for other endurance tests aswell including 50.000 miles/80.000 km on German Autobahns in 4 months and 16 hours with average speed of 150 mph/240 km/h on Nardo test track (remember, car's official top speed was 152 mph/245 km/h).

For 1986, Porsche 944 Turbo Cup series was created in Germany and 944 Challenge in Canada. These were the first Porsche one model racing series (predecessors of the later 911 racing series). The 944 Turbo Cup in Germany was held during the ADAC Würth Supercup (Group C) weekends at Nürburgring (twice), AVUS, Hockenheimring, Norisring and in addition a race at Mainz Finthen airport. The first 944 Turbo Cup race was held on April 27, 1986, on the Nürburgring GP track (which was built just two years earlier). It was a really special event to have more than 30 similar cars to fight so close to each other.

The weight was added by the roll cage and saved with the deletion of undercoating (build code M666), deletion of power windows and other unnecessary electrics, deletion of rear seats, with the use of lightweight mirrors, bucket seat, magnesium intake manifold etc. Power steering was deleted, quick ratio steering rack was used. LSD (limited slip differential) was naturally standard. The 1986 944 Turbo Cup cars had the same engine power as the street versions, 162 kW.

1986 944 Turbo Cup car - the only year with narrow axles, Fuchs wheels and stock bonnet© Porsche
Almost stock except the magnesium intake manifold and strut bar © Porsche
Near stock interior of the 1986 944 Turbo Cup car and a mounted camera© Porsche
© Porsche

On June 1, 1986, the first race of the Canadian Rothmans Porsche 944 Challenge was held. It was the second Porsche one model series launched - just 5 weeks after the 944 Turbo Cup in Germany. The 944 Challenge was organized by the manager of Porsche Canada, David Deacon, a former racing driver. 30 cars started in the race.

1986 Longest Day of Nelson 24 hour race, Porsche 944 McIntosh-MacInnes-Bleil
1986 June 29, Longest Day of Nelson 24 hour race, Carlsen Racing 944 of Paul McIntosh/Bruce MacInnes/Larry Bleil, winners of GT class© Mark Windecker

The peak 944 sales in Europe had been seen during the production of the 1985 model year, but thanks to US market, model year 1986 (production 8/1985-7/1986) became the most successful in the lifespan of the 944 - almost 28.000 cars were produced in a year including more than 10.000 944 Turbos.

Al Holbert, CEO of Porsche Motorsport North America in Warrington, Pennsylvania had contracted Fabcar Engineering in Tucker, Georgia in 1985, to build a tube frame race car mimicking the looks of the 944 Turbo. Fabcar was chosen because they built Porsche 962 monocoques. The car was ready in 1986 and the official specs read 2.5-litre 8V turbo 525 hp @1.6 bar (1987 specs: 575 hp @ 1.5 bar), empty weight 906 kg/1980 lb. The engine was prepared by Andial and the brakes were from Porsche 962. The low and wide car was called 944 GTR.

Porsche 944 GTR Fabcar
944 GTR, the tubeframe 944 Turbo © Fabcar Engineering
Porsche 944 GTR Fabcar
Presentation of the 944 GTR at Road Atlanta, 40 miles from the Fabcar Engineering shop © Fabcar Engineering
Porsche 944 GTR Fabcar
The GTR could be equipped with 10-12" wheels (both front and rear), with the diameter of 16" © Fabcar Engineering
Porsche 944 GTR Fabcar
© Fabcar Engineering
Porsche 944 GTR Fabcar
© Fabcar Engineering

The Fabcar 944 GTR prototype didn't look close enough to 944 Turbo, so new front and rear spoilers were created.

Although it was planned to start the 1986 SCCA Trans Am season from the beginning, finally in September the 944 GTR had its first race. Unfortunately none of the four races the 944 GTR competed in 1986, couldn't be finished due to mechanical problems or accident.

1986 944 Turbo Cup Germany was won by Joachim Winkelhock, followed by Jörg van Ommen and Harald Grohs. 1986 Canadian Rothmans Porsche 944 Challenge was won by Kees Nierop (#86 on the poster). Very close runner-up was Richard Spenard who won the championship a year later. © Porsche

In 1986, Por­­sche started to install airbags into the 1987 model year 944 Turbos. They were optional for European versions, but standard for US versions, a world first!

