1989 Porsche 944 S2
Celebrating the 944’s fortieth anniversary, we get up close and personal with this rare survivor: a recently restored Maritime Blue S2 coupe… Words Johnny Tipler. Photography Dan Sherwood.
BOLT FROM THE BLUE
Driving a restored Maritime Blue 1989 Porsche 944 S2
Imagine if cars were kids. There are playground-roustabout Porsches and there are classroom-dutiful Porsches. One group is in your face, the other keeps a low profile. This unmolested 944 S2 belongs in the second category and has probably left an apple on teacher’s desk. Butter wouldn’t melt. None of which is to denigrate an extremely capable car — the S2, some say, is best of breed.
We’ve come to rural North Norfolk to see Oli Tappin at his tidy Bure Valley Classics showroom, a stone’s throw from the Broads. A recent addition to his sales inventory is this low-miles — just 87,000 of them — 944 S2, a standout Porsche resplendent in its Maritime Blue hue. It’s worth remembering, the 944 was cast into the 1980s, the decade of the yuppie. ‘Greed is good’ sums up the period for that coterie of dealers and traders. Red socks, red braces and Guards Red Porsches. No self-regarding breadhead would show up at the Stock Exchange without them. But what attracted city traders to Porsches, rather than something truly representational of wealth, such as a Bentley or Rolls- Royce? Quite clearly, the amount of cash involved was an irrelevance, there just had to be lots of it.
THE 944 POSSESSES AN INHERENTLY WELL-BALANCED CHASSIS BOASTING ALMOST 50/50 WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION
The answer is almost certainly an appetite for flash, rather than sobriety. Any awareness of the marque’s excellence in endurance racing didn’t matter a hoot. Stigmatised as the yuppie car of a decadent decade — and a lifestyle aptly exemplified by The Wolf of Wall Street — Guards Red Porsches from the 1980s are, thankfully, no longer vilified, simply viewed today as red Porsches. Besides, so many more leery colours have graced the Porsche palette since then. Red cars from the Stuttgart stable are now regarded as, well, merely normal. Not so our Maritime marvel, a model of self-restraint and a complete contrast to its Guards Red siblings.
Where does the S2 slot into the 944 panorama? The model was introduced in 1989, seven years into the 944 production cycle, and driven by the normally aspirated, three-litre, sixteen-valve M44/41-14 version of the 944 S’s twin-cam inline-four, developing 208bhp and therefore being the most powerful of the non-Turbo 944s. Bore-and-stroke were 104mm and 88mm, making this the largest capacity production four-cylinder petrol engine of the day, more than ever reliant on its counter-rotating balance shafts, which ran at double engine speed, enabling a match to the smoothness of a six-cylinder engine.
Fuelling was by managed by L-Jetronic injection. The 944 S2 could sprint from rest to 60mph in 6.8 seconds and max out at 150mph. Like its front-engined transaxle forbears (the 924 and earlier 944s), the S2 was largely built at the Audi plant at Neckarsulm (formerly NSU) before being trucked forty minutes down the autobahn to Zuffenhausen for final assembly. The model lasted until the 944 was phased out in 1992, having been replaced by the 968, but not before more than fourteen thousand S2s rolled off the assembly line.
WE MOTOR OUT OF THE VILLAGE, BESIDE THE MEANDERING BURE AND ITS LUSH WATER MEADOWS, INTO THE FLAT NORFOLK COUNTRYSIDE
Our subject car has had seven owners, all recorded in the service book. “It’s covered relatively low mileage,” says Oli, “which is testimony to the fact the car was used a fair amount in its earlier life before heading into long-term storage.” During 2018 and 2019, the blue beauty underwent a full professional repaint as part of what Oli calls “a sympathetic restoration”. This was undertaken by Loughborough-based Porsche specialist, Quorn Sports & Classics. “The company is run by a couple of guys who are former Porsche main dealer technicians,” Oli confirms. “Prior to this work being carried out, the car had been in dry storage for ten years. Although the paintwork had deteriorated, registering blisters and peels here and there, the body itself had been well-preserved. There were no dents or scratches in the body, no bits missing and no evidence of rust repairs.” A sound base for the Quorn crew to work with, then? “It was a really solid shell and a very rare colour for the 944,” Oli continues. “Quorn really went to town with the restoration, completely stripping the car down and treating it to a full glass-out respray in the original factory colour. Underneath, the transmission was removed, the rear axle was dropped and all running gear components were either replaced, renovated or simply cleaned up.” The Quorn boys must have detailed the underside of the bodyshell, too — it’s so clean you could eat your dinner off it.
