The 924 was often optioned in funky 70’s colors. Credit: Ian Weddell
Until 1976, Porsche had been known for building cars with engines on the wrong end, somehow defying physics, their cars were equally good canyon carvers as they were skilled on the track.
This all changed in 1976 when Porsche found themselves in the position of needing a car that could uphold the driving standards the brand had been known for as well as help the bottom-line. Emission and efficiency standards were able to hold back the marquee 911 from being the financial standout that Porsche needed to continue to develop and manufacture sport cars. The Porsche 924 was just the car. It had the right blend of lightweight driving dynamics, was efficient, had a sleek design, and fit perfectly into the pricing model with the fabled 911 still at the top of the pyramid. The 924 first had its reveal in 1976 in the south of France.
The 924 was revolutionary for Porsche as it was their first car to be powered by a water-cooled, front-mounted engine and was rear-wheel driven. But what is even more surprising about the near sacrilege 924, with its unique, to Porsche, forward engine placement, is that the car was first slated to be sold as a Volkswagen that was entirely designed by Porsche. The 924 is also was one of the few Porsche’s that are accessible to almost any vintage car enthusiast. You can buy a half-decent 924 for around $2,000 where most other Porsche’s will run you for more than $5,000.
So the 924 was initially going to be a co-developed sports car for Volkswagen designated as the 425. Porsche designed, Volkswagen built. But for one reason or another, most people point to tightening emission and efficiency standards, VW pulled out of the 425 project and instead developed the Scirocco platform.
Porsche bought the 425 back from VW to prop up their floundering sales with the introduction of a new entry-level sports car, a successor to the 914 that succeeded the 912. This is a big turning point for Porsche and a good one at that, this is the car that saved them from bankruptcy and is what allowed them to keep cranking out the venerable 911.
When Porsche bought the 924 back the deal stated that the car was to be manufactured at Volkswagen facilities, a real deal for Porsche that helped their bottom line. At this point Porsche was still using traditional techniques and this allowed them to produce the car at much more affordable costs that in turn allowed them to sell more units.
In motion. Credits: Mompl
Since the car was designed first as a VW it used a Volkswagen/Audi EA831 2.0 liter inline 4 that was also used in the Audi 100 and the Volkswagen LT Van. The original Audi engine was equipped with a Weber carburetor that pushed about 95hp. The 924 engine was outfitted with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection that bumped the car up to a more respectable 115 horsepower but this still was not at the levels of oomph Porsche owners were use to. European models which were not subject to emissions testing created 125 horsepower.
The first year of production featured an Audi designed and manufactured 4-spead manual transmission that was used in a front wheel drive car but now found itself placed in the back and used as a rear transaxle. With the transmission in the back and the engine in the wrong place, up front, or dare we say right place, the 924 had an excellent weight balance. The car was light to begin with, 2,381 pounds, with 48% of that weight being over the front half of the car.
A 924 seen with the funky Pascha interior. Credit: Thomas’s Pics
This unique engine and transmission placement gave the car some of the best car dynamics that you could buy in the 70’s despite its low power output. In Excellence, writer J. Pasha described the 924 as “the best handling Porsche in stock form”. Whether or not Porsche enthusiasts denounced the car for it’s different placement of the engine, this is the car that helped pull Porsche out of a black hole and spawned the succeeding 944 and 968 cars.
A 3-gear automatic became available in 1977.5 and in 1979 the 915 Porsche designed and built 5-gear dog leg manual transmission became optional, standard on Turbo models, but due to parts availability an Audi 5 speed manuals became the only option on non-turbo cars in 1980.
The 924 Turbo with the NACA Hood Duct also in a race livery. Credit: Smerikal
Porsche enthusiasts finally found their want of a more powerful 924 answered in the form of a turbocharged version of the 924. The 924 Turbo was a high-performance variant that helped bridge the gap between the 924 and the 911. Porsche had already proven the robustness and the added performance value of the turbocharging cars since its introduction in race cars and the 911 Turbo in 1975.
The 924 Turbo started with the same Audi-sourced VW EA831 2.0 liter inline 4 engine that was given an all new cylinder head design and a new compression that pumped in 10 psi of boost giving the 924 Turbo 170 horsepower. The 924 Turbo also came with a functional and visually racier NACA duct in the hood, 15 inch spoke-style alloy wheels, larger brakes, the 915 5-speed manual transmission, and unique paint options. A total of 11,616 924 Turbos were produced from 1979 to 1983.
A 1987 924S. Credit: Vetatur Fumare
To add to Porsche’s troubles, Volkswagen stopped producing the engine block to the EA831 in 1983 and this left Porsche without an entry-level car. The 924 was much cheaper than it’s big brother the 944 and Porsche filled the gap by stuffing a detuned 944 2.5 liter inline 4 engine into the narrower 924 bodies and upgrading the suspension while leaving the interior the same.
This new 924S produced 150 horsepower in 1986 and was bumped up to 160 horsepower in the final production run in 1988. This quicker version in 1988 was actually faster than the base 944 due to the 924’s lower weight and squeaky clean aerodynamics. Both the 924S and the base 944 were dropped from the lineup in 1989.
924 Carrera GT
Walter Röhrl’s 1981 Porsche 924 GTS driven during the 2008 Rallye Deutschland. Credit: Andre
In 1979, Porsche built several race-ready homologation specials of the 924, the Carrera GT for Group 4 racing. Porsche as eager to stifle any more jabs at the 924 as not being a “real Porsche” by giving it the pedigree that all “real Porsches” are known for.
The Carrera sat significantly lower on a much wider track, it’s larger wheels were flanked by polyurethane fenders. To cope with the demands of racing the car featured different suspensions and braking modifications, and air-to-air intercooler, all of which bumped the Carrera up to 210 horsepower all while weighing over 100 pounds less.
Porsche eventually sold 406 of the cars, none at the time available in the United States, but didn’t meet the 400 cars sold minimum by the time it was run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and had to run in the Prototype class finishing 6th, 12th, and 13th. The cars were powerful and handled exceptionally well but were unable to compete against cars that were designed for the class.
The 924 doesn’t look 40 years old. Credit: Mompl
At the time the 924 was reviled as the stepchild of Porsche with its unique front engine water-cooled design and the rear transaxle but today is remembered as the car that helped bring Porsche back from the edge of financial ruin. It was able to move over 150,000 units which is quite a lot for a car that costed near double the price of the Mazda RX-7 for nearly the same performance. The cars have a light design that has stayed surprisingly modern and looks distinctively Porsche. Base 924s can be had for just a few thousand dollars are the cheapest entry into the brand but can be difficult to find in even decent condition.
The time and effort of finding one though is well worth it. Parts are cheap and plentiful as most of them were produced for Audi and Volkswagen and labor is simple as well. The 924 isn’t fast but a slow car fast is best than a fast car slow. Pick one up before they have all been left to rot or before the 924S, Turbo have already appreciated out of reach like the Carrera GT.