Airbags in series production car in 1986 - another proof of Porsche as an innovator. A cool feature of the newer style dashboard was the clock with stopwatch function!© Porsche
Airbags improve safety, but increase weight © Porsche
Airbag crash test© Porsche
Porsche 944 Turbo dashboard, steering wheel, 300 km/h speedometer
In 1986, the 1987 model year 944 Turbo received the 300 km/h speedometer - very cool, although the top speed of the 162 kW Turbo was 245 km/h.© Porsche

In 1986, for 1987 model year cars received new wider axles. New front axle improved the handling. Axles with new width meant the cars needed new wheels with new offset (ET). Until 1986 model year wheels with very wide outer rim could be used, but not anymore (now the inside part was wider). So, the car's visual appeal decreased in favour of better handling starting with the 1987 model year. This model year brought the ABS brakes, a serious improvement in safety and also in lap times. At the same time, for the 911 Carrera or 911 Turbo, ABS would not be available for a few years even for hard currency.

It was planned to launch the 944 Turbo also with a double-clutch PDK (Porsche DoppelKupplung) gearbox, but despite long development it wasn't reliable enough to put it into series production. It was as early as 1964, when Porsche had worked on a power shift dual clutch gearbox. Starting in 1979, various versions of dual-clutch gearboxes were designed. On this basis, the PDK was created in 1981. It was tested until 1986 in Porsche street cars in parallel to the Group C Porsche racing car, as a semi and fully automatic version. Gear shifting without interruption in propulsive power proved particularly interesting for the turbocharged engines, as the turbo boost would not drop during the gear change.

944 Turbo PDK and 962 PDK
The gear selector looks similar to the shift stick in the manual gearbox car, but in reality only its upper part moved to push the microswitches (from right to left to move from Park to Drive and forth/back to change gears). The car did have the clutch pedal, but was used only to start moving.
Different development stage tachometers of PDK 944
1980s PDK transmission
5-speed PDK gearbox© Porsche

The 16-valve 944 S was introduced as a 1987 model. Visually it looked like the normal 944 except it had 16" wheels as standard. On the paper the 944 S had 140 kW and more torque despite the unchanged engine capacity, but in the real life these engines seemed to have less low-end torque (the 944 S shows its added power on the race track, but no increase in everyday usability).

The intake manifold and valve cover of the 944 S engine were made of magnesium, nice!© Porsche
944 S with 16" Phone Dial wheels© Porsche
'16 Ventiler' script on the optional side protection moulding

On January 15, 1987, Gerhard Plattner started another Porsche long distance test. The aim was to cover the distance equal to from Earth to Moon - 384.405 km (238.909 miles) - in one year. The car was a US-version 944 S and the 'Operation Luna 944' was started in USA, at Cape Canaveral.

Operation Luna 944 S
As the 944 S had a catalytic converter, unleaded fuel had to be found everywhere on the test path zig-zaging the continents © Greg Raven (gregraven.org)
Operation Luna 944 S
'Luna' means 'Moon' in Latin. The initial target by Porsche was a year, but Plattner was sure he could do it quicker.© Greg Raven (gregraven.org)
Operation Luna 944 S
Although the front number plate LUNA944 was German, the rear number plate was a temporary Nevada plate. Aluminium US-version safety bumpers with dampers might come handy as anything can happen on a trip that long. Gerhard Plattner on the photo.© Greg Raven (gregraven.org)
Operation Luna 944 S
Gerhard Plattner photographed by one of the contributing drivers, Greg Raven © Greg Raven (gregraven.org)

In 1987, the 944 Turbo Cup championship was also started in France. The 1987 944 Turbo Cup cars were equipped with new KKK turbochargers producing 184 kW (but engine code of the Cup car remained M44.51, the code of the 162 kW version). In addition to the engine power increase, the 1987 Cup cars got many other improvements. The 1987 model year had brought the wider axles and ABS. In addition, the Cup cars received front brakes from much heavier Porsche 928 S4. The new Cup suspension had front struts with adjustable height and harder springs, at the rear were coil springs in addition to torsion bars. The cars also got rigid rear axle mounts, Bilstein shock absorbers and thicker anti-roll bars (front 27 mm, rear 21 mm). The new 16" Cup wheels had the Phone Dial design, but were forged from magnesium and an inch wider (8" front, 9" rear). The Dunlop SP Sport D40 Cup slicks at the front were 245/45-16 and 255/45-16 at the back (rain tyres were 225/50 and 245/45). Cars also got larger oil sumps, now made of magnesium. The 1987 Cup bonnet was made of GFRP (glass-fibre reinforced plastic) and had external fasteners. Although the 1987 Cup cars were built with catalytic converters (build code M298), these were removed for the French series (the French Cup cars ran with just a pipe from the turbocharger until the end of the car). The engines had 6 month (full season) warranty. The cost of the Cup car was similar to the street car.

