Ah, the Porsche 924! What have we not heard about this supposed poor-man’s Porsche? The “Fuego from Stuttgart” and its so-called Audi motor (actually just the motor’s bottom half)? Of course Porsche purists would only swear by the 911 and would look down with disdain at this FEP (Front Engine Porsche) that doesn’t even have a V8 motor like the 928, to justify its originality. But this love of the flat-six makes one blind to the point of forgetting that the 924 (like the Cayenne in 2000s) allowed the Porsche myth to live on, to bring money into the cash registers and to win-over new buyers. Of course it is not as mythical as its bigger sister, the 911, it did allow potential buyers the possibility, at a lesser cost, to enter the Porsche community.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Porsche’s new boss, Ernst Fuhrmann, was aware that the brand was too dependant on the iconic 911. The brand, together Volkswagen as its partner, had already tried to diversify by launching the 914 in 1969, and by doing so, met with some success. However he wanted to go further, convinced that the architecture of its bestselling 911 (rear positioned, air-cooled, flat-six) would not have a future for much longer. This was convenient timing for VW who wanted to add a little sports car to its catalogue, capable of revitalising its gamme next the future Golf.
After their first successful partnership (with close to 120,000 914/4 and 914/6 models sold), the two brands were ready to commit to a new challenge. However some strategical disagreements quickly made this common endeavour impossible. Conceived and created exclusively by Porsche, the 924 was to be sold only under the Wolfsburg logo, to the great disappointment of Porsche dealers who dreamed of a model that could be sold in large volumes. Ultimately VW decided to remove itself from the project going instead for a more accessible coupé derived from its futur Golf, called the Scirocco. This did not deter the Stuttgart based manufacturer, deciding to persevere and go it alone for the project.
Despite this divorce, Volkswagen remained a privileged partner of Porsche’s because Porsche did not have the facilities to build the 924 in numbers that they planned to produce. Thus the 924 was built in the NSU factory in Neckarsulm (the Audi factory today) accentuating the idea that this baby Porsche wasn’t really a Porsche. This claim was really driven home by the aforementioned fact that part of its motor came from Audi (all of the bottom half) which could cause marque purists to run-away.
The 924 brought to Porsche a new architecture : a front mounted motor and propulsion drive through a 4 speed transaxle transmission designed by Audi. This certainly was enough to jolt the minds of purists.
However as soon as it came out in 1976 this new Porsche found its clientele and in its second year more than 14,000 vehicles were sold worldwide… Well almost that is since in the USA the anti-pollution laws lowered the power so much (95 horsepower) that it became even more under-powered and did not meet the brand’s American sales objectives.
Moreover, the principal criticism that can be made concerning the classic 924 model is its lack of power with respect to its excellent road handling ability. This is why in 1979 Porsche introduced the 2 litre turbo version that pushed the power in the European model up to 170 hp (and then to 177 hp in 1981) and the US model up to 150 hp. In 1981 a limited series version was introduced, the 924 Turbo Carrera GT, of which a total of 406 units were produced, boosting horsepower to 210 hp and including a special body package with racing exterior design features.
In 1985 in an attempt to revive the model’s dwindling sales, especially since the launch of its 944 sister in 1981, Porsche decided to give more zip to the 924. It bid farewell to the 2 litres motor, making room for the 2.5 litre naturally-aspirated 4 cylinder from the 944, delivering 150 and then 160 horsepower. Called the 924 S, it unequivocally replaced the 924 until the final end of the model’s production run in September 1988.
In addition to criticism of the technical differences between the 924 and the 911, its design was also criticised. Yet its modern lines were not missing elegance nor finesse. Imagined by Harm Lagaay (who would later design the BMW Z1), it was very far from the traditional Porsche 911.
Luckily when the 928 came out in 1977, as well as the 944 in 1981, it gave coherence to the ‘Front Engine Porsche’ collection. In total 121,289 examples of the standard 924, plus 11,616 with the Turbo motor, 406 of the Turbo Carrera GT, and 16,669 of the 924 S, were produced between 1976 and 1988, thus making a grand total of 149,980 units in all.
Whether it pleased purists or not, a certain question remains: would Porsche have survived without the profit that the 924 provided to the company’s bottom line? The answer is not a sure thing. It was much cheaper to produce thanks to its numerous Volkswagen AG (Volkswagen and Audi) parts and its big volumes in comparison to the 911. To survive the brand had to enlarge its client base and conquer new buyers that may move upmarket later on. In the 2000s the Cayenne, which was also slandered, was a breath of fresh air for Porsche which allowed it to strengthen even more its position in the sports car market segment.
As a classic, the 924 was shunned by collectors for a very long time, but with the skyrocketing prices for vintage 911s, the 924 has became a serious and accessible alternative for those who want to initiate themselves into the Porsche world without going broke. Little by little the scene became more and more tolerant in terms of this baby Porsche. Price estimates today for the basic 924 with a 4 gear or 5 gear transmission (from 1979 onwards) are between 5,500 and 6000 euros (LVA* 2018). The S versions are a bit more expensive, around 9000 euros, while the turbos are between 17,000 and 19,000 euros. For a good Turbo Carrera GT a buyer will need to have a substantially larger amount of capital ready to invest: its rarity and horsepower puts it more around the 85,000 euros level.
*LVA = “La Vie de l’auto” is a renowned French journal dedicated to old collection cars.