Part 1: Porscheology 101
Raise your hand if you've heard this one before:
"The Porsche 911 has its engine in the WRONG PLACE!"
Ever since its inception, the flagship Porsche 911 has been a staple in the sports car industry for a multitude of reasons - one being that a light car with the engine behind the rear axles all but guarantees you an audience with the god of your choosing. As a traditional front-engined car would oversteer and allow for correction because most of the weight is in the front, the Porsche 911 would act as a pendulum and spin out of control faster than a Maury guest who was just told that he was NOT the father.
The good news is that you're alive. The bad news is that most of your body is still in the car.
Fortunately, the sophisticated and creative thinkers at Porsche knew that they needed to make a car that was more enjoyable to drive and less murder-y, so they put their collective Hirns together and came up with a few ideas in the 70s and 80s as possible successors to the 911 legacy.
In a nutshell, there were 3 somewhat worthy contenders: The Porsche 924, 928, and 944. The 924 was overpriced, underpowered, looked completely underwhelming and had the engine from a Volkswagen van. It was a Porsche in the same way Iran is a tropical vacation destination.
"Want a ride in my Porsche?"
"No thanks, I'll walk."
The 928, however was an amazing car and had a nearly 20 year production run, housed a race-inspired V8 with manual gearbox, and made a metric ton of power, all while retaining iconic lines and stance.
...but for the purposes of this story, we'll just say it was crap and focus on the 944.
Part 2: Bidding and
One of the best things you can do to relax is window shop. It allows you to dream of all the things you could afford if you didn't spend your time relaxing. While in my aspirational trance, I spotted a rough-around-the-edges 1987 Porsche 944 S about 3 hours away from me, with no bids on it, starting at $700 with about 2 days left. Here's what I saw:
A quick rundown of the description yielded some promising results. First, the car was a 944 S model, which had the 16 valve DOHC engine, good for 190 horsepower. Second, the car was accident-free and had somewhat of a service history with Porsche. Third, all the interior panels were included and the car ran, but needed cleaning (as per the seller's words, which you should always trust 100%)
After doing some research, I saw that good examples of this car sold anywhere from $2500 to $9000, with similar mileage. I offered the seller $750 to close the auction, but he said that he already got a few offers for that much, and that they were holding out for $800. It was a little weird that they were $50 off on a deal and couldn't come to an agreement, but I offered $800, sent over a deposit and the car was mine, much to the chagrin of my fellow would-be bidders. The seller later told me people were sending him hate-filled emails because of his auction ending a day early. Oh well. The early bird lays the golden egg, or something like that.
Before going to see the car, I prepared by stocking up on tools, coolant, a fresh battery, and some motor oil. Grabbed some lunch money and a friend and we hit the road to see my sight-unseen Porsche purchased on the internet.
Part 3: Well, there's your problem.
My first impressions were not the best. Rough around the edges didn't even begin to describe it. Not only was the interior stale from having a water leak in one of the seals, the floor was covered in rat turds. The car leaked a bit of oil, the headlights were in a permanently up position, and the only thing holding the sunroof in the car was gravity.
Not sure if stock.
There was a huge mess in the hatch, which housed all of the interior panels, and the seats resembled a gazelle that had recently lost a bout with a rather aggressive lion. There was a reason that this car was $800, and I was seeing it firsthand.
Or so I thought.
After I mustered up the courage to turn the car on, all the cosmetic flaws this car had simply walked out of the list of my top priorities. The car ran like total, unadulterated shit.
It started roughly, smoked like a chimney, and ran on 3 cylinders at best. The steering wheel pulled to the right, and veered to the left when I hit the brakes. The only way I could breathe is if I had the windows down, but if I did that, the draft would push the sunroof that wasn't held on by ANYTHING to fly off the car, Paul Walker in Fast & The Furious style.
It's a good thing I was 3 hours away from home and had a long drive ahead of me. What could go wrong?
I figured it was $800, the car in parts is worth that much, and if I had to get a tow, it would probably be cheaper somewhere along the way to my house rather than 120 miles away, so I went for broke and did an emergency spark plug change at a local auto parts store, topped up the fluids and filled it with fresh premium to curb whatever varnish and rat piss was floating around in the tank. What followed was perhaps the sketchiest ride in my life.
Part 4: Where have you been all my life?!
Setting out on a road trip in a new car can be an interesting and exciting experience. You get to know all the intricacies of the car and really connect and bond with it, as if it's an organic extension of your own body. Now if that part of the body just happens to be cancerous and on fire, it might not be such a pleasant journey. This sort of describes my trip home with my new-to-me Porsche 944 S.
The first few dozen miles were absolutely babied, not exceeding 40mph, (1) because I felt like the car was going to come apart and (2) I was convinced that a passing semi would somehow start a chain reaction that would end with me under the rear tire of his trailer. Whenever I shifted into 5th and applied any more than 25% throttle, it sounded like a shotgun had gone off and the car bucked wildly, so I was perfectly content with 4th.
