A Brief History of Transaxle Porsche
Porsche’s attempt at replacing the 911 started with its association with the Volkswagen group to build a affordable everyday Sportscar. The project started off with Porsche aiming to put the the engine in the right place this time (front of the car), quite contrary to its best seller the 911. All this was brought on by the declining sales of the 911 in 1970’s, Porsche felt that the 911 line had reached its saturation and they started to plan for its successor. For all the history fanatics out there, it’s known fact that Porsche as a company started out with limited resources and the ready availability of the Volkswagen Beetle parts meant that the initial 356 had to stick to the original rear engined layout of the Volkswagen. The original 356 through its evolutionary years transformed into the 911 range that we are accustomed of today.
The quirkiness of having the engine in the wrong place and the unique handling characteristic it brought along with it meant the 911 was an instant success. However the declining sales of the early 70’s made Porsche fell that the 911 charm was wearing off. Thought the Transaxle project started had a head start, Volkswagen developed cold feet and pulled out of the project towards the end. Which meant Porsche had to see through it all by themselves. The idea behind the transaxle layout was for Porsche to build on the conventional reputed sportscar platform of front engine and rear wheel drive which was what even Ferrari was using. The know development in the layout meant that Porsche needn’t reinvent the wheel but could rather fine tune it for better characteristics.
This was also the time when Porsche was going through a shift in ideology. They felt that they needed an entry level model which would sell volumes for them and have the specialist models for the hardcore enthusiast with deep pockets. This model ensured that there would be a continuous demand for their cars regardless of the prevailing economic conditions. Also catering to a wider demographic meant Porsche was diversifying their risk and not putting all their eggs in one basket. To stay true to the portfolio of products planned, the Porsche 924, the first of the transaxle models was catered towards the everyday man aspiring to own the Porsche brand. It gave him the opportunity to enter the brand at an affordable price and get a comfortable, reliable, cost effective and sporty automobile.
The 928 was the one that would showcase Porsche’s engineering capabilities. Sporting a V8 engine and producing a healthy power output meant the car was competing in the league of the Italian sportscars. The sorted handling and the comfortable ride meant that it was pitted to take over where the 911 left off and be the flagship car of the Porsche’s line up. The 944 was launched as a means of bridging the gap between the entry level 924 and the range topping 928. The 944 was propositioned to offer the best performance per pound. It delivered by offering much improved engine power as compared to the 924 and sporting the same low maintenance reliable four pot engine as the 924. This saw the 944 top the chart as the fastest selling Porsche ever.
The transaxle line of Porsche ended with the 968, which was essentially a replacement for the 944. After a total sales of over 400,000 units among the 924, 928, 944 and 968, Porsche wanted to divert their attention to their best seller the 911. The return of the overwhelming success of the 991 back in the 1990’s meant Porsche was going to stick to doing what it did best, building rear engined sportscars.
Below are a list of Porsches that followed the transaxle lineage:
The 924 was the car that started the transaxle line for Porsche. It had simplicity and elegance written all over it, exactly what the transaxle line stood for. Also, did I mention the pop-up headlights? Although it’s biggest weakness was under its hood – the four pot 2.0 litre engine was an unusually wheezy one, especially by Porsche standards. It put out a miserly 90 hp and hence has been the least desirable of the transaxle options. The car was a pure Porsche in all other aspects – be it the chassis, the weight distribution and most importantly the overall handling. Porsche realised this quickly and finally put some supplements under the 924’s hood in the form of a Turbo. The engine size was also increased to 2.5 litres and the output rose to a respectable 150 hp and later to 160 hp.
With talk of Porsche wilting under pressure of having to sell affordable cars to make their ends meet, Porsche came out all guns blazing in showing their true intent for the brand. Their Transaxle platform received its first proper engine. The car was called the 928, though majority of the styling remained the same, there was noticeable change in the front end and especially the headlights. Though they were pop-up headlights like seen on the 924, the light did not hide away when it wasn’t popped up. Porsche wanted to shift this car from the affordable Porsche brigade and give it the Grand Tourer status. Their vision for the 928 was for it to eventually replace their best selling 911 range. They plonked in a proper V8 motor with a sumptuous 4.5 litres of displacement ranging all the way to 5.4 litres.
Porsche released the Porsche 944 in 1981, to fill the gap between their entry level 924 and their no holds barred performance transaxle sports car the 928. It was like the Cayman of today, helping you maximise performance per pound. It borrowed its engine from the 924, but had much better performance figures than what the 924 sported. The above attributes rocketed the 944 as the fastest selling Porsche yet. Its decade long existence saw 163,000 examples being sold. Woah!
The Porsche 968 was based on the 944 turbo, sporting a healthy output of 240hp from a 3.0 litre engine. The 968 was manufactured for a brief period of 3 years from 1992-1995. The short production time also meant that the 968 was the last of the transaxle Porsche to be made. The overwhelming sales from the 911 meant Porsche diverting all their research expertise towards the oddball rear engined 911 and its various configurations. Though the combined sales of the the whole transaxle line of Porsches clocked well over 400,000 units, it was no where comparable to the volumes of 911 being sold. For the keen collector, there was the 968 club-sport version which had amassed quite a following among the transaxle models, sold both in hard top and cabriolet trims. In today’s time, with the 968’s growing fan following and its profound exclusivity, it would be a good idea to get your hands on one as soon as possible.