Porsche 944 S2 buyers’ guide
The Porsche 944 S2 was the last and best of the front-engined 944 line, which began way back in 1982 as Porsche’s entry-level model, replacing the 924.
The Porsche 944 was initially powered by an eight-valve, 2.5-litre engine developing 163bhp, but by the time it had developed into the S2 in 1989 it had gained a 3.0-litre, 16-valve powerplant putting out a healthy 211bhp and a muscular 207lb/ft of torque, the combined result of which is acceleration and maximum speed little short of a contemporary 911’s, and mid-range performance which you will scarcely believe.
The S2 also received a smoothed-out front end, courtesy of the Porsche 944 Turbo, which looked more modern than the previous and rather messy arrangement with its separate bumper section.
The 944 S2 remained on sale until 1992, when it was replaced by the Porsche 968, which was essentially an update of the 944, with new front and rear ends, and a number of mechanical changes.
Today the 968, which was in production for only three years, is still highly sought after, so prices of right-hand-drive cars are holding up. The 944 S2, on the other hand, has fallen quite dramatically in value over the last few years, and reasonable examples can be found for as little as £5000. It’s a simple case of supply and demand. Many more S2s than 968s were built, so there are more on the second-hand market. And there’s no denying that the 968 looks more modern and is (marginally) the better car to drive.
But it’s more a case that the Porsche 968 was an improvement on what was already a great car. The Porsche 944 S2 is good; the 968 is slightly better. Which is fabulous news for those in the know. By choosing an 944 S2 you’ll have most of the benefits of a 968, but for less money. Which has to be a good deal.
What to look for – bodywork
Sunroof is a worthwhile option, and it’s unusual to find one of these late Porsche 944s without one. The roof should tip up at the rear at the touch of a button on the centre console – check that it does, and also that it closes again. The entire panel – which is plastic, incidentally – can also be lifted out and stowed in the boot. There should be a soft bag to keep the panel in, but often this is missing.
Sunroof can leak. Check that the panel sits flush with the surrounding metalwork, and that the rubber seals are in good condition. Problem may simply be the result of the latch mechanism failing to pull the panel down properly. Check the interior of the car for signs of water ingress: it tends to collect on the rear-seat cushion or in the rear footwells
The glass tailgate is held closed by two catches. If these are incorrectly adjusted the lid may not open and close easily. More seriously, rainwater and exhaust fumes may leak in. Check, too, that the rubber seal around the tailgate aperture is in good condition (it becomes squashed flat at the top, near the tailgate hinges), and that the hydraulic struts hold the lid in the raised position. Right-hand strut features a tiny switch for the luggage-compartment courtesy light: make sure light goes off when hatch is closed.
Look for a self-adhesive paper sticker inside the rear of the boot compartment. This would have been attached at the factory (it lists, in coded form, the options and accessories the car was been assembled with), and if it’s missing it suggests that the rear end of the car has been shunted and repaired. At the same time check that seams between rear panel and rest of body are intact.
Door mirrors are susceptible to scrapes and stone-chips. Check that electric adjustment works in two planes (up and down; in and out) on both sides. Later teardrop mirrors from the Porsche 968 can be fitted to update the appearance of the car.
Polyurethane front bumper is designed to withstand low-speed knocks without damage. Any cracks, therefore, suggest the car has been involved in a reasonably hard smash, so investigate further. Longitudinal chassis rails, inside the front of the engine compartment, are a good guide, as is the area round each front-strut top mounting.
Front end is very susceptible to stone-chips. It’s likely, then, that it will have been resprayed at some stage in its life. Check that it’s been well done with a good colour match – and no overspray.
Make sure the headlamps raise and lower smoothly and quietly, and both light correctly on dipped and full beam. The electrical cables can fracture over time because of the movement of the mechanism, but it’s a relatively easy job to solder in new lengths to cure the problem. Don’t worry too much about cracked or damaged lenses: the lamps are the same as in a Mark 1 or 2 VW Golf.
