stig bjerke

This is gonna be a big one, so grab a beer, or a cup of tea and sit down for a while. This is one of the cars closest to my heart, so I have a lot to write about. I bring you the Porsche 968; the last of the front-engined transaxle Porsches.
Before we discuss the 968, let's look at its history. I'm not gonna go too deep, but the line of cars that the 968 closed the chapter on started in the mid seventies with the Porsche 924, which was a very VAG-ish Porsche, but a Porsche none-theless. The faster 931 was turbocharged and the later 924S used mostly 944 Porsche parts. Later it evolved into the 944 with wider fenders and a Porsche-made 2.5L engine. During the later run of the 944, in the very early nineties, Porsche was gonna make a new version of the N/A "S" version, to replace the already very potent 944S2. During development, the 944S3 turned out to be so different, that they made an entirely new model called the 968. Porsche claimed it to be 80% new from the old 944S2. Production was moved from Audi's Neckarsulm plant to Porsche's Zuffenhausen plant, to be produced alongside the 993 and the 928.

The 968 had a somewhat new engine that differed from the 944. Although the engine block is basically the same 3.0L inline 4 from the 944S2, the head was a new version of the twincam design with variable camshaft timing called VarioCam. The power was bumped up from 211 to 240; and with a few simple steps, these things could make around 250. However, despite the myths, more power is expensive and hard to gain from that engine. The 0-100km/h test are a bit unclear, some say they do it in over 6 seconds, some say under 6 seconds. The thing about this 3.0L engine is that it's torquey—very, very torquey. As you can see from the dyno graph below, it's got most of the torque early on, which gives it a really fresh feel when accelerating out of a corner. The 968's are a bit heavy, not MKIII Supra territory, but the coupe still comes in at about 1400kg with the Clubsport weighing at around 1300kg.
The 968 came in a few different guises. Most common is the standard coupe, available with a 6-speed manual G44 gearbox, or Porsche's first Tiptronic, A44. You could also get it in Cabriolet form with a shape not too dissimilar to the 944S2. Then there were the somewhat "infamous" and rare M030 cars, and the M220 option cars. (Or one with both for that matter) In case you're not into Porsches on a nerdy level, the M220 option is a 40% limited slip differential and M030 is a more sporty suspension with bigger sway bars, better dampers and springs and bigger brakes. 

There were also a few luxury options available, even though they came with most of the luxury features standard. Then you have the extremely rare and notorious turbocharged coupes. Only 20 968's with Turbos were ever built from the factory, 16 were called the Turbo S, which were similar to Clubsports, but with a different hood and rear wing. These shared a 3.0L block like the 968 and 944S2, but had the single cam 8V head from the 944 Turbo S. 305hp, 0-100 in 4,7 seconds and a top speed of over 280km/h. I find it rather sad Porsche didn't make more of these, but I can only image how hard these were to sell, considering how the base model was already very expensive. Then there were 4 Turbo RS race cars. These things were nothing short of devilish, being lighter and even more powerful. Specs are a bit unclear, but I've read the car that entered the 1994 Lemans had 450hp and weighed 1200kg. Chances of finding any 968 with a turbo mounted in the factory is like winning the lottery. But, there are replicas that are just as good, which would be a great choice if you can get past the "unoriginality."
At this point you might be pulling your hair out wondering if I forgot the most talked about 968, the Clubsport. No I did not forget, it's just gonna get it's own paragraph. The picture above is a 968 CS with M030 suspension and an M220 diff. These cars, are wicked and by far the best 968's out there except for a turbo car or something modified. They are obtainable, but very rare and very expensive. Not at the Turbo's level, but still more rare than the already uncommon 968 with its low production number. What makes the Clubsport awesome is its lighter weight and more sports car appeal than the GT-esque 968 coupes. The rear seats were thrown out, the sound dampening was minimized and the front seats were changed to a set of Recaro Pole Position bucket seats. Next to that the interior was changed to a normal 944 type 2 interior with no airbags. AC and electric windows were not standard and the springs were 30mm lower. This sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it? And it is, totally. The 968 really comes to its own with this model, but there's a hitch; the price along with a few myths.

The irony with the Clubsports pricing is that they were supposed to be a cheaper option to the coupe. Due to its raw nature, fewer numbers, and better usage of the 968 chassis, these were far from being cheaper. Now that they've become collector cars, they've skyrocketed past the normal 968 in price. For many, this is what the 968 should have been; there's something to be said when people want the CS letters on the back of their 968. But here's where the myth busting comes in. Many believe the CS comes stock with M030. This is completely false. The CS had the exact same sway-bars as the normal coupe. The dampers where the same as the normal coupes, and the lowered springs where the same spring-rate. So if someone tries to sell you "clubsport" sway-bars for your 944 or 968, make sure they're the actual M030 sway bars. With the CS you were paying more for less really, not that this is a bad thing. Another odd thing with the CS is that there was a comfort package available, meaning you get the interior of the standard car, with the airbags, electric windows and AC, as in the Sport edition for the UK market. The only differences to a 968 normal model car at that point is basically the CS badge and those lowered springs. These do exist, and I have seen one. It's honestly just ridiculous, and I wouldn't pay a single cent extra for one over a base model coupe.
Now, let's get into the car and what it's like to drive and live with. I had one of these as my only car for one year and almost 30.000km. To start out I'm gonna tell you a little about my car. It was a guards red coupe with the M220 option, no sunroof and 968 CS seats. I removed the back seats and changed the rear sway bar for an M030 one. There was TechArt lowering spings and it had Yellow Koni dampers all around. The famous "Airbox Mod" was done to it, which does bump the power up by about 10hp and gives you a way better throttle response down low.

