Porsche 968 Buyers’ Guide
Written by Peter Morgan
The auto industry model year (MY) runs from August 1 to 31 July, so a 1993 model could have been produced between 1 August 1992 and 31 July 1993.
1992 MY: 968 replaces all 944 models, with RHD models available from April/May. Model available in both Coupé and Cabriolet body styles, manual and Tiptronic.
1993 MY: 968 Club Sport introduced in December '92; very limited edition 968 Turbo S and Turbo RS announced in February '93
1994 MY: 968 Sport introduced July 1994 to UK only.
1995 MY: All 968 production stops July '95.
What's it like?
In relative terms, even by Porsche standards, very few 968s were built. While that underlined at the time the failure of the model in the marketplace, today, as a classic Porsche it means the 968 has both rarity and notable build quality. It is arguably the best built Porsche of them all.
Despite strongly derivative looks from the earlier 924 and 944, Porsche claimed the 968 was 83% new. The fact that all the changes were largely internal was a typical contemporary feature of a car sold on its engineering excellence, rather than instant kerb appeal.
The biggest change was a brand new, all aluminium, 250bhp 4-cylinder engine that came with variable valve timing on the twin camshaft cylinder head. Motronic ignition controlled the VarioCam adjustment system. The camshaft profiles were designed for maximum power, and the timing could be advanced for better torque when the rpm fell below a set point. Fuel consumption and exhaust emissions were improved.
The new engine, combined with a very full list of other overall improvements not only made the 968 quick as a sports car, but flexible enough to be an easy everyday driver. Expect around 30mpg in mixed cycle use. Combine this with the previous astonishing load flexibility plus real performance on the roads, and the 968 is an excellent, all-round sports car that rightly has taken its place among the best of classic Porsches.
Which one should I get?
Only 12,776 968s were built for worldwide markets between August 1991 and the end of production in July 1995. And as it didn't sell at all well in the UK, there aren't many models to choose from. The basic product mix was the Coupé and Cabriolet, of which some one third were Cabrios.
For everyday driving, including the daily commute and longer distance touring, the Coupé offers a more comfortable experience and greater versatility. If you have young children, the Coupé offers fairly practical rear seats and the opening tailgate permits a huge amount of family clutter when on tour.
The original 968 offers a fully trimmed and quiet car with a good option list (although not many took advantage of it). Air conditioning was rare on UK cars in the early 1990s, but today and suitably updated, it is a selling feature.
The Cabriolet is more of a 2-seat indulgence - one to cruise the Highlands on a crisp Autumn day. With the electrically operated top up all round driving visibility isn't anything to shout about, but with it down it's good. You do lose that large rear storage capacity (the Cabrio has a shallow rear luggage area) and the rear seats are more cramped. But as with the later Boxster, the top-down facility yells that this is a fun sports car.
Tiptronic offers 2-pedal driving, but at some loss to the performance. The sporty 968s don't offer more power, but are more agile from being lighter. The Club Sport (from Spring '93 in UK) is stiffer and has all the unnecessary trim stripped out (including no rear seats and a tailgate that can only be opened from behind the passenger seat on RHD cars). But it's great for trackdays and despite selling new for 17% less than the full 968, is now the most sought after 968 model!
Consensus today suggests there were 179 examples sold in the UK. The UK only 968 Sport falls halfway between the two extremes and offers a simpler driving experience with the agility of the CS. 306 UK Sports were sold during 1994-5 (when only 40 968 Coupés and 71 Cabrios sold in the same period!). The Sport could be described as the best buy.
To all intents and purposes the special Turbo S and RS models are not available to the typical 968 buyer. Consensus suggests only 14 305bhp Turbo S were produced by the Motorsport department, with 4 race versions (Turbo RS) producing 337bhp.
What are the running costs?
Whether the car is used daily or only occasionally, the most important preventative maintenance is to have an annual oil change service. Oil has a very limited ability to absorb moisture and in the UK climate, short runs or irregular use can lead to a build up of moisture in the lubricant. Given the 968's all aluminium engine and the high importance of good lubrication, those oil changes are the secret to long, reliable life.
