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Longtime Toolmongers will remember me mentioning my Porsche project a couple of times on the blog, mostly surrounded by four-letter words and complaints about German engineers’ total disrespect of the auto mechanic and outrageously insane parts prices. But I have some good news to report: it’s running, and I’ve been daily driving it for about six months. Here’s part one of the whole (jackass) story.

I’ll just say it up front: I’m a total and complete sucker. When I was in high school I put on some of my more dowdy clothes (trying to dress like my dad) and headed down to the local Porsche dealership. In those (way, way) pre-9/11 days if you looked sorta OK, you could test drive a car without so much as showing a driver’s license — and that’s what I did. I conned the poor sales guy into handing over the keys to a shiny new 944 S2, one of just a few at dealerships around the country.

It was an awesome car (at the time): 208 horsepower from a normally-aspirated 3.0L four-cylinder, just 30 or so HP less than the Turbo, but without those nasty ’80s turbocharging woes. It had the Turbo’s slick nose and tail, too, plus a bevy of next-level s#!t like four-wheel anti-lock brakes and dual airbags. It was a serious automobile that listed for over $40,000 — back then.

As you might imagine, I trounced on it. I hammered it up, down, and around the local freeway and underpasses, and generally had a severely good time before returning it to the salesman, expressing disinterest, and insinuating that maybe if he got in something more interesting I’d be back.

Then a couple of years ago I was over in Mississippi visiting a friend and we stopped by his daughter’s house. And in his driveway I saw sitting a definitely-no-longer-mint 1989 Porsche 944 S2 — even the same color as the one I flogged about as a kid. With about 65k on the odometer, the owner apparently bought it from a guy in Florida a couple of years earlier, then parked it when the water pump crapped out.

(OK, that’s not entirely true. He pulled the belts off, realized he had no idea how to put ’em back on, called a couple of shops to discover it’d cost north of $2k to fix his mess, then parked it. Then backed a trailer into the driver’s door.)

I pretty much went stupid at that point, forgetting that if he drove it much after the water pump failure, he might’ve cause all sorts of nastiness inside that rare engine. And when I say “rare,” I mean r-a-r-e. Forget junkyarding. While you can find fenders, seats, suspension components, and so on all over since they’re shared with other various 944 models, the engine in the S2 is unique. And that means you’re looking for one of the few thousand that made it to U.S. shores.

I also forgot that 944 water pump replacement is filed under “oh God no” in the book mechanics use to determine “book rates.” It’s a nasty job. You’ve got to remove all the accessory belts, the timing belt, the balance shaft belt, and pretty much most of the front of the engine to get at it. Then you’ve gotta access a ton of near-inaccessible bolts to remove the pump, install the new one, and reverse the process. And that’s when everything goes right.

I also forgot that these cars just aren’t worth that much and paid out my nose for it. Sure, it’s still only a couple of grand. But in hindsight I should have offered $500. Live and learn, right?

At this point Sean enters the story, as I convinced him to drive out to Mississippi with me to trailer it back. Besides making the run in a super hurry because we didn’t have much time to spare, we also had the joy of loading it by ourselves sans winch.

Did I also mention there were three or four wasp nests under the car, too? I really wish I had a video of Sean shooting 20′ streams of waspicide into the air like the fountains at the Bellagio while fleeing the scene. Or pictures of us driving the truck into a ditch to try and get the trailer as level as possible. Or audio recordings of the words we used when our arms fell completely off ratcheting a come-along to get the car the last bit of the way onto the trailer. Sadly, I don’t. You’ll just have to trust me that it was an adventure, and we did finally get the car back into my driveway at home.

And then the real fun began.

 

14 Responses to Jackass Projects: Porsche 944 S2, Part One

  1. Toolhearty says:

    …we also had the joy of loading it by ourselves sans winch.

    I would have paid to watch this (would have even brought my own beer and munchies).

  2. A1cntrler says:

    About 2 years ago I did something similar. I bought a 1990 Anniversary Edition Thunderbird SC. The car was in Cleveland, OH and I live in Chesapeake, VA. I borrowed a trailer from a friend to make the trip. The trailer was of the variety that one would haul a large tractor on. Kind of high off the ground. Long story short, I arrived in Cleveland about 4 or 5 PM (rush hour) after leaving home and crossing the mountains. It was also storming. Did I mention I bought the car minus the engine? I got there and all I had to help me was a come-along. I think it took about an hour to get it loaded and tied down. I sympathize with you and your come-along situation. Oh yeah–then the guy tells me the hood is at his house, not at the storage he kept the car… So back across town in rush hour to get the hood.

  3. cmhunt says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this series! It sounds like much fun was had!

  4. bobk says:

    If this kind of thing ranks as insanity, it must be genetic. I (and 4 of my 6 brothers) all got it from our dad – and I am noticing similar things occurring in my nephews as they come of age.

