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Car and Driver: Mostly Unrevered, Critically Important: Porsche Celebrates the 924


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While Britain and Italy enjoyed great success during the 1960s with front-engined, four-cylinder, rear-drive sports cars like the MGB and the recently revived Fiat 124 Spider, the Germans had done without. BMW was without such a machine entirely, and Mercedes-Benz retired the 190 SL in 1963, replacing it with the more stately Pagoda. Meanwhile, elsewhere in greater Stuttgart, Porsche was cycling through variations on a theme at a furious pace. Air-cooled four-cylinders, sixes, eights, and eventually twelves—all horizontally opposed—powered the decade’s racing machines, while the road cars carried a varied collection of fours and sixes, mounted either behind the driver or behind the rear wheels.


The motley mix included evolutions of the VW-derived pushrod four in the 356 and the 912, as well as the fiendishly complex Fuhrmann four-cam race engine used in the 550 family, the 904, and the 356 Carrera models. Meanwhile, the recently introduced flat-six grew in power throughout the decade. VW’s new Type 4 pushrod flat-four saw duty in the 914 introduced for 1970, but the car proved more expensive to build than Porsche had planned. As a stopgap, the Hans Mezger-massaged two-liter version of the engine was stuffed into a 911 and sold as the 912E for 1976, but that was only to hold the line until Porsche’s first front-engined, liquid-cooled automobile was ready for sale later that year.




Like the 914, the 924 was originally developed for Volkswagen, which had recently purchased Audi. Porsche’s engineers had a mandate to use VW/Audi parts whenever possible, perhaps due to lessons learned via the star-crossed development and sale of the 914. Though often maligned as a VW wearing Porsche badges, in all actuality, the 914 used very little from the VW parts bin beyond the Type 4 engine. The 924, as designed, was more friendly to economies of scale. Porsche took an Audi front-drive transaxle and mounted it in the rear of the new model, redesigned the Audi 2.0-liter engine’s cylinder head—and then were suddenly told by VW that the company was changing directions and opting for the Golf-based Scirocco instead. Porsche purchased the design back from Volkswagen, and made a deal to produce the new sports car at the old NSU plant in Neckarsulm.


As was the case with its predecessor, purists scoffed at the new car. But Porsche truly believed at the time that a front-mounted, water-cooled engine was the way forward. The 928, which followed the 924 to market two years later, was meant to put the archaic 911 to bed. And, in a sense, they were right in their thinking. The latest entry-level Porsche sports car, the 718, features a liquid-cooled engine driving a transaxle. It’s just that the engine’s orientation reaches back to the very first 356, before the company decided to go rear-engined in the name of cost. And, in the name of tradition, it’s a boxer, rather than an inline motor. Porsche, after all, prints cash these days. It can afford to design a new engine in the name of heritage. Also in keeping with 924 tradition, the Macan borrows heavily from the Audi Q5, although Porsche will defensively point out everything that’s changed.


Setting aside its foreshadowing of the current day for a moment, the 924 begat the 944 for 1982, and undoubtedly inspired Mitsubishi’s Starion, a similarly proportioned, four-cylinder, rear-drive sports coupe that arrived at the same time. The 924’s line didn’t truly end until 1995, when the 968 left production—20 years after the 924’s late-1975 reveal. Its replacement was nothing if not a hybrid of its ancestors: water-cooled, like the 924/944/968, its flat-six engine in the middle, like the 914/6. And in fact, the original Boxster’s five-speed transaxle came from the Audi 80.


To celebrate this oft-maligned but crucially important Porsche, the company is running a special exhibition at the Porsche Museum in Zuffenhausen. “40 Years of the Transaxle” opened on April 27, and runs through October 16. If you happen to find yourself in the area, pop by and pay tribute to the cars that dragged Porsche into modernity.


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