Porsche 968 buyers’ guide leading from the front. A Porsche handling legend for just £12k. Why would you want to buy anything else? Words: Steve Bennett. Photography: Antony Fraser.
What’s the rarest car that Porsche has produced in the past 25-years or so? It’s the Porsche 968 of course and, on a number of levels, it’s one of the best cars Porsche ever produced. Best? Well it was the final incarnation of a model that started in 1976 with the 924 and as such benefited from years of development and tweaking. Rarest? Indeed. Between the 968’s launch in 1992 and its demise in 1995, just 12,776 968s were built. In current production terms that’s micro car building.
So back to the first bit. Why is it so good? Why when anyone (particularly motoring journos) starts talking about ultimate handling cars and track day weapons, does the 968 always feature? Because in the next breath they’ll start talking about the 968’s near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, a feature of its front engined/rear mounted transaxle layout. And it’s true; it really does give the 968 an amazing handling balance.
The other rather good bit is the unusually large 3-litre, four cylinder engine. This normally aspirated unit features Porsche’s take of variable valve timing, called VarioCam, and provides the engine with an unusually broad spread of power. It produces 240bhp at just 6200rpm and an impressive 225lb ft of torque at 4100rpm. In real world driving terms the 968 has got it all where you want it, but it will also rev to its near 7000rpm red line with a smoothness that is assisted by the twin balance shafts that cancel out the bad vibes inherent in a large four-pot.
Performance? Porsche’s rather conservative figures are a top speed of 156mph and 0-60mph in 6.5 secs. All that forward momentum is accessed via the 968’s chunky shifting six-speed gearbox that lives in the transaxle. The clutch is bolted to the rear of the engine and drive to the gearbox is via a torque tube, which is effectively a prop that spins at engine speed within a tube. Suspension-wise the 968 is relatively conventional with MacPherson struts up front connected to lightweight lower alloy wishbones, and at the rear there’s semi-trailing arms with torsion bars. Brakes are discs all round with four-pot alloy calipers front and rear.
Above all the 968 has the build quality that you’d expect from Germany’s master sports car builder, and it shows everywhere. It is from that era when the likes of Porsche, Mercedes and VW/Audi went over-engineering mad.
The model that gets all the press, and the one featured here under the glare of studio tungsten, is the Club Sport, which is the version that we will concentrate on. Assume that described above is the standard 968, complete with niceties such as proper reclining seats and full sound proofing, and you’ll have the range pretty much covered.
The Club Sport followed a long Porsche tradition of binning unwanted weight to create a car dedicated to the dynamics of driving. Items such as central locking, electric mirrors/windows, rear wiper, back seats and more went in the skip. Lightweight bucket seats, lowered suspension and larger 18in wheels arrived.
Taking things further, there was also the M030 kit, which introduced a limited slip diff, adjustable Koni dampers and bigger 911 Turbo spec front brake calipers. This is the Holy Grail of 968 Club Sports. In all only 2000 Club Sports were built.
Other UK models included the Sport, which basically featured the Club Sport’s suspension mods, but had full trim and the electric bits. There was also a cabrio and an ultra rare Turbo S of which only a handful were ever built.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR ENGINE
It’s a Porsche engine so naturally it’s super-tough. The bottom end features a steel crank and rods and forged pistons in a lightweight alloy block with steel liners that are Nikasil lined. You shouldn’t need to worry about it and there are plenty still going strong at well over 250,000-miles.
It’s the top end that you need to pay attention to. There are a lot of belts whizzing around on the front of the engine and these need changing regularly. The cam belt drives the exhaust camshaft, which in turn drives the inlet cam via two sprockets and a short chain. The sprockets have been known to break and lose teeth, so it’s worth lifting the cam cover.
The chain should be changed every 70,000-miles. The cam belt tensioner needs to be renewed every 50,000-miles, too. The twin balance shaft belts also need to be changed every 50,000-miles along with the cam belt. If there is no evidence of all of the above having been done in the last 50-70,000-miles, then just do it anyway for peace of mind. The VarioCam system has no particular weak spots.
Bottom line. Engines are tough and should run and run with proper maintenance. Servicing is every 12,000-miles although we’d change the oil at 6000 to be safe.
The rear-mounted Getrag sixspeeder is generally reliable and rewarding to use. However the transaxle can suffer from pinion wear, which will be audible from a whining from the rear especially on the overrun. It’s a gearbox out job to sort and some owners suggest that replacing the gearbox oil every 20,000-miles is the way forward.
