PROJECT CARS: Welcome Project 944

Uh-oh, from the last check of my banking app, it looks like my inability to keep my hands in my pockets at classic car auctions compulsion has struck again.

So, say hallo freund to Project 944… our 1983 Porsche 944 2.5 Lux… which is (believe it or not with my car-buying disease), my first ever from the Stuttgart stables. Yes, my mid-life crisis is now finally complete and keys in the bowl parties will never be the same again.

Two years ago (almost to the day!) the classic car auction convulsion compulsion struck for our now much-loved, mint and increasingly rare Saab Turbo T16 S Ruby Edition. And our Swedish boosted buddy is going from strength to strength, accumulating good memories and value simultaneously, whilst being kept in tip top condition by our constant fettling and in sound mechanical knick by our good friends at Abbott Racing.

But the auction bug is a mighty one that bites hard. So, in a middle-aged move as inevitable as a mid-afternoon snooze after too many lunchtime Malbecs, the endless scouring of classical auction sites has led me back to where I’ve bought at auction before (Project P38) – at the dangerously convenient local and the well-established auction house, EAMA in Wymondham, Norfolk.

They have a handful of classic car auctions a year on top of their weekly commercials, general and budget lots. And, judging by the fact it’s literally standing room only, elbows out, two hours before the gavel gets going – I’m not the only one with a passion for petrol, problems and past masters.

There are 89 lots on offer of varying age and quality, including a handful of non-runners and a shed-load of bikes, including some rare Vincents, whatever they are.

Stuff with the right amount of wheels that got our attention included a dirty brown 1984 Land Rover 110 V8 County, with only 13,800 miles that wouldn’t run and looked like it had been living in a ditch on a country estate, which it most surely had been. Estimate £1.5-2K. Went mad. Sold for £6550. 70th anniversary year don’t you know…

Then there was an American import Austin Healey – complete with 5.7-litre Hemi V8. Lively. As was the initial bidding, but in the end people backed off and it sold on provisional for just £15,500 (estimate £20-25K). That’s cheap.

I very, oh-so-very nearly then bought myself a heap of V8 trouble, when Lot 65 went down – a Mercedes SL500, with a wonky front end. It sold for a poultry £2,600! Soooo much car for the cash, regardless of the number of past owners and problems it might have had.

Then some very cool/fool-hardy young gun bagged a Bentley 6750cc, in gold, for just £1800 #Livingthedream.

This all stoked the fires inside and my auction card started getting jittery, ready to fan the flames of desire. A purchase was inevitable at this point…

Enter Lot 83. Porsche 944 2479cc. 96K miles. Manual. Clean MOT. Past owner 14 years, with a history file, no sorry, bag for life (I kid you not) utterly loaded with every piece of paperwork imaginable, documenting it’s entire existence, expenditure and enhancement. Never seen anything like it.

After the extensive and exhausting paperwork inspection and with a much-needed coffee and sandwich in hand, I’d taken a decent look in the pouring rain and lashing wind and marked Lot 83 as a definite-maybe to bid on, for the right money.

The galvanised body is the right colour (Diamond Silver Metallic, I’m told), as well as being very tidy and straight, just in need of a little TLC. And even in it’s unloved pre-auction state, it’s hard to Adam & Eve you’re looking at a motor that’s 35-years-old. What a great design it is, with lovely lines.

Adding value to me (whilst surely detracting and simultaneously upsetting Porsche geek purists), there’s a plethora of nice driver focused enhancements, liked the spaced, fresh and very tidy Porsche 986 Boxster rims, a rorty Powerflow full stainless steel exhaust (944 purists avert your eyes), uprated brake discs and pads etc.

Clearly, someone wanted to modernise the old girl to enjoy riding her, with suitable spirit no doubt, which is what these under-stressed, perfectly balanced 80s performance icons were designed for at the end of the day.

