The 924 - A Volkswagen trying very hard to be a Porsche

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The above heading sums up what I feel about the Porsche 924, although it is neither constructionally nor technically entirely accurate. The fact is that the original Porsche 356, back in 1950, was closely-related to the VW Beetle, although it had a new coupe body-shell, but today’s Beetle fanatics are apt to regard the current, very excellent Polos and Golfs as more Audi than Volkswagen. Moreover, the memory lingers of a young lady arriving at the Porsche stand at the 1976 London Motor Show and saying, in a loud aside, as she encountered the front-engined, water-cooled 924, “My God, that just isn’t a Porsche.”

In fact, the Porsche 924 does use a lot of VW-Audi components, and its VW-built 2-litre in-line-four-cylinder alloy-head, overheadcamshaft engine stems from the power unit of Volkwagen’s LT van. However, the use of a transaxle at the rear, incorporating the gearbox, driven by a front-mounted clutch and a lightweight propeller-shaft, and giving independent VW Super-Beetle-like suspension to the rear wheels, was an ingenious way of lifting the 924 out of the rut and its body is Porsche-styled, although ventilated by the Polo/Golf VW system.

In his comprehensive history of Porsche Karl Ludvigsen calls the 924 “The Break With Tradition”. Motor Sport has already devoted much space to this “poor-man’s Porsche”, carrying a description of it in February 1976 and devoting a colour-feature to CR’s road-test report on it in the issue of May 1977. We were not altogether impressed with the original Porsche 924 and, indeed, Ludvigsen has quoted CR’s opinion, in his afore-mentioned book: “…the flat torque characteristics can’t mask the massive gap between second and third gears. This ruins the charm of the car, which cries out for a five-speed gearbox”, and “there is far too much wind and mechanical noise, accompanied by a great deal of tyre and suspension thump”. Other journals’ criticisms also appear in this chapter of the book.

Production of the Porsche 924 commenced in Germany late in 1975. Since we tested the original model in 1977 improvements have been made, the rear suspension is now fully rubber-mounted, a different material is used for the front brake pads, front and rear anti-roll bars have been fitted as standard, and there are changes to the bodywork, which has some VW components in it. Last December I went down to Reading, where the £1,000,000 new Porsche headquarters were opened in March 1977 by Dr Ferry Porsche, to take away a 924 Lux for appraisal, this £7,779.33 Porsche having 6J alloy wheel-rims, wider tyres (Pirelli on the metallic-silver test car), tinted windows, and washers for both the rear window and the retractable headlamps. Optional extras on the car numbered stereo-radio with electronicallycontrolled aerial and Porsche “sidewinders” the last named implying external decor calculated to alert any bored traffic-cop….

Before leaving Reading I was conducted round the aforesaid impressively spacious Porsche Cars (Great Britain) Limited’s headquarters by their Press and Public Relations Manager, Mike Cotton. It is here that all the Porsche cars that are sold in Britain some 475 a year, not counting the 924 are brought on their own transporters from the docks and checked over before being dispatched to the dealers. Employing some 50 people under the Managing Director, John Aldington, the single-block 44,000 sq. ft. premises on the Richfield Avenue Industrial Estate, close to Caversham Bridge over the Thames, contain very ample parking space in the 3 1/2 acres, and in impressively laid-out workshops and paint-shop. There are four main bays on the ground floor, for new-car dewaxing and preparation, major body repairs to damaged Porsches, mechanical overhaul and the training of Porsche personnel. They already had a 928 9o0 light-alloy vee-eight engine installed, in the last-named department. There is also the highly impressive Spares Department, computercontrolled, and containing some £300,000 worth of parts. Air-conditioned offices, a staff restaurant, and a sauna, are included in the plans of’ this very modern building, the erecting of which was supervised by Campbell Finley, General Manager of AFN Ltd.

