The Porsche 944 was produced from 1982 until 1991. Unlike traditional Porsche’s, the 944 is a front-engine design. For model year 1992 the 944 received numerous updates and a new design which prompted Porsche to rebrand the car the Porsche 968. The 944 and 968 share about 20% of the same parts.
The 944 came in three different trims: the base model 944, the 944 Turbo, and the 944 S. The 944S model received an update in 1989, dubbed the 944 S2. Additionally, cabriolet versions were produced for the S2 and Turbo.
Throughout it’s 9 year production history, four different engines were used. Three were naturally aspirated and came in 2.5L, 2.7L, and 3.0L sizes. The 2.5L I4 was the base model engine producing 143-161hp and was also used in the first 944 S models from 1987-1989 which produced 187hp due to a new 4-valve design. The 2.7L is a rare engine used only in 1989 base models. The 944 S models from 1989 onwards, dubbed the 944 S2, received a larger 3.0L engine which output 208hp. And lastly, the 944 Turbo models all received a 2.5L I4 equipped with a turbocharger, producing 217-247hp.
This guide is going to cover the best performance mods for the Porsche 944. It will be more geared towards the base 2.5L engines. While power gains will vary slightly for NA models, the recommended modifications and performance upgrades are the same for the 2.7 and 3.0 models as well.
Porsche 944 NA Mods
- Upgraded camshaft
- High-flow cat or cat-delete
- MAF conversion
- ECU tune
- Throttle response cam
Ultimately, mods don’t do too much for the 944 NA 2.5 which is why we only recommend a few of them. A bit later down we’re going to cover some more advanced mods at a high level that can get your NA 944 above the 200hp mark. But note these are very advanced and expensive mods which is why we aren’t going to recommend them here. However, this wouldn’t be a complete guide without giving you a flavor of other possible 2.5L NA mods.
Rather than dumping significant amounts of money into power-adding mods, most enthusiasts recommend spending the money on suspension, handling, and weight reduction mods.
1) 944 NA Header Upgrade
Headers are the first component of the exhaust system and also tend to be one of the most restrictive components. On the earlier year 8-vavle 2.5’s, headers don’t provide a ton of performance value as their stock headers aren’t quite as restrictive considering less valves and lower power. On the 1987-1989 16-valve engines the headers gains are more meaningful.
Headers increase power by reducing backpressure in the exhaust system. Backpressure causes exhaust gases to seep back into the combustion chamber and therefore increase air temps and decrease the amount of oxygen in the chamber. The second benefit is through weight reduction. A set of aftermarket headers will shave off about 10lbs. of weight.
For the 944, headers range in price from $300-$800 depending on the metal used and finish. Most of the brands offered will provide the same performance benefit but lower quality metals can rust and crack so we recommend a good 304 stainless steel option.
Header Upgrade Benefits
- ~2whp for 8v 944’s and similar torque gains
- ~8whp for 16v 944’s and similar torque gains
- Decreased backpressure
- Slightly louder exhaust note
- Better throttle response
2) Porsche 944 Camshaft Upgrades
Camshaft upgrades aren’t necessarily the most beginner friendly mod but do offer some decent gains for the 944. The gains here are realized from going with a more aggressive cam grind. Cams with more aggressive profiles have longer duration and higher lifts which open the valves further and keep them open longer.
Cam selection is a bit more of an advanced topic so we’re going to stay away from covering it in this article and instead focus on the performance gains an upgraded cam can provide on the Porsche 944. However, gains ultimately depend on the cam you choose and other mods present on the car. On the downside of cam upgrades is the higher RPM’s it causes result in added heat and engine stress
944 NA Camshaft Upgrade Benefits
- ~5-10whp gains (not necessarily peak)
- Improved low end torque
- Better throttle response
3) High-Flow Cat or Cat Delete
Between the headers and the cat-back portion of the exhaust sits the catalytic converter, or cat. The cat is generally the most restrictive exhaust component and therefore creates the most backpressure. Similar to headers, upgrading the stock cat reduces backpressure in the exhaust system and therefore improves power.
You have two options: replace the stock cat with a high-flow cat, or completely delete the cat itself. Deleting the cat is technically illegal but reduces backpressure the most and therefore offers better power gains. Keeping the cat keeps the car legal and is less harmful to the environment but offers less gains since it is still somewhat restrictive. However, due to the age of these cars you might be exempt from emissions testing in the first place depending on where you live.
A high flow cat will provide about 5whp gains whereas completely deleting it can provide closer to 10whp gains. One other consideration is that deleting the cat and using a “test pipe” is a lot cheaper since it doesn’t have the catalytic converter which uses exotic metals inside.
The remaining cat-back portion of the exhaust can be upgraded as well but provides pretty negligible power gains which is why we mostly recommend the header and cat pipe mods.
Porsche 944 High Flow Cat & Test Pipe Mod Benefits
- ~5whp for high-flow cats
- ~10whp for cat-delete aka test pipes
- Louder exhaust note (only noticeable if cat is deleted)
- Reduced exhaust backpressure
- Lower exhaust gas temps
4) Porsche 944 MAF Conversion
Along with a cat-delete an MAF conversion is probably among the best Porsche 944 mods on this list. The stock air system uses an air-flow-meter (AFM) which is highly restrictive. This mod deletes the AFM and converts the car to a mass-air-flow sensor driven air intake system. In addition to significantly improving airflow it also allows for more precise air-to-fuel ratios creating more power and smoother power curve.
The one downside to the 944 MAF mod is that you need an 1985/2 or later DME. The 24 pin DME chip needs to be converted to a 28-pin and unfortunately the 1985/1 and earlier DME’s have the chip soldered into place whereas the later years are plug and play. Modification of the DME is required so that the DME understands the conversion from AFM to MAF.
