The successor to the Porsche 944 S2 was called 944 S3. The very good looking and ergonomic interior was already near perfect, so there were no plans to change that. The plan was to revamp the exterior design – to update the front spoiler, but especially the rear end and rear lamps, which – although nice – had been there since the first 924 in 1975.
Both the 944 S3 coupé and cabriolet were developed simultaneously and an interesting part on the way was the movable rear spoiler of the cabriolet. The spoiler was flush with the rear lid when retracted (like on the 1986 Ferrari-engined Lancia Thema 8.32). Cabriolet’s rear spoiler didn’t go further from the prototype stage, though. Or luckily. The idea of a hardtop for the cabriolet was considered throughout all the years of the new model development, but was finally dropped. In addition to the new looks, the S3 was to be made less polluting (and as a result, more fuel efficient).
This meant the evolution of the 944 was based on the 3-litre 16V normally aspirated S2 engine and not on the more powerful 2.5-litre 8-valve 944 Turbo. In order to lower emissions and rise peak power, the variable valve timing system called VarioCam was developed. Porsche had patented the idea of valve lift adjustment and duration already in the end of 1950’s, but Italian and Japanese manufacturers were the first to implement valve adjustment systems in series production. The Porsche’s VarioCam was the first system to provide continuous valve adjustment.
In addition to the VarioCam, a 6-speed transmission was to be created to lower fuel consumption. Until then, the only Porsche to possess a 6-speed gearbox was the 959 supercar. Now it was the turn for the 944 S3. (But not for the 911!? Money was scarse at the time and the 911 received the 6-speed box only with the introduction of the 993-generation.)
The last news with the 944 S3 was that a new automatic gearbox would be introduced with the new engine. Remember, earlier only the basic 944 was available with the automatic gearbox – Turbo and S2 were never offered with an automatic. Implementing the new automatic for S3 was interesting for Porsche also because for 911 (964) they had invented the new automatic with manual shifting possibility. They called it Tiptronic and that would also go into the 944 S3. The 944 S3 prototypes were ready and testing in 1989. It looked like the S3 would be ready for production by 1990, until it was decided that the front-end will be rewamped completely, not just the front spoiler. Deleting the 924/944 style hidden headlamps meant this wasn’t the 944 anymore. It was decided to rename the 944 S3 to 968. The 968’s smooth front and rear end design meant it needed new aerodynamic mirrors and door handles aswell, which it got. Now it looked like the interior should also be redesigned. A sparing fix were the new door cards. The 968 was introduced in September 1991 at the Frankfurt Motor Show as a 1992 model.
The Porsche 968
To sum up the exterior design work done on the evolution of the 944, here’s what the 968 got:
Front spoiler design similar to the 928 S4
Front lid design similar to the 911 (though, without the 911-typical cockpit vent channel)
Really beautiful unique front fender design
Pop-up headlights similar in their solution to the 928
Mirror design from the 911 964 Turbo
Unique door handles
Side sills similar to the 911 964
Slightly new shape of the rear quarter windows and rear wings
Completely new rear end. Similarly to the 928, the rear lamps were mounted into the rear bumper lining. The very modern tail lamps were fully red (except on cars for Japan where technical rules demanded clear lenses for reversing lamps).
In the eighties, the 944 had passed the 911 Carrera in ergonomics and in technical development. The 944 Turbo with 184 kW engine was superior in power and handling compared to the G-model 911 Carrera. The next generation 911 (964) got a new bigger engine that was equally powerful to the 944 Turbo. With the introduction of the less powerful 968, the entry level Porsche was sent back home – the 968 was now the least powerful Porsche in production.
