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Regarded at the time as slightly outdated and overly expensive, a good example of the Porsche 968 makes the perfect weekend sports hatch or practical daily driver. Read more:
In 1990, Porsche had three model ranges: the 911, 928 and 944. The 911 had just been updated as the 964. Despite a modest update for 1990, Porsche held US 928 prices at the same level. The 928 was past its sell by date, and Stuttgart knew it. That left the 944.
The 944 had evolved from the 924, designed in the early 1970s. Though the 944 had been good for Porsche, there was no hiding its age. Free from the economic malaise affecting much of Europe and the USA, Japan was building its best-ever sports coupés, at prices that made Stuttgart look silly. With neither the time nor the cash available to design and develop an all-new model, the 944 was up for a facelift.
Knowing the 944 S3 needed to be special to overcome its antiquated underpinnings, the Weissach boys got their thinking caps on. When they were finished, they reckoned 80% of the car was new. With a monocoque, doors, glass, suspension, brakes and many other parts shared with the 944, how they arrived at 80% is a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless, legend has it that the car was so different, they decided to rename it. The 968 was born.
Porsche 968 Production and Models
The 968 was sold from 1992 to 1995, and offered in both Coupé and Cabriolet body styles. Opinions differ on the numbers produced – Porsche Cars North America put numbers sold lower than some reference books – but the total manufactured is approximately 12,500 units.
The 968 was initially offered as a one-size-fits-all Coupé model with the ever-present options list. When year one sales were uninspiring, Porsche broadened the range with a stripped-out Club Sport model for 1993. Available in Coupé only, the Club Sport lost bits like the rear seats, electric windows and central locking, replacing them with racing seats, sports steering wheel and 17” alloy wheels.
The following year, the UK got the Sport model, which replaced the Club Sport’s lost luxuries for a £3000 premium. The standard car picked up some additional spec by way of leather upholstery and new-style wheels, but disastrous sales figures had put the writing on the wall. Sales were sinking and new MD Wendelin Wiedeking was set to revolutionise how Porsche did business. The 968 came off the price lists a year ahead of schedule.
Porsche 968 Styling and Bodywork
While the side profile of the 944 and 968 are relatively similar, the later car’s restyled front and back ends set it apart. The main styling difference was obvious: those 928-style pop up headlamps, which the 993 echoed in family tree fashion. The side glass was bonded, with different door handles and mirrors, and the radio antenna moved to the roof on hard top models. The hatchless Cabriolet had its aerial set in glass.
Coupé and Cabriolet were heavier than the 944S2 by 60 kilos each, with the drop top’s chassis reinforcements adding more weight. The Cabriolet tops the scales at 1440 kilos: 70 kilos more than the hard top. Add Tiptronic transmission and you’re carrying over 1500 kilograms before you add options, fuel and passengers. Pretty lardy versus a 1260-kilo Boxster: Porsche’s 968 replacement and the car that changed the game.
Porsche 968 Interior Trim
The dash and instrumentation will be familiar to any 944 driver. Decried by some as a lack of progress, it’s more a case of “if it ain’t broke”. Toys may be thin on the ground, but a standard car has all the essentials. The options list had plenty of comforts to choose from: air con, half and full leather and the excellent sports seats were all on there.
Some taller drivers struggle with the fixed position steering wheel, especially on Club Sport models, sold without the standard electric seat height adjustment. With reduced interior sound deadening, the Club Sport cabin is a racy place to be. It’s worth doing some motorway miles to make sure you can live with it.
Porsche 968 Engine Details
The 3.0 engine is the heart of a 968. When new, it was the world’s largest capacity four-cylinder production powerplant. Developed from the 944’s M44/41 motor, the M44/43 fitted to the 968 used higher compression, forged internals, and new intake and exhaust to develop 240 bhp at 6,200 rpm, with 225 lb/ft of torque at just over 4,100 rpm. The biggest innovation on the 3.0 engine is Variocam.
Variocam makes the 968 top end a very technical place. The crankshaft drives the exhaust cam via a belt, which then powers the inlet camshaft via a chain. A tensioner on the inlet cam adjusts the valve timing at low revs to boost torque, and at high revs to boost horsepower. The system operates between 1,500 rpm and 5,500 rpm. Similar systems are found on later Porsche cars, as variable valve timing helps both power and emissions. The 968 engine also features belt-driven balance shafts.
Porsche 968 Transmission
As with the 944, the 968’s transmission is at the back, giving perfect weight distribution. Two transaxles were offered: the six-speed manual or four-speed Tiptronic gearbox. A limited slip differential was an option.
A torque tube, or propshaft in a cylindrical housing, transfers engine power to the transaxle input. The manual transmission runs a dual-mass flywheel, which often needs replacing at clutch time. Manuals can also suffer from failed pinion bearings, which we’ll cover later on.
Porsche 968 Chassis & Suspension
If the engine is the heart of a 968, the suspension is its soul. In 1993, Autocar magazine named the 968 as the world’s best-handling car. The 968 uses the same suspension found in the 944 Turbo from 1987 on. The front is McPherson strut, with either standard Sachs or Koni adjustable dampers, depending on the options fitted. Aluminium A-arms support the front struts. Rear suspension is semi-trailing arm, with torsion bar springs.
Sports suspension gives the aforementioned Koni adjustables, plus stiffer springs and thicker anti-roll bars. Sport and Club Sport models ride 20mm lower then the Coupé, which may not suit everyone.
