When you’re faced with an insurmountable challenge, sometimes the best course of action is a quick and unceremonious about-face, followed by a frantic sprint—but where’s the fun in that? Here’s everything wrong with my broken Porsche 944 Turbo. Make sure you’re sitting down for this.
Buying a car sight unseen is a bit risky, but if you have a good enough description and the seller isn’t a complete con artist, you could just get through the experience with both your wallet and ego intact. However, that’s not exactly what happened when I bought a low mileage, partly-crashed and fully-neglected Porsche 944 Turbo while I was on vacation.
I chronicled my car calamity on Twitter, where I showed a dirty engine bay being held up by the business end of a broom and alluded to the fact that I actually bought this pile even though I wasn’t actually in its presence - yet.
While I initially had a friend act as my eyes and ears on the ground to confirm that the car was rough, I didn’t fully appreciate what rough was until I returned and towed my impulse money pit—I mean, investment home.
If first impressions were movies, this one would’ve been The Room: hilariously bad to the point of tragedy. Upon preliminary inspection of the car, I counted baby-fist-sized dents, scratches that could’ve only come from a woman scorned, a front end that had at some point became forcefully detached from the car, a loose exhaust rear section, clear coat damage on the sunroof, and two matching window decals that read “No Bad Days.”
You are tearing me apart, Porsche.
While the body had its share of pockmarks and bruises, the Satin Black Metallic paint (that had been redone eight years ago) was in serviceable shape for the most part and the body was devoid of any major rust or rot. Obviously the car would need a full body respray with some new panels grafted on, but it was good to know that the bones were still quite healthy and cancer-free, even if the exhaust bushings were shot and required the use of a loose coat hanger to hold up the quite rusty and battered aftermarket ANSA muffler.
The reason the car was available to the public and the reason why I got my greasy sausage fingers on it for the price I did, was because of the front end damage which wasn’t anything to be concerned of from a structural perspective, but definitely a concern when you’re looking to do a full restoration for maximum resale later on.
According to the previous owner, the car spun out on a test drive and hit a low garden wall, damaging the radiator, which is mounted quite low on the car to make room for the beefy intercooler perched right behind the front nose panel. The mount for the radiator support sheared off, taking with it the air conditioning condenser and radiator, along with fans and any hope of a cheap fix.
Thankfully, all front end panels, other than the damaged-beyond-repair front bumper, were included with the car. While I can only fully utilize the cosmetic pieces like the plastic vents and ducts, it helps the budget immensely to know that I won’t have to buy a complete headlight assembly and front header panel, also known as the part featuring the badge everyone stole in the ‘90s for some reason.
Turning my attention to the mostly original interior, it was clear that it had been years since any of the car’s two previous owners sought it right to spit-shine the damn thing.
As the car’s previous drivers also likely weren’t anthropomorphized porcupines, I chalked up the ripped seats and dash to poor maintenance coupled with the fact that the black car with black interior spent most of time outside during the hottest, swamp-ass-inducing summers we’ve had in recent history.
The black vinyl dashboard was trashed and cracked all the way through in multiple places, a shame since it’ll have to be repaired - a new one from Porsche costs north of $3000. The once proud leather shift knob and boot was sad, wrinkled and flaccid - the exact opposite of something you want your hand interacting with. Some buttons on the center console seemed to have been pushed a little too vigorously, as they were sunken into the dash and I’d have to do some expert level fishing if I was to test all the various electronically-controlled components, of which there were a surprising amount.
Fun fact - when dealers featured in Auto Shopper write “fully loaded” in their descriptions, they mean to say “everything that was included in the 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo.” Not many people know that.
Thankfully, all of the interior electrics worked without issue after I tested with a steady flow of juice to the car’s dying discount Walmart battery. The power tilting sunroof creaked into life, both windows wound themselves painfully up and down, pushing past the years of built up dirt and surface oxidation on their various metal components, and the power mirrors - a big deal in the late ‘80s -didn’t get the memo that they were now old enough to vote Republican.
As electrical issues can be ghastly on ‘80s European cars, it was a short but welcome breath of fresh air to know that the most pertinent issues on the interior of this aging Porsche were cosmetic in nature. “Ugly is fine - I can fix ugly” I told myself after tallying the mounting tasks that lay before me.
In the rear hatch area were the remnants of the original toolkit which looking like they were on loan from the Titanic museum, a sad-looking space-saver spare tire, some random plastic tarp, leather gloves that I’m convinced have given me a yet-undetectable disease, and a bottle of Porsche window cleaner because Windex is for the bottom 99 percent. I’m guessing the latter item was a relic from the car’s pedantic and obsessive first owner and not from the near-criminally negligent second.
To give the car any less than perfection would be selling it short. It was, after all, an original example that had low mileage and needed nearly everything to be whole again.
The car came to me, as all great cars do - on the back of a trailer - because it didn’t start due to a lack of spark, at least that’s the line that the seller sold me. I haven’t actually tried to start it because unlike the forgotten Chevy Aveo in the Hertz parking garage, you can’t simply jump start this car after sitting for so long and expect it to run properly - there are certain steps you must take to make sure pistons don’t play grab-ass with valves and you don’t accidentally pump varnish into your engine.
I’ll outline the process in its own article when I check that she’s indeed ready to fire up.
While the starting and running part of turbo Porsche ownership eludes me, there are currently no shortage of problems to tackle on my little black four-banger. Whether the issue is the tired exterior in need of a repaint, its mangled front end in need of some new metal, its blown shocks and rusty brakes, its cracked and peeling interior, its low-hanging exhaust and possibly terminal case of no-start, the project ahead is indeed daunting and ultimately thankless.
However, if I get it just right, it may just be the most rewarding car I’ve ever worked on, both figuratively and literally. With prices in the deep $20,000 range for pristine, low-mileage examples, it seems the only way I’ll generate a return on my initial investment is to go all in and make the most stellar example of a Porsche 944 Turbo, ever.
If you’re up for it, follow me on Twitter or check this blog regularly and I promise not to drop too many f-bombs when uncovering the hidden rat nests that lay underneath the skin of this little German rocket. If any of my readers want to find their own polish-able turd that’ll be the ultimate test of skill and patience, try and find something cool (and cheap) here and make it freaking amazing.