The Last of the Front-Engine Sports Car from Porsche
It all started in the 1970’s when Porsche introduced their first “transaxle” powertrain car with the engine mounted in the front. But the transmission was still at the rear hence the ‘transaxle’ designation. This was called the Porsche 924. This car started a generation of Porsche sports cars that started in 1976 and ended in 1995 with the last type of the Porsche 924 known as the Porsche 968. The Porsche 968 became the apex of this generation of front-engine sports cars and while Porsche has since introduced back front-engine cars into their current lineup they still have never produced a 2-door sports car like the Porsche 968.
Start with the Type 944
Porsche introduced their flagship sports car the avant-garde Porsche 928 in 1977. This was determined to be the future of Porsche and was planned to replace the legendary Porsche 911. As we all know by now, this never happened in the future and the Porsche 928 died after 20 years of existence. But back in 1981 Porsche wanted an entry-level car and introduced the Porsche 944 at the Frankfurt Auto Show. It was sold later in the US in 1983 and was positioned as the next generation upgrade of the Porsche 924. With its low entry price ($18,400.00 USD back in 1983) the Porsche 944 was a hit and was well received by Porsche enthusiasts and the public at large.
The 944 evolved from the 924 and shared the car’s front-engine/rear transaxlw layout. The main difference physically was the exterior where it received its signature ‘flared’ fenders on all the wheel wells – both enhancing the look of the car and improving its handling as well. This new styling was derived from a limited-edition wide-fender 924 called the 924 Carrera GT. The other big news for the 944 was the new 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine which was basically taken from the mighty Porsche 928 v-8 engine block. It came with 150 hp when sold in 1983.
Bigger changes came in 1985 when Porsche changed the interior of the 944 and introduced a turbo version of the 944. It was called Porsche 944 Turbo (or known as the Porsche 951 internally) and has become a legend ever since. Performance was boosted by the turbocharged engines but also aerodynamics was improved as well with new polyurethane front bumpers, underbody panels and a new rear diffuser. Porsche also launched other model versions including the 944 S in 1987 and the 944 S2 in 1989. After almost a full decade of success building and selling the Porsche 944 headwinds came to ahead for the 944 in the 1990’s.
Originally Planned as the 944 S3
Porsche improved the Porsche 944 S in 1989 with the 944 S2. The 944 S2 adopted the 944 Turbo’s smoother bodywork and received a larger 3.0 litter 4-cylinder engine. It was later joined by a convertible version known as the 944 S2 Cabriolet. The S2 enjoyed many detail improvements during its final years from 1989 to 1991 but Porsche was going thru difficult changes in the new decade.
While the 1980’s saw Porsche grow and become profitable, by the end of the decade Porsche got caught in a global market squeeze. The Japanese started to produce sports cars that rivaled or even bested the 944 but never on price. And an unfavorable currency exchange rate with the US accompanied with Porsche’s internal decisions to push their prices more upmarket made Porsche cars more and more expensive. Porsche car sales volume dropped significantly at the end of the 1980’s and Porsche made a direction to focus on only 3 main models – the Porsche 928, the Porsche 911 and the successor to the 944 – code named internally as the 944 S3.
Porsche engineers became working on the new 944 S3 but made so many significant upgrades that it was later determined that 80% of the car was going to be totally new by being modified or completely overhauled by the engineers. Porsche marketing decided that instead of calling it a variant of the 944 it should instead be termed as a new model. They called it the Porsche 968.
Birth of the Porsche 968
The Porsche 968 became the apex of the Porsche 924/944 legacy. The 968 came to the market in 1992. All assembly was moved from the VW-Audi plant in Neckarsulm, Germany to Porsche’s own plant in Zuffenhausen. Made right next to the Porsche 911 and Porsche 928.
The Porsche 968 was updated with many mechanical upgrades and received new styling both inside and out. The exterior look of the 968 was made to more closely resemble its higher priced siblings – the 928 and the 911 (which was the 993 generation at that time). It carried the same wing-flare design of the Porsche 993 and the pop-up lights front and back hatch of the Porsche 928. The family resemblance worked and when seen all next to each other you saw the family resemblance.