The Design 90 pattern wheels were refurbished and shod with new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres, new brake discs were fitted all round, as were new pads, naturally. The suspension was refurbished with fresh mounts and bushes. New fuel lines were installed front to rear and the engine was fully serviced, with fresh gaskets fitted and all fluids replaced. In the process, the three-litre lump received new belts, tensioners and rollers, a new starter-motor and a new battery. The interior was also completely refreshed, benefiting from a restored steering wheel and a brand-new colour-coded headlining.
The original blue carpet remains, which is fair enough at just 87k miles, but was professionally cleaned. In fact, as much of the original componentry as possible was retained, including the original Blaupunkt Symphony head unit. The belts have been replaced, though. “I’m a stickler for new seat belts,” Oli says. “There’s driver and passenger safety to consider, of course, but seat belts need to be new to complement a car’s refreshed interior.” Away from floor mats wearing the mud from my shoes, the cabin is pristine and as close to a brand-new S2 interior as you’re likely to get in a car celebrating thirty years since its date of first registration.
For many Porsche aficionados, the S2 is considered the sweet spot of the 944 range, more than the 944 S (because of the power hike) and more than the Turbo (simply because of the force-fed model’s potential — inevitable — maintenance issues). “And with the S2, you’re getting toward the end of the production cycle, by which time Porsche had ironed out all the 944’s problems. It’s like getting a late-model Carrera 3.2 with a G50 gearbox — you’re getting the best specification of all,” Oli beams. We await your letters arguing the contrary.
We sip coffees in Oli’s office eyrie. He shows me the hugely impressive history file accompanying the car. “It’s nice, especially with a Porsche of this ilk, to be able to trace its service records right back to day one. It shows this is an S2 which has been well cared for.” The paperwork even includes all old tax discs. Anachronisms now, but an indicator of attention to detail in the past. All the old MOT certificates are also present and correct. Amazingly, so are photographs of this superb S2’s five Maritime Blue sister cars — it’s thought only six right-hand-drive S2s in this purply-blue hue were sent to the UK market, with at least two being lost to history. Little wonder the example in Oli’s possession has been cosseted and indulged.
IN THE REGION
We get to the maintenance bills. First up are receipts from Lancaster Porsche in Ipswich, followed by Lancaster Porsche in Colchester, then Autostrasse in Kelvedon, H.R. Owen a couple of times, Chariots of St Albans and Lancaster Porsche in Harston. In today’s money, the list can be translated as including Porsche Centres Colchester, Hatfield and Cambridge. As you can tell, the issuers of these invoices suggest this car has spent all, or at least a great deal, of its life in East Anglia. It went a little way north for its restoration, though. “Sadly, this 944’s third owner died,” Oli reveals. “Consequently, his family put the car into storage after transferring ownership ‘in-house’. Effectively, his family became the fourth owner.”
After the restoration work was completed at Quorn Sports and Classics, the potent Porsche was advertised for sale and, after a couple more changes of ownership, it was bought by a collector. Wind the clocks forward and he parted with the car to make space for a fresh addition to his fast fleet. Enter Oli. The 944 has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity during the last few years, not least because it is one of the more affordable classic Porsches.
Given literally everything which needed doing has been done — and much more besides — plus the rarity aspect of this particular Porsche, the asking price of twenty-five grand is by no means excessive, especially when you consider the fact air-cooled 911s of similar vintage are at least double that sum. All this car requires is an interested party’s love for pop-up headlights, water-cooled inline fours and the traditional grand touring lines of the 944, complemented by body styling formerly the preserve of the Turbo before being rolled out across the range with the arrival of the S2.
If you do fancy a 944, from a maintenance point of view, there are a few considerations to bear in mind. For instance, the timing belts need regular checking and changing, ideally every 30,000 miles or every five years, even if the car isn’t driven much. Other items to be wary of include the water pump, while rubber fuel lines, brake hoses and suspension bushes perish over time, as is the case with all older vehicles. Also, be aware it’s rare for a car to evade corrosion over the course of four decades. The majority of 944s will have received attention at some point, much like our subject car, which lasted the best part of thirty years before being restored and recommissioned.