If headlamp washers are fitted make sure they both work and squirt a high-pressure jet of water onto the lamps.
Rear under-spoiler is a distinctive feature of the Porsche 944 S2 (and later Turbos, too). It’s vulnerable to damage, though, so check for cracks and bodged repairs. Indeed, make sure that the spoilers not missing completely.
Check alloy wheels for scuffing and corrosion. Originally all S2s would have been fitted with flat-faced Design 90 rims, but many have been updated with either after-market rims or later-style Porsche items (as here). This is fine, but do check that any non-standard wheels are of a suitable size and offset and don’t foul the bodywork. If locking wheelnuts are fitted make sure there’s still a key, and that it actually works. The locking covers can corrode into position and prove difficult to remove without tools.
Tyres should have plenty of tread, and also be of the same brand and type all round. Budget tyres suggest that the car might not have been particularly well cared for.
Panel fit was never particularly close on Porsche 944s, but it should at least be consistent. Bodyshell is fully galvanised, and so shouldn’t rust. Don’t be complacent, though: 944s do corrode, usually if the bodywork has been damaged in an accident and then poorly repaired.
Plastic sill covers can retain dirt that block up the sills’ drain holes, which can lead to the inner and outer sills rusting. Look for a tiny diamond-shaped indentation in each sill which indicates the position of the relevant jacking points beneath. If these marks are missing it could be that a cheap replacement sill has been fitted, or that filler has been added.
Open both doors and check the steel check-straps aren’t loose. They should be welded to the ‘A’-pillar, but often become detached, and it’s by no means a simple job to repair them.
Door handles can become stiff, but they’re easy enough to dismantle and squirt with penetrating oil.
Check that the rear bumper sits level, with an even gap along its length with the bodywork above and the under-spoiler below.
Examine the windscreen for delamination around the edges – a common problem which gives an unsightly milky appearance. Check, too, for stone-chips which could lead to an MoT-test failure in the UK. Note that the windscreen is bonded into the body, and it’s a specialist job to replace it.
Check the large driving lights and fog lights for cracks and water ingress. Examine the rear lights for cracks, water ingress and mould. It’s not uncommon to see unsightly sealant smeared between the plastic housings and the body shell in an attempt to stop leaks.
Front wings can rust at the lower edges where they are covered by plastic trim.
If you’re considering a Porsche 944 Cabriolet make sure that both the hood and its plastic rear window are in good condition, and that the hood raises and lowers quietly and smoothly when you operate the switch. Check particularly carefully for water ingress. The Cabriolet also tends to suffer from scuttle shake, a problem that can lead to poor handling and various squeaks and rattles from the bodywork.
What to look for –interior
The Porsche 944S2 has the late-type ‘oval’-shaped dashboard that looks infinitely better than the original 944 fascia which was replaced in 1985.
On the whole the S2’s interior is very well assembled and should have stood the test of time. In other words, very scruffy interiors are the exception, not the rule. There are, though, a few items you need to look out for.
Examine the seats and the carpets (including in the luggage compartment) for evidence of water damage. Moisture can get in to the car from the sunroof, the rear hatch and the heater air intakes
Trim is hard-wearing, but it’s common to see worn seat squabs (particularly at the sides) and gear-lever gaiters. The latter can be replaced – after-market kits are available – but if the work is done badly the result looks awful. Many cars have Linen (Porsche’s name for a cream shade, not a reference to the type of material) leather seats and matching carpets which must have looked great in the showroom, but which can quickly become grubby.
Check that all the interior electrics work. These include the window operation (they tend to become very slow with time), exterior mirrors, sunroof, seat adjustment (where fitted), central-locking and remote tailgate release. The latter is positioned in the driver’s footwell (unlike the bonnet release, which is always over on the left-hand side), and pressing the button once should release the catches and, if the tailgate struts are working properly, allow the glass to pop open. More often than not, though, it doesn’t work – possibly because the motor has seized, the catches are incorrectly adjusted, the switch is faulty, or an electrical connection is loose.
