The 944 Turbo S
This is an old web page. It was originally put together so I would have someplace to send the people who ask me "What's the best Porsche?" Most people who ask have preconceived notions. For obvious reasons, many people expect my response to be "'73 911S", or "'74 Carrera RS". When they hear 951 S they're usually shocked. So shocked, that they never listen to why I think the 951 S is the best buy for a 80's-90's era Porsche. They immediately lock in on the 944's engine being in the wrong place, being liquid cooled, and the car having been based on a platform that Audi turned down. Despite all its supposed shortcomings, I think the 1990 944 Turbo is THE Porsche for that time period.
If you're unclear what a 944 Turbo-S is, it was a limited edition model based on the Turbo Cup racing version of the 944 Turbo. The first year of production was 1988, and that year Porsche built two versions of the 944 Turbo. Porsche shipped 1156 standard 944 Turbos, and 718 Turbo-S models. All post 1988 944 Turbos came standard with the equipment that was optional on the 1988 Turbo S - making all 1989 and 1990 U.S. spec 944 Turbos, Turbo-S models. The option list included in the 1988 Turbo S was as follows:
Although obscure, each Turbo S had the following features -
I prefer the U.S. spec 1990 because (1) being the last of the production run, the final updates were included, and (2) 1990's are rare (they were sold in the US until July of 1990). In 1988 Porsche built 4068 944 Turbos. 1874 were shipped to the United States. Worldwide production for the 1988 944 Turbo S was 1635 units. Of those, 718 were shipped to the United States.
Some look at these cars and don't see what the fascination is. Some of those people wonder, "If you're going to buy a Porsche, wouldn't a 911 be a better choice?" Mistake number one. "Aren't 911's a lot more powerful?" Mistake Number two. "Weren't Turbo Nissan Z cars and Rx-7 TII's just as fast?" Three strikes and you're out.
Let's take a look at that "better choice". The 1988/89 911 was the last of the 3.2 liter Carreras, so one would think all the bugs would have been worked out. Think again. The 3.2 liter engines had higher compression than the 3.0 liter SC that they replaced. A larger engine with higher compression sounds like a good thing, except they constantly ran lean. Lean running air-cooled engines have a propensity to run hot. Air-cooled engines that are lean and hot, have problems with detonation. The engineers at Porsche knew this, so they incorporated knock sensors. Those sensors retarded the timing, which made the engines run that much hotter. Hot 911's usually end up needing rings and valves. The 3.2 Carreras were no exception. Also, there was a valve problem in the 1987 and 1988's. Either the guides were too soft, or the valves themselves had a hardness issue. Whatever the problem, the result was oil consumption. The fix? A valve job.
Also, the 3.2 Carrera's rod bolts were known weak spots. The 3.0 liter used 10mm rod bolts, while the 3.2 had 9mm bolts. High RPMs in a 3.2 result in rod bolt stretch. Those same bolts were stretched once when they were installed the first time. You don't want to be the owner of anything made by Porsche that breaks a rod bolt. Goodbye rod, goodbye, piston, goodbye cylinder, and if things really go bad, adios head, bon jour crank and does anyone have the phone number for Competition Engineering? So, as long as the engine is down for that previously mentioned valve job, it's a good time to swap in a set of Raceware rod bolts. $300 worth of Raceware bolts is a whole lot cheaper than a $1500 head (That's just one bare head, there are six of them), a $3200 crank, $3800 for a new set of slugs, $1800 worth of Carrillo rods, and six thousand dollars worth of case if for some unknown reason Competition Engineering can't/won't weld it (highly improbable).
Comparing the Carrera against the 944 Turbos, which were bullet proof, the choice is easy. Err, 944 Turbos were bulletproof as long as the maintenance was done. Ignoring a timing belt on a 951 S could be a costly mistake.
Let's look at the more powerful comment. More powerful as in faster? Not even close. The 3.2 liter Carreras put out 200 HP and 185 ft/lbs of torque. Porsches aren't National Dragster poster cars, but the Carreras could run low six second zero to sixty passes and break 93 MPH in the quarter mile. The 944 Turbo-S had 247 HP, 258 ft/lbs of torque, and a fatter power band. Couple that with the fact that this was a vehicle that weighed less than a Carrera and you know the results - 5.5 zero to sixty runs and low-fourteen/high-thirteen second quarter mile passes that eclipsed the century mark. Forget the Carrera, the 944 Turbo S was as fast as the 911 Turbos in all categories, save one. The 951 has a top speed that is one mile per hour less than the 911 Turbo. Nissans and Mazdas? Puuuuleeeeze. In 1988, The 944 Turbo S was the fifth fastest car in the world. Behind the Ferrari Testarossa, Ferrari GTO, Lamborghini Countach, and 928S 4.
Speaking of the 944 Turbo S, in the summer of 1988, Road and Track said -
So, why didn't I buy one? When I originally wanted one, it was 1990. Back then I had a pre-school aged son. I knew whatever I bought was going to be my last sports car for a long time, so I needed to get something that wouldn't bankrupt me over the next 10 years. At the time I could afford the purchase, but maintaining a turbocharged Porsche would have been costly. It didn't take a Masters of Science in Finance to see that better choices existed. I took door number two and bought an Rx-7. My ten year plan was stretched to fifteen years. Over that time, the rotary proved to be a solid investment. Although the Rx-7 required some maintenance over the years, I'm sure I came in below what a 951 would have run.
So why don't I own one now? 1990 was a long time ago. Like everything else, cars have improved. A W208 Mercedes-Benz has a faster quarter-mile ET, higher trap speed, better slalom numbers, higher skidpad numbers, superior braking figures, requires a lot less maintenance, and gets better fuel economy.