If there’s a Porsche just begging for more power, it’s the 944 Turbo, a box-fendered 80’s hero that is quickly attaining classic status. Thanks to its ideal 50/50 weight distribution, the 944 is a supremely capable machine that in it’s day was a world class road handler that was called the “best handling car in the world” by more than one car magazine. It’s still an impressive drive all these years later. But though the 944 Turbo- referred to by its internal designation of 951 by devotees- was considered powerful in its day, in today’s world of 600+hp production Porsche Turbos the 951’s stock 217-hp is a little conservative, which is putting it mildly.
Luckily the car’s four-cylinder engine is a robust unit that can be rebuilt to put out far more respectable horsepower and torque figures. Darwin Benik Jr. 944 Turbo is an ideal example of a 951 that is packing a far more serious punch than it left the factory with.
Benik acquired the car when he was a teenager. Owning a 944 Turbo was the realization of a long-term goal, which had been sparked when his dad, who drove a Porsche 911, told him the best bang-for-buck Porsche was the 944 Turbo. Along with the promise of performance, Benik really loved the 944’s styling. “The wide front and rear fenders are my favorite part,” he says. “I like looking in the side mirror and seeing the rear fender arches. The front end is very sleek, and looks like a knife ready to cut through the air.”
Benik found the car in Florida in 2004. It was in good shape when he acquired it with the usual rock chips and minor cosmetic issues that come with buying a used car. As a more powerful 944 Turbo S model, it was also faster than a standard Turbo. Taking after the track only 944 Turbo Cup cars that Porsche produced in the era, the street-going 944 Turbo S produced 250-hp and 258 lb/ft of torque. Zero-to-60 was dispatched in 5.4-seconds and given a long enough stretch of road, the S could power on to a 161-mph top speed.
Coming from a VW Fox, Benik was suitable impressed with the Turbo’s performance, calling it fast with smooth, nimble handling and very good brakes. He also instantly fell in love with the roomy and highly appointed interior. Adding to the car’s appeal was the it’s unusual silver paint, which subtly changes its shade depending on the light. One of 1000 made, Porsche called this special edition the Silver Rose, and it is widely considered one of the most desirable and collectible 944s around.
Like many young car owners, Benik can’t resist pulling more performance out of the his cars, a habit he honed working on and improving the VWs he had owned before the 944. “I knew it was an inevitable reality,” he says. “I just didn’t know how far I’d go.” The first upgrades to the Porsche were mild compared to what was come, consisting of an aftermarket performance chip, a Tial wastegate and manual boost controller that allowed him to increase the turbo’s boost.
While browsing the Porsche-specific Rennlist forum, Benik discovered 944 Enhancements, owned by Chris White. White’s company specializes on building larger displacement 944 Turbo engines, an idea that was highly appealing to Benik. When he decided to have White build him a motor, the ultimate goal was reliable power. Interestingly, the motor was built while Benik was deployed in Iraq as a civilian contractor, where he ran an unmanned aerial system. Many phone calls were made in order to get the details of the engine build just right, but five months after the process was started Benik had a brand new, built engine delivered to his house.
The actual engine build was the one aspect of the build that Benik didn’t perform himself. He handled every other task himself once he returned from his overseas deployment. The engine that White built for Benik’s Turbo is based around a 3.0-liter block that was sourced from a naturally aspirated 1989 944 S2. Larger Wossner forged aluminum pistons bring the displacement to 3.1-liters and were slipped into Dartin MID sleeves. The 3.0-liter engine’s crankshaft was lightened and knife-edged and turns set of Pauter connecting rods. There are also Glyco bearings and a Isihara-Johnson crank scraper and windage tray, the latter of which helps ensure that the engine is properly lubricated under all driving conditions.
On top of the S2 block is an upgraded head from a 2.7-liter 944 engine that relies on a Vitesse Racing camshaft, Turbo valve springs and a sturdy Cometic MLS headgasket. The stock turbo was upgraded to a Vitesse Racing Stage V turbo and a custom fabricated exhaust terminates in a Borla XR-1 muffler. The cooling system was also upgraded, while engine management is handled by an Electromotive TecGT stand alone setup. Electromotive Direct Fire coil packs were installed in place of the Porsche’s original distributor.
Benik is rightly proud of the performance that the upgraded 951 now offers, comparing its power to a big-block V8, with plentiful low-end torque that makes the car far faster. But it also has a very powerful top end as well, with the built engine thriving on revs.
In order to ensure that the 944 offered a balanced driving experience, Benik next turned his attention to the car’s chassis. When new, the 944 Turbo utilized a complex and sophisticated independent front suspension. The rear suspension however relied on a primitive torsion bar setup. Benik ditched the stock front shocks and springs and rear torsion bars and installed LEDA adjustable coilovers at all four corners. The coilovers use specifically weighted Hypercoil springs. Further upgraded can be found in Racer’s Edge adjustable camber plates and a Dynatech strut brace. “The coilovers give the car a much more aggressive feel, with almost zero body roll,” notes Benik. “I may have been a little aggressive with spring rates, but since I had the shocks valved for the spring rates that I chose, I really like the end results.”
The Turbo S’s brakes were already impressive in stock form, since the setup was borrowed from the faster and heavier 928 S4. The brakes were rebuilt and benefit from the addition of braided steel brake lines. When it came to sourcing the proper wheels, Benik went with a set of 18x8.5 and 18x10-inch Ruf 5-spoke alloys which are wrapped on Yokohama S-Drive tires.
Thanks to a hailstorm that was encountered on a road trip, the 944 has been repainted in its original Silver Rose paint. The car also has the rear hatch and spoiler from the later Porsche 968, as well door mirrors from the same model. There are Euro-spec driving lights and a sleeker Euro-spec rear bumper. Benik’s 944 Turbo is a true testament to what a terrific car Porsche had with the 944 Turbo. And it seems that the market is reflecting that fact. There are fewer and fewer of these cars around, coupled with an ever increasing demand for them. As such, prices are on the rise for the best examples. Our advice is to get one now while you can.