Old sports cars are not without their quirks, a fact we were reminded of recently, driving the ultra-rare Porsche 944 Turbo Cabriolet across Hawaii during a freak tropical cyclone. (That drop-top isn’t easy to put up in a hurry.) But, those quirks, plus this car’s flawless ‘80s style and sublime performance, are why you need this hot vintage Porsche right now. Only 528 examples of the one-year-only 1991 Porsche 944 Turbo Cabriolet were ever made, largely by hand, at the very end of the 944’s production run, explains a man from the Porsche museum. Like him, this Maritime Blue 944 was flown half-way around the world from Porsche’s museum in Germany to be here in Hawaii. A handful of other classics from the museum made the trip as well, and we’ll tell you all about them soon — but we were immediately charmed by this rare 944.
It’s a preppy Harrington-jacket of a car. It’s the perfect shape for a two-seat sports machine, long and low, with a pair of adorable pop-up headlights, a sharp wedge-shaped nose – as was the fashion in the ‘80s — and a boxy rear-end that means business. The flared arches give the car a sculptural quality, and the “turbo” script on the trunk lid is something to be proud of. A single fat exhaust pipe and body-coloured rear diffuser complete a look that will never go out of style.
The all-grey cabin is refreshingly analog, with clear white-lettering on black dials, swept by orange needles. Dropping into the seats it certainly feels like a small car by moderns standards, but it’s not cramped.
The 944 was introduced in 1982, with a Turbo model debuting at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show. At the time, it had as much power as the 911 Carrera. By 1988, a Turbo S arrives with chassis upgrades and a bigger turbocharger, granting nearly 250 hp from a 2.5-litre four-cylinder motor. The 1991 Turbo Cabriolet sent the 944 out with a bang, bringing all the upgrades of the Turbo S to a car with a convertible cloth roof. Yes, this Porsche has just four cylinders but hear us out. Even today, 0-100 km/h in 5.9 seconds is plenty quick for those conscious about not getting a speeding ticket.
As the sky darkens over the southern coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, the Turbo Cabriolet cruises down the road to the sound of scratchy ukulele tunes on intermittent FM radio. A dab of throttle revs the engine to downshifting into second, then the turbo comes alive above 4,000 rpm and kicks us toward the horizon as the engine spins out to 6,000 making a racket. With that freakishly smooth motor mounted up front, plus the gearbox mounted in the back, it tips into corners happily and behaves itself, unless you want to feel the turbo’s wallop again. When the boost hits it’s sudden, entertaining, but not hectic; 259 lb-ft of torque is just fine is car that weighs only 1,340 kg. The five-speed manual gearbox is so easy to operate it feels new. You’ll be shifting just for the heck of it. Maybe this is because we’ve been in a WFH time-loop for the past 18 months, but driving this vintage drop-top feels like heaven.
Okay, if we’re being picky, the suspension is a tad firm and the wheels love to chase every little camber. The steering’s slow again, by modern standards — and then without warning the sky finally opens up. It pours.
Mercifully, the man from the Porsche museum is nearby to put the top up, because it’s really not an obvious procedure. The engine must be off, with the key in, and the gearbox in neutral. Two mechanics get to work un-snapping the roof cover. They stash the cover in the trunk, one gets into the driver’s seat, presses a button and the locks the roof in place with a pair of special tools hidden under the arm rest. Rain pelts down. Like we said: old Porsche sports cars are quirky.
A museum-quality car like this would set you back $100,000, but typical asking prices for a 1991 944 Turbo Cabriolet range from around $35,000 to $85,000, varying widely depending on condition. Selling prices at recent auctions ranged from $23,000 to $50,000 (USD), according to Classics.com, which tracks these things. If you’re willing to do without the drop-top, a 944 Turbo S coupe would be equally enjoyable and easier to find.
The 944 is often overlooked compared to more-expensive old 911s and more modern early Boxsters, but it’s brimming with old-Porsche charm. If you’re looking for a cheap or easy vintage sports car to live with, look elsewhere. This is not a bargain-basement classic by any means, but given the extreme rarity, performance, and the badge, the 944 Turbo Cabriolet is a good entry point into rare-Porsche ownership. Just do your homework on all those quirks.