A short history of the cheap Porsche

(un-authorized, and from a somewhat unique point of view)

The Family

Ferdinand Porsche was born along time ago. He was an automotive genius that was able to do whatever he wanted for most of his life. Sadly the war and its after-effects took their toll on Dr. Porsche's health. He died in 1951, able to see the 356, the first car to bear only his name.

He never saw the now-famous Porsche crest, which was penned by Max Hoffman, U.S. Importer, in 1952.

His son Ferry was born in 1909. He also had a daughter, Louis Piech, who ran Porsche-Austria (Salzburg) and agreed to stay more or less in agreement with Ferry. Her son Ferdinand achieved quite a bit at Porsche in engineering before moving on to Audi (quattro-drive) and is now basically in charge of VW-Audi.

By the early '70's, Ferry had three children involved with the firm, of which "Butzi" (Ferdinand III), designer of the 904 and 911 bodies is the standout. When Butzi left the firm he founded Porsche design, of sunglass and watch fame.

The Company

The Porsche family has controlling interest in the company. They are on or are represented on the "Supervisory Board." The "Executive Board" (the people who actually run Porsche) only report to the "Supervisory Board." The Supervisory board has no authority over the management of the firm itself. This interesting agreement started in 1972 and coincided with the removal of all Porsche and Piech family members from active management of the firm.

The first notable to enter the lion's den was Ernst "4-cam" Fuhrman, who championed killing the 911 and going front engine-rear drive. History shows which course Porsche has taken, for better or worse.

Peter Shultz announced that they will build whatever the customer wants as long as the customer wants it. One way to translate this is: "Marketing now rules the company." Unfortunately, marketing forgot about U.S. economic conditions and currency fluctuations. Exit Mr. Shultz.

Now we have Dr. Weideking, and there's going to be a Porsche Sport-Utility Vehicle. One adopts a wait-and-see attitude or worse.

Porsche cars

There are many resources for various Porsche models that I cannot hope to contribute too. Instead, I will concentrate on a deceased breed: the cheap 4-cylinder Porsche.

The Cheap 4-cylinder Porsche


One thing we do have marketing to thank for the cheap Porsche. The very first Porsche, the mid-engined 356-001, was not put into production because it would cost too much. The adoption of rear-engine placement made more Volkswagon components usable and thus the 356 line more "affordable." Affordable is relative, though, Max Hoffman, Porsche's U.S. importer, wanted even cheaper Porsches.

The first really built-to-be-cheap Porsche was the 356 Speedster, a stripped car that Porsche did not want to build. Max Hoffman insisted they build it and sell it for under $3000USD. Max got his way, sold more cars, and Porsche learned its lesson: never again would the "Cheap Porsche" offer superior performance than its regular models.


The next really successful cheapie was the 912. The 911 body coupled with the 356 motor yielded a car that out-handled the 911 (better weight distribution) but whose motor couldn't give anywhere near the 911's performance. Still, it was a great success, with even a targa version available. It did, however, cost quite a bit to make, and Porsche (no doubt influenced by marketing) looked for alternatives.


At the same time Volkswagon needed a replacement for the Karmann Ghia. The solution to both firms was the 914. In Europe, the four-cylinder 914 was sold by a new joint marketing effort called VW-Porsche. The mandate of VW-Porsche was to build vehicles out of VW components. In the States, the 914-4 was marketed as a Porsche. (World-wide, the 914-6 was marketed as a Porsche.) Controversy ensued.

Even with the controversy, the 914 was a successful venture (made big bucks). A successor was asked for. Work commenced in 1972, sponsored by VW-Porsche. Then there was a management change at VW, and the whole concept of VW-Porsche was history. It was then thought to make the car into what-would-have-been the predecessor to the Audi Coupe. Then there was another management change at VW, and the project was killed. It was almost complete, though, and Porsche really wanted a 914 successor, so Porsche proposed to buy back the design from VW-Audi at bargain basement prices. VW-Audi agreed. The car would continue to be built as planned at the Audi plant in Neckarsulm, and most of the parts came from VW-Audi bins. Work immediately started on making the car more "Porsche."


It couldn't be done fast enough, though, and the one-year-only 912E showed up in dealer showrooms in 1976 sporting the 911 body with an anaemic emissions-strangled four-cylinder motor last seen in the 914.


Take an Audi 100 drivetrain. It has a longitudinally mounted four-cylinder VW motor driving the front wheels. Take the four-speed transaxle and move it back to drive the rear wheels. Leave the clutch up front with the motor and place a rigid tube between the motor and transaxle.

Do a bit of tuning on the motor. Get a respectable 125 hp (in Europe) out of 2l. Change the final drive, first and second gear ratios, and modify the synchros to handle the inertia of the driveshaft.

Up front, grab a Golf steering rack, safety column, and MacPherson struts. Attach the struts to Scirocco control arms. In back, grab a Super Beetle suspension with driveshafts from a VW 181 off-road vehicle. Pull the disc/drum brakes from a VW K70. Design your own optional anti-roll bars. Make the stock tires 165 HR 14, with 185/70 HR 14 tires optional.

Cloth it in a body originally approved for an Audi, utilize as much as possible miscellaneous VW-Audi bits, and you have the first 924's.

Still, when it came out, reviews were favourable. The cost was cited as a negative, as was the lack of a five-speed transmission. In the U.S. the 924's emissions-regulated 95 horsepower made the 924 a sitting duck to such competitors as the Datsun Z-cars and Mazda's RX-7.

Over the years, continual development addressed many faults, but prices rose as well.


In fact 924 prices had arisen to the point where it was decided, like the Speedster, that the next cheap Porsche would be built to a price point: $18,450USD in 1983. At this price, the 944 was a bargain, and buyers flocked to Porsche dealerships. Judged the best-handling car available in the U.S. at any price by Car and Driver, the 944 earned critical and popular acclaim. The U.S. model's 143-147hp made the 924 and 924 turbo a quick memory. (Both shouldered on for a number of years, selling to markets that had taxes based on displacement.) The addition of a "real Porsche motor" satisfied misguided purists.


The 944 price quickly climbed skyward, and by late 1986 the 924S (924 body; 944 motor) was introduced as a 1987 model at $19,900USD. Again a relative bargain, it sold well when introduced. Prices soon rose again, the 1988 model sales plummeted. The car was discontinued at the end of 1988, restoring the 944 as the base car. This marked the end of Porsche's many attempts to build a cheap Porsche.


Porsche's official line is the entry-level Porsche is a used Porsche.


The Boxster may have cost about the same as the 968 it replaced; but that is over two times what a 924S would have sold for ...

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