It’s not unusual to find that an updated stereo head-unit and possibly speakers have been fitted. This is fine provided the installation has been done properly, with no loose wires hanging down under the dashboard, and no bodged electrical connections. Check, too, that trim hasn’t been cut to accommodate non-standard speakers. Also look out for evidence of an old-fashioned car phone that may have left holes in the dashboard and even the outer roof panel.
Run through all the settings for the electronically controlled heating system and make sure it works as it should. Check that warm air is directed correctly and, when you press the demist button, that the fan goes to full power and that all hot air is directed at the full width of the windscreen. If air-conditioning is fitted (it’s not that common) check that this works, too.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to try all the other controls, including those for the lights, the wipers (front and rear) and washers, indicators, cigarette lighter and so on. And see if the little digital clock on the fascia is working; many don’t.
In the rear compartment lift the carpet (check that it’s dry) and make sure the space-saver spare wheel and compressor are present. The original toolkit is not only a nice feature that says a lot about how well a car is presented, but also contains a special spanner for the deep-set spark plugs. Jack is a high-quality lightweight aluminium affair: make sure that both it and its handle are present and correct
Check that the deep wells on each side of the luggage compartment (the battery is in the left-hand one) are dry. Drain tubes from the sunroof are routed through them, and if these become loose and/or blocked water can end up in the wells, especially if the wells’ drain holes are blocked, too
Check that the luggage-compartment blind is intact and pulls neatly across without sagging. This item often deteriorates after many years of exposure to sunlight.
The Porsche 944S2 has a relatively complex all-aluminium, 3.0-litre, four-cylinder engine with twin overhead camshafts and 16 valves – four per cylinder. But it’s a tough unit that’s capable of many miles of use provided it’s well maintained and properly serviced.
The Achilles’ heels of the engine – and which any Porsche 944S2 enthusiast should be aware of – are its two toothed rubber belts and the internal roller chain between the two camshafts. You also need to check their associated tensioners and idlers. Because these are so crucial to the engine’s health we’ll deal with each in turn.
As in the majority of modern overhead-camshaft power units, the valvegear is driven from the crankshaft by means of a toothed rubber belt. Unusually, though, in this case the belt drives only the exhaust camshaft on the right-hand side of the engine. This belt and its tensioner must be replaced at least every 48,000 miles or five years, whichever comes first. If it’s not there’s a chance the belt will break, causing the valves to collide with the tops of the pistons, resulting in bent valves and damaged valve guides or, worse, broken valves which can cause irreparable damage to the cylinder head and pistons.
Note, though, that we say that only the exhaust camshaft is driven by the rubber belt. So what of the inlet shaft next to it? In fact, this is driven from the exhaust shaft by a short roller-type chain which runs on sprockets located halfway along each of the two camshafts.
Now you might think that a chain would be longer-lasting than a rubber belt, and so nothing to worry about. It seems that Porsche thought so, too, because nowhere in the 944S2’s maintenance schedule will you find anything about this relatively small component. In practice, though, the chain can be troublesome, and it’s essential that you keep an eye on it.
The problem is that the chain runs over a plastic-headed, hydraulically actuated tensioner, and this can eventually start to crack and even break up. When this happens the chain will come off its sprockets, and once again you’ll end up with bent or broken valves and a very large bill. We recommend, therefore, that the chain and its tensioner should be replaced at the same intervals as the primary camshaft belt. Note, too, that regardless of any acute tensioner problems the chain can also wear out, and if you’re unlucky this will in turn wear out the sprockets. And when this happens you’ll need to budget for a pair of new camshafts.
Finally, to add insult to injury, there’s also a toothed rubber belt running up from the crankshaft to the two balance shafts – one on the left-hand side of the engine, beneath the inlet manifold, the other down on the right-hand side, under the exhaust manifold. These successfully counteract the inherent imbalance of such a large-capacity four-cylinder engine, and make it feel almost as smooth as a V8. It’s not in itself a disaster if the balance-shaft belt breaks, since the engine will still run without it, albeit rather roughly, but since any failure will tend to take out the timing belt at the same time the message is clear: renew both belts.
