The Porsche 911 resale market reached the point of absurdity years ago, and has shown no signs of retreating. Most premium Mercedes-Benz or BMW models eventually depreciate to the point where commoners can afford them, but the 911 seems to have no half-life — at least, when it comes to the pre-1997 air-cooled models most valued by purists. Bargains only come with the oft-derided 996 generation some from 1999 to 2004, known for being Boxsters up front and having exploding engines in the back.
The 911 bubble’s resilience means less well-heeled Porsche enthusiasts have to buy other models. One popular choice has been the Porsche 944 of 1982-91. The 944 had timeless good looks; plus, it was a quality performer, with 50/50 weight distribution, excellent cornering, and more grunt than the Audi-powered 924 that spawned it. It was a fixture on Car and Driver‘s 10 Best lists. Sure, the base 944’s acceleration would put it behind a modern Subaru, but the Turbos and their sub-6.0 second 0-60 mile-per-hour time were genuinely quick.
Multiple factors have kept the 944 relatively affordable. Porsche snobs have held their noses toward it because it was front-engined and water-cooled. Four-cylinder engines tend not to have quite the same emotional resonance. The 944’s Japanese contemporaries offered better performance, better value, and better bases for tuning. And the 944 isn’t cheap to maintain.
Attitudes toward the 944 may be changing, though. Prices for Turbo models appear to be going up: Through the end of 2018, only four of 85 944 Turbos on Bring a Trailer had sold for more than $30,000, and none more than $40,000; this year, though, four 944 Turbos have gaveled for north of $58,000 on the site. (That’s basically the base cost of a new 718 Cayman.)
It’s not just happening on BaT, though. Elsewhere, the auction house Gooding & Co. sold a 1989 944 Turbo for $72,600 in 2018. Notable Porsche enthusiast Jerry Seinfeld bought himself a 944 Turbo this year as well.
There are some caveats. The four that sold on Bring a Trailer were in good-to-pristine condition. Three were highly sought-after Turbo S models. The highest seller, the one for $74,000, had only 5,300 miles on the clock. Any Porsche preserved in such a condition would draw a high price; models like the 912 and the 914, which some would consider glorified Volkswagens, have sold for similar prices on BaT.
Why the sudden 944 Turbo love? It’s not totally clear. 944 prices, in general, have been rising with the 911 tide: Hagerty notes that 944 prices have doubled or even tripled in some cases over the last 10 years. Recognition may be growing that the 944 Turbo was generally a great car, undervalued in the 911’s shadow.
It also may not take that many enthusiasts unconcerned with value to move a niche classic car market. The same BaT buyer that landed the $74,000 944 Turbo bid up to $58,000 on another a month later, and has bid on five 944s on the site since December.
There’s no question Porsche makes excellent cars. But increasingly, it seems bargains on them are hard to find, new or used. For some perspective, Mercedes also makes excellent cars — yet you can get a newer, more powerful, and lightly-used R129 500SL for the price of a not-so-great 944, and the $75,000-or-so for a top-end 944 Turbo could get you a 2016 Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon. We know which we’d rather have for that price.