944S2 Heaven

I was a fairly ignorant person when I bought my first Porsche. (I'm still fairly ignorant, though I like to think less ignorant in some areas.) I didn't know what options to get, what to look for, what to avoid. I didn't know anything about driving. Heel and toe were, yes, parts of my feet. I had just finished school, started a job, and decided to buy my first (and so far only) new car. I will never buy a new car again - my once-shiny-new Porsche has depreciated more than all the car's I've ever owned put together. However the car has also afforded me the greatest pleasure of any other car I've owned.

Until now.

I'm guessing most people reading this don't know I have a 924S. Many people don't know what a 924S is, which is perfectly understandable. There were actually two different cars labelled "924S." The first was an option for the 2.0l 924 that gave it the suspension, brakes, wheels, tires, and spoiler most commonly seen on the 924 turbo. The second, produced from 1986 to 1988, is a 924 body with a 944 drivetrain. Both are very nice cars, if not exactly well-known. Along with a dozen or so other people in the world, I actually prefer the lines of the 924 over its progeny, the 944, particularly with European bumpers. In fact, the 924 is one of my most favourite car designs, period. Thus, when the 1987 924S was introduced to North America, I hustled over to Ottawa's Mark Motors in my 2002 and promptly traded it in on a Zermatt silver 924S.

Don't get me wrong - I like 944's. If I knew then what I know now (that ignorance thing), I would have realized that the tacked-on macho fenders (excuse me) of the 944 were there for a damn good reason. Hindsight, is, after all, 20/20. Many years on the track have pounded in the advantages of wide rims, wide tires, and wide track. Don't get me wrong, the 924S is a great car, very forgiving handling, light, nimble, and quick. However past a certain point one has to flare those fenders.

So, I decided to get a track 944. Which one to get? Now that a few years have past since production stopped, it is possible to pick up very good ones at very good prices. 944 turbo's are even a better bargain, although one takes one's chances with possible turbo/engine rebuilds. I'm also a firm believer in the old drag racer's adage, There's no substitute for cubic inches. Among 944's that means the 3.0 litre S2. The regular 944 is great handling car, but everytime I'm in one, I say to myself, this car needs 50 more HP - and that's what the S2 has (61 more HP, actually).

The first S2 I saw was Ocean blue metallic. It was a beautiful package. Power enough to make full use of the chassis, serious low-end torque, fenders wide enough for serious tires (the major shortcoming of the 924 body), and the early turbo body and suspension came together in what I think is the best example of the 924/944 breed. Yes, the turbo is faster, and phenomenal power increases are possible. However, I don't like to stress the motor beyond what the factory did, and there's very little difference between a 217 HP turbo and a 208 HP S2. Of course, late model turbo's have 247 HP, but, to be honest, I am leery of a used turbo. A fair proportion of the people I've heard of that purchased used turbo's (of any year) soon had to put out big bucks on engine work, something I wanted to avoid.

Late-model turbos ('88 turbo S and '89 up) do have the advantages of bigger brakes from the 928S4 and stiffer springs and sway bars. (turbo S and '89 models also have Koni shock absorbers, coil-over in front.) I wanted these things, especially those nice big brakes, but I didn't want the turbo. The factory, anticipating my desires, offered an M030 option for the S2. Slight changes were made to spring rates and rear anti-roll bar diameter, but otherwise all the good stuff was there, including the rolled fenders and wide forged alloys. A limited-slip differential was usually ordered alongside. This was the 944 I wanted.

Those of you who have searched for used Porsches know that it is one thing to decide on what to get; it is another to actually find a vehicle. For a year or so I kept one eye open on the ads, finding nothing to my liking. For instance, this summer there was an S2 for sale locally from a region member. had considered his car - it had many options, but no sport ones, and it was red. Red is pretty much my least favourite Porsche colour. I know Guards red is popular, but Ocean blue or Zermatt silver are my decided preference. I'll always remember how classy that blue S2 looked.

Things started to pick up when another region member mentioned he was selling his 944 in favour of a Carrera 3.0. I told him he was nuts and should keep both cars... and then asked how much he wanted for it. The car is in excellent shape and has pretty much all the right stuff on it. A great example of a trackable 944. The owner demonstrated his car for me at Shannonville. It wasn't an S2, but I was considering it very carefully. Then, a few days later, I saw it. A notice on the Porschefans Internet mailing list offering a 944S2 for sale with the M030 and LSD options. The moment I read the ad, I knew I would buy the car. I didn't know how, but I had this gut feeling.

