Lamest Classics: Porsche 968

Porsches, like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, have long been associated with dentists. But if you wanted a Porsche circa 1995 and weren’t interested in a 6-cylinder descendent of the 6-decade-old Beetle platform, you could get yourself a P-car that was designed in the ‘70s instead.

After the demise of the 944, the Porsche 968 was the only answer that the German brand had to the steadily-going-upmarket trifecta of Mazda RX-7, Toyota Supra, and Nissan 300ZX.

The real trick of this car is the rear-mounted transaxle, which gave it the same benefits of weight distribution as its predecessors the 924, 944, and the confusingly numbered 928. (As I mentioned in discussing the Infiniti J30, the nomenclature of luxury and sports cars are frequently an inconsistent nonsense jumble of alphanumerics.)

Porsche 968 cutaway diagram

Though the transaxle is considered fairly robust and yields that mythical 50/50 weight distribution that’s so good for handling, the rear of all these cars is a layer cake of German engineering. When any component (like a clutch) lets go, you’ll be spending a lot of time spinning wrenches and learning new curse words to take the thing out.

It’s worth noting that the Mazda RX-7 managed the same weight distribution by using a tiny spinning-Dorito engine that could be mounted well behind the front axle, but those turbocharged Doritos aren’t exactly known for robust edges.

A Big Four

What started in the 944 as an already-big 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine had swollen to a full 3 liters. This has got to be high in the running for largest-displacement 4-pots in modern passenger cars. For reference: Toyota’s legendary 2JZ engine also displaces 3 liters, but with 2 more cylinders.

[Photo courtesy Porsche]

The reason manufacturers typically don’t make really big fours is that 2.5 liters are generally regarded as the upper limit for smoothness. Porsche overcame this, but it took two balance shafts. Normal-sized four-cylinder engines typically have one balance shaft or none at all. Despite the parasitic loss from those shafts, it still managed 236 horsepower in the non-turbo versions.

Look Again

What’s weird about these cars is that at a passing glance, they’re visually almost identical to Porsche’s top-tier grand tourer 928. It’s hard to tell them apart. I even put a photo or two of the 928 in this article. See how many you can find.

(The 928 was another designed-in-the-’70s front-engine Porsche with a rear transaxle. It had a V8, originally 4.5 liters when it first came out in 1978. They were using that original engine basically unchanged still in 1995, they’d just switched the numbers around to make it a 5.4-liter V8.)

The Dental Connection

The whole dentist thing didn’t come out of nowhere, however. It’s a little-known fact that the American Dental Association was the single biggest factor in keeping Porsche afloat from the late ‘80s right until they finally released the profitable juggernaut Cayenne.

I haven’t been able to verify the reason for this, but rumor has it that the ADA president at the time was personally haunted by the teeth of Ferdinand Porsche.

[Photo courtesy Porsche]

It’s true. Thanks to the powerful lobbyists among the ADA’s members, in order to become licensed dentists — well, in at least 7 states — they had to purchase a Porsche or provide evidence that they already owned one. This drove up sales of the 968, which was Porsche’s cheapest car — I can’t get over this: it’s the highest numbered car but the cheapest model. I hate it.

Mississippi Dental Board newsletter 1995

Anyway. It was hard to verify, but when I found this document in my dad’s attic (sorry, dad), it was all the evidence I needed.

Lame Means Unremarkable

I grew up loving Porsches. I still have a Micro Machines whale-tail 911 Cabrio from when I was a kid. I keep it in my office at my day job. But all Porsches have been ruined for me by their owners, especially the 911.

The 928 968 doesn’t benefit from the motorsports cachet of the 911 though, and it had that big, weird bubble back. So, while I can’t love any Porsche whatsoever, the 968 is probably the Porsche I dislike the least.

Because it doesn’t bring up that latent, simmering hate, the 928 968 is, technically, lamer.

So take your Porsche and your Dremel set to your state’s dental board and see if you can become licensed in grinding away around the holes in people’s teeth and filling them with JB Weld. And, you know, head down to the DMV afterward and get your classic-car plates. You’ve earned it.

The Porsche whatever-it-is gets a 3 on the Lamestain Index.

[Top photo courtesy Porsche]

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11 responses to “Lamest Classics: Porsche 968”

  1. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    I’m with you on this, the 968 always felt like a weak follow on to the 944 and the Boxster blew it out of the water. FWIW my dentist at the time drove a Fiat Dino Spider. I sometime wonder if the ADA has a similar deal with Cervelo and Serotta bicycles.

    1. GTXcellent Avatar

      My dentist drove a really sweet ’71 Blazer – Hugger Orange, jacked up with 33″ tires on chrome wagon wheels. Damn, I really am a red-neck hill-billy.

      1. Maymar Avatar

        Mine encouraged me not to buy a 3rd gen Camaro for my first car, and that I should get a Fox body Mustang instead (in the early 2000’s), which I suppose puts me on the waiting list for white trash. I think he had a ’71 Mustang?

  2. Batshitbox Avatar

    The white one and the two in the loft space are 928s.

    I now know more than I’d like to about distinguishing one from the other, you bastard.

  3. GTXcellent Avatar

    I really have nothing to contribute – just want to say how much I despise those 928 pop-up lights and the bulbous and weird rear.

  4. 0A5599 Avatar

    I had a dentist with two Rolls Royces. If he had a water-cooled Porch back then, maybe I would still be seeing him for my dental needs.

  5. Maymar Avatar

    I suppose it’s rarity, but there’s a ton of cheap 944’s, while 968’s still fetch a relative premium. Like, I know everyone hates the 996, but there’s enough overlap (from what I’ve seen) between 968 and 996 pricing that it wouldn’t be a hard choice if I had that kind of money to spend.

  6. crank_case Avatar

    Whatever about the regular models – have we forgotten about the Porsche 968 Clubsport? – back in the days when Porsche charged less not more for the stripped out track model and regarded as one of the best drivers Porsches ever.

  7. nanoop Avatar

    The P-Corp must have been so broke in the early 90ies, and the USD/DEM rates were not helping – these cars were expensive! The 968 was a very good car, given its roots, but the line should have ended with the S2 indeed.

    A very good, non-fanatic source is Aaron’s write-up here: totally agree on the idiotic naming scheme, but for different reasons: 997/2 = 911, and after that I’d expect.. 991?

    Disclaimer: I have a 944/1=944 which I like (I don’t know it better), but no enthusiasm for the brand.

  8. oldguyinnj Avatar

    Have a 1989 944S2 and a 2008
    Boxster S Ltd (orange). Raced the S2 with PCA in DE events for 8 years. Fun ride. Intend to do a few events in the Boxster at some point. Each car has its unique hooks from more visceral to smooth power. The 968 was a 944S2 with variocam added and a less interesting rounded off body (just my opinion).

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