“Porsche 944 Turbo” – Car and Driver, April 1985

  • “Porsche 944 Turbo”
  • Car and Driver
  • By Patrick Bedard
  • Photographs by Martyn Goodard

The Porsche 944 Turbo is like spring rain: everybody knows it’s coming. In fact, they knew it was coming last year and they knew it the year before that. Astute observers even noticed the engine racing-and finished seventh overall- at Le Mans in 1981, where it was cloaked in 924 Turbo nomenclature. So when it popped up in the Prototype class for the past two Nelson Ledges 24-hour Showroom Stock races, it kind of seemed like old news. Even winning the event last summer, with a 40-lap cushion, didn’t cause much ruckus. Everybody knows Porsches are supposed to be fast.

So the 944 Turbo now makes its showroom debut amid shrugs of anticlimax. Until you drive it. Then it’s [i]holy tire smoke! This little mutha hauls tass![/i]

Never mentioned in all the prelim-speak was that the 944 Turbo would have a 911 Carrera level of horsepower: 217 SAE net, to be exact. And the 911 goes like a scalded dog. We found out about the Turbo’s bounty at the Frankfurt show late in 1983 in a casual conversation with Paul Hensler, Porsche’s director of powertrain development. Can you imagine the scalpel-sharp handling of the 944 with all that horsepower? We could, and it was more than patience could bear. So about the time we thought pre-production samples would be plentiful in Weissach, we announced to Porsche that we were coming, cameras and hot corpuscles at the ready.

We arrived, and so did the biggest European snowstorm in at least a generation. At Weissach, the shop mechanics were fitting chains onto a 911. Honest. So much for the hot laps. But at least Paul Hensler and Helmuth Bott, chief of R&D, and Hause Mezger, most recently the father of the TAG FGormula 1 engine, were on hand to answer questions.

The 944 Turbo is an engineer’s car, and Porsche engineers are pleased that it’s the first model they know of, from their shop or anybody else’s, where the catalyst version and the noncatalyst versionhave the same power. Bott and Hensler speak with pride on this point. All Germany is now in an emissions-control mood, moving to catalysts and unleaded flue. But Porsche engineers don’t see that as a reason – or an excuse – for feeble engines. “New Porsches must be as fast as old Porsches,” they say. “that’s the business we’re in.”

Those who have watched the 911 evolve over the past twenty years know it’s the engineers, not the stylists, who call the cadence of change at Porsche. So the challenges tend to be functional. And subtle. It’s a great self-test to conjure up an image of a stone-stock 944, then wander around a 944 Turbo and try to figure out, [i]What’s changed in this picture?[/i]

Well, the nose is different. No doubt about that. No bumper on the Turbo. Ok, there’s a bumper, but it’s hidden behind a smooth, one-piece, flexi-plastic nose panel that makes it look as if somebody peeled off the bumper and filled in the attachment holes. Incidentally, the European and American versions are identical in this area; the engineers say the European customers like the extra protection of the U.S. standards. (In back, the U.S. bumper extends farther.) The only difference in front is the lack of flush–mounted side-marker lights on the Euro cars. In fact, the American model on the shop floor has the side lights blacked out in order to make it [i]legal[/i] for the German roads. Apparently, this world has as many ideas about what’s safe as it does about what’s God.

Of course, the Turbo’s wheels are different from the 944’s; sixteen-inchers with five bean-shaped holes, similar to a style introduced on the 928. The widths are seven inches front, eight in the rear. The tires are 205/55VR-16 Pirelli P7s in front, 225/50Vr-16 behind. If you’re really paying attention, you notice, just peeking through the bean holes, a sexy black calliper with raised letters machined off to say “Porsche” in contrasting bare aluminum; the engineers confirm that the brakes are new. [i]Auf Wiedersehen[/i], sliding callipers. [i]Guten Tag[/i], light-alloy, four piston grabbers. The leading pistons are even different in diameter from the trailing ones to maximize ramp wear on the pads. Neat!

