By Stuart Grant
Porsche purists will argue that the engine is in the wrong place and because the cooling is done by water the Porsche 924, 944 and 928 variants aren’t worthy of the famed Stuttgart badge. But we think the front-engined homologation special 924 Carrera GT, with plenty of performance, style and pedigree, is more than qualified to fly the flag.
Not convinced? Then mentally remove the badge and look at it as a generic sports car. With its long swooping bonnet, short rear, arch-filling wheels, subtle air dams, scoops and wings it looks the part of a traditional sports car. Inside the cabin the seats hug the body, controls fall easily to hand and a sense of ‘form follows function’ dominates.
Le Mans results don’t lie either; the nimble ‘non-Porschey’ Porsche excelled there. In fact, three Porsche 924 Carreras entered the 1980 24 Hour and all three finished. Porsche ran the three racers as a British, American and German team. Initially it looked like the four-pot Porsches wouldn’t do all that well with qualifying positions of 34th, 44th and 46th. In the very wet race, the handling and Porsche's famed reliability saw them climbing the leader board with the competition dropping off the track. At the flag the ‘little’ Porsche trio finished 6th, 12th and 13th overall, with the German crew being the first home. A year later Porsche entered a 924 Carrera and a 944 LM before turning its attention back to the mid-mounted Group C cars.
924 track appearances were left up to privateers. Two entered Le Mans in 1982, and across the pond the silverware flowed with IMSA GTO and IMSA GT class championships. In order to compete in the desired Le Mans class and other race series, Porsche had to build enough road-car variants to get the 924 racer homologated. Enter the very special Porsche 924 Carrera GT you see here.
Yes, that’s correct: although to the uninformed it looks like the 944 with a few accessories, it is really a 924. The Porsche 924 was a design commission undertaken by Porsche for VW/Audi but when they turned down the proposal, the idea was sold back to Porsche. Audi stayed in the loop by building the vehicle in its Neckarsulm plant. Relatively cheap and practical, the 924 was a success and brought in much-needed cash, resuscitating Porsche following the financial hardships caused by the 1970s oil crisis. About 125 000 924s and 14 000 924 Turbos sold between 1976 and 1985. Little surprise, then, that Porsche decided to forge ahead with another four-cylinder front-engined Porsche and showed off the 944 at the 1979 Frankfurt Motorshow.
When the Porsche factory team opted to enter only front-engined cars in the 1980 Le Mans 24 Hour, they chose the 924 Turbo built to Group 4 racing regulations (although the racers were eventually entered in the GTP class as 924 GTR). To meet homologation requirements, 406 road-use cars titled ‘Carrera GT’ were manufactured. Clients could choose only a red, black or silver car. Aircon was an option but electric windows and mirrors came standard. For those who wanted an even racier but still road-legal option, 59 stripped-down versions called 924 Carrera GTS were sold. The GTS only ever left the plant in red.
In essence the GT was a developed 924 Turbo kitted out with wider polyurethane front and rear wings, similar to those seen on the well-received 944 styling exercise, and a meaningful polyurethane bonnet-mounted air intake flowing to the intercooler. Mechanically Porsche retained the original 924 Turbo 1984cc power unit but fitted a few tricks like lighter pistons, compression ratio raised from 7.5:1 to 8.5:1, an intercooler and an entirely new digital control of ignition timing. The Porsche parts bin was raided even further with 911 SC Fuchs wheels and a 911 clutch plate used, and the transaxle transmission was beefed up with 911 synchro rings.
A claimed 210bhp powered the rear wheels via a five-speed and combined with a reasonably light weight of 1 180kg and drag coefficient of 0.34 to make it a spritely and fuel-economical package. But the real trump card was its 49/51 weight distribution, which was made possible by a transaxle system. The result was an excellent handling package.
Despite the high price, the fact that the 924 Carrera GT was a valid road racer and trackday machete meant it sold like hot cakes. A handful of them made the trek down to South Africa but strong demand for them internationally has seen to it that the majority have left our shores. Only two are known to still reside here. The Porsche Carrera GT is a rare and entertaining machine, one that flies the Porsche brand values to the max – albeit it under the radar and with the engine in the wrong place.
IDENTIFYING A CARRERA GT