Journal: Porsche's 924 Watered Down The Recipe

Porsche’s 924 Watered Down The Recipe

By Alan Franklin
May 17, 2013

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was expensive ($9,395 base US at release), underpowered (95 HP, again initial base US spec), and in some ways quite outdated as launched, with a four speed manual and drum rear brakes, both marked steps backwards from its 914 predecessor.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.

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Dave T
Dave T(@davet)
8 years ago

Am I the only one who was a little disappointed to discover Daylit Lobster Network is not a real band?

8 years ago

Wedged between my 356, and 911S in the garage, my wife’s 924 was never great road-burner. It was however a moderate performer, a great handling car, and a definite successor to the 914s I was working on at the time (and possibly the Karmann Ghia the 356 replaced too).

Take that big sunroof out, wind the windows down, and snick snick snick with that fat little gear knob up and down through some tight twisty bits and it was however as enjoyable as many other supposedly greater cars. As noted too, easy to work on, reliable, and with parts relatively inexpensive from the parallel VW/Audi Gruppe it’s sure to appreciate as others come to the same realizations.

Thanks for the memories, that green with beige matches perfectly. Neko.

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman(@fb_1293493178)
8 years ago

poor old us buyers got a double- watered down version.
over in europe we got 125bhp, which was good enough to push the car to 125mph, not bad in the day.

the only real niggles were a poor interior layout, mainly the non-adjustable steering wheel set too low, heavy non-assisted steering and only four ratios in the gearbox.

in typical porsche fashion these problems were eventually fixed in later editions.

my favourites are the carrera gt and 924s

Bruce Nunnally
Bruce Nunnally(@fb_748676822)
8 years ago

At the time we said the 1983 944 2.5L made 143 hp (not 150 hp). This may be a hp unit translation issue? With the wider fenders and shaping the 944 looked remarkably like the 924 race models, and was a much improved look. The 924 shared a bit too much resemblance to the RX-7 by comparison.

8 years ago

Excellent archive images, properly cool. I too never really liked the 924, until about 5-7 years ago, when the shape stopped looking dated and became somewhat likeable. I actually now prefer the smoother lines to the butcher 944. Most days. A few years back I started to ready good reviews. I bought one and liked it so much I now have 2, both 924 Ss. There is little between the 150 and 160 bhp motors; if anything the 150bhp engine feels stronger – peak torque is lower in the rev range. But that doesn’t really matter, the car’s so much fun to drive. And work on.

The 924 is definitely having something of a renaissance, in the UK at least. Prices are following the 968 and ’44 upwards. They’re also getting column inches in the magazines again. And meeting the public? The response is incredible, I’ve had people cross the road to come and chat when I’m working on it (it’s no Daytona, eh, Matthew ;)), and a surprising number of people have 924 stories to share, from back in the day.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
8 years ago
Reply to  PawnSacrifice

Ha Matt, it does share the Daytonas layout just needs 8 more cylinders! :p I wish I could work on the Daytona but that would require me to know something about working on engines!

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
8 years ago

Have a soft spot for the water cooled Porsches having spent many of my formative years riding in the back of my Dad’s various Porsche 928s and later have a 944S2 of my own. Must admit I would be tempted by a 924 Turbo today if I could find a nice one. a Carrera GT would be even better but they are in a much higher price bracket.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
8 years ago

I’ve never was a huge fan of the 924 to be honest. I don’t care that it’s got front-mounted engine, I just though that it looked a little too mundane and the fact that it got an underpowered Audi engine has always bothered me. Obviously coupled with the fact that they went back in time as far as braking is concerned, as you mentioned.

However, as I’ve grown older (yet still quite young), I’ve come to appreciate classic cars even more and I’ve also realized, lo and behold, that a car is so much more than the horsepower figures and 0-60 times it can produce. While I still prefer the 944, chiefly because of the slightly more butch styling, and stronger perfromance (if I’m allowed to be a bit contradictory), I must admit that the 924 has grown quite a bit on me. If I were to buy one though, it would have to be 924S with the improved braking, additional gear and the Porsche engine or none at all. I know I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here, but the 924 subject has got me a little bit torn…