I'm no longer on Porschefans. Try RennList.

First off, I had to see if the car was still for sale. After all, the ad was a month old (I was behind in my mail). The car was still available, and in Ohio. Two previous times the vendor had sold the car, but the buyers weren't able to arrange financing. Next I found out all the steps to import such a car from the U.S.. Then I had to figure out how to get to Ohio to see and possibly (right!) buy the car. Hmm. Who do I know with a trailer and tow vehicle who could take time off and get the car with me? How could I possibly demand such a monstrous task?

To make a long story short, some close friends (who have towed me home before) volunteered their truck, and agreed to drive down to Ohio with me - in fact, Chris actually wanted to. I will be eternally in their gratitude. Dates and times were set. Possible other Ohio destinations were set, namely Summit Racing, Stoddard's, and Mid-Ohio. The SCCA national run-offs were scheduled at Mid-Ohio at about the same time, something I'd always wanted to see. So the plan became leave Wednesday night, arrive in Columbus first thing Thursday morning, inspect/buy/change registration, lunch with the former owner, then out of Columbus, drive up to Mid-Ohio, and see what happens. Camping was mentioned as a possibility. A leisurely drive back Friday dropping in at Summit and then Stoddard's, back in Ottawa for Friday night. Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men...

The drive down was perfect. No rain, no traffic jams, no getting lost, in Columbus early enough to sample the local cuisine. In Ohio, that's the "Bob Evans" family restaurant chain. Highly recommended for what it is, although I wasn't brave enough to order the "Sausage gravy" (cut-up hunks of sausage covered in gravy, served in a bowl.) Decent coffee (in my opinion). One thing I learned on the trip is Chris is a coffee drinker. A serious coffee drinker. According to Chris, the first decent cup of coffee he had in Ohio was from a vendor in the in the paddock at Mid-Ohio. The vendor also makes these coffee-mocha-ice things, which are pretty good. Two thumbs up.

This is the first time I've purchased a car from a distance, so I decided to have the car professionally inspected. Why drive all that way to see a dud? A fellow 924S owner I corresponded with on the Internet recommended two local shops for the task. Suffice to say the chosen shop did what they thought was necessary for a pre-purchase inspection. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be what I would want in a pre-purchase inspection. A case of mis-communication (I'm being charitable here, but no use crying over spilt milk). Thus, I was in for a few surprises that I thought $189US would have avoided.

It turned out to be almost lunch by the time my inspection was done and the conditions of sale, were, er, adjusted. Then the vendor and I went off to deal with Ohio government bureaucracy, leaving Chris to get the trailer set up. I had a sense of foreboding about the ownership transfer earlier in the week when I couldn't get someone in Ohio to explain the procedure to me clearly. Every person I called didn't know how to deal with an out-of-country buyer. As a bureaucrat myself, I knew this was not a good sign. It wasn't. If you know the correct procedure it takes maybe 20 minutes to perform the correct tasks in the correct order. Both frustrated and frazzled, the seller and I returned to Chris after three hours and visits to multiple locations.

Chris, as expected, was not a happy camper. I wouldn't be too happy spending three hours in some stranger's garage, even if it did have a go-kart in it. But that wasn't the reason. The "receiver" on the trailer hitch had to be removed, and it wasn't coming out. It was clear a long battle had been waged between man and rust, and rust had won this round. It took two more hours to find a willing garage with acetylene, have them torch and sledgehammer the receiver out (a sight that will remain with me long after the other details of the trip are gone), load the car, have a shower, and generally be in a presentable state. Lunch was long gone, and suppertime was at hand. Finally we were ready to leave Columbus. The side destination of Summit Racing was abandoned, and the local (one exit) well-known performance supplier True-choice was selected instead. After some shopping and supper, we would head up to Mid-Ohio and see where things stood.