The usual areas where corrosion occurs on a 944 are the wheel arches and sills, which might appear to be okay externally, but harbour rust within. Internally, the dashboard top is vulnerable to the effects of prolonged exposure to sunlight and can crack accordingly. And, when stowing kit in the rear boot space, it’s worth bearing in mind the enormous rear greenhouse should open at the touch of the button. If the gas struts which raise it have just about given up the ghost, that all-enveloping pane is going to land on top of you. Bizarrely, if you get the struts replaced with new parts, they may prove too efficient for the window — be mindful of cracks in the glass or the window trying to pop out of its frame simply because it may not be able to withstand the sudden application of fresh vigour. “I wasn’t aware of that one,” says Oli, “but the hatch lid on this car stays up nicely. It definitely hasn’t hit me on the head!”
MADE IN THE SHADE
The cabin is a period treat. I’m loving the blue leather upholstery and Porsche script-emblazoned seat centre fabrics complementing the exterior paintwork.
The driver’s seat is firm and unblemished. Of the controls, the heater is comprehensible and the Blaupunkt radio unchallenging to operate. Window switches are on the door liner and the light switches (and indeed all aspects of the 944’s switchgear) fall neatly to hand. We motor out of Oli’s village, beside the meandering Bure and its lush water meadows, into the flat, largely arable Norfolk countryside, and head for the yesteryear perimeter runways of the former Coltishall aerodrome. Initially, my hat is touching the sun visor. I juggle with the driving position for a few minutes to get the angles and distances of arms to non-adjustable steering wheel, legs and feet to pedals and, of course, angle of backrest sorted out. The electric seat adjuster buttons are on the side of the driver’s pew base, but they’re masked by the handbrake being down there as well. I discover I’ve got the heated seat switched on and, very quickly, I’m experiencing an involuntary sauna. At the risk of underselling the S2, it is indeed, as Oli says, an easy car to drive and to travel in quickly enough on backroads. No fuss, nothing obstructive, just decent throttle response, reasonable acceleration, competent handling, prompt turn-in, plus stability in corners.
It’s adequately fast and undemanding on these Norfolk B-roads. The ride is firm and what you want from a sports-GT. The steering is reasonably well balanced and provides positive feedback, while the shift action is nicely weighted, perfectly slotting into place in the five-speed gate. In general, the power assistance is also nicely weighted, though I do sometimes have to slightly haul on the steering wheel for turn-in.
On a longish straight — another airfield legacy — I glance at the clocks and note 4,000rpm in third gear, but I’m not sure what speed I registered there. 60mph, perhaps? There’s no getting away from it, the straight-four engine is a sweet unit at low revs, but it’s raucous at high revs, and you’ve already taken on board the fact you’re not going to be enjoying the acoustic delights of an air-cooled flat-six. The S2 makes up for this shortfall by swaying blithely through the fieldboundary bends punctuating our route.
ABS brakes ensure there’s no drama when slowing down for them, either. All this is relative. When you’re used to a more modern Porsche, you have to make allowances. That said, I don’t think there much in the way of sensitivity to the S2’s pedals. You pop your foot on the brake pedal and, sure, it slows it down, but it’s not sensitive. There’s not much room for your left foot next to the workmanlike clutch in this righthand drive cockpit, either. Incidentally, it occurs to me, as I glance in the side mirror, perhaps one of the best stylistic features of the 944 are the chubby rear wheel arches, which are in your line of sight when viewed in the door mirrors. The 944 possesses an inherently well-balanced chassis boasting almost 50/50 weight distribution. It’s not apt to snap back and, if provoked into a slide, it can be balanced on the throttle and steering wheel, maintaining a drift all the way around a corner, in the appropriate environment, of course. The S2 is a decent car you can drive fast, easily.
The other face of the 944 is that it’s a functional, practical Porsche, offering a two-plus-two cabin and reasonable luggage space under the giant glass greenhouse covering the rear end. To use a nautical analogy, given the Maritime Blue colour pictured here, this car is not a Vice Admiral, though perfectly admirable. It’s certainly not a cabin boy, though its interior is shipshape and Bristol fashion. No, this S2 is something more stolid: the dutiful ship’s Purser. Damned by faint praise? Again, no — the praise is as solid as the car itself. Bonjour Matelot!
Below All the best cars have pop-up headlights, right?! Above and below Although it is most commonly associated with the 964 Carrera RS, Maritime Blue was offered alongside Rubystone Red as a 944 S2 paint colour.
Above Three-litre M44 was the largest four-cylinder production engine of the day. Above While the S2 benefited from a range of mechanical updates, the model’s nose and rear end were far from new, having been carried over from the Turbo. Above ‘Oval’ dash was initially seen on the first-generation 944 Turbo and is a masterpiece of ergonomic design. Above Rear hatch and generous boot space afford the 944 popularity among enthusiasts who want a practical — as well as powerful — Porsche sports car.