In the early 1970s Volkswagen planned to introduce a sports coupe to lift its image in some markets, particularly the USA. The car was to use as many VW parts as possible including a current engine to minimise retooling costs. The VW management approached Porsche to design the vehicle for them and the project soon got under way but as it approached finality the VW people suddenly dropped the whole project and it went into limbo.
Fast forward a couple of years and there was suddenly a fuel crisis on the horizon. As the cost of petrol started to climb, sales of cars with a sizeable thirst slowed rapidly. One such car affected was the Porsche 914 and soon after the 911. Porsche realised that it was faced with the prospect of declining sales and thought that a lower cost and less thirsty car would be of value to have in their range. In thinking through the problem they reflected on the design they had undertaken for VW.
They knew this to be the ideal low-cost sports car and undertook to market it themselves, with production subcontracted to Volkswagen. Whilst positioned at the bottom of the Porsche performance car list the 924 coupe quickly established itself, after its 1975 introduction, as the ideal entry vehicle to Porsche motoring.
The Porsche 924 was powered by a fuel-injected four-cylinder 2990cc SOHC engine used in both the Audi 100 and VW commercial LT van. It developed 93kW at 5800rpm and drove through a five-speed manual gearbox. The rear transaxle was a new design but the gears inside came from the Audi parts bin. The chassis was a steel monocoque construction and the 924 had disc brakes at the front with rear drums.
When driven hard the engine showed brisk acceleration – it went from 0 to 96kmh in 9.5 seconds – and had a top speed of 201kmh in fifth gear. However, unlike the 911, its raucous screech when running at high revolutions was a true reflection of its van beginnings. In so far as handling was concerned it was quite impressive due to the perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Even novice drivers could handle it safely due to its precise and light steering.
After its introduction the 924 received constant refinement, becoming better with each year of production. Porsches have always been known for their excellent handling which has taken precedence over ride quality. Some people may think this is the wrong approach but in view of the kind of performance that a Porsche offers this must be the right compromise for the buyer, especially when Porsche basically built nothing but high-performance cars before the introduction of a four-wheel drive model.
Unlike several earlier Porsche efforts at producing a low-priced model the 924 was a notable sales success and its introduction helped Porsche to survive what could have turned out to be a very difficult situation. Porsche built 122,304 of these cars before production finally ceased, many of them finding their way onto the US market.