It’s A Van’s World

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This is a 1984 Porsche 924. Introduced in 1976, the 924 was a bit like Donald Trump’s current presidential campaign: almost universally hated at first, but after awhile people inexplicably seemed to come around to the idea. With good reason too (I’m talking about the car now) because it really was a genuinely good little sportscar. The reason people hated it was not totally unfounded either. Here was a Porsche- a brand that was forged in the fires of World War II, a brand that put an engine in the trunk of a car and somehow made it brilliant– releasing a front-engined, four cylinder “low cost” option. Who exactly did they think they were, Toyota? The answer, as it turns out, was a little more nefarious.

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The Porsche 924 started out in life as a Volkswagen. VW and Porsche have always been tight, and in the early seventies VW thought they’d ask their good buddy to build them a sportscar- nothing too fancy, just a little weekend toy to park next to the more utilitarian Squareback in the driveway. Then the Oil Crisis hit, and VW decided that a “weekend toy” probably wasn’t the best message to be sending to the cash-strapped industry, so they dropped the project. Porsche then proceeded to pick it right back up, stick a Porsche logo on it, and put it on sale. They were plucky like that back then. I miss that Porsche. Now they’ve gotten all confused with leather-wrapped rearview mirrors and illuminated doorsills that cost as much as a South Florida condo, and social media campaigns that say things like #nocompromises and whatever else. It’s all so- I don’t know- hollow. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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When it went on sale, the 924 had a 2-liter inline four cylinder mated to a four speed transmission. This wasn’t a new engine- it had seen duty in the Audi 100 and, more notably, the VW Microbus. That’s right- a Porsche, long the accessory of choice for high-profile investment bankers, lawyers and people who wear Bluetooth earpieces, shares an engine with the quintessential hippie van. Oh, what would we do if we couldn’t laugh? The cylinder heads were from Porsche, so there was a bit of uniqueness there. The transmission was from Audi as well, a four speed unit, but this particular car has a five speed that was used in some of the later versions of the 924.

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Another word about the engine- part of the reason people weren’t exactly jumping on the 924 train in the beginning, particularly in the US, was that it was pretty grossly underpowered. American cars had to make do with only 95 horsepower, while the Europeans fared a little better with something around 125. This was okay, and even that’s being generous, because the 924 really started to shine when Porsche wised up and started offering faster, better handling, and more performance-oriented cars like the 924S and the 924 Turbo. Here’s where it all starts to go downhill, though. Versions of the turbo 924 cost in excess of twice the price of the standard car. That’s absurd. And even worse than that, because the 924 was so cheap to start out, it let Porsche start to move the 911 upmarket, which was, to me at least, the end of a very good thing.

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Porsche’s entire lineup today is inherently compromised. The 911 has it’s engine in the rear, which was quirky in the beginning, but for a company that trumpets being the best it can be, it’s just stubborn now. The Porsche 911 would be better if it was midengined. And Porsche knows this too, as with every generation the engine creeps closer and closer to the backseat. And then the Boxter/Cayman pair, which are midengined, are constantly held back from being truly stellar cars, because Porsche doesn’t want them to step on the 911’s toes. And then the Cayenne, Macan and Panamera are good, but really just exist to make money. Which is fine, but again: inherently compromised. There are glimmers of light in the darkness- the new Cayman GT4 being one of them- but I still think that Porsche has the wrong idea trumpeting the 911 as a “halo car” instead of just a “good sportscar.” And it all started with this: VW’s lost pet project. If Porsche didn’t do this, then they might not have started craft the 911 into a luxury car, and the whole brand would be better because of it. Anyway, have I rambled too long? Yeah, I have. I’ll end with this: I like the 924- how could you not, really?- but I don’t like what it did to change one of the most storied brands in automotive history. In short, it made Porsche smart.

Additional Thoughts:

  • The Audi engine in this Porsche, in addition to being used in the Microbus, also saw duty in the AMC Gremlin, Concord and Spirit.
  • The design of the 924 is said to have influenced the design of early Mazda RX-7’s.
  • This was the first Porsche to feature a water-cooled, front-engine setup.
  • We’re back in London! But only for this post. Coming up next is an extended trip to Berlin. Which, I’m told, is in Germany.
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2 thoughts on “It’s A Van’s World

  1. Pingback: DuckTails | Forgotten metal

  2. Pingback: Better Living Through Chemistry | Forgotten metal

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