Mint 968 Drop-Top. This immaculate 968 drop-top proves the model delivers as much ‘show’ as it does ‘go’. Flying Colours 968 Cabriolet Finished in rare Mint Green, this immaculate 968 drop-top proves the magnificent model delivers just as much ‘show’ as it does ‘go’… Words Dan Furr. Photography Dan Sherwood.
Despite the colourful variety of hot hatches and sporty saloons car manufacturers have laid before us over the years, one body style manages to exude glamour like no other: the cabriolet. It’s a simple idea remaining popular throughout automotive history, and it doesn’t take much to bring to mind images of the rich and famous cruising about in exotic drop-tops while Joe Public pootles around in comparatively drab machinery.
It’s safe to assume Porsche is one of the marques most people will visualise when asked to picture a roofless sports car, but how many will tell you they’ve brought to mind the image of a 968? We’ll wager the answer to that questions is “not very many”, and even fewer will be thinking about a Mint Green open-air 968. The fact less than 4,500 968 Cabriolets rolled off the Porsche production line — more than half that number were exported to the USA — explains why the casual car fan might not be familiar with the model. Moreover, it won’t take long for you to count the number of Mint Green examples built — just three of these distinctively styled 968s were sold in North America, and only one of the trio was a Cabriolet. It’s a similar story in the UK, where just 218 968 Cabriolets landed on British shores.
COMMERCIALLY, THE 968 WAS A FLOP, BUT DYNAMICALLY, IT REMAINS ONE OF THE KEENEST, MOST DRIVEABLE AND PREDICTABLE CARS PORSCHE HAS EVER BUILT
The 944 enjoyed success as blistering as its sills, and after the release of the S2 in 1989, factory bosses made plans to further develop the model. The next-gen 944 was set to wear the S3 designation, but so extensive were the proposed changes, it became clear the resulting model would be verging on an entirely new Porsche. With CEO, Peter Schutz, out the door, Ulrich Bez stamped a new, randomly generated badge on the four-cylinder transaxle line’s ultimate development. The 968 was born.
Launched in August 1991 for the 1992 model year, the new sports car from Zuffenhausen made use of a claimed eighty percent new parts and design when compared to its predecessor. Even so, lineage all the way back to the 924 of 1976 was clear to see — the basic profile from the 968’s curvaceous wheel arches upwards, including the coupe’s window silhouette, was clearly inherited from the first model to be listed in Porsche’s transaxle range. Keen to forge a ‘family resemblance’ between its then available line of cars, however, chief designer, Harm Lagaay, introduced 928-style visible pop-up headlamps to the 968. The 944’s wide rear quarters remained, though more integrated bumpers, smoother lines and gently curved corners joined them. Neat touches included revised wing junctions, as well as door handles and mirrors which debuted on the 968 before being fitted to the 993-generation 911. A Fuba ‘bee sting’ aerial was included, as was a subtle Porsche script between all-red rear light lenses. 968 badging was proudly displayed above them.
The new Porsche romped from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds thanks to an upgraded version of the 944’s four-cylinder sixteen-valve engine. Displacement was now 2,990cc with a power figure of 240bhp in a standard state of tune. A new exhaust and revised induction equipment ensured the more powerful engine could breathe easily, while updated engine management software and a dual-mass flywheel helped to enhance the basic package. Big news concerned the introduction of Porsche’s new VarioCam variable valve timing (VVT) system. Debuting on the 968, the VVT arrangement would become a feature — some would say a defining one — of the last air-cooled 911. Applied to the 968’s inline-four, VarioCam came on song between 1,500rpm and 5,500rpm, assisting the production of 225lb-ft torque at 4,100rpm. The last four-cylinder Porsche until 2016’s 718 Boxster, the 968 had both the power and the technology to match its streamlined appearance.
