Porsche's 924 Carrera
A true road-going racing car!
In the 1980 Le Mans 24-hour sports car classic, Porsche 924 Carreras finished 6th, 12th and 13th in the general classification and now a total of 400 production versions have been built for sale to customers for road use, thereby satisfying the FISA requirements for admission into the sports car category known until the end of last year as Group 4 and now as Group B (formerly Groups 3 and 4). Porsche are one of the few firms whose high standard of engineering integrity can be traced directly from their current racing cars to their road cars of the moment and a road-going 924 Carrera is literally a detuned circuit racer, carrying a price tag of £19,211 (tax paid) in Great Britain where all 75 cars have already been sold. Make no mistake, this is a very serious motor car for serious drivers, truly reflecting its racing parentage, as well as a machine which provides a very interesting insight into Porsche's development philosophy.
The German firm's growth in stature into possibly the world's most respected manufacturer of sports cars has its roots in the Porsche 356 coupe which earned a great deal of praise and affection in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Of course, our own D.S.J. has written many words of praise about this early Porsche, an example of which served him so well driving all over Europe for the best part of ten years, so the 356 needs no further description in this article. Then, in 1966, it was superseded by a whole new generation of Porsches, the 911 range. With one of the most distinctive sports car profiles of all time, the Porsche 911 series expanded from what was initially a somewhat under-engined if promising 2-litre six-cylinder product, through to the mouth-watering high performance 3-litre Carrera of 1973 and, finally, through to its ultimate development, the 3.3-litre turbo. This evolution again took place over a 15-year period, during which the Porsche approach was to "polish, polish and polish again" their design, progressively improving performance, braking, handling and overall refinement until the latest versions of the 911 range stand on a pinnacle as one of the very best sports cars of all.
No matter how good the 911 range had become, Porsche appreciated that a new concept would be required for the 1980s and, to this end, they started from scratch to produce a couple of fresh models which are currently on sale alongside the 911s today. They are the large 4.5-litre V8 engined 928 and the smaller 924 model which, when originally introduced with its 2-litre engine in 1977, was regarded as an attempt to make Porsche cars available to a wider buying public. But the original 924 was inevitably compared with the more exotic machines in Porsche's range, however wrongly, and could hardly be said to have received a favourable reception. It was an efficiently built, well finished two-plus-two coupe, somewhat nondescript in its styling, but it was very much less expensive than anything in the 911 range. Initially fitted with a four-speed gearbox, many critics found it a rather pedestrian motor car, and the incorporation of a five-speed box made it more appealing. But there were still those who said that the 924 wasn't a "proper Porsche", whatever that might have meant, and Zuffenhausen merely retorted that the car would change and evolve over the years, just as the 911 had done before it. Three years into the 924's life, our spell with the turbocharged Carrera proved that Porsche were quite right. It is certainly evolving!
Before talking about this "street racer", it's important for us to make clear that we at Motor Sport consider the 928 range to be continuing the mainstream development of the Porsche concept. Having said that, we were delighted to turn our attention to the task of driving the wicked looking, low, spoilered Carrera coupe when we arrived to collect it from Porsche GB's smart Reading base.
Well, if the original 924 looked uninspiring to the eye, that's not an allegation to be held against the turbocharged Carrera! Sitting low on its "standard 7J x 15" forged aluminium rims, shod with low profile 215/60 VR15 Pirelli P6 tyres, the 924's basically modest lines were considerabty enhanced by distinctive nose and tail spoilers plus widened wheel arches at each comer, all these made of polyurethane, a very practical approach indeed. Incidentally, driving the car during the depressingly mild, wet spell of weather we experienced during the month of January gave us an on-the-spot reminder of just how much attention centres round the business of aerodynamics in the Porsche way of doing things. After two days, and nearly 600 miles, over filthy, wet, muddy, rural roads, the Carrera was disgustingly dirty — everywhere except for the rear screen! This was as clean as when we had started out, thanks to the curve of the wrap-round rear spoiler which deflects spray, dust and road grime with the effectiveness that only wind tunnel development can guarantee!
