17 May 2013

Porsche 924S review

I've owned my 1986 Porsche 924S for a few months now and following the success of the E-Type review I thought I'd submit the 924S to the classic car review treatment

The Porsche 924 is the car that saved Porsche AG from financial ruin.  Well, the late 70s financial ruin anyway.  Porsche have had a few wobbles along the way but the introduction of Porsche's first ever front engined, water cooled 2+2 coupé was absolutely the company saviour it was intended to be.

The original 911 had been in production since 1963 and by the time of the 924's 1979 debut was getting on a bit.  Porsche had tinkered with the original 911 over the years but used the profits from the 924 to finally create and introduce the all new type-964 911 in 1989.

The 924 sold 150,000 units from 1977-1988 and served as a launchpad for the 944 and 968 front engined coupes.

Today, the 924 is the cheapest used Porsche on the market.  You can buy a half-decent one for £1,200 whereas no 911 in roadworthy condition can be found for under £10,000.  Yet the 924 is every inch a Porsche, despite what the snobs say.

Yes it was originally conceived as a joint VW/Porsche project and yes the original 2.0 engine was later used in the LT van.  In fact the 924 was originally designated Project 425 and was to be a Porsche-designed, VW built coupe that would be labelled a Volkswagen.  Volkswagen pulled out of the deal and instead opted for the Scirocco.  Porsche bought back the rights and made the 924 themselves, albeit with Volkswagen staff in the old NSU factory at Neckarsulm, close to Stuttgart.

We should be glad that this happened.

In 1983 Porsche introduced the 944, and with it a new, watercooled 2.5 litre inline 4 engine.  In 1986 that engine made its way into the 924 and thus the 924S was borne.

My car is a 1986 924S.  It is low, quite small, rear wheel drive, weighs 1200kg, produces 150bhp and does 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds.  It has a 5 speed gearbox which is located under the boot floor to create a perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

The exterior design has aged well.  Free from plastic panels and extraneous flips and bumps the 924 has a classic, slippery wedge shape with gentle curves aplenty and just a small spoiler under the nose and a rubber mounted rear spoiler aft of the rear window.

The headlights flip up.  They are one of the more reliable flip-up headlight designs as there's only one motor and the headlights are connected via a steel rod.  The engine sits far back in the bay with lots of space around it.  Components are easy enough to get at and home servicing should be a cinch.  I'll find out soon enough but for now have a look at Matt Bigg's blog to find out more about the oily stuff and and renovating a 924S.

The interior has dated.  Especially mine which is chocolate brown.  Some people like it.  I don't particularly but the car was mechanically sound and cheap so I'll just have to lump it.  The layout is classic with triple dials ahead of the driver for speed, engine revs and a fuel level etc, three dials above the gearstick with oil pressure, voltage and a clock and various switches scattered around for such luxuries as electric windows, electric sunroof and....well that's it as far as luxuries are concerned.

The heater levers are of particular merit.  Large and functional.  They do exactly the same job as the dual zone climate control in my modern Audi but look fantastic and work as well as they did the day the car left the factory.

The original stereo was a a crappy Blaupunkt affair which I've replaced with a Panasonic DAB unit.  Oh, the joy of standard sized stereos which allow free and easy replacement without the need for blanking plates and all the messiness that entails.

The materials used inside include brown elephant-hide plastics, brown plastic on the dash top which has cracked slightly (they all do that), thick brown carpet underfoot (which has worn well) and around the gearstick.  Yes, carpet around the gearstick.  Brown, velour seats.  The front seats offer lots of space, the rears are only suitable for small children.  My son has spent some time in the back and has enough legroom if the person in front shifts the passenger seat forwards.

The sunroof is huge, and pulls right out easily enough.  The boot is massive for a coupe.  I've had 12 bags of shopping from Sainsburys in it, with space to spare.

The driving position is legs out, arms slightly bent, steering wheel in your lap.  The steering wheel does not adjust.  If you are possessed of chunky thighs you might not be able to drive a 924.

The gearstick sits high on the transmission tunnel and is almost perfectly placed.  The handbrake sits between the drivers seat and the door.  I often reach down there when I'm in another car grasping for something that isn't where I think it is.

Fire up the engine and you are greeting with a lovely warbling engine note.  My 924S has a full stainless steel exhaust.  It's a worthwhile investment both for the longevity and for the sound it produces.

My car also has the optional power steering.  The steering is still heavy at low speed but you don't have to lug it.  Move away and the 924S comes into its element.

On the road is where you appreciate the light weight, the 50/50 distribution, the 150bhp, the light clutch, the firm gear changes, the brakes that provide great stopping power for a car of its era.

The Porsche 924S is an absolute hoot to drive.  It is pure driving pleasure.  It can be thrown around corners with abandon.  The power never overcomes grip in anything other than 1st gear, or 2nd if you're violent but it does lean on the rear end through mid-radius corners.

The engine has a fairly flat delivery of power.  It's pretty grunty whilst never being overly powerful.  It responds well from low revs through to its 6500rpm limit.  It's pretty flexible and you can pull away in 2nd easily enough.  Overtakes require a gearchange down which, with a blip of throttle, sounds good as well as providing a little extra urge for the extra speed required.  Indeed the car responds well to a touch of power just prior to downward gear changes.  It's not required but adds smoothness - and noise.

The steering is sharper than anything else I've driven.  You feel the road through your fingertips, your feet, your bottom.  You communicate with the 924.  This is when you know you are not in a Volkswagen but a true Porsche.  This is what gives the lie to the snobs' assertion that this is the poor man's Porsche, a VW with the Porsche name.

The suspension is a work of Porsche genius.  The design used many VW parts but was evolved over the years.  The original 924's suspension worked fine but the 924S suspension set-up achieves a balance of superb road-holding with a comfortable ride.  It doesn't crash over bumps yet it doesn't roll in corners.

The only let-down is in very high speed handling where the 924S starts to feel light.  Top speed is a shade over 120mph but approaching that speed doesn't feel comfortable.  Maybe it needs new bushes or firmer springs, or maybe the aerodynamics work against it to create the feeling of too much lightness at the front.

The car can be thrashed and it still feels like it can handle more.  The engine can be red-lined, the steering wrenched, the brakes used firmly and repeatedly - and it stands up to it.  I've covered a few thousand miles and never once has it hinted at unreliability - although the drivers door clasp has broken and I need to lean in and open the drivers side from the passenger side.  It won't pass an MoT test like that so I've sourced the parts and hope to fix this soon.

As well as throwing the car round country roads the Porsche 924S has also been a surprisingly good cruiser.  I've done several trips where we've covered over 200 miles in a day.  It holds its own on the motorway and A-roads.  The ride is smooth, in 5th gear the engine doesn't boom too much, the seats are quite comfortable it stays straight and true at the motorway speed limit(ish).  My wife joined me on one trip and was impressed with the car.

I've been massively impressed with my Porsche 924S and use it in every day.  I'd urge you to try one.  It's a fantastic car.