The front mounted clutch will last the distance with a more sympathetic owner. It gets heavier as replacement looms but at least Porsche have thoughtfully incorporated an inspection slot in the side of the clutch housing, which means a new unit can be just slotted in rather than removing the torque tube, clutch housing etc.
SUSPENSION AND BRAKES
A couple of niggles here. First the lower alloy wishbones can suffer wear to the ball joints connecting them to the stub axle. This will become apparent with vibration through the steering wheel.
Porsche sells this as a complete unit and it’s expensive at £400 per side (£175 from an independent). However, there are a couple of options that are a lot cheaper. Lancashire based 944/968 experts, Hartech, will supply exchange wishbones with new ball joints at a fraction of the cost. Dudley-based Porscheshop can supply modified steel versions as fitted to earlier 944s, for £270 per pair. And despite being steel they are barely any heavier.
Otherwise there are no real problems with the suspension other than bushes and dampers wearing out over time. The front alloy brake calipers do over time develop a specific problem. The brake pads sit on a stainless steel plate screwed to the top and bottom of each caliper. Over a period of years this steel plate lifts from the alloy caliper thanks to corrosion and a reaction between the two metals. This eventually gets so bad that the brake pad can’t be removed. The only solution is to remove the calipers, clean up the corrosion and replace the steel plates. You’ll probably want to give the calipers a lick of black paint at the same time.
INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR
The body shell is galvanised so any flaky bits will probably be down to accident damage. If you’re looking at a Club Sport then check it thoroughly for track abuse. The polyurethane nose, side skirts and rear section can become slightly deformed and, with some colours, the paint can start to fade at a different rate to the paint on the steel panels.
The rear tailgate and its massive glass area can be the source of all sorts of annoying squeaks. It’s locked down by a couple of pins with a retaining mechanism. These can both be replaced and usually you’ll find that cures the problem. Inside the trim is pretty hard wearing although the constant sliding in and out of the lowslung driver’s seat can take its toll on the side bolsters. Overall if the car has been well looked after, then the interior should be in good shape.
Another common problem is with the heating and ventilation. It’s a complicated system featuring vacuum pipes and stepper motors and an electronic control unit in the dash. Often the control unit will go on the blink causing the heater to go haywire. Fortunately exchange units are available from Porsch- Apart for around £80. The rods controlled by the stepper motors can become detached leaving you either baking or freezing. Remove the inside of the glove compartment and you’ll doubtless see one of the rods hanging limply. Clip it back into position and you’ll be back in business.
It’s unlikely that you would take a 968 to an official Porsche dealer. Indeed, most probably haven’t seen one for years. However, there are plenty of independent Porsche specialistss out there with very reasonable hourly labour rates. Average servicing costs are: 12k service, £250; 24k service, £365; cam belt change, £320; clutch change, £680.
Service parts can be surprisingly cheap and even Euro Car Parts stock a lot of OE parts at very competitive prices through its carparts911.co.uk brand. Add to that outfits like Porsch-Apart, which carry new and second-hand parts, and running a 968 needn’t be too pricey. In terms of depreciation the 968 has pretty much levelled out too, so you should see your money back when you come to sell.
This is what it’s all about. We’ve touched on the driving experience, now let’s elaborate. Clamped into the Club Sport’s fixed bucket and gripping the chunky RS spec wheel and the 968 feels pretty dammed good, and that’s before you’ve even moved off.
The engine turns lazily – as it would given the size of the pistons – and there is a charismatic rumble to it. Gear selection (it’s a six-speed ’box) is biased to the centre so first requires a little pull over to the left before slotting into place. The clutch is meaty but light enough.
On the road and you’re swamped by the initial flow of feedback. The engine has a power band that seems to stretch like elastic, while the gearshift is chunky and quick. The steering has a weight and a feel to it and sitting low to the flow in that thinly padded bucket seat just accentuates the feedback from the chassis.
Hook the above together and point the 968 down your favourite stretch of Tarmac and be prepared for the penny to drop. This is what a good reardrive chassis is all about. It has a balance and a poise that you can feel and exploit. It corners near flat and as the apex unfurls you can feel the rear end dip as you put the power down and the big four lugs itself out onto the next straight. This is a deeply satisfying car to drive.
