Face Off--1986 Porsches
Back in 1986, Road & Track ran a feature in which the staff drove and tested every available 1986 model-year Porsche. It struck me as an interesting idea in that it differed dramatically from the normal practice of extensively testing an individual car or comparison-testing similar cars across a brand. R&T didn't declare winners or losers, but the experience did provide a perspective of the manufacturer's overall offering.
It was a novel perspective, and it helped me realize that Porsche's lineup has one very curious quirk--namely, that many of Porsche's cars performed very similarly. Most car manufacturers have clearly stratified product lines with very little overlap, broken by size differences, performance disparities, or both. Porsche, on the other hand, was a little different. While it had the Porsche 924S and 944 on the low end of the performance spectrum and the Porsche 911 Turbo on the high end, there was a vast middle ground inhabited by the 944 Turbo, 911 Cabriolet, and 928S, all of which ran the 0-60 sprint within a half-second range.
This is not to say that the cars were in any way clones of each other. In fact, the most intriguing thing about the performance logjam was the fact that the three cars differed so radically in price, purpose, and technology, making each a logical choice for a different type of customer. Today's Face Off is your opportunity to make that choice. If you had been a consumer in the market for a Porsche back in 1986, with a price an object, which of these three cars would you have purchased?
|Car||As-Tested Price||Horsepower||0-60 (seconds)||Top Speed|
|Porsche 944 Turbo||$30,820||217||6.0||155|
|Porsche 911 Cabriolet||$41,301||200||5.7||130|
[The poll widget is no longer available because Vizu.com has ceased operations.]
Porsche 944 Turbo
We have discussed the Porsche 944 in its naturally aspirated form before, concluding that the 944 was a sweet, nice car that just happened to be one of the best-handling cars of its era, with evocative looks and telepathic steering. It was an enormously entertaining sports-car classic that was held back only by its relatively pedestrian 147-horsepower engine.
Enter the 944 Turbo, which married the 944's brilliant handling with 70 additional horsepower--a mammoth 50% increase. This hefty horsepower infusion transformed the cheerful 944 into a straight-line screamer that could run with the performance goliaths of its day. A 6.0-second sprint from 0-60 was in Corvette and entry-level Ferrari territory in 1986, and only a couple of tenths behind the Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach.
Unlike most of those cars, the 944 Turbo didn't drive like a deeply compromised supercar. It was still a sweet handler and an effortless daily driver, and its hatchback body made it a practical runabout--it was just a practical runabout that happened to handle and accelerate like a race car.
Porsche 911 Cabriolet
We have somehow managed to avoid covering the Porsche 911 in any sort of official sense (though a reader submitted an Our Cars post). My official negligence has sprung from a certain underdog preference for the other, overshadowed Porsches, but it's also probably true that there's very little unique left to be said about the 911.
Everybody knows the Porsche 911 as one of the world's most iconic and classic sports cars. The air-cooled 911 ran for decades with changes that were generally evolutionary in nature, yet it was still one of the top sports cars in the world when the water-cooled 911 arrived in 1998. The 911 is one of the best-recognized sports cars in the world, thanks to its unique combination of longevity, an unparalleled racing heritage, its quirky rear-engined layout, and its excellent performance. Again, this is all common knowledge.
The 1986 911 used the 3.2-liter flat six that had arrived in 1984, but otherwise the 1986 model was like its forebears. The 1986 911 had the air-cooled six's characteristic boxer bark, the weight of the rear engine still drive spooky at-the-limit handling, the brakes were almost supernaturally good, and as it had been since the 1960s, the 911 was still one of the quickest and mot capable sports cars on the road. Some Porsche-philes have been heard to complain about today's water-cooled 911s and the character that has been lost over the years; a lack of character was not a concern in 1986.
Unlike the 911, the Porsche 928 is a long-time Car Lust favorite. Not only is it a gorgeous and fantastically capable car, an icon in the class of high-performance grand tourers, but it has also been tragically overlooked by mainstream car enthusiasts.
"The 928 was a fantastic car that helped define the sports GT category, marrying supercar performance with comfort and everyday practicality. The 928 had such an embarrassment of ability that it captured the imagination. Considering the standard of its time, it had incredible top speed and high-speed cruising ability; married to its relaxed nature and natural comfort, that made the 928 the perfect choice for bombing along the Autostrada at triple-digit speeds while listening to Chopin, or for compressing a trans-Montana drive from five hours into three. Think of it as an executive Lear Jet for the road."
The Porsche 928 debuted in 1978 and was updated to 928S spec in 1983 with a slightly more powerful 4.7-liter V-8. The 928S received a four-valve-per-cylinder head in 1985 and boasted 288 horsepower in 1986.
A savvy Car Lust reader would bet on my choosing the Porsche 928S in this Face Off, and given my well-established love for the 928 that's a safe bet. The 928's voluptuous body, smooth, torquey V-8, and luxurious interior make it an irresistible grand tourer, and I'd jump at the chance to own one.
However, I'm not choosing the 928S in this Face Off, and that's because I specified price as a factor. The 928S cost more than $50K--more than twice as much as the average salary in 1986. That's $10,000 more than the 911 Cabriolet and $20,000 more than the 944 Turbo. I prefer the 928S, but I don't prefer it to quite that degree.
The Porsche 944 Turbo is my choice here; compared to the 928S, the 944 offers similar grunt and much more agile handling. It's not quite as luxurious as the 928, but it's just as useful as any other hatchback sports coupe of its day. It just happens to be a hatchback sports coupe that performs like an exotic.
The 911 Cabriolet has the benefit of an iconic shape, the fun promised by a retractable top, and the 911's timeless driving experience. I certainly wouldn't push it out of the garage, but I can't justify the $10,000 premium over the 944 Turbo in this case.--Chris H.