With all the above in mind, then, it’s essential that you quiz the seller about the car’s recent history. When were the belts last changed, and were the camshaft chain and tensioner renewed at the same time? Insist on seeing paperwork to prove that the jobs have been done, and if it’s not forthcoming haggle mercilessly on the assumption that you’ll have to have the work done very soon. And even if nothing has broken it’s not cheap to put right.
Other than that, the engine is fairly straightforward. Check for oil leaks (camshaft, balance shafts, crankshaft, oil-cooler, oil-pressure sender), which tend to be annoying rather than catastrophic, although do bear in mind – and we speak from experience here – that lubricant leaking onto the aforementioned rubber belts will drastically reduce their life expectancy.
More serious are oil leaks into the engine coolant. Look at the inside of the header-tank filler cap for signs of the white sludge which indicates that oil and water have cross-contaminated each other. Oil can enter the coolant through the oil-cooler (which, unusually, is water- rather than air-cooled) or because of a failed cylinder-head gasket. The latter seems to have a natural life of about 10 years, so check the service history to see if it’s been replaced. (It’s a relatively easy job once the belts are off for renewal.) Further indications of a failed head gasket are low coolant level in the header tank, poor running and overheating.
Another common leak is that of power-steering fluid. This can be caused by loose or corroded pipe clips, or by a fractured pipe. You might also have to face the fact that the rack itself is leaking internally (into the rubber gaiters), in which case a good second-hand unit is the best bet. A good specialist Porsche breaker can supply one. Steering pumps leak, too, but a genuine Porsche rebuild kit I affordable and straightforward to fit.
Water pumps can fail, leading to coolant leaks and noisy operation. Changing the pump means removing the timing case and belts (so many people have the pump renewed at the same time as belts, as a matter of course.
While you’re in the engine compartment, consider the condition of the right-hand engine mount. In order to reduce the transmission of noise and vibration Porsche fitted special hydraulic mounts that work well, but the one on the right-hand side suffers from its proximity to the hot exhaust manifold. Eventually its hydraulic fluid will seep out and the engine will list to starboard, causing excessive vibration to travel through the body. In right-hand-drive cars the problem is exacerbated by the exhaust manifold touching the steering shaft. There should be a heat shield to prevent this problem – make sure it’s in place. One quick way to check for correct engine alignment, by the way, is to look at the large-diameter rubber hose between the water pump and the bottom of the radiator. If it’s close to, or even touching, the right-hand chassis member then it’s a fair bet that the engine mount has collapsed and needs to be replaced.
Transmissions (five-speed manual only; the Porsche 944 S2 offered no automatic or Tiptronic option) are generally tough, but listen for an annoying whine from the rear end of the car (which is where both the gearbox and the final drive are located). You’ll often hear any noise more clearly by opening the sunroof during your test-drive. This is an indication of wear in either the differential bearings or the main pinion bearing. Either way it’s a gearbox-out job to put right. Oil leaks from the transmission are by no means unknown. Usually it’s from the two output-shaft seals, which are easy enough to replace with the gearbox in situ, but equally this may simply be a sign that the output-shaft bearings are worn, in which case you’re once again looking at a transmission stripdown.
Check that the clutch doesn’t slip under load (indicating a worn friction plate) or judders (which indicates that the friction plate’s shock-absorbing rubber centre has broken up) and that the gear shift is smooth and not sloppy. The clutch action will also tend to become heavier as the friction plate wears. Some stiffness in the shift may be caused by nothing more serious than a poorly lubricated or adjusted linkage. Replacing the clutch is a fairly labour-intensive job that means first removing the gearbox and then sliding the torque tube (essentially an enclosed propeller shaft) rearward to allow the bellhousing to be unbolted from the back of the engine.