1987 Cup cars got wider axles and new offset wheels forged from magnesium © Porsche
Roland Asch with his 1987 944 Turbo Cup Germany winning car
Roland Asch with his 1987 944 Turbo Cup Germany winning car (he would also win in 1988 and 1989) © unknown (please inform if you know)
1987 Brainerd International Raceway, July 18: SCCA Escort Endurance GT-category winning 944S of Kees Nierop/John O'Steen, July 19: The only Trans Am race won with 944 GTR (Elliott Forbes Robinson driving chassis no. 944-005). For marketing reasons the poster reads "944 turbo". © Porsche
944 Turbo racing posters: SCCA SS (Showroom Stock) GT winners: 1986 Bob Strange, 1987 Fred Baker© Porsche

Sales in Europe had dropped dramatically for model years 1986 and 1987 and 71% of the 1987 model year 944s went to America. During the 1987 model year, the base model with catalytic converter had got power increase from 110 to 118 kW and the non-cat 120 kW version was dropped.

In the end of summer 1987, "944 Special Edition 1988" (M757) cars were made to celebrate 250.000th 911 produced!? The 944 sales must have really dropped to present an edition with such a cause... Some say it was built to honour the 100.000th 944 made, but this milestone was passed already in the end of 1986. The Special Edition cars were Zermatt Silver or Satin Black Metallic. The cars were equipped with commemorative plaque (2.5"/65 mm diameter) which could be personalized with the owner's name. The cars had plaid cloth seats and door panels, new separately folding rear seat backrests, automatic heating control, 16" wheels and a few other options as standard.

944 Special Edition 1988© Porsche

In the meantime, the 'Operation Luna 944' was still going on. After 258 days the mission was accomplished thanks to master Gerhard Plattner and many journalists who helped to keep the car rolling all the time. 384405 km in 258 days means averagely 926 miles/1490 km a day including the time for many photoshootings, of servicing the car every 2 weeks (~12.000 miles/~20.000 km interval), at gas stations, on the cargo plane etc.

Operation Luna 944 S Juan Manuel Fangio, Gerhard Plattner at Pirelli.
Juan Manuel Fangio and Gerhard Plattner at Pirelli in Milan, Italy. Fangio had driven the last kilometres and had signed the car with "384.405 km 30/9/87".© Pirelli

Luckily, the endurance test could be made without any major accidents and it was decided to carry on the test until 500.000 km (310.752 miles), which was reached on December 17, 1987.

In the end of 1987, 184 kW 944 Turbo S was introduced. The engine code of the Turbo S was M44.52. Top speed rose to 162 mph/260 km/h. Official 1/4-mile time was 13.5 seconds, which was very fast for a street legal car and naturally the fastest 4-cylinder car in the world. The car with bigger turbocharger was better on the race track, but not in the city because of added turbo lag (the 162 kW version started to pump at around 3500 rpm while the 184 kW needed 4000 rpm). In addition to the power boost, the Turbo S came as standard with the M030 sports chassis, larger front brakes, LSD and other features/modifications.

Supplement to Owner's Manual is the only place where you can see '944 Turbo S' written (the script on the rear of the car says just 'turbo')

M030 suspension and M758 Turbo S

M030 1987-... 1988 only
Rear shocks (Koni), standard on any 944 Turbo Rear torsion bars 24.5mm ...-1986, 25.5 mm 1987-...(standard 23.5 mm) Transmission oil cooler Front suspension with adjustable height (Koni) Thicker front stabilizer bar Front wheel hubs, steering knuckles, A-arms, A-arm rear mounts 16" Club Sport forged wheels 7+9" Limited slip differential Front brake discs 928 S4 Front brake calipers Turbo S Brake lines Rear wheel arches reworked Multicolor burgundy interior Individually folding rear seat backrests
Turbo S 1988 M758 (incl. M030)

1988 SCCA, SSGT: Fred Baker 944 Turbo, GT2: David Finch 944 S© Porsche

In the end of 1988 (model year 1989) the 'S' designation was dropped from the Turbo S, and all 944 Turbos now featured the 184 kW engine and larger front brakes.

