Porsche 944 Turbo Review: Past Blast

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This ultra-rare racer still packs a punch, as John Bowe discovers. See Unique Cars for more features like this.

Porsche 944 Turbo Review: Past Blast
Past blast: Porsche 944 Turbo

 

Porsche 944 Turbo

In the world of Porsche, rarity is golden and this car is probably one of the most golden Porsches of all time. But it's largely unrecognised so you would have to say its future is looking bright. When that will be - two years, five years or 20 years from now - I don't know, but history has proven that rare Porsches are worth serious bucks.

This car is a Porsche 944 Turbo Cup and it's really interesting. It was basically a race car developed for the European and German scene, the forerunner to the Porsche Cup. But this particular car is quite special as Alan Hamilton, former Porsche distributor for Australia, asked Porsche to build this as a road registerable, right-hand drive Turbo Cup car.

That's very significant and it's a reminder of another era. Alan Hamilton's dad, Norman, was the first person to convince Porsche to build a right-hand drive car. The family's relationship with Porsche goes right back to the early-1950s, the 'pre-A' [original Porsche 356] days.

Alan had a good racing career in Australia - I used to watch him when I was kid - and over the years he assembled quite a few trinkets that the Porsche factory built for him. He was respected by, and had some influence at, Porsche in Germany. I love car stories and the story here is Alan Hamilton would've gone over there and said, "I'd like you to make me one of these in right-hand drive, okay?" and someone there has said, "Ja!" Try that today and I don't think they'd even let you into the place!

So this car really is a one-off from 'the good old days'. Alan used it in various hill climbs and for club days but eventually Andrew Miediecke, now one of my fellow competitors in the Touring Car Masters and a rival from back in the Ford Sierra Group A days, ran it in Targa Tasmania in 1994 and won! So, as well as being a factory one-off, this car also has genuine motorsport cred.

First impressions? That bloody great wing on the back! It obviously contributes to its Targa and track success as aerodynamics - as Formula One has proven over the years - is God. But it looks weird because it's double the height of the car! I'm not going to say I love the appearance, but take the wing off and you wouldn't give it a second glance.

Front-engined Porsches - the 924, 944 and 968s - are vastly underrated as road and track cars as they have such beautifully neutral handling. You never feel as if anything is going to surprise you. A big part of that is the fact the engine is up front and the gearbox, the transaxle, is down the back.

Even so, a lot of people don't realise - or won't admit - that these cars owe just as much to the Super Beetle as rear-engine Porsches. Look under one and you can see similarities. Being what it is, it's a race car for the road. It's not what you or I would describe as comfortable. The ride is more than firm, it's harsh. I drove this on-road but I would have loved to drive it on a racetrack.

The interior is very bare and basic and, of course, it has racing seats and a rollcage. A lot of these low-volume Porsche 'specials' had rollcages as Porsche had created a niche for themselves, building cars for motorsport enthusiasts who took them to track days. They had a little department in Germany staffed with motorsport people and it was their own little market. Most of the other manufacturers were too unwieldy, too bureaucratic, or simply not interested in building competition cars.

It's light, too. Weight is the enemy of performance and in this car you can feel its lightness, if you know what I mean. Porsche stripped out anything that wasn't needed and it doesn't even have power steering. It's a little heavy at parking speeds but as soon as you get it away from rest it comes alive. It's light and nimble and fantastic! You need your eyeballs glued into their sockets because it doesn't like jittery roads - and there's plenty of those here in Victoria, I can tell you - but the more you press on with it, the more it comes to life.

It has pretty serious turbo lag that you need to keep in mind, though. It only has a two-valve head but with a compressor pumping air in and a decent valve size, there's plenty of good breathing. The power was around 300bhp (224kW) back in the day, which was pretty good. It pushed the race cars to more than 300km/h!

I wouldn't drive this car too often if it were in my garage - it's just a bit raw - but I could see myself driving to Winton on a Sunday for a track day. It'd be really good.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

1988 Porsche 944 Turbo

 

ENGINE: 2479cc 4cyl, SOHC, 8v, turbocharger

POWER: 184kW @ 6000rpm*

TORQUE: 350Nm @ 4000rpm*

WEIGHT: 1280kg (approx)

GEARBOX: 5-speed manual

BRAKES: discs (f/r)

0-100km/h: 5.7sec*

Value: It's a one-off!

* Factory

 

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