The aluminium brake calipers are similar to those in the Porsche 964-model 911 Carrera and, as such, each has a pair of stainless-steel plates to protect the soft aluminium from the harder steel backing plate on each friction pad. The aluminium corrodes over time, forcing these plates to lift, causing the brakes to bind, and making it impossible to fit new pads. The correct solution is to dismantle the caliper, clean out the corrosion and fit new plates and securing screws. All too often, though, owners circumvent the problem by grinding the friction pads to fit, which is far from ideal.
Suspension is generally trouble-free, but it’s worth checking the service record to see what work has been done. The rear anti-roll-bar bushes, for instance, should be changed at 100,000 miles to give a marked improvement in handling. The front suspension’s lower ‘A’-arms are made from aluminium and can crack, causing the ball-joints via which they’re linked to the stub axles to pop out. This is especially likely if the suspension has been lowered and/or the car has been fitted with larger-than-standard wheels. The ball-joints simply wear out, too, and this again means either fitting new arms hav the old ones reconditioned.
When you test-drive the car keep an eye on the engine’s oil pressure. Assuming that the gauge is accurate (which it may not be) you should expect to see a pressure of 2.5 bar at idle when the engine is hot, rising to 5.0 bar at higher revs. Low oil pressure suggests that the engine is not in good shape.
During your test-drive listen for the characteristic speed-related growl of worn wheel bearings. These should have a long service life, front or rear, but wider-than-standard wheels will inevitably reduce this quite considerably.
With all the above in mind, you can see that it’s essential to see some service history before buying a 944 S2. Even the youngest Porsche 944 S2 is a good few years old now, though, so don’t get too hung up about a full service history – work that was done 10 years ago is of little consequence today. What you need to know is what has been done to the car in the last few years. Which means seeing plenty of receipts for parts and labour. These will allow you to build up a picture of how well the car has been maintained and what work may be required in the near future. It’s rare to find an S2 that has recently been maintained by a Official Porsche Centre, but it needs to have been looked after by a reputable independent Porsche specialist, not some backstreet garage. Not only will a specialist know about Porsche 944s, it also shows that a previous owner has taken care to have the car properly cared for.
January 1989: Porsche 944 S2 introduced
September 1989: Catalytic converter standard in UK cars
1990: 944S2 Cabriolet introduced
1991: Special-edition 944SE introduced to UK market with uprated suspension and 225bhp engine
September 1991: RDS radio with provision for CD autochanger standardised
May 1992: Porsche 944 range (S2 coupé and Cabriolet, Turbo coupé and Cabriolet) replaced by 968
The 944S2 didn’t change a great deal during its production life, and most UK cars had a similar specification, so rather than basing your choice on age alone you’re better advised to concentrate on (and in this order) condition, history and colour.
Early, high-mileage example can be very cheap, but there are some scruffy examples with dubious service histories which you need to avoid.
For a little more money you can buy a very nice example with average mileage (around 80,000) and a good service history.
Cabriolets inevitably carry a premium. They’re pretty cars, and there’s no denying the pleasures of open-top motoring, but they do suffer from noticeable scuttle shake, and the handling isn’t as good as that of the more rigid coupé.
Porsche 944 S2 specification
Front-mounted, in-line, water-cooled four-cylinder, all-aluminium unit. Double overhead camshafts operating four valves per cylinder. Bosch Motronic engine management system
Compression ratio 10.9:1
Maximum power 211bhp at 5800rpm
Maximum torque 207lb/ft at 4100rpm
Rear-mounted five-speed manual transmission driving the rear wheels. Automatic transmission not offered
Suspension & steering
Front: McPherson struts, anti-roll bar and single lower wishbones. Coil springs and telescopic dampers. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering
Rear: Semi-trailing arms with transverse torsion bars, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar
Servo-assisted dual-circuit hydraulic system with ventilated discs front and rear. ABS standard
Wheels & tyres
Front: 7.0J x 16-inch cast-alloy wheels with 205/55VR16 tyres at front. Rear: 8.0J x 16-inch wheels with 225/50VR16 tyres