Porsche 968 Brakes
Brakes are another 968 strong point. Brembo 4-pot calipers clamp down on big vented brake discs front and rear. Bosch ABS keeps it all under control. The M030 option takes front disc size to 304mm, wrapped in the brake calipers from the 911 Turbo. Stand trackside at any Porsche Club race meeting and watch the braking advantage that M030 968s have on standard 911s of a similar vintage: it’s as plain as the nose on your face.
Driving the Porsche 968
Any driver familiar with a Porsche 944 S2 will soon notice the 968’s extra kilos, but the chassis is wonderfully fluid. The steering communicates front-end grip perfectly and back end awareness is the same: you always know what’s happening with those rear tyres. That said, the 968 generates noticeable road noise.
Brakes are positive and reassuring, especially with an upgraded pad from a race-bred brand like Ferodo, Porterfield or Performance Friction. All have a 968 option and a good name amongst enthusiasts.
The M030 suspension/brake option is fun for track use, but not essential on the road. Ignoring an otherwise sound car lacking the adjustable dampers and bigger anti-roll bars and brakes is a mistake. You can always tune the chassis later, and lots of options exist for that. Bear in mind that a non M030-optioned car will not take separate parts from the factory package. The anti-roll bars will go on, but you’ll need to make some changes if you want the rest.
Early UK 968s came with a three-spoke wheel, before the car was fitted with a pair of front airbags and the four-spoke airbag steering wheel. There are plenty of non-airbag aftermarket options available.
Though out-and-out performance is not what the 968’s about, the numbers are respectable. A manual Coupé will hit 60 in 6.5 seconds, a Club Sport will get there in 6.1. A chunky Tiptronic Coupé takes 7.8 seconds. All will go on to more than 150 mph. The car is torquey enough to give lots of modern metal a run for its money.
What to watch for when buying a Porsche 968
Sold new with a ten-year body corrosion warranty and a three-year paint warranty, the bodywork should be in good order. The first priority is to check for obvious signs of crash damage. Panel gaps should be consistent, and doors should fit their apertures evenly. Those big doors can wear hinge pins. Sunroofs gears can fail (cheap if time consuming fix) but pushing down on the panel should show it wants to move.
Hatch seals can go flat, giving water an entry point. As with all 924-derived Porsches, tailgate glass can separate from its metal frame, allowing water in. Repair is possible for the experienced. Rear light seals can shrink allowing water in that way too.
Under the bonnet, oil leaks are an issue. Camshaft and balance shaft seals can leak, as can sump and rocker cover gaskets. Vacuum leaks play havoc with all sorts of systems and power steering pump problems are common.
Headgaskets can rot, opening up a bypass for cylinder 4, which then gets hot and can seize. Specialists like SVP Porsche recommend changing the head gasket as a matter of course before the car hits 100,000 miles, or if recent history is unknown/non-existent. Servicing the belts is critical. Recommended interval is 45,000 miles, but many owners stick to 30,000 miles or three years. Belt gears can wear sufficiently for tensioners to be unable to tension new belts. Extension pieces are available to cure this.
Clutches can get hard with age. Worn out dual-mass flywheels can cause vibration. Other vibration sources include broken engine mounts, worn torque tube bushes and bent wheels. Whine from the rear on a test drive could mean a failed pinion bearing in the transaxle, caused by improper torque settings when manufactured. As the entire transmission must be dismantled to access the part, pinion bearings are a pricey fix!
A well-used, 160,000-mile Club Sport might be the cheapest way into 968 ownership, but that does not make it the most cost effective. A well-thrashed track car can be rebuilt to new condition, but it’ll still have 160,000 miles on the clock. Buy a properly maintained car in a good colour with top history and you won’t go far wrong.
Porsche 968 Market Prices (last updated 2011)
Though project cars occasionally pop up on eBay for £5,000 or less, most 968 manuals start at circa £6K in private sale. That should buy a solid car in usable condition. Tiptronic generally changes hands for less, but Tiptronic cars can often be lower miles and in better condition, so prices versus a manual may look the same. As always, inspection is the key – a car is usually cheap for a reason.
Prices for the best cars with below average mileage currently peak at circa £14k. This buys impeccable history with recent expenditure and no money to spend for a considerable length of time. Exceptional cars sell for more, but they will be one-offs and not relevant to average prices. With projects at the £6K mark and minters making £14K, the ‘average car in good condition’ ballpark is £8-12,000, depending on who is selling.
An average Club Sport is often the cheapest way into 968 ownership. Most have been run on track days, so factor that into wear and tear – allow at least ten road miles for every mile on track. A good owner will keep the maintenance up on a track car so plenty of bills is a good sign. Expect to pay £8K for a solid Club Sport with proper history. Really good ones can be had for £11k privately.
Always bear crash damage in mind. Even in apparently excellent condition, a car recorded on the insurance repair/total loss registers is worth less than a car that has never been crashed. Run a car data check on anything suspicious, and remember: cars brought in from overseas after accident damage will not be recorded on UK lists.
Cabriolets are harder to come by but in lower demand, so prices can be roughly the same as Coupés when mileage and condition are identical and the sun is out. A good Cabriolet sold through the trade peaks at circa £13,000 at the height of the season. Cabriolets are a harder sell in the depths of winter.
As the last of the series with a nice mix of sport and touring flavours, the 968 Sport is perhaps the most desirable. A good car in a nice colour bought privately could be as low as £8,000. It’s probably how I’d spend my money but, as with anything, it’s all about condition and history. There’s no sense in turning down a nice standard Coupé to buy a shabby Sport for similar cash. Buy the best condition your budget can afford.