The advertising says the 944 Turbo is the 4th fastest production car in the world

For 1989 model year a new 944 engine block with larger bore was made which meant the 2.5-litre engine grew to 2.7-litre for the last model year of the base 944. The power increase was minimal, but thanks to larger engine capacity the torque rose. While more power makes the car faster on the race track, more torque makes it more comfortable to drive in the city. With a new crankshaft the stroke of the 2.7-litre engine was increased 12% which resulted in a 3.0-litre engine. This 3-litre was equipped with 16-valve cylinder head and the car was called 944 S2.

The 3-litre engine of the 944 S2, the largest and the most powerful normally aspirated 4-cylinder engine in the world. Each engine was bench tested in Stuttgart for 30 minutes before sent to Neckarsulm.© Porsche

The 944 S2 looked exactly like the Turbo and it also had the aluminium caliper brakes of the previous model year 162 kW Turbo. Model year 1989 cars with alarm system now had interior door lock knobs with diodes signalling if the alarm system was on. The alarm system used to have separate key hole on the rear fender, but not anymore from MY1989. New options were seat heating and CD-player (labeled as "Porsche", but produced by Alpine). The 184 kW Turbo was 20% more expensive than the discontinued 162 kW Turbo which meant now the 944 Turbo was more expensive than the 911 Carrera. While air conditioning was a standard feature on all US-market 944 Turbos from the beginning, it became standard also in Europe from 1989 model year.

Tech specs of 1989 European versions (status 7/1988)

  944 2.7 944 S2 Coupé 944 Turbo Coupé
Engine 2.7 I4 8V normally aspirated 3.0 I4 16V normally aspirated 2.5 I4 8V turbocharged
Power 121 kW / 162 SAE hp / 165 DIN hp 155 kW / 208 SAE hp / 211 DIN hp 184 kW / 247 SAE hp / 250 DIN hp
Torque 165 lb-ft / 225 Nm 206 lb-ft / 280 Nm 257 lb-ft / 350 Nm
Wheels and tyres 7x15 195/65 front 7x16 205/55, rear 8x16 225/50 forged, front 7x16 225/50, rear 9x16 245/45
Fuel tank 17 UK gal / 21 US gal / 80 L 17 UK gal / 21 US gal / 80 L 17 UK gal / 21 US gal / 80 L
Length 165.4" / 4200 mm 166.5" / 4230 mm 166.5" / 4230 mm
0-100 km/h (62 mph) 8.2 sec. (Automatic 9.4 sec.) 7.1 sec. 5.9 sec.
Weight DIN 1290 kg / 2843 lb 1310 kg / 2888 lb 1350 kg / 2976 lb
DIN weight: fuel 90%, no driver, no cargo, standard equipment for Germany

This photo shows an American version 944 S2 (with side lamps, without side blinkers) © Porsche
Front brakes: 1) 944, 944 S, 2) 944 Turbo 162 kW (incl. 1986 Turbo Cup), S2, 3) 944 Turbo 184 kW (incl. Turbo Cup from 1987 and 1988 Turbo S) © Porsche
Porsche 944 boot
From 1989 model year on, the bag for the roof panel was replaced by straps. The US DOT bumper only makes you wonder "Why, oh why?" © Porsche

944 factory built racing cars

Model year & build codes Model Power Use Remarks
1986 M750 944 Challenge M44.07 110 kWRothmans Porsche Challenge Canada 1986-1987Same build code with 1989 944 Turbo Cup
1986 M751 944 Turbo Cup M44.51 162 kW944 Turbo Cup Germany
1986 M752 944 Turbo Cup America M44.51 184 kWSCCA eventsEngine code of the 162 kW version
1987 M754 M298 (Cat)944 Turbo Cup Europe M44.51 184 kW944 Turbo Cup Germany
Trophée Porsche 944 Turbo Cup France (cats removed)
Engine code of the 162 kW version
1987 M754 944 Turbo Cup America M44.51 184 kWSCCA events incl. Escort EnduranceEngine code of the 162 kW version
1988 M754, European VIN944 Turbo Cup M44.51 184 kW944 Turbo Cup GermanyEngine code of the 162 kW version
1988 M754, American VIN944 Turbo Cup M44.51 184 kWRothmans Porsche Turbo Cup Canada 1988-1989Engine code of the 162 kW version
1988 M754 M150 (no Cat)944 Turbo Cup M44.51 184 kWTrophée Porsche 944 Turbo Cup FranceEngine code of the 162 kW version
1989 M750 944 Turbo Cup M44.52 184 kW944 Turbo Cup GermanySame build code with 1986 944 Challenge
1989 M750 M150 (no Cat)944 Turbo Cup M44.52 184 kWTrophée Porsche 944 Turbo Cup FranceSame build code with 1986 944 Challenge

