Second Drive – Porsche 944 (or…why you should all love and care for your Saab 900 Aeros)

another Swade car-buying post here…..

I first drove a Porsche 944 back in late November 2008. I was quite excited about it back then, though that particular drive helped me decide that if I were going to get a Porsche 944, it would have to be a late model 944, with or without a turbo but definitely with the updated interior.

I’ll let you in on a something I probably didn’t tell you back then. Late last year I was in negotiations with a media company in the US to sell Trollhattan Saab. They expressed interest and I’d spoken with their CEO on the phone. We were at a stage of working out the numbers when I first heard about Saab’s possible separation from GM and subsequent sale to an unknown party. This news made me pause the negotiations, as I had to consider whether I’d want to continue writing under someone else’s ownership if Saab’s situation changed significantly.

Of course, GM announced this as a possibility in early December 2008 with confirmation coming in February of this year. The notion of a website sale and consequent dreamcar purchase went out the window – and I started SaabsUnited instead.

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Fast Forward to May 2009……

Encouraged by this car’s undoubted good looks and by the fact that I’d finally saved enough money to buy it, I enquired further about this local car. Our remoteness to mainland Australia means that it’s the cheapest 944 for sale in the country. It was a color I really liked with wheels I really liked. My November test drive was enjoyable, so I figured I’d look further into it.

The discovery process
When I spoke to the owner last year, he said he didn’t have any service history for the car. This is no-no #1 when you’re considering a Porsche. You have to have an idea of when the critical elements like the timing belts, etc, were last done. It’s also handy for high-cost items like the clutch, too.
Regardless, I thought it was worth another drive, just to satisfy my curiousity. I called the owner again a few weekends ago, looking for another stint behind the wheel. My plans were stalled, though, when he told me the car was in the workshop getting a new waterpump fitted.

I was disappointed, but also quite happy about this. Getting to the waterpump means you’ve got to remove the timing belts, which means they’ll change them while they’re in there. That’s around $1,000 saved!!

The owner quite graciously gave me the name of the workshop doing the work and as is the Tasmanian way, it was only a short walk from my office. I called up there one lunchtime last week to have a chat with the mechanic.

We got to talking about the car and the sales process. I mentioned to him that I was pretty cautious about this car because the owner told me he didn’t have any service history for it. The mechanic gave me a puzzled look and said “well I’ve got the last 4 or 5 years service history for it on my computer!”
JACKPOT, baby!!!!

He spent 10 minutes spitting out all the work done on this car over the last 5 years. It wasn’t a full service history – the car is now 26 years old – but let’s just say it was comprehensive.

My eyes were really starting to light up now. The owner was a professional engineer and a very meticulous one at that. If anything needed to be done, he got it done. He got several things connected to it done as well. This guy was thorough and obviously, he was reasonably well off, too.
I added up the bills dating back to 2005 when I got back to my office and this guy had spent $14,500 in maintaining and improving the car over the last few years. And it was for sale for just $8,000!!!

He used it as a daily driver, was pedantic about maintenance, and that $14,500 worth of repairs had covered him for more than 50,000km. I was planning on using this car as a weekender and maybe putting 5,000km on it a year. With everything so well looked after I’d barely have a cent to spend!

The drive

So you could imagine that it was with much anticipation that I approached the workshop yesterday.
I had the money. Unlike any potential mainland buyers, I didn’t have to travel to look at it. I had a car that no-one else knew had a significant service history. I had an eager seller who loved the car dearly, but wanted to get into a later model 944 himself. It was all coming together nicely.

And then I drove it and all my plans and hopes fell to pieces.

When I drove this very same car back in November, it was with the owner in the car, chatting with me. It was an exploratory drive to get my first taste of a 944 and I guess you could say I was easily pleased.
When I drove the car yesterday, I was a potential buyer and as such, the bar had been raised.

The car still looked fantastic. In fact, I was more keen on it now than I was back then as it really has a muscular presence. The polished rim wheels look fantastic. If I ever get a 944, I’d be very happy for it to have the presence this one has.

Inside the car, the driving position was actually better than I remembered it. My last memories were of a cramped driving position becuase of the lack of steering wheel adjustment. This time I adjusted the seat position and found a great position that made me feel like I really was in a sports car.

I started the car and it sounded great. But that’s where the good times ended, I’m afraid.

Driving a Porsche, in my mind, should be an event. This isn’t a freaking Corolla, it’s a Porsche. But all I got was a whole lot of noise and very little get-up-and-go to accompany it. This car has a large 2.5litre four cylinder engine and was one of the quickest four cylinder production cars in the world back in it’s day, but I’ve got to say it delivered no thrills whatsoever for me.

In fact, my 1.7litre 16V Alfa 33 boxer was quicker.

The 944 was not renowned for it’s speed, though. It’s forte is its balance. So as I got it into the twisties in the foothills of Mount Wellington I was looking forward to experiencing that famous Porsche 50:50 weight balance and precise handling.

Again, I was disappointed. It felt quite planted, but just like the acceleration, it just failed to deliver anything outstanding.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that except for build quality and comfort, my old Alfa 33 outpointed this big name German car in every way.

And so did my old 1985 900 Aero.

These 944s are still revered by those who aren’t so snobby as to classify a 911 as the only true Porsche. Having now appraised one from the buyer’s point of view, I’m really struggling to see why.

The 900 Aero has more power, more comfort, equal build quality and is more affordable and cheaper to maintain. Maybe the 944 Turbo or S2 is capable of delivering the thrills they write about in the reviews, but the old 8valve was truly disappointing.

I came away with my bank balance intact and more importantly, a renewed respect for what Saab managed to do with the 900 back around the time this car was built. It really was a substantial car for the times.
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Some may think I’m now going to go out and buy another 900 as a result of this. Not so, I’m afraid.
Whilst my respect is renewed, my commitment is still to owning a variety of cars over the next few years with my Monte Carlo remaining as my main vehicle.

As such, the search for a Mazda MX-5 project now begins in earnest……

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