So what did I think of the improved Porsche 924? It is a splendid car to drive, on account of very good handling, light steering with a generous lock, and spongy but powerful, progressive disc drum braking. But it is certainly not like the Porsches of old! For one thing, a stubby gear-lever with its massive knob controls a nice change, if the movements are unhurried, but this isn’t the famous Porsche synchromesh I used to know. Nor do I think one-time Porsche enthusiasts such as D.S.J. would approve of an oval steering-wheel, although ‘n the case of the 924 this is not to accommodate too-big “turns” but to give a better view of the instruments, which are not very easy to read, anyway.

The suspension is on the hard side, the cornering exhibits very slight understeer, if full lock is required the steering feels to go “over-centre” as it were, but normally castor-return action is good. The steering is at times a bit twitchy but very “quick” and accurate. An individualistic feature is a right-hand brake lever, sensibly located, however. The tachometer is red-lined from 6,500 to 7,000 r.p.m. and I thought the difficult-to-read 150 m.p.h. speedometer ostentatious on a 125 m.p.h. car. Indeed, I am not sure I approve of concealed headlamps unless a car is so fast that these have considerable aerodynamic advantages. Those on the 924 pop up satisfactorily. Oil-pressure varies with engine speed but is normally around 7 Kg/Cm2, and clock and voltmeter are provided. Acceleration, at 0 to 60 m.p.h. in to seconds, matches the speed available.

The front seats are very comfortable and the rear seat folds away. I regard the 924’s rear compartment, however, as a claustrophobic cavern, making it really a sports two-seater. The front-seat head-restraints add to this feeling and make it difficult to go along with the catalogue’s description of the 924: “Sports car, 2+2 family coupe, easy-loading mini-estate”. However, as it goes on to tell one that “…the most appealing aspects of the 924 are the ones you cannot experience in print” and that you have “to see it, touch it, and drive it,” maybe I am wasting your time…!

Let me, then, just say that while the lift-up back window makes for very easing loading, the space it uncovers is restricted by the high floor which the transaxle necessitates. This hatchback is self-propping but needs a key to open it. The internal mirror distorts the view of following cars (it made me feel as though I ought to be breathalysed) the screen-pillars, although inclined, interfere with driving vision, and I was sorry to find screen-wipers which did not fully sweep my side of the glass, although suited to a I.h.d. car. The front seats are divided by a big tunnel for the high-set-propellor shaft. The switchgear is all very neat, some of the services being on the rear edge of the gear-lever console. There are concealed wells on each side of the spare wheel, presumably to accommodate diamonds, or whatever currency those who buy cars as expensive as this Porsche (the Lux 924 costs just less than £8,000, or £8,228.61 in Automatic gearbox form) now deal in.

As I have said, the 924 is very nice to drive, if you don’t mind using its gearbox. For it is very overgeared. At an indicated 70 m.p.h. the tachometer reads 3,300 r.p.m. but I thought it was perhaps a bit “slow”. On the big tyres 70 m.p.h. equals nearer 7,800 r.p.m. or 1,500 r.p.m. in top gear at 30 m.p.h. which means using third or second gear in town traffic. Inspite of this high gearing there is still a good deal of exhaust noise, nor is tyre thump absent. The engine fluffed unless it was running at over 2,000 r.p.m. So this is a car for the more enthusiastic to drive properly, which its exceptionally likeable handling endorses. One really needs the optional five-speed gearbox. Apart from the “boot” in which the contents can be concealed by a pull-over blind, stowagcs are provided in a lockable cubby and pockets in the doors. I did not have the car sufficiently long to get to really know it but in 670 miles it used no oil and had given an average fuel consumption of 29.1 m.p.g. The Porsche 911 and Turbo, of which one of the latter stood eye-catchingly alone in the foyer of the Porsche building at the time of my visit, are some of the World’s best-engineered, most exclusive sports cars. By these standards the 924 can only be regarded as a less well-bred, but nevertheless acceptable relation to the rest of the Porsche family. W.B.