An extensive job like a clutch replacement on a Porsche 944 requires research, patience, money, skill and hope. We had next to none of these.
After only a quarter mile of driving in my “new” Porsche 944 post picking it up off Craigslist, I knew that a clutch job was in my near future. Every time I was on or off throttle, the car would jerk and buck forward and back like I was riding a ramped horse. That was no comforting feeling.
For those unfamiliar with the 944’s drivetrain setup, these cars are powered by a (rather feeble) 150ish horsepower Porsche inline-four and mated to a rear mounted five-speed transaxle by use of a torque tube. Similar layouts have also been used in cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, several modern Aston Martins, and modern Corvettes. So yeah, the 944 is basically an SLS.
What most of these cars don’t have in common, however, is the rubber-centered clutch disc that the 944 utilizes. And aren’t the owners of all those other cars lucky for that one.
Back when 944s were put on sale, the whole rubber-centered clutch concept seemed to work rather well. They were used in 944s because they (supposedly) allowed for smoother gear changes and what not. Unfortunately the Porsche engineers did not foresee what thirty years or 150,000 miles down the line would do, so the rubber chunks in the center of the clutch discs are prone to literally falling apart, thus making the car undrivable.
This was the problem I was facing.
Symptoms of a rubber clutch failing are a bit different than symptoms that’ll show when a normal, sprung clutch is on its way out. Generally when normal clutches are on their way out, power won’t be getting to the transmission from the motor, which means the clutch is slipping. When a clutch slips, the friction points on the disc can no longer handle the power from the motor, so the car will begin to not want to go anywhere. You will notice your revs will climb, even if you’re in gear, but the car will not actually move.
On a rubber centered-disc clutch, that can still happen, but what is generally more common and more unique to these clutches, is that a slack will begin to become noticeable from inside the car when getting on and off the throttle. It may feel like driveshaft slack, a transaxle issue or similar, but usually, it’s just your shitty old rubber-centered clutch decomposing. When this happens, it’s incredibly difficult to be 100% certain on whether it is your clutch failing or not, but if you drive a 944 and your car bucks forward and back every time you get on and off the throttle, your clutch is probably using its limp home tabs (shown above), and you probably need a clutch.
Once I completed my extensive price-checking research, I decided that the only way to get this job done would be to round up some friends and call in a few favors. It would be convincing my friends to slave over my car with only free pizza in return and spending $460 in parts versus about $1500 or $2000 (including parts and labor) depending on the shop I chose. I kept telling myself I didn’t have the time to do it. Hell, I even drove the car to Maine and back on the shitty clutch. But I knew it would break on me sooner or later, and I didn’t want to be that stereotypically 944 owner broken down on the side of the road, again.