Porsche is a longtime believer in aerodynamic, so you expect refinement on this frontier as well. But the Turbo doesn’t look much different from the regular 944. The nose is smoother, which should help, but compared to the whale-tail innovations of the past, the Turbo offers little to pin your hopes on. The only thing really conspicuous is the spoiler beneath the rear bumper. Certainly, this area has been a styling problem on the 944. Following along behind, it looks as if the manufacturing plant just ran out of bodywork when it got down to finishing the rear bumper. You see all kinds of undercoated stuff hanging down: suspension bits, a muffler, a fuel tank, and other unmentionables. On german roads, you see 944s fitted with various sorts of under-panels in an attempt to clothe the unsightly. The Turbo’s solution is a conspicuously added-on panel that shields the view with about the same elegance that a barrel dressed up a nudist. But the engineers are happy with the result. They say it speeds up the exit of air from under the car, which cuts drag; it enhances crosswind stability; and it improves the ventilation of the muffler-gas-tank-differential area, lowering the operating temperatures of those components. We would say that it also attracts the eye, much as spoilers on top of the car do, and could well turn into a fashion accessory of the late Eighties, never mind that it fits like a shoe on a turkey.

There are more aero advancements, but they don’t scream at you. A plastic tray fits under the nose, sealing tightly against the bumper skirt at its forward edge so that air is directed smoothly under the car. Just forward of the rear wheel, another small fairing at the bottom of the fender opening directs air around the tire. And the windshield is said to be “flush-mounted,” though there is still a moulding on the outside and a noticeable step between the glass and the sheetmetal. Taken altogether, these changes drop the drag coefficient from 0.35 to 0.33 – not a big deal when confronting you from a magazine page but still a step in the right direction. With the fat P7s replacing the 60-series rubber, the drag coefficient could very easily have gotten worse, had all this effort not been expended. Porsche engineers are right when they say it’s very difficult to make a short car like the 944 score well in the wind tunnel. They go on to claim that the net drag of the 944 is lower than that of any of the sedans that advertise better coefficients. Drag is the product of the coefficient and the frontal area, and the latter is a mere 20.3 square feet on the 944.

Not all of the airflow-management efforts have been directed at drag reduction, however. A duct behind each end of the lower part of the grille directs cooling air toward the front brakes. There is no actual connection of the ducts to the brakes, as there would be in a race car, but a baffle at the bottom of each MacPherson strut funnels the stream toward the rotor.

The big news in the cockpit is the redesigned dash – still very much in the Porsche tradition, we’re pleased to say, which means no green-glowing digits to remind you of a video arcade and no voice synthesizers to remind you of technology running amok. No yellow markings on the instruments as the current 944, either, and we’re glad of that. Just white on black now, in four dials neatly arrayed before you, and huge vents that promise to move more air at less velocity and therefore with less rushing sound. The dash molding itself is of a somewhat different shape but no different effect. The console has been cleaned noticeably, however, and it integrates better with its surroundings.

But you can’t see the one change that Porsche engineer seem proudest of: the steering column has been raised 18mm (0.7 inch). The 924/944 has always had a semi-wonderful wheel position. Wonderful because the column is more horizontal than the columns of most cars, which means that the wheel itself is more vertical, so you don’t have to stretch for the top of the rim when you’re already strung out on the edge of control. But the horizontal column has its negative side, too: the bottom of the wheel is low, which means that drivers thick of thigh have no leg clearance. Porsche tried to alleviate the bind by offsetting the center of the steering wheel 20mm upward of the center of the column, which was fine as long as nobody tried to park. Fixing the rub required a new dashboard. Then, once the wheel was up, the seat needed an up-and-down adjuster (preferably power in this price class) so that short people wouldn’t have to sit so low that they couldn’t see. All of this has been accomplished in the Turbo, and the improvement is immediately noticeable.

At the start we mentioned the snow – fair warning that most of the Turbo’s other details might not be noticeable under the circumstances. Gas-pressure shocks, for example: until we can see the ground again, we’ll just have to take the engineers’ word for their goodness. We can report, however, that the engine would bust the rear wheels lose in third gear/. Probably it wouldn’t have taken the Turbo’s 78-percent torque increase over the regular 944 to produce that result, but nobody buys a Porsche just to get by. This is one seriously fast car, perfectly capable of melting its own snow so that it can prove the point.

Production was scheduled to start in February, slowly at first in order to maintain quality with all new hardware. Very soon the factory will have the capacity to produce 150 944s a day. But rather than lock itself into a certain proportion of Turbos by advanced decree, Porsche has decided to wait to see what the market says.

It’s easy to say that this is a heck of a car and assume it will sell like mums on Mother’s Day. But there’s one hitch. Along with pumping the horse power to the 911 level, Porsche is similarly jacking the price. It will be lower in the U.S., maybe a grand lower, but still over 30 thou. We may be flying blind in ever deepening snow, but we can see that such a price tends to freeze out ordinary thrill seekers.

[*] This article is copyright Car and Driver, April 1985. It is used solely for educational purposes, and not for profit. It should not be considered representative of Car and Driver.

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