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Casually collectable: The Porsche 944

Welcome to Casually Collectable, where we take a look back at an interesting car with enthusiast appeal that won’t break the bank on the used market. For this installment, we’re getting to know the oddball Porsche 944.

While most Porsches have comparatively higher purchase prices and associated maintenance costs than what is ideal for a Casually Collectable car, the Porsche 944 makes the cut due to its wide availability and its generally accessible price point on the used market.

During the 944’s nine-year production run from 1982 – 1991, Porsche produced over 160,000 examples of the car, meaning they aren’t all that hard to find. Based on the existing 924 platform, the 944 is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car from a brand best known for the iconic rear-engine 911.

The basics are straightforward, depending on year and spec, all 944s use one of three inline four-cylinder engines mated to either a three-speed automatic or a five-speed manual. While originally offered as coupe, Porsche did eventually offer a cabriolet version of the 944. Over the course of the 944’s life, various trim levels were available and offered the usual bumps in performance, safety equipment, and general luxury.

At the base version, the 944 made roughly 143 horsepower (later-year base models would make up to 163 horsepower) and the range-topping Turbo S made 247 horsepower from its turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four. While not wildly fast by today’s standards, the 944 is a sporty driver’s car that successfully captures some of that desirable ’80s Porsche charm.

Models after 1985 are more desirable due to an updated interior and suspension setup among a number of other small tweaks and improvements. The first Turbo 944 came to market in 1986, packing 217 horsepower and a 0 – 60 time just a hair under six seconds. 1987 saw the addition of both anti-lock brakes and airbags along with a new 944 S trim level. The 944 S was a higher performance spec that slotted between the base 944 and the Turbo. With a revised and sportier suspension, and a 16-valve dual overhead cam 2.5-liter inline four, the 944 S made 187 horsepower and offered an optional limited-slip differential.

Two years later in 1989, Porsche followed up with the 944 S2 that featured a revised Turbo-esque exterior body package and a new three-liter version of the 944 S’s engine that made 207 horsepower. 1989 is also when the first convertible 944 was introduced (as the 944 S2 Cabriolet) and by 1991 a Turbo cabriolet version was also available.

From a purchasing standpoint, while 944’s may be relatively plentiful and certainly less expensive than almost any 911, only those willing to carry out the required due diligence should start hunting for a good example. Non-Turbo versions tend to have the best reputation for reliability and will likely offer the best return in terms of fun-per-dollar. Turbocharged or not, unless you’ve been around the block with a 944 in the past, the wise move is to find a qualified shop that offers a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) and to focus the hunt on cars that have been properly maintained (and have the records to prove it). Proper maintenance records and a PPI might raise the price a bit (in step with the vehicle’s value), but it may also save you from a very costly repair on an otherwise inexpensive Porsche.

With some patience and tenacity, you should be able to find a well-loved example that isn’t too far out of its prime, still offering that sporty Porsche experience without costing nearly as much as a 911. Later manual transmission models with the updated interior and the Turbo-style appearance package command the higher values but return the most polished experience and may be equipped with desirable options like a limited-slip differential or upgraded stereo.

While the 944 may be an outlier front-engine Porsche sports car, it also represents a stylish and well-known entry point to the Porsche world that has yet to explode in value like many other classic models from the famed German brand.