    😉

    My own most famous (there are still mentions at family gatherings) personal mania was a Lotus Europa Twin Cam. In small town Kansas. In the early eighties. Sigh……

    Looking forward to the next installment,
    Bobk

  5. Josh says:

    Good stuff. But, I have to disagree. I’ve had an 86 944 turbo for ~15 years. My late father bought it as a toy and it is the only major thing I have from him. I do all the work myself. After this and a couple BMWs I have really grown to appreciate the german engineering. Parts really aren’t very expensive if you know where to shop and there is a wealth of help out there on Rennlist and Clark’s Garage. Belts, seals, and waterpump are a breeze ever few years. I guess my appreciation may have something to do with the fact that I’m a mechanical engineer. Once you figure everything it out, it really does make sense. Great handling, great performance for the day (even without easy mods), and super quality. I’m still amazed at how great things have held up over 23 years. Close the door and it sounds like a vault closing. And this thing has not been babied…just taken care of.

    You know what they say…”the most expensive porsche you will ever buy is the cheap one”.

    Cheers, Josh

  6. paanta says:

    My first car was a 924. After that it was a string of 10 VW’s and Audis. Then back into the BMW world for the last couple years. Right now, I’m about $3K in parts into a $3K ’91 535i, so yeah…I feel your pain.

    Just try doing a timing belt on a 1998+ Passat. Somehow the Germans managed to make maintenance even worse than it was in those water cooled Posches.

  7. dar says:

    -back in ”88 had a audi/vw parts dept job& was astounded at the number of switches,relays etc they stocked- bags&bags of them, whereas,honda,toyota&mazda carried at most three
    -customers would come in for LOF &’Oh,please replace the window winder motor Again’
    -fastfwd 21 yrs& canadiandrver.com did a writeup on used audis…
    with owner comments…
    -the Prince of Darkness is still alive… in Deutschland

  8. Chuck Cage says:

    @Josh: That’s awesome. In hindsight, I wish I’d bought one that was better taken care of. I could have easily found one in the range of what I’ve got in the car now, and I’d have a lot more to work with than what I’ve got.

    As you’ll see in a future installment, the water pump for the S2 is really nasty price-wise. Other stuff wasn’t that cheap, either, but nothing was as bad as the pump.

    re: German engineering, I totally respect the engineering. As far as functionality, Porsche’s design is excellent. For the mechanic, not so much. Some items are needlessly difficult to deal with, leading to some sage advice from a friend (whom I’ve obviously ignored): Lease German cars for short periods. Don’t buy ’em.

  9. Shopmonger says:

    Chuck I feel for you brother…..I have all the same issues with My Subaru SVX, can’t find parts all that easy, and no cheap ones……There were only 25,000 made…… Keep up the work though, having a rare car is worth it….

    ShopMonger

  10. Chris says:

    Chuck,
    Looks like you can get the water pump (Bosch) from RockAuto for $280.79. Not cheap but not unmanageable. The other option is an AC Delco (?) for $428.79. Ouch.

  11. Jim K. says:

    My momentary lapse of sanity was a ’68 Mustang. One look at that vehicle should’ve told me to keep walking by. One complete wiring harness, a new engine block, redone brakes (everything), and a fair bit of body work later and she was complete. Just in time to need to be sold. Would I do it again, probably. What can I say, I’m a sucker too.

  12. Abe says:

    I’m not affiliated with the above website but have ridden in a 944 that used one of their LS series V8 swap kits. Absolutely amazing. All the German handling with American parts availability and reliability. Truly worth it.

  13. Marcel says:

    Chuck,

    Sorry you had a bad experience… I too owned an 89′ 944 2.7l, I loved my car and I did too have mechanical issues, but like Josh, I researched and was able to find parts that I needed and did the work myself. I particularly liked buying parts from Ian @ Ians Euro Parts, in fact he bought the car from my wife while I was in Iraq. At one point I bought a complete set of cooling hoses from Ian for about $85.00, and honestly I don’t know anywhere where you can buy hoses for a domestic car for that little $$$. But on the design of the 944, I agree that they have stuffed quite and engine in that little bay, but it is a marvel of engineering what with the balancing shafts and all, and that being at the time the largest 4 cylinder engines in the world… A pity that Mitsubishi owned the rights for the balance shaft design… My next Porsche will be a 968!!! I currently drive an Audi A6 Avant Quattro V6, talk about having to take a lot of things apart to get to he water pump…

  14. Josh says:

    Sorry Chuck, didn’t mean to discount your experience. I think we have all wrestled with some of the issues you are dealing with. That said, wouldn’t want someone to shy away because of fear. These really are a great car. Like Marcel, I’m looking for a 968. Just love the design of these things. A lot of bang for the buck if you ask me.

    Chuck, I’m glad you have decided to make things right. Too many people get overwhelmed and end up parting them out. Not enough respect for the front engined siblings.

    Great stuff, keep it coming.

    Cheers, Josh

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