Like the 924 and the 944, the 968 has ideal weight distribution thanks to its front engine and rear-mounted transmission. Ideal weight distribution means the car handles predictably in the high speed situations where the rear tyres loose traction. When driving a 968 compared to the 944 S2, the S2 seems to have more low-end torque, which means it is a bit better to drive in the city, while the 968 has a bit more high rpm power. The new precisely shifting 6-speed Porsche gearbox replaced the Porsche-modified 5-speed Audi unit of the 944. The Tiptronic is two gears short and 1.4 seconds slower in sprint to 60 mph or 100 km/h. The Tiptronic ads 30 kg/66 lb to the car. And the Cabriolet version ads 70 kg/154 lb compared with the coupé (open body has reinforcements in the floor).
On March 14-15, 1992, a 968 Tiptronic was driven flat out on the Italian Nardo test track for 24 hours and the covered distance was 3459 miles/5566 km. Despite the refueling stops the achieved average speed was 144 mph/232 km/h!
The proof that the 968 was a 944 S3 until the last moment before the production started is for example the fact that the exhaust is stamped “944 S III”. As the change for the model name to 968 came late, the ordering code for the first (1992) model year was 944 XXX for LHD cars and 945 XXX for RHD cars (the last three number combination was dependent on the market, body style, transmission etc.). You can find the ordering code on the VIN and option code sticker (placed in the trunk and service book).
The spare part codes of the 968 also start with 944. The strangest 968 spare part to order is the rear panel ‘968’-logo as it, too, has the 944 ordering code (944.559.220.03.70C)! Among the thousands of spare parts there are just a few, which have the code starting with 968 – in addition to the body in white, for example the trailer coupling (yes, no joke, the ordering code for the 968 trailer hitch is 968.722.901.00).
968 was made at the Porsche’s own factory in Zuffenhausen. The production of the last 944s was already moved from the Audi plant in Neckarsulm (where the 924 and 944 had been manufactured under contract) to Stuttgart.
The most impacting option was the M030 sports chassis package. It included shorter springs at front, lowered rear torsion bar suspension and additional springs at the rear! The stiffness of the Koni shock absorbers was adjustable. Visual distinction were the drilled brake discs. Drilling improves braking performance in the wet and helps with cooling. The front discs were slightly larger – 304 mm instead of 297 mm and their spare part ordering codes started with 965, but they were not the large 964 Turbo discs. The front brake calipers came from the 928, which meant the steering knuckles were also different. M030 also included stronger anti-roll bars – at the front with 30 mm diameter instead of 26.8 mm and at the rear 19 mm with manual gearbox and 18 mm with Tiptronic (16 mm stock). The M030 option could not be ordered without the 17″ wheels. Interestingly the 17″ 964 Cup-look wheels for the back of the 968 came from the 964 Turbo 3.3 (9″), but the fronts were even 0.5″ wider (7″ on 964 Turbo 3.3, 7.5″ on 968).
The Porsche 968 CS
The track day version of the 968 coupé was introduced in the end of 1992 as a 1993 model. It was significantly cheaper than the regular 968 coupé. Porsche had to reduce the 968 price in order to improve sales, so the introduction of the CS was the perfect possibility for price reduction without showing that the company is struggling and is lowering the prices because of that. Although Porsche’s financial problems were initiated by economic problems in the USA (Porsche US sales had fell from 30.000 to 4.000 between 1986 and 1992) – the CS was not a product for USA. Click here to learn more about the 968 CS in our in-depth guide.
The Porsche 968 Turbo S and Turbo RS
The street legal 968 Turbo S and the racing Turbo RS were not only the coolest 968s, but are among the best Porsches made. The engine was a mix between the 8-valve head from the 944 Turbo and the 3-litre block from the normally aspirated 944 S2/968. The engine had massive 368 lb-ft/500 Nm of torque! The street Turbo S developed 224 kW (305 PS) and the racing Turbo RS 257 kW (350 PS).
