944 Turbo S: Overview

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“Sizzle”, was Motor Trend’s Jeff Karr’s most fitting adjective to describe Porsche’s 944 Turbo S. Car and Driver’s Tony Assenza ran his article with the heading “A bargain at $48,350.” Automobile’s Georg Kacher put it simply: “Move over, 911.”

However described, the Turbo S represents the pinnacle of the evolution of the 944 series’ genes, first established with the release of the 944 at Frankfurt in 1983. Universally praised, the S was officially the fastest 4-cylinder powered production car of its era, and possessed everything a true Porsche ought to: superior handling, an uncompromising power plant, and exterior lines whose form followed function. The 944 Turbo S fit that description superbly. Those who had never considered a 944 to be worthy of adorning the Stuttgart badge were silenced by a car which by all accounts not only outperformed the 911 Turbo, but set the benchmark for what a sports car could be.

The Porsche 944 Turbo had a North American production run of four years. For most of that time, the 944 Turbo enjoyed a 217 horsepower engine with a KKK K-26 #6 turbocharger. However, in 1988 Porsche unveiled the coveted 944 Turbo S, a retuned version of the Turbo which sought to inject staggering performance into Porsche’s premium 944 model. The S version was claimed by Porsche to be based on the Turbo Cup car, a race version of the 944 Turbo which ran in a racing series of the same name. “I couldn’t help but think,” it was noted in the Rothmans Porsche Turbo Cup “Competitor’s Information” in 1987, “that [the Turbo Cup car] would make a great street car… [with] all the power of the 911 Turbo, the behavior of a 944, the stopping power of the 928S4.” It was therefore unsurprising that in 1988 a special S version of the 944 Turbo, based on Porsche’s successful Turbo Cup spec cars, was unveiled.

The 2.5 liter power plant, based on the race proven European Turbo Cup engine, was “hand assembled in Zuffenhausen alongside the 911 Series and the 928 S4 engines”. Although the S shared the same displacement as the standard Turbo, it boasted 247 horsepower thanks mainly to its larger KKK K-26 #8 turbocharger. Indeed, Porsche vastly improved the S’s turbocharger technology. Along with the larger turbocharger unit, which subsequently increased boost pressure to 1.82 bar, output increased thanks to a modified DME system, improving air and fuel mixtures, among other things.

Resulting engine power translated into significant performance improvements. Said internal improvements prompted Car and Driver magazine, in 1989, to remind its readers that the 944 Turbo was “by far the most potent 4 cylinder engine in the world”. Standing runs to 60 mph as well as the top speed of the car improved accordingly. On paper the performance variation between the Turbo S and the standard Turbo could not have been more obvious. In improving on the 944 Turbo’s already respectable performance standings, the S relied on its horsepower and on its torque, which now reached 258 ft-lbs. The S’s performance was thereby improved upon, especially in terms of standing acceleration and top speed (0-60, for example, now took 5.5 seconds as opposed to the 6.1 achieved by the standard Turbo).

However, the 30 minute factory bench tested engine was merely a portion of the race-inspired design of the 944 Turbo S. The car was undoubtedly similar to its Turbo Cup counterpart in other aspects besides engine output, and although it weighed significantly more than the Cup car, the Turbo S boasted the same race-bred genetic code. The famed suspension package, internally designated the M030 option, allowed the S to cut the road in ways that, by comparison, made the standard 944 Turbo appear sloppy. Although the package was different than the Bilstein setup used on the Cup cars, the S’s Koni “yellow” height adjustable shocks, among other components, were designed to mimic its aggressive handling characteristics, although the setup took driving comfort into consideration whereas the Cup cars, obviously, did not.

With a combination of the M030 suspension package, lightweight Club Sport forged alloy wheels, and a larger 928 S4 braking system, which according to Car and Driver stopped the car seventeen feet sooner than the standard Turbo (169 feet compared with 186), Porsche rightfully proclaimed: “Not since the 911 Turbo has Porsche transferred a race car so directly into a road car.” The strengthened transmission (engineers hardened first and second gear to accommodate the power increase) of the Turbo S was complimented with an external oil cooler “for longevity and reliability under very demanding conditions”. The car’s 258 ft-lbs. of torque was handled well by the car’s new high friction clutch, which allowed for strong launches and quick, precise shifts unknown to the standard 944 Turbo. The car also received a limited slip differential (with 40% lockup), similarly necessary for managing the high output of the S.

Considering its special “limited production” status, the Turbo S was originally intended for a production run of no more than 1000 units. “The new “S” suffix”, said Car and Driver, “denotes an options package added to a limited edition of a thousand 944 Turbos; 700 will be available [in the United States].” However, desirability, relative affordability, and blinding performance allowed Porsche to initially stretch its production figures to 1653 road going Turbo S units, most of which made their way to the United States. The Turbo S, in its original “1000-unit” form, was most notably distinguished by its burgundy “sport cloth” interior and exclusive silver rose exterior. It’s unique Club Sport wheels, headlight washers, protective side moldings, and rear window wiper were all fitted as standard. These features were coupled with a host of premium options such as a powerful air conditioning system, and other creature comforts like power steering, electric windows, a central locking system, a ten-speaker stereo sound system, and individual folding rear seat backs, all of which Porsche admitted “belie[d] the racing heritage of this very exclusive Porsche.”

By the latter half of 1988, however, it became clear that Porsche’s intended limited run would not be sufficient in satisfying the growing demand for the undoubtedly superior Turbo model. It was foremost for this reason that Porsche decided to expand production of 944 Turbo S. Simultaneously, the model was opened up to the full range of Turbo options, which among other things no longer limited the Turbo S to its silver rose paint scheme and burgundy cloth interior. At the same time, Porsche essentially ended production of the standard Turbo; for the rest of the 944 Turbo’s production run (1989 in North America, and 1991 in Europe), the “S” package became standard equipment. For the rest of the 944 Turbo’s production run, the car was known simply as the 944 Turbo; the Turbo’s “S” designation, however, was dropped after the Turbo S was fully integrated in 1989.[*]

Although the 944 Turbo S is visually identical to its 217 bhp predecessor, the results of Porsche’s retuning of the already superb 944 Turbo are undeniable. “The 944 Turbo S is merely a rolling testimonial to just how effective the right improvements can be in transforming an already excellent car into something genuinely remarkable.” The performance of the car significantly increased on all fronts; the S was truly a thoroughbred, and a world-class sports car whose performance was undeniable. The genius of its design is in the minute details which ensure dynamic, unparalleled spontaneity during high performance driving, but which do not betray the subtle nature of a truly comfortable sports car. Few super cars can lay claim to such duality, to comfort and styling with virtually no sacrifice to bleeding performance. The 944 Turbo S is one of those uncompromising sports cars.

[*]Although the Turbo S title was effectively terminated by Porsche with the release of the 1989 Turbo, the “S” designation will continue to be used throughout this resource to denote the distinction of the 247 bhp version of the 944 Turbo compared with its 217 bhp predecessor.

[Note]Further reading:


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