Taken separately the Porsche 968 got a very smooth front bumper with pop-up headlights and a matching rear end with new taillight designs, unlike the previous 944s. The hatchback was similar to the 944 but now had a wing that resembled the 928 S4 wing. The side profile made the car longer and sleeker than before. The doors were the same as the 944 but now carried new door handles that matched the Porsche 993.
The major change under the hood was the straight 3.0 liter 4-cylinder engine which now produced 236hp and 235 lb-ft of torque due to an improved manifold and Porsche’s own variable valve timing technology known as VarioCam. This engine became one of the largest 4-cylinder engines ever offered by a mass-market car manufacturer. Other changes included a new dual-mass flywheel, new engine electronics, and a new 6-speed manual transmission to replace the 944 S2’s 5-speed version. Porsche also offered an automatic transmission called the Tiptronic that was first seen on the Porsche 964.
For the suspension, the 968 borrowed heavily from the 944 Turbo including larger Brembo sourced four-piston brake calipers, aluminum semi-trailing arms, and a Macpherson struct arrangement. The car also came available as an option the Torsen limited-slip diffs which are now a very rare and desired on the 2nd hand market.
Body style wise the 968 came in both coupe and cabriolet versions. Few changes were made during the 4-year run of the 968 – it was sold in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995.
In 1993 the air-conditing system was updated with a CFC free refrigerant and the vaulted ZP limited-slip differential option was deleted as well.
Due to the market conditions, the Porsche 968 was not a big seller in the US. By the time it was sold in 1992 it came with a huge price-tag of $50,000 which was unheard of especially for a 4-cylinder sports car. Only 2,417 coupes and 2,260 cabriolets were sold in the USA during its production run.
Porsche 968 Club Sport
Porsche did make a special edition race version of the 968 which it only sold in Europe. Known as the 968 Club Sport or CS, it was a stripped out 968 but included racing seats, a revised track-tuned suspension, and larger wheels/brakes. Porsche even produced in very small numbers a rarer 968 called the 968 Turbo S. Supposedly only 15 were made the total in the world. Look for that on Ebay but carry a big bank account when that car comes up for sale.
Buying Guide Tips for the 968
The 968 is now a 20-year-old plus car but still drives well due to its dynamic combination of powertrain, handling and weight. And due to the limit numbers sold in the USA, the 968 is becoming rarer to find. But like all 944s the 968 does suffer from some universal issues that you should be aware of if you are interested in buying one.
The Porsche designed 944 and 968 engines are interference engines. This means in layman’s terms that IF the cam belt breaks then the pistons will meet the valves with very expensive consequences. It’s important that whenever buying a 968 or a 944 for the matter that the cam and balance shaft belts are replaced every 30,000 miles. If the car has been sitting around for a few years, then it’s wise to change the belts also. Unfortunately, this is not a cheap operation and only dealers and qualified Porsche mechanics can handle this sort of service.
Also, the water pump in the 968 tends to leads as well so people replace it usually the same time with the belts since they are all in the same location within the engine bay.
The glass hatchback on the 968/944 is one big piece of glass that is very rare and costly to replace. But Porsche decided to use a cheap weather-seal to glue the big piece of glass to the frame of the hatch and its very common today to see the hatch crack or become unglued due to time and weather condtions. This is called glass delamination and if it happens it becomes a source of rattles, queaks and water leaks.
Unfortunately, the 944/968 used materials that haven’t stood the test of time. Expect many cars to have dashboard cracks (very common), slow moving power windows, broken glovebox doors, broken center-console lids and other cracks and tears.
The Porsche 968 is an unknown Porsche that is becoming more and more appreciated. It’s the last generation of the 944 type and is actually the best, capturing the spirit of the handling and power the 944 platform provided back in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s a light-weight and extremely capable handling sports car from Porsche and the only factor that hinders it today is the lack of a big eco-system of 3rd party parts and vendors to help grow the 968 community. But if you’re looking for a rare Porsche that won’t break your bank account, the 968 is a great choice.
968 Register – the official 968 register in the US
968 Forums Net – The main forum for 968 owners and fans
Motorweek Review of the Porsche 968 in 1992 – see below