The four banger transaxle Porsches are known for their excellent and neutral handling thanks to their near 50/50 weight distribution. This thing, when set up right, can pretty much devour corners. However, for some reason, Porsche set these up as GT cars instead of the sports car they should have been; the 944S2 had the same issue meaning that the suspension, especially at the rear, is super soft. This can produce some funky handling during hard cornering. Usually in the form of one of Porsche's most famous traits, over steering. That and under steering when entering a corner. The fix for this was quite easy, just not that cheap. A set of good dampers, stiffer and lower front springs, re-indexing the torsion bars to lower the rear would do the trick. And yes, this car still had a torsion suspension at the rear.

When hitting a set of twisties with a car like this, even bone stock, you'll quickly realize how it takes most corners faster than you dare to. Beware of understeer going into the corner if you're going too fast, especially if you're running a softer rear and staggered wheels. Following that understeer you will be greeted by a little oversteer upon exiting. Nothing dramatic but it can catch you off-guard. If you're lucky enough to have an M030 car you'll basically get an entirely different feeling car. It'll be much stiffer and faster through a corner, though I hear some complaints of the big sway bar at the front producing a bit of understeer. My 968 had a stock front sway-bar and a bigger rear one and this really made the car handle like it was on rails. The 3.0l engine is an absolute beast when accelerating out of the corner, it pulls you into what feels like warp-speed and goes through the entire rev-range before you can say "Oh shit!". There's no dramatic sudden-death boost coming on like a 951 instead, you have power available nearly throughout the rev range. For some, this can be seen as boring, but for others it's a near heaven experience.
As I wrote earlier, this was my daily. And I cannot make an article about this car, without saying something about its winter performance. The short story is that it's an awesome winter sportscar. The netrual handeling really shows in snowy conditions, same with the responsive steering and pedals. if you're one of the lucky few who has a M220 option, getting stuck is a rare situation. Obviously tires are the number one most important thing here, I was running studded Goodyear tires during the winter months. However, this is still a 240hp rear wheel driven sports car with loads of torque and no traction control. This means you have to be on your toes at all times. The rear will slide, a lot too. But when it does this, you can easily catch it and straighten the car up with little to no drama. Super simple car to learn how to drive during the winter, if you look past the fact that this is a lot more expensive to fix than a Volvo 240 if you crash it.

Completely irrelevant winter driving is the 968's capabilities as a daily driver. You will basically be able to hit twisties and have a lot of fun with the balanced chassis and torquey engine. But It's also got that long-legged 6 speed that will make the engine cruise along the highway almost like you're in a Mercedes. Sadly I've never driven a Tiptronic, but I think and hope it's no different for highway cruising. The thing that surprises me the most is how comfortable it is inside and how both the comfort seats and those borderline-racing CS seats just hold you in place. The steering wheel is right where you want it to be, in front of your chest and unlike some cars, you're not stuck in an awkward position trying to get a grip on everything. Due to the transaxle tunnel, the gearshifter and armrest are right next to you. All the pedals sit just close enough but they're not cramped together off to one side like you could expect from an older sportscar. The entire package gives you a very comfortable position where you get a great feeling on what the car is doing.

Then there's the storage. It's ridiculous how much you can cramp into the boot of this car. It's more of a hatchback than an an actual boot though, seeing as the gearbox is in the way. And if you remove or fold down the rear buckets, there's even more room. You can call those things "seats" if you want to, but honestly, they're useless for anything bigger than an infant or an animal. If need be, though, you can fit a grown man back there and I have done that, but you won't be able to withstand it for more than 10-15 minutes. This was even with the seat in front of said person all the way to the front. This means you have two people doing yoga right behind you, and getting a knee to the shoulder or a foot in the back of your head is never good while driving. (True story by the way, I can attest to this).
I could go on for pages and pages with more about this car. I love these things, but I'll have to finish up with this summary.

For the price, these are still a great value. They're uncommon, not too rare, but uncommon as they were only made for a few years. Currently you can get one for the same price as a nice 944 Turbo, and this will be the hardest competition for the 968. You have to choose between the mellow, modern and sleek 968, or the all out 80's stupid-fast 944 Turbo. The differences are many when choosing between these, and looking back now, I might have chosen the 944 Turbo. Just because you can get easy power out of them, and that I love that 80's look; although, the 968 is much more modern car than the 944 Turbo which really comes in handy in not looking dated when driving it today. The 968's build quality is as good, if not better than any 911 of the same time. Everything feels solid and like it will last for years, except for the hinges on the armrest (all you Type2 944 guys know what I mean). A combination of composite parts and great galvanization made these things great and not prone to rusting; even my 300.000km winter driven daily was rust-free. It has everything you'd need in a car, plus it's still wicked fun for spirited drivng. If you wanna buy something special, that next to no one else has, and you're looking at sports coupes, these make for a great choice.

When buying one. Make sure the timing and balance shaft belts are in order. And look for cars with 220 option. An M030 car is a bonus, but this is stuff you can "simply" add later if you feel the need for a stiffer suspension or more braking power.

editor's note: I love enthusiasts like Stig. what you've just read is precisely why. his thinking and approach to a rich topic like the 968 is never an easy one, yet Stig manages to engage us on the finer points of this last water-cooled Vier Zylinder Porsche with much gusto. we appreciate his generosity in letting us post his story here. if you enjoyed his prose, check out the rest of his blog...

stigbjerke.com/blog

*re-posted with Stig's permission from his entry entitled "Porsche 968 (1992-1995)."

 


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