Here’s where Porsche fans really get talking about the 968: name a Porsche convertible that’s better looking than its coupe equivalent. Tricky one, eh?! Granted, a 356 Speedster is pretty damn gorgeous from whichever angle you look at it, but if asked to pick from the modern crop of Stuttgart metal? You might be left scratching your head. Wind the clock back, however, and the 968 is, in the eyes of many Porschephiles, the exception to the rule.
Commercially, of course, the car was a flop, hence the low production volume and hardly anyone outside Porsche circles knowing about it, but dynamically, it remains one of the keenest, most driveable and predictable cars Porsche has ever built. Autocar declared the 968 to be “the world’s best-handling car.” Car added its voice to the debate: “there has never been a better-balanced, front-engined, rear-drive car than the 944 Turbo, yet the 968 is just as good. Fast, sure-footed and manoeuvrable, it’s thoroughly entertaining on winding roads.” The deal was sealed. Porsche had done what seemed like the impossible: it had developed the 944 (the most successful product in the Stuttgart brand’s back catalogue until the arrival of the 986 Boxster) into a model even more admired by the motoring press.
Adding to the appeal, this slice example of transaxle excellence was available as a soft-top. Forged lightweight pistons and connecting rods, coupled with an increased compression ratio, allowed maximum power at a very credible 6,200rpm. With the high-revving four-pot seated up-front and VarioCam providing pronounced shove, the Cabriolet was capable of launching to 60mph from a standing start in 6.5 seconds, topping out at 165mph. A new six-speed gearbox was a ratio up on the outgoing 944’s transmission. North American buyers less than thrilled at the prospect of stirring yet another Porsche ‘stick shift’ took comfort in the option of the then three-year-old 964-derived four-speed Tiptronic as a cost option, though the system makes the 968 feel heavy, almost agricultural, most unlike much later developments of the same transmission. Familiar equipment remained in the form of a chassis kit inherited from the 944 S2, one that could trace its roots back to the 944 Turbo. Like the force-fed model, the 968 included Brembo four-pot calipers, while extensive use of new aluminium suspension components kept weight down to 1,370kg.
In addition to new cast alloy control arms, stiffer antiroll bars and new dampers, the body shell was all new.
Porsche’s financial situation, however, was evident in the finished product: those polyurethane bumpers and large ‘hockey stick’ side skirts were attached to galvanized steel panelwork, where large gaps were a result of using the 944’s chassis tooling, strong reminders of the budget restraints placed upon Porsche’s design team during a period when the company’s future looked decidedly uncertain. On the plus side, with so few 968 Cabriolets built, the model is one of the rarest, most robust and underrated drop-tops ever manufactured.
The magnificent Mint Green example pictured on these pages was registered in May 1994, during the height of Britpop. Supplied new by Porsche Centre Cambridge, the car has remained in the East of England since that time. Pretty much standard specification throughout, it benefits from being owned by enthusiasts who have spared no expense to keep the rare retro ride in the very best condition possible. To that end, a recent transmission overhaul ensures slick shifting, while a wealth of new genuine Porsche parts supplied by Porsche Centre Hatfield includes a new gear knob, handbrake cover, gaiters, floor mats, cigar lighter and a rear luggage compartment carpet. The paintwork pops thanks to detailing work carried out by car care company, Cambridge Concours. Interestingly, this super-cooled Cabriolet was supplied to its first owner with wheels colour-matched to the bright bodywork. Now finished in subtle silver, they’re wrapped around recently refurbished brake calipers powdercoated yellow.
The 944 Cabriolet and, consequently, the 968 Cabriolet, was largely a response to the threat posed by car makers from the Land of the Rising Sun to Porsche’s dominance of the lucrative sports car sales sector. The front-engined, rear-wheel drive, four-cylinder Mazda MX-5 was selling like hot cakes (going on to become the most successful two-seater sports car in history) and Porsche recognised it needed to update its front-engined, rear-wheel drive, four-cylinder line-up with an open-air option. If you’re thinking of jumping out of an MX-5 into a 968, however, be prepared for how heavy the Porsche feels by comparison. Of course, it’s heading squarely towards double the Mazda’s kerb weight, making for a lousy power to weight ratio, but that doesn’t make it any less of a true driver’s car.