The service interval for the 968 is annually anyway, with plug changes suggested every 24K miles. The camshaft timing belt and balance shaft belt are scheduled every 48K miles or 4 years. With many other manufacturers suggesting much longer intervals for these belt changes now, it may be worth researching current opinion on these. Typical cost for a belt/idler kit is around £200 + VAT, plus labour, although a higher mileage engine is highly likely to be subject to the mechanic's expensive words 'while we're in there' and require other costs.
Brake fluid is stated to be changed every two years, but again, unless you live in a particularly high humidity area, many might suggest a classic car could go four years between fluid changes.
Servicing prices will vary wherever you are in the country and it is well worth shopping around. An independent Porsche specialist is recommended over the local non-specialist as established independents will have the relevant experience, tools and diagnostic equipment to deal with what is a relatively complex car.
The annual VOSA (MoT) test only considers tyre tread depth, but for safety reasons tyres more than 10 years old are not recommended. A set of tyres for the 968 is likely to cost around £750 + VAT. Worn out or leaky shock absorbers may also need replacement (typically from £200 + VAT each). Some aftermarket 'sports' suspensions can ruin the touring comfort, so care is required on a modified car.
Noisy torque converters or leaky Tiptronic gearboxes should be treated with caution.
Brake discs and pads fitted can run to £1K + VAT per axle. Batteries last around 4-5 years, but less if they are allowed to drain completely. A trickle charger will greatly extend the life of a good battery.
Other more long term wear and tear includes corrosion of the rigid brake pipes, which can cost some £1K + VAT to have completely replaced (using copper nickel replacement pipes for longevity). A 968 clutch can last a long time, usually around 60-70K miles. A replacement can cost from £750 + VAT.
Another area that has affected some 968s is failure of the camshaft timing chain tensioner and the associated camshaft drive sprockets. This can be a very expensive failure, marked by increased noise from the cylinder head. For a full rebuild with new camshafts, probably new hydraulic tappets and all the associated hardware, expect little change from £2K + VAT.
What should I look for?
Buying a car that is up to 25 years old requires a very comprehensive technical check. The best starting point is a car with the correct service book, a current VOSA that isn't more than three months old and a history file that demonstrates long term care and evidence of replacement of the items that will always wear out (clutch, brakes, tyres, belts and so on).
Finding a car with a relatively low mileage will be difficult, and the key to long engine life will be a disciplined oil change record throughout its life. It is important to know the belts/idlers have been changed within the past say three years. Many cars get stored, when mileage is negligible, but with an all-aluminium engine missing more than perhaps two to three annual changes isn't recommended.
For an engine that has had regular servicing, expect the top end to need a rebuild from 120K miles and a full rebuild from 150K miles. If the engine is smoking or noisy (particularly the cylinder head) it's probably better to pass on it. Both symptoms may require major engine rebuilds.
Issues with the Motronic (fuel and electronics) should be apparent when driving the car and will need an experienced diagnostic expert to fix, while the exhaust system is a consumable item. Expect £400 + VAT for a quality stainless rear silencer.
A clonking noise or front wheel shake when driving can suggest worn suspension (either lower control arm or anti-roll bar droplinks), while floaty handling can suggest worn out shock absorbers (which may be leaking). It's important to get under the car to assess the suspension condition as well as the brakes and brake lines. A torch is useful for this.
The alloys should be damage free and it’s worth looking carefully for damage repairs or cracked rims. Tyres must be checked for tread depth, signs of perishing or simply being more than 10 years old (hardened rubber).
To assess the bodyshell, a paint thickness gauge is invaluable to detect heavy filler. Despite being zinc coated from new, rust can be found either in the rear wells (under the rear carpet sides) or around the rear trailing arm bodyshell mounts. Crash damage is not unusual, particularly on Club Sport and Sport models. Signs of cheap body repairs show up as poorly matched paint, poor panel gaps and wet carpets (from water ingress around the tailgate or sunroof).
Seats should be intact on a good car with no rips, cigarette burns or sagging. Most importantly, check everything works, including the air conditioning if fitted. A regas may not be enough if the condenser or compressor is faulty - making an aircon rebuild expensive at possibly £750-1K.
Always try to drive the car before you buy. Important issues will show up even in a short drive (5 miles would be typical). If you don't have the experience to check the car out yourself, get an independent Porsche specialist to look at the car. They will advise on all aspects of the car's condition, what needs replacing now and in the short term and whether the car is valued correctly.
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