Roland Asch became the 944 Turbo Cup Deutschland champion in 1987, 1988 and 1989 © Porsche

The 944 Cabriolet was finally launched. In 1989, the Neckarsulm Audi factory celebrated the 300.000th Porsche produced (924, 924 Turbo, 924 Carrera GT, 924 S, 944, 944 Turbo, 944 S, 944 S2, 944 S2 Cabrio).

944 Cabriolet was considered as the most beautiful convertible at the time of production© Porsche
Add-on body parts were made of plastic © Porsche
The cabriolet top was created by Karosseriewerke Weinsberg (subsidiary of ASC, American Sunroof Company). © Porsche
What a beauty © Porsche
Porsche 944 Cabriolet, red
The cabrio windshield frame was shortened by about 2.4"/60 mm. Low windshield had made iconic Porsches before - recall the 356 Speedster! © Porsche
Cabriolet costed 18% more than the Coupé - no wonder, look at it! © Porsche
This bodyshell picture makes clear why open car needs a specially strenghtened floor © Porsche

In 1989, starting with the 1990 model year, 944 Turbo received a new bridge-type rear spoiler. It was stronger than the rubber unit and gave better downforce at top speed. 944 S2 got it a year later, for the last production year.

Bridge-type rear spoiler© Porsche
The roof rack damages the door seals, so it should be kept on the car for short periods only when needed© Porsche

While in Germany the 944 Turbo Cup was replaced by the Carrera Cup (911 964) for the 1990 season, in France 944 Turbo Cup was continued for one more year. Old cars were used, but they got 213 kW power kits installed by Dany Snobeck (for comparison, the 1990 Carrera Cup Germany 911s had 195 kW).

944 racing series and champions

944 Turbo Cup Germany
1. Joachim Winkelhock
2. Jörg van Ommen
3. Harald Grohs
1. Roland Asch
2. Peter Oberndorfer
3. Bengt Trägårdh
1. Roland Asch
2. Georg Pacher
3. Rüdiger Schmitt
1. Roland Asch
2. Jörg van Ommen
3. Andy Bovensiepen
944 Challenge Canada 944 Turbo Cup Canada
1. Kees Nierop
2. Richard Spenard
3. Scott Goodyear
1. Richard Spenard
2. Bill Adam
3. Scott Goodyear
1. Scott Goodyear
2. Richard Spenard
3. Stephane Proulx
1. Richard Spenard
2. Bill Adams
3. Richard Laporte
1. Richard Spenard
2. David Tennyson
3. Bill Adams
944 Turbo Cup France
1. René Metge
2. André Bourdon
3. Michel Maisonneuve
1. André Bourdon
2. Michel Maisonneuve
3. Jean-Pierre Jaussaud
1. Michel Maisonneuve
2. Jean-Pierre Malcher
3. Xavier Lapeyre
1. Michel Maisonneuve
2. André Bourdon
3. Jean-Pierre Malcher

944 S2 racing poster: 1990 IMSA Firehawk Grand Sports Drivers Championship: Jeff Purner, Bobby Akin© Porsche

10th production year was the last for the 944 and it was celebrated worthily, with the launch of the 944 Turbo Cabriolet. Only around 600 were made, none for America, though.