Here is an example of a kit from one of the best on the market, Lindsey Racing MAF Kit.
MAF Conversion Benefits
- 5%-10% power gains (approx. 10-15whp gains)
- Increased air flow, less restriction
- More linear power delivery
- AFRs adjust to improve power gains from other mods
5) Porsche 944 DME Tune / Chip
The stock DME isn’t optimally tuned, especially when the 944 is modded. One of the best way to get a healthier engine and increase power is through tuning the DME. There are a few options here. First, you can get a dyno tune done by someone who can tune the stock DME. Second, you can get a standalone DME. Or third, you can “chip” the DME.
Finding a tuner who can play with the stock DME is difficult. Standalone is an option but they are $800+ and likely still requires some custom tuning to it. Therefore, our favorite option is chipping it considering it costs about $250. Getting a standalone is a great mod but we’re not sure it’s worth the cost unless you need extra customizability and all the additional benefits they offer.
For chipping, similar to the last mod you need an ’85/2 or later DME since it requires swapping out the chip inside of it. On the 2.5 NA 8v the Lindsey Racing chip is good for 7whp peak gains with maximum gains of about 12whp in the upper rev range.
944 NA Chipping Benefits
- 7whp peak gains
- 12whp max gains
- Smoother power curve
- Overall healthier engine
6) 944 Throttle Response Cam
We’ll keep this one brief since the mod is super simple and very inexpensive, albeit it does not provide any power gains. The throttle on the 944 is opened via a cam and wire. The stock cam comes in a funky shape with an outward arm that causes the cam to turn slower for the first 1/3 of the throttle. This means that the throttle opens more slowly when your foot is initially pressing down on the gas pedal.
This decreases acceleration and throttle response. For $30 you can get a round throttle response cam that opens 1:1 with your foot on the gas pedal. While this doesn’t increase power it has a huge impact on throttle response. Better throttle response equals faster acceleration. Overall, it’s one of the best mods at making your car feel a little more alive and a bit faster off the line. Installing the part takes about 5 minutes, and at $30, why not?
Should I just buy an S2 or 944 Turbo?
Most people on the forums will tell you to buy a Turbo or a 3.0L S2 engine and swap it into your 944, or just buy the whole car. The base model 944’s with the 2.5L can get to around 230whp but this requires about $7,500 in mods which is about what it costs to buy a 944 Turbo or S2 in the first place. With that being said, this guide is going to cover some basic bolt-on mods to make some modest power improvements.
If you are chasing 200+hp on a base 944 then I would also agree with selling your car and buying a Turbo or S2. Doing so on the NA 2.5L will require cam, lifter, piston, valve spring, porting, etc. etc. which is quite a bit of work and not cheap. Since these are more advanced engine mods we aren’t going to cover them in this guide but will lay them out in a section below.
Base 944’s today are going anywhere from $5k-$10k. S2 models are in the $10k-$20k range and turbo models go anywhere from the upper teens to $30k+. If you just want a 944 for fun and don’t care about performance then go for it. But if performance is a factor for you and you plan on adding mods, an S2 944 is going to be cheaper than getting a base 2.5 NA and modding it to the power levels of the S2. And same goes for getting an S2 vs. a Turbo.
Porsche 944 Advanced Mods for 200hp+
If money isn’t a factor and you want to max out the 944 2.5L NA, then here is a list of all the things you’re going to need to do. Everything on this list is going to run you about $10k-$15k and will get you around the 225-230whp mark. You will be putting out pretty close to 944 Turbo levels, but to really surpass those you’re then going to need to add a turbo which isn’t really ever done.
Turbo kits aren’t a thing unfortunately so you need to build it all in house. And you’re not going to find many people who have tried. The ones that have tried have spent more money doing it than it would cost to buy a 944 turbo itself. Here is some helpful information for the curious, though.
Anyways, here is our list of things you’ll need to push the 230whp mark on an NA Porsche 944.
- Built Motor
- Pistons, rings, wrist pins, valves, springs, lifters, camshaft, crankshaft, etc.
- Block Upgrades
- Bored and strengthened, main saddle upgrade, ported combustion chamber, main caps strengthened
- Cylinder head strengthened
- Lightweight flywheel
- Stroker kit
- Headers and high-flow cat
- Tune / engine management
2.5L Porsche 944 NA Mods Summary
The 6 mods listed in this guide will give you a nice 30-40whp gains. However, getting there will cost you somewhere around $2,000 to $4,000 depending on the products you choose. This isn’t necessarily expensive but it’s also not cheap when considering the initial cost of a 944 today and the cost relative to just buying an S2 or Turbo. Also, for what it’s worth, a lot of people will argue and claim that these mods we listed will get you more like 10whp.
For someone just looking for a bit more power out of the 2.5L, headers and a cat delete, an ECU chip, MAF conversion, and throttle response cam are great options. Upgrading the cam itself is a bit more of an advanced topic and can have an impact on lifters, springs, etc.
If you want to spend $5k+ you can get to 200whp with a few additional mods. And if you want to then spend another $10k+ you can get to 230whp or so which is considered pretty much maxed out for the 2.5 NA 944. Anything beyond that will require a turbo as well but adding one is quite challenging and not really worth the cost.
With all this being said, adding a few of the less expensive mods like a chip and cat delete and spending the rest of your money on weight reduction and handling mods is probably the best option. Or just save up a little bit more money and buy an S2 or Turbo instead if power matters to you.
Overall these are fun cars but the power potential is limited and doing anything about it is expensive. What has your experience been like with modding the Porsche 944?