21st July 2020

The Porsche Transaxle - Redefining a Marque

“The 924 is a Volkswagen with a van engine”, so says many a misguided bar-stool expert across the world.

Oft maligned by those who say a true Porsche must be rear-engined, enjoy six cylinders and sport a 911 badge, the 924 has at times been overlooked in the Porsche back catalogue. In fact, not only was the 924 a Porsche project from the start, it spawned a model range that spanned almost two decades and gave the company near on 400,000 sales worldwide.

The 924 was engineered and developed by Porsche from the outset. Destined to be badged as a Volkswagen, it was engineered to use parts that were common to VW and Audi, including the 2-litre, inline 4 engine that began life in the Audi 100. However, while the same base unit did eventually find its way into the LT Van, as well as the AMC Gremlin and even US Postal Jeeps, in the Porsche, it enjoyed a unique Porsche cylinder head and Bosch K-Jetronic injection. A very different unit from its more prosaic relatives, it gave more than adequate performance in the 924.

The standout feature of the 924 and the models that followed was the engine and gearbox layout. By using a front-engine and rear-wheel-drive configuration with the addition of a transaxle, Porsche created a car with near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution and impressive interior space. In the transaxle Porsches, the transmission was mounted to the rear axle, with a narrow, rigid driveshaft connecting the two, held inside a solid casing, known as a torque tube. An added benefit of this arrangement was the rigidity it gave the vehicles, further aiding the handling.

Although not lightning fast in its most basic form, the standard package was light, rigid and easily capable of accepting the performance enhancements that rapidly followed. Following higher compression ratios and a five-speed gearbox, in 1978 a turbo version was launched with 180bhp. Although lower powered than a naturally aspirated 911, the 924 could easily match it for pace thanks to its lighter weight and aerodynamic prowess. The handling remained sublime.

The models that followed the 924 were all built on the same layout and all enjoyed the benefits of the package. The V8-powered 928 launched in 1978 was swiftly crowned European Car of the Year - an incredible achievement for a luxury sports car in a space normally dominated by family cars. In 1984, the four-cylinder 944 was voted America’s Best Handling Car by Car & Driver magazine. By the time production of the transaxle models ceased in 1995, their place in the motoring canon of great sportscars had been assured.

No longer considered the poor man’s Porsche, the transaxle cars are fast becoming true collectors’ items.
Do you have one? Let us know if you agree in the comments below.