1991 944 Turbo Cabriolet © Porsche

Porsche type numbers related to 944

Type number Description
941944 Cabriolet, left hand drive
942944 Cabriolet, right hand drive
945944 Coupé, right hand drive
9491981 '944 Le Mans' 2.5 16V turbo racing engine and gearbox for the 924 GTR
951944 Turbo, left hand drive
952944 Turbo, right hand drive

Engine codes

Code Engine Power Torque Model Model years
M44.01 2.5 120 kW 151 lb-ft/205 Nm 944 non-Cat, Euro only 82 83 84 85/1
M44.02 2.5 Cat 110 kW 143 lb-ft/195 Nm 944 USA, Canada, Japan only 83 84 85/1
M44.03 2.5 120 kW 151 lb-ft/205 Nm 944 Automatic non-Cat, Euro only 82 83 84 85/1
M44.04 2.5 Cat 110 kW 143 lb-ft/195 Nm 944 Automatic USA, Canada, Japan only 83 84 85/1
M44.05 2.5 120 kW 151 lb-ft/205 Nm 944 non-Cat, Euro only 85/2 86 87
M44.06 2.5 120 kW 151 lb-ft/205 Nm 944 Automatic non-Cat, Euro only 85/2 86 87
M44.07 2.5 Cat 110 kW 143 lb-ft/195 Nm 944 85/2 86 87
M44.08 2.5 Cat 110 kW 143 lb-ft/195 Nm 944 Automatic 85/2 86 87
M44.09 2.5 Cat 118 kW 154 lb-ft/210 Nm 944 87 88
M44.10 2.5 Cat 118 kW 154 lb-ft/210 Nm 944 Automatic 87 88
M44.11 2.7 Cat 121 kW 165 lb-ft/225 Nm 944 2.7 89
M44.12 2.7 Cat 121 kW 165 lb-ft/225 Nm 944 2.7 Automatic 89
M44.40 2.5 16V Cat140 kW 169 lb-ft/230 Nm 944 S 87 88
M44.41 3.0 16V Cat155 kW 206 lb-ft/280 Nm 944 S2 89 90 91
M44.50 2.5 Cat 162 kW 243 lb-ft/330 Nm 944 Turbo 85 86
M44.51 2.5 Cat 162 kW 243 lb-ft/330 Nm 944 Turbo 86 87 88
M44.52 2.5 Cat 184 kW 257 lb-ft/350 Nm 944 Turbo S MY88, Turbo 88 89 90 91

Transmission codes

Code Transmission Model Model years
016J 5-speed 944 Euro only 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89
016K 5-speed 944 Japan, USA, Canada only 83 84 85 86 87
016R 5-speed 944 Turbo with transmission oil cooler86 87 88 89 90 91
016S 5-speed 944 Turbo without transmission oil cooler 87 88
083D 5-speed 944 S 87 88
083F 5-speed 944 S2 89 90 91
083J 5-speed 944 S2 90 91
087M 3-speed automatic 944 Euro only 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89
087N 3-speed automatic 944 USA, Canada, Japan only 83 84 85 86 87 88 89

Stabilizer bars

front20 mm 944 ...-1986 rear14 mm...-1988
21.5 mm944 1987-... 16 mm1989-...
23 mm 944 ...-1986 M030, M404 18 mm
24 mm 944 Turbo 1986 20 mm...-1988
25.5 mm944 Turbo 1987-... and M404 944 1987-...
26.8 mm1987-... M030, Turbo S 1988

Porsche 944 wheels

Like the 924, most of the 944 were produced by Audi at its Neckarsulm plant. Only the last 944 S2 coupés and cabrios were made in Stuttgart where the production of the successor, the 968, was set up. To understand if your 1991 944 S2 was made in Neckarsulm or in Stuttgart, look for the 11th character in the VIN - is it "N" or "S"?

Last 944 produced at Audi Neckarsulm plant in 1991
Last 944 produced at the Neckarsulm plant in 1991 was the 313,122th Porsche built by Audi. The very last 944s were made by Porsche itself in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.© Porsche

The total production number of the 944 was more than 160,000 including more than 25,000 Turbos. USA was the no.1 market, acquiring 52% of all 944s produced. It was not planned to end the 944 series after its 10th year yet, but it was planned to change the headlamp design in order to make the entry level model look like a family member with the 911 and 928. The other reason was the pedestrian safety issue (in an impact with a person the open headlamp could cut like a knife). So, the new 944 S3 was designed with new front and rear end, but at the last moment renamed to Porsche 968. If you know which component to look at on a 968, you can find '944 S 3' designation.

944, especially the Turbo, but also S2, remain one of the greatest Porsches thanks to their 50/50 weight distribution, ergonomic cabin, large boot, and of course, flared fender design.

Article © Stuttcars.com


Porsche Classic: 356, 911, 914, 924, 928, 944, 968, 959

9/2011 · German

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