Better Living Through Chemistry

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Ah, Brooklyn. What an odd-duck of a place you are. People know you for your artisanal cupcake boutiques, your dog walking services, your seemingly endless procession of people in beanies with cracked iPhones trumpeting the benefits of things like “media agnosticism” and “newsjacking.” It isn’t all that way though. There is, in Brooklyn, an upright, tired, honest group of people who just want to get to work. It’s an interesting combination, and one that only really exists because everyone seems to mutually ignore each other. The perfect place then, for this. This is a 1986 Porsche 944. Bear with me on this one.

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Essentially a nicer, faster version of the 924 we looked at a while back, the 944 was an interesting Porsche for it being so, well, normal. The engine is in the front, the power goes to the back wheels, there are seats that are comfortable, which, in sports cars from this era, is a word really only used in quotation marks. It’s even halfway practical, given that big glass dome of a trunk hatch. In essence, the 944 was what so many Porsches weren’t: it was honest. It didn’t have its engine in the middle or the back because, frankly, it didn’t need to. This is a Porsche that stood on its engineering alone. It was good because its engine and its chassis and its styling were good, not because its motor was in a weird place.

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Let’s talk about that engineering for just a minute. The 944 is a four cylinder, but it isn’t the VW Microbus engine in the 924 with which this car shares its sheetmetal. This car has a bigger, 2.5 liter unit. It comes from the 944’s bigger brother, the 928, which had a 5.0 liter V8. Now, I know what you’re thinking: I wonder if there’s anything new on Netflix? Well, I’ll tell you: Porsche got a four cylinder engine out of a V8 by, stay with me here, cutting it in half. That makes this four cylinder a slant 4. Now, there are all sorts of harshness and vibration issues with four cylinders- especially slant fours- so, to counteract all the secondary unbalanced forces, Porsche installed two balance shafts. This supposedly made the 944’s engine run as smoothly as any six cylinder car.

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The 944 in this guise made about 150 horsepower, as 1986 was the year they added a catalytic converter. However, if you waited until 1987, you could get a sixteen valve engine, parts of which were developed for the 924 LeMans racecar. In the last year of 944 production, you could get a 2.7 liter version which made 165 horsepower. The one you really wanted though was the Turbo. That one went all the way up to 217 horsepower, and had a 0-60 time of under six seconds. That’s pretty good by today’s standards, and I’ll just mention again this car came out in the eighties. The era when, I imagine, everyone, children and the elderly included, was buried under drifts of cocaine à la the New York City Blizzard of 2006. Oh, and you could get a 5 speed manual or a 3 speed automatic.

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The 944 is just good, in a very simple and upfront way. It’s like Sam Rockwell. He’s just good at what he does. Which is not much. Sam Rockwell should be in more movies. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the 944- and I guess Sam Rockwell also- are good without relying on tricks or embezzlement. When the 944’s engine was a little unbalanced, how did Porsche fix it? With a laser guided correction beam from space? No. They fixed it with two balance shafts. Two pieces of metal. That’s it. See what I mean? It’s simple. It’s a car that’s upright, honest, and just wants to get to work. Sound familiar?

Additional Thoughts:

  • Another thing I really enjoy about the 944 is the little details. For example, in some of the pictures above you can see an extra keyhole located behind the door. That’s to arm the alarm system.
  • There is also a little fabric flap behind the 944’s gas cap which flips down so that the gas on the cap itself doesn’t mess with the car’s paintwork.
  • The tachometer and fuel gauge in a 944 is inverted, so the needle moves from right to left, instead of left to right. I don’t know why.
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