It had started to drizzle, which was a great time to learn that the windshield wipers weren't operational and the only thing I had to wipe off the rain was a rag used to check the oil, which was subsequently oily.
Did I mention that the driver's side rear view mirror glass and rear view mirror were missing? And the rain had gotten heavier, to something that Noah would consider "a concern". I coudn't see, couldn't steer, couldn't go, couldn't stop, and every time I managed to grind to a halt, the cabin filled with smoke from the oil leak in the engine bay, so I HAD to keep moving.
However, just as that action hero that takes a myriad of bullets and never seems to die (or is a cockroach a more fitting analogy?), the car's engine just kept going. After the first hour, the rain stopped and the traffic wasn't as bad. It allowed me to be more bold with the accelerator and push the car up to and including the speed limit. We were in uncharted waters. I felt like a survivalist, thrown into the jungle with nothing but a fanny pack full of Slim Jims and a rubber band to keep myself alive. Except I was in a car and I had a friend tailing me in a car that was much more comfortable and safe, should I decide to throw in the towel. No man worth his salt ever backed down from a challenge, and neither would I. When I came to the conclusion that "I was gonna make it no matter what", the car amazingly complied. It stopped being a clapped-out mess and started being a sports car, the Little Porsche that Could.
By now the foul fuel had all but burned off, and the car came alive. Throttle response was much more crisp and the hesitation and backfiring in higher gears was a thing of the past. As I approached 90mph on a stretch of open road, I could feel the cylinders scrubbing themselves of the cobwebs and carbon buildup that they'd accrued over the last decade. On turns, the stiff suspension and aftermarket 10" wide wheels gave the chassis supercar grip, in turn making me feel both a badass and a complete coward for only demanding 30% of the car's true on-road capabilities. I came to a stark realization: the only thing this car needed was to be driven as only a race-designed motor could be: HARD. I had fallen in love.
Part 5: Removing rat turds Cleaning
Some say the epitome of happiness is to sit on the couch with a cold beer while watching the game. Some say it's to lay on a beach on a hot summer day, accompanied by an equally steamy Nicholas Sparks novel.
A pox on both your houses, I say.
After the empty calories and sunburn have gone through your system, what's left? Obesity and melanoma. Skip all that and buy a car sight unseen and have an adventure taking it apart and putting it back together. At the very least you'll have one hell of a sense of accomplishment, and at best you'll have a kickass car. It sure beats skin cancer and 'beetus.
The first order of the day was to strip the car past its arguably soiled tighty-whiteys and see how honest the old girl really was. It was at this point I realized that the rear hatch wasn't actually connected to anything, and the only thing holding it on the body of the car was the attraction to the Earth's mass.
The verdict? It wasn't that bad. No rust to speak of, just a LOT of cleanup and maintenance to do. I cleaned all the rat turds out with my Wet-Dry Vac, used Simple Green to get all the residue off the soaked stock sound deadening, and ran a Toro Leaf Blower through the vent to evict any stray spiders from the cozy confines of the heating ducts.
The engine bay was also beyond filthy, so I taped off the MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor and any breather hoses, as well as the alternator, and gave the engine bay a wash with a good Power Washer. It was extremely effective and had a very good suds sprayer, in which I used about 25 percent Simple Green and 75 percent water.
Now that I had a base to work with, it was time to get this girl some much needed therapy.
Part 6: Life by 1000 fixes
A project may seem overwhelming when you regard it as a whole instead of breaking it down into components and prioritizing witin those components. As a rule of thumb, the most important part of any project is the mechanical aspect. The car must be able to run properly for you to drive it and hopefully resell it. On this car, there was a bad oil leak coming from the rear of the engine. It was so bad that the car would fill with smoke at a stoplight. Not exactly the thing you want when you're driving a Porsche, the car of connosieurs and gentlemen alike. I diagnosed the issue as valve cover gasket, from the obvious leak from the valve cover. The removal and installation was one of the easiest I've ever done. The 944S actually has a true valve cover, unlike the SOHC base model, which need the timing taken apart to access the gasket. Bullet dodged.
I removed the cover's various 10mm bolts and made sure to clean the surface with simple green sprayed on a rag, and applied a thin coat of High-temp RTV sealant to the corners so I wouldn't have a leak. While the valve cover was off, I cleaned it with Rustoleum Aircraft Remover, then painted with Rustoleum High Temp engine enamel and used a brush along with Dupli-Color Red Touch Up paint to outline the "PORSCHE" letters on the cover. I then tightened all the bolts in an X-pattern and ran the engine up to operating temp to make sure no leaks were present. Here is the finished project:
I had to give the car a full and comprehensive tuneup, so I installed a new fuel filter using the info from this link, Cleaned the points on the distributor cap and rotor head with a wire brush and fine sandpaper because it was relatively new. I took out the spark plugs and made sure they were still within spec (0.028-0.032 inches) with my feeler gauge set.