Final big tick… the silky slant-four engine (that was developed from the 928’s V8) started on the nose and ran very smoothly and sweet as a nut, smoke, over-heating and leak-free – at least for 10 minutes on idle and on the short run into the auction house, all with no nasty noises. The helpful auction driver even confirmed the clutch was biting well. These fleeting inspection moments are vitally important… as the only chance you get to ‘test’ a car at auction, not just buy with your eye, or worse, heart.

So, we followed her in and let the lot get started, gauging interest.. a fair amount as it goes, but mainly people wanting to steal her. Then there were two – the guy who thought he had it, and me. Sold.

And there you have it… we’d secured our first ever Porsche, at a very fair price indeed, in the marque’s 70th year to (das) boot. Wunderbar!

Undeniably, the Porsche 944 is a 100% cast iron future classic. And whilst the ballistic 220bhp Turbo models and later-spec, jolly nice 208bhp, 3-litre S2s might be doing the big money now (heading the way of their big sister 911), the early-plate, old-fashioned dash, wholly un-appreciated 1982-1989 2.5-litre 8V’s are still daft cheap, for what you get (including none of the complications of the 16V lump, other multivalve variants or oddball 2.7).

But what does an early Lux model offer? Well, there’s a very gutsy 2.5-litre, simple to service and durable 8V four-pot kicking out a lazy, under-stressed 163bhp and 151lbft, in a stiff and immaculately balanced (50.7% front/49.3% rear) shell weighing just 1180Kg. The performance figures Porsche dolled out at launch in 1981 were 8.3seconds to 60mph and 127mph top speed, but Autocar managed to knock out 7.9s to 60mph and 137mph back in the day. And, even with getting on for 100,000 miles on her rad and ridiculously retro speedo, I can believe she could still come close to that now.

Thankfully, or miraculously, the drive home was trouble free – only an indicator bulb out and a few of the switches on the centre binnacle not operating, on first inspection. Ideal.. stuff to fiddle with, or forget about. And I was genuinely bowled over with how nicely she drove.

Slammed superbly low, the deadly accurate nose goes just where you point it –  thanks to pin-point, unassisted steering and steer from the rear. And you get shoved along with genuine muscle from the 2.5-litre half V8. But it’s the grip levels, ride quality and handling ability that really define the 944. They are nothing short of sensational. Project 944 purrs along with a serious slug of style, speed and Porsche prowess. She stopped on a sixpence too with the red stuff EBC pads and grooved disc set-up and Falken rubber in situ.

I loved it. And there’s still room for improvement…

944 Issues? Well, not quite that many, but there’s still time…

The super-comfy vinyl and wool mix driver’s seat is badly (irreparably?) torn, the passenger seat isn’t much better, the dash is badly sun-cracked, some electrics don’t appear to be working, the wiper arms need replacing/rear needs fixing, the boot lining is perished which is sucking exhaust fumes into the car, there’s a little play/rattle in the suspension, the dirty oil needs changing and if it rained hard and the windows were down you’d get soaked, because they take about two minutes to go up again. All good classic car stuff and nothing too scary, yet…

Inevitably, when we get the middle aged lady up on the ramp of our local garage and lift up her skirt, she might surprise us for all the wrong reasons, but that’s half the fun of buying at auction and owning a classic isn’t it? Fortune favours the brave, or so they say.

We will see.

One thing is for sure… with Porsche dealers all over the UK now digging out their dry stored, low mileage, mint, one or two owner, mothballed examples to fly at c£30K… it looks like now might well be the time for a 944 investment, or even enjoy a bargain bit of 1980’s RWD fun and games whilst we wait for the penny to drop.

Either way, we think we’re going to enjoy this one…

Danke to…

EAMA Auction House, Wymondham, Norfolk, for fuelling my obsession: www.eama-norwich.co.uk

Adrian Flux Insurance, for their affordable, reliable, knowledgable & swift-to-sort classic car insurance policies. Highly recommended: www.adrianflux.co.uk/classics