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The words budget and Porsche, are rarely found in the same sentence, particularly when discussing 911s. Yet in the case of one Porsche it is actually true. Because for the price of a tatty example of perhaps the most undesirable of 911s, such as the 150bhp mid '70s 911Lux, you could be in the driving seat of a superbly balanced and more powerful Porsche 944.
With prices ranging from £1500 for early cars and topping out at around £8-9,000 for late low mileage and mint Turbo examples, the 944 was available in many different guises and is affordable on almost any budget.
At the very bottom of the budget we have the 1982-1988 2.5 litre 944Lux which is not only the cheapest 944 to purchase, but also the cheapest to run. Examples are available for not much more than a couple of thousand pounds or so, but unless you are building a track car, or are really handy with the spanners and like a challenge, it is best to budget in the £2,500-£4000 area where surprisingly good examples can be found.
Although it is capable of almost 140mph the 944 Lux is not rocket ship fast in performance terms, with similar power to a TVR S, but weighing around an extra 250kg. The 163bhp four cylinder engine which is essentially half of the 928s V8, is however a reliable power plant offering good midrange torque, a possible 30mpg and if regularly serviced, the engine should be good for over 250,000 miles without a rebuild. The 2.7 litre engine replaced the 2.5 unit in the Lux in 1988, it only had a few more bhp but the midrange torque was noticeably improved.
Other than the cheaper purchase price, two main factors make the 2.5Lux such a good budget buy over later 944s. Firstly the unlike the later 16v cars such as the 944S and the S2, the 8v Lux (along with the Turbo models) is not equipped with the potentially troublesome chain tensioner unit situated between the twin camshafts. This unit is quite a common weak point and although regular maintenance minimises this risk, its failure can basically destroy the top end of the 16v engines, resulting in a bill that could basically purchase an entire 944Lux!
The second budget advantage of the Lux is with regard to the braking department. The early cars feature large cast brake callipers more akin to something the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel created for his steam locomotives. They may not be items of beauty and you don't get the famous PORSCHE letters appearing behind your alloy wheels, however they are still strong & powerful, with huge advantages over the later 944s alloy callipers. This is because over time, the alloy callipers can corrode and react with the brake pads steel backing plates, this problem can result in quite large expenditure at service time.
The most powerful 944 is the 2.5 litre Turbo which was available in both 220 & 250bhp forms. Both are easily up rated quite cheaply, with a reliable 300bhp easily achievable from the 250bhp unit without even changing the turbo. Many enthusiasts rate the 211bhp S2 as the best all round 944 however, with its torquey & free revving 3.0 litre normally aspirated engine.
Many consider the 944S, which essentially is the 944 Lux engine with a 16v cylinder head, to be the runt of the 944 litter. I disagree, as although the S may not have the power & torque of the S2 & Turbo models, this car with its rev happy engine, can be a heck of a giggle to drive fast. Rather like 16v engines in hot hatchbacks, the engine does need to be worked hard to really feel its 190bhp, however it does offer a noticeable power boost over the Lux if you bounce it off the red line at every gear change.
In late 1985 came the updated dashboard that is commonly known as the oval dash. The oval dash does however lack the Italian sports car like separate instrument pods of the early cars and I quite like the design of the early dash, particularly the quirky wrong way round rev counter. The updated arrangement will however appeal to most, as it looks much more modern and the bonus is it offers improved ventilation.
The handling of the 944 is what most journalists and indeed owners rave about, with the rear mounted gearbox producing predictable and balanced characteristics. Indeed many people agree that the 968CS is one of the best ever handling Porsches, and in essence the 968CS is a facelift model 944 with the MO30 sport option.
It is worth remembering, if track days are your thing, that much of the 968CS suspension can be transplanted on to the 944. Although an early 944 Lux may not possess the 240bhp of the 968CS, it is however almost 200kg lighter in standard form, so can make a great base for a fun & great handling track car.
Those with larger budgets often use the 944 turbo as a base for very rapid road driveable track cars, with easily up rated power from just simple modifications. Super car humbling lap times are possible if more involved engine tuning and up rated turbos are used, along with suspension changes.
Due to the Japanese car firm Mitsubishi, holding the patent for the unique balance shaft system - that smoothes out the lumpiness of the big four cylinder 944 engine - Porsche had to pay $8 to Mitsubishi for every time they used this system, which made them a tidy profit with well over 163,000 944s sold. So if you ever meet Mr Mitsubishi and he tells you that the 944 is a "velly glood car" its probably not the driving dynamics he is praising!