I changed the oil and filter - the latter of which was a special order part. Apparently there wasn't any Porsche 944 love from my local Autozone. I also flushed the radiator fluid and made sure that there was none of the coolant/oil mixing issue that's a common issue in these cars. (I'm referring to the problem in which the stock oil cooler, located on the side of the engine, experiences a seal failure and mixes oil in the coolant, all of which does damage to both oil and cooling systems over time. This is quite a common problem on all Porsche 944s. It comes about because Porsche used inferior quality rubber seals on the oil cooler housing instead of utilizing something more stout, like Viton.)
To sort the horrendous handling, I looked under the car and realized the bushings, while not perished, were simply disconnected. The car was veering to the left and darting to the right because only one side of the beefy front sway bar was actually connected. I reconnected it and lubed it well with red grease and made sure all joints were tight. I also bled the brakes (which were in decent shape) for good measure with brand new DOT3/4 fluid.
I filled it up with fresh 93 octane and it started and ran with a fervor that was all but absent on my initial ride home. This was now the Porsche that was poised to replace the 911 nearly 3 deades ago. This was the car that I had dreamed of driving when I first saw its dirty and neglected hulk on ebay. Its aftermarket exhaust, Gemballa-modified ECU and 10" wide rear tires made it an animal in the straights and a demon in the corners. Now to make her look as good as she ran.
Part 7: A Porsche by any other name...
To tackle the interior, I needed an arsenal of reliable and effective weaponry. Here's what I used:
- Dishwashing Soap
- Spray Bottles
- Mr Clean Magic Eraser Pack
- Leather Conditioner/Cleaner
- Microfiber towels
- Invisible Glass (Ammonia free)
- Bissell Little Green Machine
I vacuumed the dirty carpet, used the steam cleaner to soak in the suds and sucked it out using the same machine. I made sure to agitate well and move slowly.I replaced all the speakers in the car with 4x6 OEM replacements, and double checked the wiring behind the headunit, soldering and heatshrinking any shoddy connections.
I had to get rid of the godawful seats because they smelled like rhino crap and they looked like violent cheetah sex. I found a set of Mazda3 front black leather seats for $100 locally, and I took a chance on them. After doing some very minor grinding to get rid of a few Mazda mounting tabs, the rails lined up PERFECTLY. I really lucked out, as the entire project took less than a day. They were manual seats and gave an air of quality that the car desperately needed.
Now, on to the exterior. The main issue with the car was the lower front valence. It was spray painted very, very badly and I had to remedy that by painting it less badly. I removed the front bumper, sanded the valence smooth, then block sanded the entire piece. I then used 2 cans of flat black Plastidip to cover the entirety of the lower valence and it brought together the look of the car. I repeated the effect on the left and right rock guards, and I wrapped the sunroof in 1080 3M Vinyl in the same, satin black color. I finished off the wheels to bring the theme to a close and the concept for the car's look was complete.
I washed, clay barred, polished and waxed the car using these products:
- 2 buckets
- Dishwashing soap
- Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash
- Meguiar's Clay Bar
- PC 7424XP w 6" backing plate
- 3 pads for agressive cut , medium cut and fine cut/polish.
- Collinite 845 wax
- Microfiber Towels
I also followed these tutorials, made by Larry Kosilla at AMMO NYC and /DRIVE:
Part 8: This is where we say goodbye.
When I picked up this project, I wanted an adventure, and that certainly was in no short supply. This car nearly killed me on the way home, while giving me a taste of its vast potential as a performance car. After stripping it and putting it back together properly, I can understand why people were taken aback by this car in the 80s. It was different. The engine was relatively big for the number of cylinders it had, the transmission was at the back, it didn't snap oversteer like a 911, and it had styling that defined the brand for the decade. The doors shut with a satisying, mechanical German "thunk" and the only driver aids were the steering wheel, shifter and pedals. It was a car that made you appreciate the fun of driving without a destination - a car that let you stay out a few minutes after the street lights went on. It was fun, forgiving, sounded great, and I had an absolutely amazing experience reviving this car. It will be missed.
Since I was in a time crunch for this sale (I was leaving for Europe 2 days after the car was scheduled to be sold), I put it on ebay with no reserve. It sold for a bit less than I was expecting, but it went to a good home with an enthusiast in California, who had the car picked up on a trailer in front of my house. I hope he's carving up PCH while I write this, but I hope he's not reading this and driving at the same time.
Here are the rundown of costs for this car:
|1987 Porsche 944 S
|Tolls and Gas||-$100.00|
|Misc. Light Bulbs||-$12.00|
|Misc. Int. Parts (incl.Speakers)||-$28.00|
|Valve Cover Gasket||-$19.00|
|Oil and Filter||-$35.00|
So $1500 for driving an old Porsche around for a few weeks? I'll take it.
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