Porsche's 924 Watered Down the Recipe

Mass appeal. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and not necessarily a good thing, either. Just like a band with a loyal following dedicated to their own particular brand of standards-challenging, groundbreaking, neo-soul-alt-squaredance-prog-opera-roots-funk-revival-rock, Porsche of the 1970s had a vehemently loyal fan base devoted to their highly unorthodox way of building sports cars. And just like when Daylit Lobster Network turned it down a notch in hopes of gaining a broader audience for their sophomore record “Excessive Sandwich”, Porsche caught a lot of flak for the 924.

Introduced in 1976 as a ’77 model, the 924 was Porsche’s first front-engined, water-cooled car (though the 928 was designed earlier, it wasn’t released until a few months after its entry-level brother), a recipe that was bound to rankle purists—regardless how tasty a dish resulted, Stuttgart must’ve expected controversy. That isn’t to say the 924 didn’t have flaws, it certainly did, many of which weren’t insignificant—it was expensive ($9,395 base US at release), underpowered (95 HP, again initial base US spec), and in some ways quite outdated as launched, with a four speed manual and drum rear brakes, both marked steps backwards from its 914 predecessor.

Areas where it did excel, however, were reliability, practicality, and handling—the latter of which was said to be superb, with Excellence (a long-running Porsche enthusiast’s magazine) calling it “the best handling Porsche in stock form”. It didn’t look half-bad either, with pretty and simple lines penned by Harm Lagaay, who’d eventually be responsible for the 993 and Carrera GT, among others.

Later in its run, several of the 924’s earliest shortcomings were addressed, chiefly with the added availability of a five speed manual and rear disc brakes in 1979 and 1980, respectively. Power was also up to 110 HP only a year after launch, gained largely by the introduction of a catalytic converter which negated the need for enervating smog pumps and other obsolete emissions control equipment. Though still a relatively under-powered car, the 924 was at least now capable of getting out of its own way—faint praise, perhaps, but there was also a forced induction version…

From ’78 the 924 was offered in turbocharged form in the way of the creatively-named 924 Turbo. Starting with the same Audi-sourced 2.0 liter four used in naturally aspirated cars, Stuttgart designed their own cylinder head and fitted a KKK K-26 snail, the two of which in conjunction made 170 HP—pretty healthy for a 2,400 lb. machine. Performance was now within striking distance of the heavier, 180 HP 911 SC, a gap further closed by steady improvements which eventually raised total output by another 7 HP. For homologation purposes, Porsche later built the 210 HP Carrera GT, the penultimate evolution of the 924—no mid-engined V10 exotic, instead it was based on the existing Turbo. Built in limited numbers, both the CGT and even scarcer, 245 HP Carrera GTS are now quite collectible and among the most sought-after of all early wasserboxer Porsches.

True to Porsche tradition, there were a myriad of other limited edition packages comprising special equipment and trim levels, the most significant of which was the 1986-88 924S. Made as a kind of continuation car and built alongside its 1982 944 “replacement”, the 924S was equipped with a detuned version of that car’s 2.5 liter four, which made between 150 and 160 HP depending on model year.

Excluding the previously-mentioned CGT and CGTS, the 924 is ultimately remembered as a kind of half-way car, relatively unloved compared to later 944 and 968 evolutions. I can’t help but think this is a bit unfair, despite its inherent flaws—after all, it’s a historically significant Porsche, perhaps one of the most so. It was built with some elegant and forward-thinking technology, too, with a rear-mounted transaxle, sophisticated suspension, and bodywork that was both incredibly aerodynamic and safe for the time. Stuttgart was clearly trying very hard to make a clean break from tradition, and even if it did fail in doing so, their effort is clearly ingrained on the 924, a fascinating machine full of clever thinking and fresh approaches from one of the all-time great sports car marques. Regardless of how you feel about it, the 924 was a huge sales success, and its impact on Porsche’s finances are beyond argument—it’s no exaggeration to say it saved the company, allowing further capital investment towards the development of the iconic 911, much like the Cayenne (ugh) and Panamera do today.

True enthusiasts like us will always prefer our favorite’s early works, but there’s some good musicianship on display in the chart-toppers, too—they might be a bit watered-down, but the genius is still there underneath a more radio-friendly beat.