IN THE CLASSIFIEDS
1994 968 CLUB SPORT
Black cloth interior
1994 968 CLUB SPORT
Grey leather interior
1993 968 COUPE
Grey leather interior
‘I BOUGHT ONE’ ANDREW LEWIS
For me it was a natural progression. I’d had a 924, then a couple of 944s – a Lux, followed by an S2 – so a 968 was the next step. Why the frontengined cars? Well, they are just great to drive and great value for money too and they feel modern in a way that some 911s really don’t. Initially I was after a 968 Club Sport, but when I was looking a few years ago, they were a very popular track day option, and so many of the cars I looked at were hard-worked and worn. Don’t get me wrong, they were healthy enough, but track work does take its toll mechanically and cosmetically.
I decided to open out my search to includes 968 Sports. With so few on the market or with dealers, I knew that I was going to have to seriously entertain the thought of a private sale, and the risks (no warranty or comeback if anything goes wrong) that go with that. Still, at least a private sale would be potentially cheaper than a dealer sale.
And I struck lucky. A Sport slipped onto the market via Autotrader (perhaps not the most obvious place to look for a 968). It was a probate sale, a 1993 car, with, wait for it, just 50,000 miles on the clock and only two previous owners. The Holy Grail then and just £10,000. I didn’t even haggle.
I didn’t waste any time in going to see it. It was everything I had hoped for. Genuine mileage, a great service history and even the right colour – silver, with a black interior. As you would expect, it drove like a new car – tight, no rattles and with a feeling of solidity that not even the best of my 944s had.
Starting with such a good car makes a huge difference to the ownership experience. With some of my earlier front-engined cars, I was always running to keep up on the maintenance front. Now, though, it’s just a question of ongoing management. Oh, and did I say it’s fantastic to drive?
Tyres (each) £84.00 front, £115.oorear (Continental)
Front pads (set): £46.20
Front discs (pair): £114.00
Distributor cap: £58.22
Exhaust system: £1356.90
12,000-mile service: £255.00
Brake fluid change: £50.00
WHAT THE PRESS SAID
On the road the 968 not only out-handles its closest rival, the Maxda RX-7, but also every Ferrari, Lamborghini and even the Honda NSX. And underneath all this sophistication, the 968 is just a simple, oldfashioned sideways machine. Autocar, Jan 1993
Whether you dawdled or boogied, the 968 worked with you. On a certain type of road – smooth, winding, with the off-camber corner – the car was disturbingly close to perfect. Few cars were as well balanced as a 968. Russell Bulgin, Autocar, Jan 1996
We like driving the new 968, but no matter how artfully Porsche face-lifts this old soldier, it has become much too long in the tooth to compete against newer designs such as the Nissan 300ZX Turbo, the Mazda RX-7 or the Corvette. Car and Driver, May 1991
O/E and good quality pattern parts at great prices
A great range of O/E and quality pattern parts, plus good value 968
tuning parts under Porscheshop’s EuroCupGT range Porsch-Apart
New and second hand parts
Servicing and tuning parts from a comprehensive stock list, plus Design 911’s own Designtek tuning parts range Ninex
These guys know a thing or two about 968s, having raced them competitively in the Porsche Club Championship
WHAT TO PAY
Prices for 968s are very much a two-tier scenario. Basically Club Sports command the big money, and then there is everything else. With so few cars built in the first place, it’s not exactly a buyers’ market either. However, Club Sport prices have averaged out at around £15,000 for a decent, dealer supplied car. Really low mileage cars can be significantly higher. Indeed at the time of writing, one dealer had a 44,000 mile Club Sport up at £28,000.
There are bargains to be had, particularly privately. Under £15,000 will get you a 968 Sport, which is basically a comfort spec Club Sport, and none the worse for that. £10,000 and under and you’re looking at standard Coupe models. Few 968s seem to have suffered in the same way that some 944s have, so you’re unlikely to find any really neglected cars. That said, a bad one is probably beyond economic repair.
SPECIFICATION PORSCHE 968
Engine 2990cc, 4-cylinder, 16v, DOHC
Transmission Six-speed manual
Max power 240bhp at 6200rpm
Max torque 225lb ft at 4100rpm
Brakes Vented 297mm front and vented 300mm rear discs
Wheels & tyres 7.5x17in (f), 9x17in (r) 225/45 ZR17 (f), 255/40 ZR17(r)
Weight 1335kg (Club Sport)
0-60mph 6.5 secs
Top speed 156mph
Price when new £27,750