Why Buy A 911 When You Can Have Two ‘Poor Man’s Porsches’ Instead?
Story by Vincent Igelnick
Photography by Maxime Oudoux
When I was growing up my father had a pile of broken cars. But not just any pile mind you, this was a pile of find French collectibles! He had a 2CV, some kind of Simca, a Peugeot or two, and of course, the ultimate in stylish expression on four wheels: the Citroën DS. In fact he had three of them when I was a kid: a chick-yellow DS Break (a wagon to those of you Stateside), a DS21 that we called the “rainbow” because of all the different panels and parts we used to fix it up, and finally a DS23 in black, “very gangster.” These cars aren’t the subject of the story though, as I’m sure you can tell by whatever title the editor put above this paragraph! The point I wanted to make was that interesting cars have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
But when I was 15 years old, my father moved out of the house. He sold all of his cars before he left, and he sold his business as well. Too late though, because his affinity for the automobile had long ago been passed on to me! Time and life went on, and even during the years before I received my license I was still obsessing over the cars I would one day drive in my future. Of course cars aren’t the only important thing in life—though I would imagine some of you can argue that they are the most important—and I soon found myself in my first serious relationship. It was seven years of happiness, but of course, that too came to an end. The rupture left me feeling altogether pretty lonely, but hey, perhaps this was a good time to indulge in the material pleasures that life has to offer.
I had been working every summer during my teenage years, and I’d been saving up my wages for leisure trips to be taken as a couple. Well, that was no longer an option, so I thought I’d spend it on myself instead. Time to buy my first car!
I looked at a lot of options, like the first Golf GTi and the quick versions of the Lancia Delta, but they were too expensive, or else too complex as well as too expensive! I’ll let you guess which was which. I wasn’t having much luck finding the right car, so on a whim that seemed stupid at the time I typed “P-O-R-S-C-H-E” into the search box. It was then that I found the world of the poor man’s Porsche, the front-engined four-cylinder models.
The angular lines and wide fenders made the 944 my favorite of the group, especially the second phase cars, the PH2s, and I was immediately drawn to the idea of having a car with an engine developed by the famous German manufacturer under the hood, even if it was in front of me. Plus, the price! Here I was, at 23 years of age, looking to purchase a bonafide Porsche. I couldn’t have been more excited.
I found the Alpine White car that you see here close to my home, made a phone call, and scheduled an appointment to see the car on Christmas Day, 2013. I met the owner nearby a highway entrance ramp, wherein he handed me the keys: “Drive it right now, if it’s me taking you for a ride first it won’t be the same feeling.” I wasn’t about to turn down a test drive, but you must understand that I had never driven a rear-wheel drive car before—diesel front-wheel drives made up my limited driving background—and it was pouring rain. I was a bit apprehensive about my first time driving such a car that didn’t belong to me during a storm, but I gathered up my fortitude and took off—I was in love.
Besides making that pivotal moment possible, the car also had the desirable Pascha interior (though I later discovered it was not original to this particular car), and while it needed a bit of work it was always my intention to work on my the cars that I owned so I wasn’t put off by a little bit of wrenching. After all, if you have the time and ability, maintaining your own cars delivers much more peace of mind and satisfaction than having someone else do it.
The work started out simply enough. I swapped out the shock absorbers for sportier units, fixed a handful of electrical issues, and just enjoyed my new Porsche as it was. Soon enough though the desire to go further took hold of me and the next thing I did was replace the entire cooling system. However when it came to the timing belt, I decided to leave this rather complex task to a professional, and what a professional I found for the job! A former Porsche technician who used to work in one of the company’s racing divisions, he did the work with no issues, and my car was running better than ever. I was very satisfied with my 944, and after meeting the technician who did the belts, I was inspired, and decided it would be fun to try my hand at some circuit driving. I should have mentioned, I live in the town of Le Mans.
I took the 944 for a few laps around the Bugatti Circuit, and though there were few cars out on the day that I could keep up with, the experience of driving my own car under the famed Dunlop bridge was more than enough for me. There was an older 911 in the mix that I could keep pace with on the straight sections, but once we got the turns I was all alone again. I was having a ball racing against the stopwatch though, and not that long after my Le Mans experience I packed a few bags and took a five-day trip the Nürburgring to run my Porsche on the Nordschleife! It was a very challenging track to drive on, especially with my car which struggled a bit to get up to speed on the long uphill straight that you start on, but once I got into the forest proper I was having a great time. The Karusell was especially memorable, as was the constant stream of late-model M3s and 911s that I had to stay out the way of!
You’ve seen the 924 in the photos by now, so perhaps it’s time to move onto that story to wrap things up. I loved my 944, but I wasn’t a fan of the 924. The lines were too simple, the body was a bit boring, and the interior was a little too dated and old-looking for my taste, plus they are typically rather slow. After getting my 944 I became active on Porsche enthusiast forums, and oftentimes I would help out my online acquaintances by going to inspect nearby cars for sale that they were interested in but too far away to see in person. It was on one such trip that I found my 924. I was taking a look at one with an automatic-gearbox for a friend, and when I arrived I found that it wasn’t the only 924 in the garage—it was joined by a first-phase 1979 model with a stick shift. The color was phenomenal to me (it’s called Petrol Blue Metallic for those who are curious), but it hadn’t been driven in 15 years and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a wreck back then.
Thanks to my first Porsche, my mechanical aptitude was improving on an almost daily basis, and so I decided to cross into a new frontier in my automotive life: I would restore a full car. So I bought it, and then promptly got down to business. It took a year of long weekends and long after-work evenings spent under the car, leaning over it, or with my nose buried in the manuals, and I spent quite a good deal of money on parts along the way. I changed the timing belt, I rebuilt the entire fuel system (including the famous K-Jetronic), rebuilt the cooling system, the brakes, almost every wire in the electrical system, and also the cylinder head gasket, the alternator, the starter, various components in the gearbox, etc. It was the most work I’ve done to a single car for sure, but the feeling of starting it up and bringing it back from an almost certain death was like no other in the world, totally unreal.
I hope you enjoyed my Porsche story, perhaps someone else is fond of the front-engined Porsches like me!