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Porsche 968

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      19.11.2009 05:16
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      It's a beautiful, distinctive and fun car. Buy one if you enjoy tinkering.

      When I hit 35, I just had to have a sports car. I had made do until then with mostly bland conveyances but a switch flipped in my head and a sports car was suddenly necessary. I got a beat up Porsche 924 and kept it for several years, only dumping it when the clutch finally gave way. The remains of the 924 was donated to charity and I replaced it with 1993 Porsche 968, which I bought late in 1999 with about 70,000 miles on it.

      WHAT IT IS

      I like to call the Porsche 968 the "forgotten Porsche." Everyone knows the 911 and the 944 has a lot of fans. Of course, the Boxster is now a popular model, but what about the 968? It was the car that came between the 944 and Boxster, and it was built from 1992 to 1995.

      All years of the 968 (including mine) are powered by a three-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 236 horsepower. That was a lot of juice back in 1993, particularly from a normally aspirated engine -- no turbos or superchargers to force-feed air into the 968. The engine in the 968 is up front and the transmission is in the back. A six-speed manual transmission was standard and an automatic (called a "Tiptronic") was optional. I have the manual gearbox.

      The 968 came in both cabriolet and coupe versions -- I have the coupe. There are two firm bucket seats up front and the coupe has vestigal rear seats for two tiny humans, mostly age 8 and younger. The coupe also has a massive glass hatch that makes it easy to load cargo and even groceries. Unlike most sports cars, the Porsche 968 actually works as a grocery getter.

      The features in the Porsche 968 were reasonably luxurious for a sports car at the time. Mine has air conditioning, power steering, massive (and very effective) brakes, cruise control, power windows, power locks, a power hatch release, and a few more niceties. There are no cup holders, so you'd better not juggle your morning coffee while behind the wheel of the 968.

      LOOKING AT IT

      I thought the Porsche 968 looked ugly in photographs when I first saw them. Now I think the 968 is one of the prettiest cars on the road. It is unequivocally a Porsche, yet it looks like nothing else. I almost never see another on the road, and the 968 does not particularly resemble any current Porsches. My 968 is a dark blue, and it's a good color for this car.

      DRIVING IT

      Well, driving it is the bottom line with a sports car, no? As I mentioned, the standard leather seats in my 1993 Porsche 968 are firm and strongly bolstered. I'm of average size and weight, and I find the seats to be a snug fit, particularly at the shoulder blades. They are not the most comfortable seats, although I have made trips of 4-5 hours and lived to tell the tale.

      Sitting behind the wheel, all the controls in the 968 fall easily to hand. The transmission is a delight, moving with a pleasing snick-snick from gear to gear. Somehow, it feels like my hand is connected to the gears. Pressing the accelerator brings on the power in a linear way, making the 968 easy to control around town. The real beauty of the car is its brakes -- I have never driven another car with such powerful brakes. They inspire complete confidence, making me think there is no problem that can't be solved with a little more pressure on the brake pedal.

      Handling is excellent. The car has large tires at all four corners and it is just about impossible to make the car do anything in an unpredictable way. On the downside, the ride is quite firm with the optional 17-inch wheels on my 968. (Sixteen-inch wheels were standard.)

      Power in the 968 is a little low below 2,000 RPM, although I boosted my car with a computer chip upgrade. The real fun starts happening at 3,500 RPM, when the engine simply goes into warp speed. The sudden rush of power is accompanied by a thrilling roar from the exhaust, just like a sports car is supposed to sound. It's really quite a pleaser.

      Economy, you ask? I get about 22 mpg around town and 26-27 on highway trips. Premium fuel is required.

      RELIABILITY

      My 1993 968 has been a mixed bag with reliability. It stranded me once with a burst heater valve, and I've had to replace numerous other parts. I do almost all the work myself and it seems like the 968 always needs one little thing or another. This wouldn't be a problem on most cars, but parts are considerably more expensive on the Porsche 968. Also, service work that is simple on a Subaru is difficult on the 968.

      For example, at the moment, the alternator belt is slipping and making a screeching noise. On any other car, I could tighten this from the top of the engine in a couple of minutes. In the Porsche 968, I have to jack it up, and take off an under-engine cover just to get at the adjustments. Then I have to put it back together. Although the car drives perfectly well with a screeching belt, it's this sort of thing that has worn me down in 10 years of ownership.

      That said, I have never had a serious engine or other problem with my Porsche 968, which is now 17 model years old and has 117,000 miles. The engine purrs smoothly and pulls like a professional athlete at a singles bar.

      SUMMARY

      I like the Porsche 968 and it's fun to drive. It's powerful, capable, exciting and, oddly enough, practical. In fact, the Porsche 968 is about as practical as a sports car gets. However, a parade of minor maintenance issues have diminished the pleasure of ownership. Some of these included a broken seat belt, seized alternator tensioner, a persistent oil leak, dim dashboard lights and an occasionally howling wiper motor.

      I like the Porsche 968 and recommend it. Just keep in mind that, despite its modern looks, this is an aging sports car that will need maintenance. And mine might be on the market soon.

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