The first turbo 968 was a red Turbo RS prototype built from a 1991 built 1992 model year US-version 968 Coupé (VIN: WP0AA2966NS820065). With near 1200 kg empty weight the Turbo RS had ~3.4 kg/PS, but in order to compete in the ADAC GT Cup, the required minimum weight had to be 1350 kg and the allowed power-to-weight ratio was 4 kg/PS (DIN hp). This meant that ballast was added to reach the weight minimum and the power was lowered to (1350/4=) 337.5 PS/248 kW. For the ADAC GT Cup shorter gears were also used.
The Turbo RS was built for customer racing as Porsche Motorsport was not in a position to spend on racing (without the victory in mind they don’t race). The Turbo RS was almost three times the price of the basic 968 coupé and although that doesn’t sound like too much for what it was, the Turbo RS found only four customers.
Thirteen street legal 968 Turbo S (1993 model year chassis WP0ZZZ96ZPS890061…66, 68…71 and 1994 model year chassis RS890061…63) were built for lucky buyers. Considering the handling resulting from the near 50/50 weight distribution, the power and especially the torque, the 968 Turbo S might have been the best street legal Porsche produced at the time. The 964 Turbo 3.3 and Turbo 3.6 were more powerful, but a lot worse in critical situation handling. Interestingly, only the 911 Turbo 3.6 could beat the 968 Turbo 3.0 torque figure, but not the 911 Turbo 3.3.
All of the 968 Turbos were built with the 18″ 3-piece lightweight wheels (Turbo S M407, Turbo RS M406) and bucket seats (Turbo S M384/385, Turbo RS M388/389). Eleven out of thirteen Turbo S were built with air conditioning system, six with central locking, five with airbags.
In 1993, for 1994 model year, the 968 Coupé and Cabriolet received a few modifications. The inlet of the ventilation system was modified – instead of the left and right mesh that only prevented whole leaves from entering the cabin, the inlets were redesigned and particle filters were installed. It was a small, but contemporary improvement. From 1994 model year there came some minimal cosmetic changes.
The ClubSport-lettering on the sides of the UK-sold 968 CS was not the last sales enhancement measure by Porsche Cars Great Britain. The next trick with the 968 CS was that PCGB rebadged some cars with ‘Sport’ and equipped these cars with several luxury options that would not go with the principles of the CS. Porsche had priced the CS significantly lower than the standard coupé and PCGB saw a business opportunity. If you didn’t know that the 968 Sport was not a factory product, then you probably already thought that writing “Sport” on a sports car is as stupid as writing “Sport” on running shoes. Porsche would not do something so banal. And it didn’t – it must be stressed!
By the VIN all ‘Sport’-rebadged cars are 968 CS, because this is how they left the factory. Just that they were ordered with electric and heated mirrors, power windows, rear seats, sunroof, silver wheels (not to look CS) and without the rear panel ‘968 CS’ script (M498). Being a 968 CS, the Sport had 944 door cards. The Sport also didn’t have the airbags which the standard 968 had or the limited slip differential that was typically ordered for the CS. Porsche Cars Great Britain introduced the UK/RHD-only Sport version in the beginning of 1994.
Porsche 968 Roadster study
With less than 13,000 cars made, 968 is one of the rarest series-production Porsches. Its rarity, old-school durability, practicality, rather good performance and beauty make it desirable. As an entry-level Porsche, the 968 was replaced by the Boxster, which in no way was a worthy successor to it. The Boxster had a smaller engine with much less power and its engine was significantly less durable. Boxster’s transmission had less gears (back to 5). Although the 968 had already stepped down compared to the 944 Turbo, the serious step down was made by the 968’s successor. It is essential for the entry level Porsche to have rear seats as young people drive entry level Porsches, but unfortunately the 968 was the last entry level Porsche sports car with child seats at the back. Not least important is also the fact that it had more headroom at the back than the 911 and 968’s trunk easily fits even a stroller. The 968 was Porsche’s last real family sports car.
968 design legacy lived on in the 993-generation 911. The most beautiful 911 by many got its front spoiler design and especially its front wing design from the 968!