"Do you have a front porch or a back porch?"
-- occasionally overheard tongue-in-cheek question regarding Porsche ownership
In 1976, a new kind of car rolled into Porsche showrooms. For over 20 years, the German automaker had been world reknowned for its bulbous racing-inspired (and actively raced) 911, and its collectors-item predecessor, the Porsche 356. Whereas the older cars featured curvy lines and rear-mounted air-cooled engine, this new Porsche featured angular lines, boxy pop-up headlights, and -- get this -- an engine that sat forward of the front axle and was cooled with liquid.
This new (and, not surprisingly, controversial) Porsche was dubbed the 924. It was the first publicly-available water-cooled Porsche and the first publicly-available front-engined Porsche. Many faux afficionados will tell you it was the first four cylinder or first inline engined Porsche, but the earlier 356, 912 and mid-engined 914 all had four cylinder engines. All these were short-lived accomplishments when the Porsche 928 came to market the following year (it had actually been in development earlier than the 924).
The history of the 924 is an interesting footnote on the development of German automobiles. In the early 1970s, Audi (and partner Volkswagen) saw a market for a sporty coupe in their product line. They contracted Porsche to design such a vehicle based around an existing Audi/VW drivetrain. Porsche delivered the design as requested, but by the time the plans were complete the world was in the midst of an oil crisis. Audi no longer envisioned the sport coupe market being profitable, even with a fuel-efficient inline four engine. Porsche bought back the rights to their own design from Audi, and began manufacturing the 924. However, the production car would be produced with a 2.0 liter Audi engine and an Volkswagen-derived transmission (many parts of which were used on the earlier VW bus, among other Audi/VW applications).
The drivetrain layout of the Porsche 924 was remarkable in that the front-mounted engine drove a rear-mounted transmission. The transmission was integrated with the rear differential and axles, creating a single unit commonly referred to as a transaxle. Most cars are plagued with a rear or front weight bias, moving the center of gravity. By putting heavy portions of the powertrain in both the front and rear of the vehicle, a more balanced vehicle was created.
Porsche sold the 924 in varying trims from 1976 to 1985. A turbocharged model, internally referred to as a Porsche 931, was available 1979-1984. Special racing-trim 924 models (924 Carrera GT, 924 Carrera GTS, and 924 Carrera GTR) were produced in 1981 in limited batches (481 total cars of all three designations). In 1986, Porsche created the 924S, which was essentially a Porsche 944 drivetrain with a 924 body.
The Porsche 944 became the 924's successor in 1983 with aggressively flared fenders and an entirely Porsche-designed drivetrain, abandoning the Audi and Volkswagen components.