The vendor, now pretty tired of our company, skipped supper and gave us directions to True-choice. Good thing the place was located only one exit down the highway. I have never experienced trailer sway before, and I know now I don't like it. I REALLY don't like it. Chris managed to keep us from being launched into the fields and we escaped off the Interstate at a crawl. The directions were very clear. Unfortunately, they were to the wrong place. True-choice had moved and the old building was now occupied by Bobby Rahal (We found this out the next day at Mid-Ohio). After three shots at trying to find something we could never find, and starting to get on edge, we stopped for supper at the "Roadhouse Grill." This restaurant featured "Exhibition Style Cooking" (whatever that is), "Hot homemade yeast rolls" (to be skipped), and "All the Peanuts you can Eat!" This is the kind of place where each table has a galvanized bucket of peanuts in the shell and you're supposed to discard the peanut shells on the floor, giving the floor that rustic country barn feel. The table across from us was filled with large men heatedly discussing Ohio State college football. My "USDA Choice Steak" was no better or worse than a generic supermarket steak. At least the watery American beer was served in chilled mugs. We were talking about how great the weather had been, when, just at the end of supper, it started to rain. Hard. I saw a Motel 6 across the street but Chris wanted to be rid of Columbus (come to think of it, it does sound like a disease), so we adjusted the weight distribution and headed out. The change in trailer load helped, but it quickly became obvious that certain conditions would make the trailer sway. I was very glad Chris was driving.

It was soggy and rainy and pitch black when we arrived at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. By that time lying on a nice warm hotel bed drinking nice cold beers was the goal I had in mind. I hate camping in the rain. I didn't think there would be a problem because whenever I've seen pictures from the runoffs one thing I don't see is crowds of people. I figured that a place big enough to support a CART race would have plenty of nearby sleeping facilities and campgrounds, mostly empty for what is an amateur event. I was wrong. The kind SCCA official at the gate informed us that all the nearby hotels were booked and the nearest available room was in Columbus, and to camp at the track involved paying fees for the whole weekend. We chose to test the official's word as to hotel room availability. He wasn't lying. After more pointless driving around, I finally asked one motel owner if we could park the truck in their parking lot and sleep in the truck. She must have seen the desperation in my eyes and gave us permission to park. Then, just like that, the rain stopped. We drank beer contemplating the hydraulics of an auto carrier full of Cavaliers. I passed the night in the truck in that deep sleep of the totally exhausted (Chris put up a tent.)

The next morning was beautiful, and so was Mid-Ohio. I'm going back. The finals were set to start that day and we lucked out into one of the prime viewing areas on the course. After the first race, I wanted to spend the entire weekend there, but I knew we couldn't. After the second race we headed off in search of people selling good stuff cheap. There are over 650 entrants at the runoffs - the paddock area is huge. I have never seen so many tow vehicles in my life. EZ-up canopies were everywhere (I want one). Vendors were all over the place. It was like a trade show. Best display award goes to Bell, who had a tractor trailer set up as a helmet museum. Three hours later, we stumbled back to the truck toting catalogs and assorted racer gear.

We were now so far behind any semblance of a schedule that we just drove. Chris, an old hand at trailer towing, managed to average about 55 mph. On my first stint I averaged about 55 km/hr through the rolling hills of Ohio. Any attempt at speed downhill resulted in sphincter-tightening trailer sway. Any passing semi (and there are LOTS of trucks on the Interstate) resulted in sway. Changing lanes resulted in sway. Sneezing resulted in sway. I drove my first stint with one hand permanently hovered over the electric brake, one hand on the wheel, left foot hovering over the brake pedal, and eyes glued to the mirror, constantly checking for sway. I was oblivious to the traffic around me. I did manage to attain what is probably the highest gas mileage ever achieved while towing a 944. I have also never been so stressed driving in my life. I ended up driving only about six of the 15+ hours it took to get back.

Sometime the next day we made it back to Ottawa (I honestly can't remember when. It was daytime, that's about all I know.) I had reached that stage where polite communication was just too much effort. My energy was long gone, my nervous energy was long gone, my nerves were long gone. Normally one would feel relief after completing such a journey. I didn't feel anything. My body was no longer capable.

No used car is ever perfect, and this one will be apart this winter for needed engine work. There are even some electrical gremlins to be chased out, there's some cosmetic work to be done, the transaxle will need a good look at, the ride height needs to be raised and the suspension re-aligned and corner weighted. But it is what I've always wanted in a 944. Once I drove it, I was in S2 heaven. Even the colour is growing on me: Guards Red.

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