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Classic cars are often labors of love. Classic Porsche sports cars are something else. The sublime, raw driving experience is a draw for many. And a car like the Porsche 944 is an affordable way into one of the most engaging sports car brands of all time. 

A Porsche for under $20K? That’s the 944

Despite a relatively small number of models on the open market, Porsche 944 pricing isn’t in the realm of other air-cooled Porsche models. Often priced below $20,000, a majority of these sporty hatchbacks are more affordable than a modern Toyota Corolla. In sports car terms, they’re a bargain, and in classic Porsche terms, that’s more or less a steal.

The looks of the 944 are very much 80s-chic, with boxy front and rear bumper add-ons and a molded rear spoiler, there’s no doubting when this sports car hit the market.

Today though, the 944 is an icon of 80s Porsche lore. Sporting a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 144 horsepower, or 190 ponies in the later “S” model, it’s not about to light up a drag strip. And as a front-engined, rear-drive sports coupe, it is a departure from the rear-engine antics that truly define Porsche.

None of those factors stop the 944 from being an enjoyable car to drive.

Weighing just under 2,800 pounds, the 190-horsepower engine provided plenty of punch to keep you engaged behind the wheel. Plus, a majority of 944 models came with a five-speed manual, though a few rare models did feature an automatic gearbox.

Problems with the Porsche 944 transaxle make it a tough sell

A Porsche 944 and Porsche 718 parked in the snow
Porsche 944 and Porsche 718 | Porsche Media

On the surface, it seems like a classic Porsche model for less than $20,000 is an easy decision. But not so fast. The Porsche 944’s transaxle is a painfully expensive part to repair or replace. Popular Porsche forum, Rennlist, is full of users discussing their various transaxle problems. One common problem are the synchros, which aid in smoothing the transition between gears for simplified manual shifting. Replacing these involves removing the transmission from the car altogether, and rebuilding the gearbox.

While a few report costs in the $700 to $1000 region, others say that rebuilding the 944 transaxle costs upwards of $2,000 or more. That’s not a manageable repair bill, and transaxle problems aren’t the kind of thing that can be dealt with later.

Once things start going wrong, there’s a fairly short runway until the 944 is inoperable, and the increased risk of further damage is not worth the delay. Should the 944 transaxle need new bearings, gears, and input shafts, the price can quickly climb well into four figures.

Is a used Porsche 944 a good car?

Outside of its transmission problems, the Porsche 944 tends to be a reliable classic sports car. The four-cylinder engine is simple to maintain, and few major issues arise outside of the standard wear items. As usual with any classic car, understanding its history and current state is more important than the mileage or number of owners. If you do your homework and know what you’re getting into, a used 944 could be an excellent sports car bargain.


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