The Porsche’s near equal front-back weight distribution, for example, makes sure the heft being carried is supremely managed, as declared by two-time World Rally Championship victor, Walter Röhrl, shortly after model launch, when he famously announced the 968 as being the best-handling car Porsche had ever made. Praise indeed, though the 968 being such a well-balanced machine is what makes it so easy to live with, and why so many owners use their examples as daily drivers, even today.
Climbing into the minty marvel’s figure-hugging ‘tombstones’, we’re reminded of how good the oval-styled dash introduced to the 944 Turbo and carried over to S2 and 968 production is, though the jury’s out on whether the inclusion of faux wood inserts for this particular car was a wise decision. No matter, for when the three-litre lump up front (the biggest four-cylinder powerplant fitted to a production car for many years) roars into life, the only thing you’ll want to be concerned with is pushing forward and allowing VarioCam to do its thing.
This engine sounds as gruff as the car’s significant footprint (more than 4.3 metres in length) might suggest, the noise all the more vibrant in a Porsche lacking a roof. It’s a glorious din and one easily controlled by the excellent positioning of the 944-inherited pedals, stubby gearstick and steering wheel, further helping illustrate our point about how easy the 968 is to work with for drivers of all abilities, not to mention how ahead of the curve Porsche was when it came to cabin design back in the mid-1980s.
The torque on tap urges the car onward, high speed reached quickly, superior grip providing ample confidence when tackling tight corners at significant pace. By period standards, it’s a big sports car, but the chassis is sublime and the steering precise. Perhaps there’s an argument for the 968 being too comfortable and, perhaps, too easy to control, but if you’re after a less civilised 968 driving experience, there’s always the option of buying the range-topping Clubsport, but be mindful of the fact it’s unlikely to be a car you’ll want to live with every day and, of course, there’s no Clubsport Cabriolet.
If there’s a benefit to the wider world being unaware of the 968’s existence, it’s that prices on today’s used car market are relatively low (expect change out of fifteen grand for a low-mileage Cabriolet). Considering parts availability is high, it’s difficult to think of another retro Porsche offering quite so much bang for your buck. This really is one of the best equipped, best handling Porsches to date, with superb styling being a major part of the package. And if you hear anybody speaking to the contrary, simply show them pictures of this Mint Green 968 Cabriolet, one of Porsche’s most attractive topless glamour models.
Above Interior is another 944 hangover, but looks fresh, even by most modern automotive design standards. Below One of the only Porsches considered better looking than its coupe equivalent.
Facing page The 968’s three-litre lump can trace its roots back to the 944 S2, when the unit was heralded as the largest production inline-four of its time. Above The 968 was Porsche’s last new front-engined model until the introduction of the Cayenne in 2003.
HIT THE ROAD
A 968 Roadster concept was produced in 1992 to evaluate the enticing prospect of a more glamorous open-top Porsche. Ditched in favour of the stunning Boxster concept of 1993, the Roadster was penned by Porsche design legend, Harm Lagaay. Fixed 993-style headlights, a lower windscreen rake and a widened rear deck marked the Roadster as something special. Speedlines borrowed from the 964 range, vivid Tahoe Blue paintwork and a colour-coded dash inlay were also added to the one-off rag-top.
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1993 Porsche 968 Cabriolet
Engine 2990cc in-line four-cylinder, dohc, Bosch DME electronic fuel injection
Power and torque 240bhp @ 6200rpm; 225lb ft @ 4100rpm / DIN
Transmission Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Front: independent, wishbones, MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, antiroll bar
Rear: independent, driveshafts, transverse torsion bars, transverse tube, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Discs front and rear
Steering Rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
Weight 1320kg (2910lb)
Performance Top speed: 157mph; 0-60mph: 6.5sec (est)
Fuel consumption 32mpg (est)
Cost new n/a