I’ve never driven a Porsche before. I always thought it would be air-cooled with an engine hanging out the back. Instead, it was water-cooled and Porsche’s second attempt to appease the US market and plonk its engine up the front. At least this car had one designed by Porsche, a 2.5 litre four cylinder jobby that produced 163 bhp (120kW) when new, and not the suped-up Audi contraption that came in the 924.
But let’s go back a few months and explain how this all came about. I’d just sold my Saab 900 Turbo and Kelvin (we’ll call him Kelvin for the purposes of this article, plus it is his name) was a little miffed that he’d buggered around for so long he missed his chance to purchase it. Kelvin has a penchant for beards and older, dare I say it, retro looking cars so when he asked me what I thought about the 944, I gave him my honest opinion. I liked them, always had done, in fact if it was not for my need of a back seat I would have purchased one over the Saab back in the late 90’s.
He then asked what I thought of one particular specimen, a standard Porsche 944 Lux, 8v, iron callipers with alarmingly low mileage. I say alarming as after 30 odd years its kilometre count meant it would surely have been clocked. If not, what a waste, the car had missed its prime and that for me is just sacrilege.
But sacrilege it was, luckily for Kelvin, and he duly handed over a mere $12,500. It should have been $14k but as any good buyer does he noticed that the clutch was riding high so negotiated the price of a new one and brought the sale price down.
As you can see, that is a fairly lean sum for a car in such condition. Not a flake of rust anywhere, thanks largely to the galvanised body, almost perfect wheels and only slightly threadbare front seats, which is totally understandable after three decades. The back seats have probably never been sat in, unless the previous owners had a cat.
But what is it like to drive? First up, the wheel is incredibly low it brushes my thighs, and I fumble around trying to find some way to adjust it. Surely they thought of that, didn’t they? No point asking Kelvin though, he knows next to nothing. The rim is thin and hard, very late 70’s but I quite like it. The seats are comfortable enough and everything is within reach, as you’d expect from Stuttgart. The pedals are nicely spaced and the gear lever is at the perfect rake and distance and my hand settles around it almost telepathically. Then I turn the key. Nothing. I look at Kelvin, he looks at me, much like a cow looking through a hedge.
Then I remember that ‘no starts’ have been a bit of a problem for the 944, something to do with the speed sensors. A bit of lead wiggling at the rear of the engine and I hope this helps. It doesn’t. If this is the issue, then it’s best to get a mechanic to locate the fault or go through each sensor yourself until you find the culprit.
However, it turns out Kelvin had just installed a new immobiliser and, like a pair of divs, we just hadn’t pressed the button. Problem solved, I fire up the engine. It ignites without a shudder and settles into a comfortable burble, very un-air-cool like, but with a timbre deep enough to let you know that this thing, in its prime, was no slouch. The clutch is certainly high but I feel no hint of slip as I pull away up a reasonably steep hill. I decide to head away from town and up on to the North Head. At least by going up the hill, I can get the revs up if not the speedometer.
It turned out to be a mistake of course because every 100-200m is a sleeping policeman and I can sense Kelvin wincing over every one. I manage to whip the thing around a tight roundabout to test the car’s legendary grip levels, but that’s about as close as I can get to hooning. It’s a shame because for a 32 year old vehicle it feels tight, if a little under powered, but this is the base level model remember, with no turbo and only 8 valves per cylinder.
So what should you be doing if you had bought it?
Change the coolant and the oil regularly and check for any grey sludge. If it’s present you could be staring at an engine change because water is getting in there somehow. If you are lucky, it may just be a leaking oil cooler gasket, which is a much cheaper fix as long as you replace the two filters and add 10 litres of new oil.
Because this is the 8 valve engine, it was not fitted with the same chain tensioner unit found between the twin cams of the 16v version. This apparently failed often and would destroy the top end of the 16v engine if not maintained regularly. However, every 100,000 kms the camshaft belts must be changed to avoid a similar fate. Do all this and service it regularly and it’s likely the engine will last many more years to come.
The Lux also scores on its heavier, uglier cast brake callipers. The 16 valvers got alloy ones which looked better and sported the Porsche letters, but they tended to corrode and react with the steel on the back of the brake pads. As you can imagine, having to change the full braking system, discs and all, on any Porsche will not be cheap.
We decided to organise a longer drive in the near future and if Kelvin is brave enough, perhaps a few laps of a track. We discussed ways of protecting the paintwork from dreaded bird shit, and a car cover seemed the easiest option. I hope he enjoys his new, yet old, car and I look forward to listening to his travelling tales. If the reaction we had when we stopped briefly to take some shots is anything to go by, he will certainly attract a crowd.
Suggested service centres on the Northern beaches:
Buchanan Automotive, Balgowlah
Buchanan Automotive is a father and son independent Porsche workshop located in Balgowlah on Sydney’s northern beaches. Together they represent over 40 years of Porsche knowledge and experience.
PR Technology, Brookvale
PRTechnology is a Porsche specialist workshop based in Brookvale. Established in 1993 by current partners Paul Jacobsohn & Richard den Brinker, it has grown to be recognised as one of the largest and most respected Porsche workshops in Australia.