Two wide opening doors provide access to this comfortable, commodious sports coupe. Inside, the 924 Carrera was trimmed smartly in black, red piping on the velour covered individual front seats complementing the overall tasteful image. The floor was covered in a deep pile carpet to match and each "footwell" provides more than sufficient accommodation for its occupant with adequate shoulder, head and leg room to make things comfortable for the largest driver.
Immediately ahead of the driver, through the leather rimmed steering wheel, the instruments include matching 150 m.p.h. speedometer and rev. counter red-lined at 6,600 r.p.m. To the left, a third circular gauge has two segments within it, indicating the state of the fuel contents and engine temperature. Even when you first sit in the driving seat, particularly if you are tall, you become conscious of the fact that the steering wheel seems low and in too-vertical a plane. We'll come back to this point later, when we consider the 924 Carrera on the move. Pedals are light and progressive, although the clutch needs to be depressed quite positively to pick up bottom gear and, if you sit well away from the steering wheel, this means virtually extending one's left leg into a "straight out" position which feels most peculiar, although it's not much problem in practice. Auxiliary dials on the central console look after oil pressure and battery charge and there is also a clock which seemed to keep perfect time. There is no turbo boost gauge, perhaps surprisingly.
The performance of the turbocharged 2-litre power unit is the great revelation when one starts motoring in this Porsche. The 86.5 mm. x 84.4 mm. (1,984 c.c.) four-cylinder engine, with its single overhead camshaft, five main crankshaft bearings and KKK turbocharger and intercooler, developing 210 b.h.p. (DIN) at 6,000 r.p.m. which not only endows it with quite shattering performance and flexibility for an engine of this size, but it also has remarkable torque with 202.5 lb./ft. being developed at 3,500 r.p.m. This power is driven to the rear wheels via a Porsche five-speed gearbox incorporated in rear transaxle which not only aids traction in slippery conditions but means that the 924's fore and aft weight distribution is extremely well balanced. The particularly stiff, bump-sensitive suspension, is by MacPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arms and torsion bars at the rear, complemented by Bilstein gas filled shock absorbers and anti-roll bars. A limited slip differential is available as an optional extra but was not fitted on our test machine.
Firing up this willing 2-litre power unit proved simple and straightforward, the engine showing no signs of reluctance to start even on the coldest morning. The gearbox is controlled by a stubby, comfortable short change which falls very nicely to hand, although it couldn't be described as having a silky smooth action. First is dog-legged back and to the left and one needs to apply quite firm lateral pressure to overcome the spring loading. Having said that, once you're on the move and require to change into second, it is all too easy to allow the lever to slip into fourth. Although the gate seems to be spring-loaded against selection of first (presumably to protect reverse, which is immediately opposite bottom gear), it feels quite sloppy in neutral and you have to make a positive effort to push it into second, the consistently most difficult gear to select. In fact, the gearing is so generous and the torque so good, that the lazy can regard the 924 Carrera's box as a four-speeder and just about get away without using first. But that, I suppose, is hardly the most conscientious way of looking at it even though D.S.J., frustrated after several attempts to select first gear, curtly observed "I'm considering this to be a four-speed gearbox". He promptly stuck it into second and the 924 Carrera pulled away without a murmur from a standstill on level ground!
On the subject of torque, one is led to think that this Porsche could operate quite adequately equipped with a four-speed gearbox as standard. Flatten the accelerator at 100 m.p.h. in either fourth or fifth and one experiences a surge of power so remarkable that you have to remind yourself that this is a 2-litre motor. . .
With a 33 b.h.p. surplus over the normal 924 turbo, the Carrera gets up and goes with astonishing rapidity. If you don't fumble that first-to-second change, 60 m.p.h. comes up in just over six seconds and, with 40 m.p.h. available in first, 73 m.p.h. coming up in second, you are just slipping into fourth gear at 102 m.p.h. and the acceleration is undiminished. Just short of 120 m.p.h. and it is time to get into fifth, but the acceleration is still apparent and it's only when one tops an indicated 130 m.p.h. that one feels that favourable conditions are going to be required before the 924 Carrera works its way up to its quoted maximum of 150 m.p.h. At all times through our tests, the engine remained turbine-smooth, the wind noise negligible and directional stability absolutely flawless, on smooth surfaces.
As far as the Carrera's handling was concerned, the Pirelli P6s help to endow it with a reassuring hint of understeer which enables fast, open bends to be negotiated with an enormous sense of security. On smooth, secondary roads, twisting through the Herefordshire countryside, the 924 Carrera was absolutely in its element, bounding along between third and fourth gears. In the wet, discretion is needed with one's right foot, for this Porsche's power is delivered with quite an impressive surge once the turbocharger snaps into action. Easing one's right foot when adhesion is lost instantly brings the car back into line, but if you are "playing bears" watch out for the high geared steering which invites over-correction. We would have liked either "lighter" suspension geometry or power assistance for gearing as high as this Porsche's, particularly when the car is hurrying over indifferent and bumpy country roads. By the time D.S.J. and the writer had completed a busy 570-mile round trip through Wales and back to the South of England within a 24-hour period, we felt well acquainted with those local authorities who spent plenty of money on their roads — and those who didn't!
The ride is firm, by any standards, not in the same class as the Lotus Eclat which D.S.J. drove late last year and in which you could feel "each wheel working independently over differing bumps". If you need to sit well away from the steering wheel, using an almost straight-arm driving position, then the chances are that your arms will ache after a few hundred miles' driving. I must say that I kept this opinion rather to myself after my senior colleague suggested that I wasn't as used to long distance motoring as he'd been in his hey-day. Therefore, I was quite relieved when Jenks commented "I see what you mean" after taking over the wheel for half an hour.
The ventilated disc brakes all round ensured that the Carrera's powers of retardation remained undiminished throughout the period of our test. They never gave us a moment's concern or apprehension in wet or dry weather conditions; they were superb. Yes, we would have liked an adjustable steering wheel and certainly we felt that something needs to be done about the very bad reflection from the illuminated instrument panel when motoring at night, particularly the absurdly bright main beam warning lights. I refer to them in the plural - surely one should be sufficient?
Turning to accommodation and creature comforts, this two-plus-two occasional coupe can be converted into a two-seater with more than generous luggage space by pushing forward the rear seat. Its civilised side is enhanced by the provision of electrically adjustable mirrors to both the doors, a rear screen wash/wipe facility and a most effective heating and ventilation system. Most impressive of all, perhaps, was the fact that the 924 Carrera's fuel consumption averaged out 30.1 m.p.g. which gives it a potential range of more than 500 miles from a full 18.5 gallon tank!
Summing up on the Porsche 924 Carrera, we must say again that there can be few cars which are so closely identified with their racing relations. Despite our reservations about certain aspects of this car's ride, there is no doubt whatsoever that it's a tremendously quick, tractable and stunningly economical sports car for the 1980s. If you like the 924 turbo, you'll drool over the 924 Carrera. What's more, if you don't feel it has enough power then you might contact Porsche GB and ask them to sell you a full race version in which you can toddle off to Le Mans. It develops 375 b.h.p., has a 26.37 gallon fuel tank for the long spells between pit stops, and will top 180 m.p.h. It will also cost you £34,630, excluding taxes, as delivered from the factory. Of course, Porsche won't be selling that one to any keen enthusiast who walks in off the street! However, the lucky 75 owners in this country who will soon be driving round in a Porsche 924 Carrera, will be using a slice of living proof that the pure sports car concept lives on, thanks to the competitive minds of those who control Porsche destiny at Zuffenhausen. Just think what the 924 concept will be like when it's been around as long as the 911 range! — A.H.