THE 928 AT 40
Sing it loud: “Happy Birthday!” Launched in 1977, the 928 design masterpiece is 40-years old
We gather first and last 928 at Stuttgart, go 928 racing with Richard Attwood and take a 928 to the ’Ring to meet up with Hans Stuck and his ex-company 928
Welcome to Nirvana! We’re at the Porsche Museum, Zuffenhausen, where every other passing vehicle is…a Porsche, of course. Like an intergalactic space vessel that’s landed randomly in the heart of a German industrial conurbation, the vast cuboid Museum building faces factory and showroom, a conurbation of silver and white, while the soaring tripod monument silhouetted against the blue sky, topped with three generations of heaven-bound 911s, bestrides the traffic intersection. And, appropriately enough, the pair of 928 space rockets we’ve come to photograph are as interplanetary modules descended to earth.
We’ve bookended this appraisal of the birthday basher by showcasing the earliest Geneva show car and the late-model GTS. We should be down on our knees at this point, hands raised in supplication, because, appropriately enough, the ’77 Geneva car belonged to Ferry Porsche till 1979, and the dark blue GTS was CEO Wendelin Wiedeking’s car in the mid-’90s till it fetched up in the Collection here, so both cars have been steered by the hands of greatness.
It’s a Monday, and the Museum’s not officially open to the public, making it easier to conduct our shoot on the spacious sloping concourse outside the monumental edifice. We’re greeted by museum PR Jessica Fritsch who’s extricated the 928 GTS from the collection for us. It’s all go, and people constantly sidle up to discuss these 928s. As my colleague busies himself with lights, camera, action – smoke and mirrors, some might say – groups of schoolchildren crocodile by, while bemused winners of a newspaper competition that’s put them in the seat of the One-millionth 911 are earnestly pursued by a film crew shepherded by bustling Porsche marketing exec Conny von Bühler.
Given the passing of four decades, it’s incumbent upon us to revisit the history of the 928. The global automotive industry, not to mention Porsche itself, has moved on immeasurably since the decision in the early ’70s to create a “conventional” front-engined, rear-drive Grand Tourer that could replace the 911. Porsche’s foray into the world of frontengined sports GTS lasted 19 years, beginning with the 924 in 1975 and ending with the cessation of the 928 and 968 in the 1995 model year. There’s the reality check: that’s over 20 years ago, and while the 928 may be a design masterpiece, it is also a museum piece.
So, it’s winter ’76/’77, and Porsche has built 20 pre-production 928 models for the press presentation at Le Mas D’artigny hotel, StPaul-de-vence in the foothills of the AlpesMaritimes in February ’77. From this cache they select a couple of cars for the world
premiere at the Geneva Salon on March 17th 1977. Our Guards Red car, chassis 928 810 0030, is the one chosen to be displayed most prominently at the Salon. The other 928, in white, is flanked by a 924 clad in Martini racing stripes, and the front-engined trio brusquely relegates the air-cooled 911s to the back of the stand.
After the Geneva Salon the red 928 returned to the factory, where it had a new interior fitted by special request from Ferry Porsche himself. There are three well-known portraits of him: with the 356, the 901 and the 928, always in the same pose, leaning on the bonnet. Ferry kept the 928 until 1979 when it was sold to a Czech customer. Four owners and 125,000kms later, a project awaits. Today, it belongs to Christophe Schmidt, who’s busy amassing a collection of early 928s via his Munich-based business, Weekend Heroes, renting out exotic classic cars. The paint is peeling badly on the bonnet and passenger door, the legacy of being parked under a dripping Portuguese irrigation system, where it stood for 20 years, till rescued three years ago by 928 connoisseur Pedro Diogo.
The 928’s gestation was lengthy: almost as soon as the stylists and engineers got to work on the fresh design study in 1971, Type number 928 was delayed by US environmental legislation and recessionary fuel crises. But, with an eye on the most lucrative market, Porsche persisted with its front-engined V8, which would fit in a treat with the American market. The benchmark GT at the time was the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona (1968–’73), a sleek, muscular frontengined bruiser and, conceptually, not so dissimilar to what emerged from the Zuffenhausen drawing board. Ernst Fuhrmann’s vision of a trans-continental express, unfettered by pressures to achieve competition success, was also intended to take on similar products from Mercedes-benz, BMW, Jaguar and Aston Martin. It was not quite as powerful as the 930 Turbo, but it was a great deal easier – blander? – to drive, and calculated to appeal to a quite different character of driver.
There’d never been anything quite like the 928 ‘Landshark’. Sure, Citroën had come up with the sleek and sloping Maserati-powered SM V6 in 1974, and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was, similarly, a long and languid coupé with bumpers incorporated into the bodywork, although the Porsche offered twoplus-two seating, which never existed in the ’Vette. It wasn't just the 928 styling that excited car buffs; the engineering was cuttingedge, too. To save weight as well as explore the possibilities of deformable structures, the doors, bonnet and front wings were fashioned in aluminium, while the bumpers were hidden underneath plastic aprons that wrapped imperceptibly around the nose and stern, calculated to retain their profile after a minor impact. Porsche was no stranger to (horizontally opposed) eight-cylinder engines, but this was a brand new all-alloy 4474cc SOHC V8, owing nothing to any other manufacturer or previous Porsche powerplant, and it was also the first engine to feature Bosch K-jetronic injection as a specific component. The front-engine, rear-mounted gearbox transaxle concept also featured in the Ferrari Daytona, but, equally, made a lot of sense in the 928, evening out the balance front-to-rear. It was available as five-speed
manual or Mercedes-sourced three-speed automatic, which Porsche re-programmed. Front suspension consisted of double wishbones and anti-roll bars, but at the rear Porsche broke new ground again and introduced the oversteer-reducing Weissach axle. That was sufficiently innovative in ’77 for the 928 to scoop the European Car of the Year award for 1978, the only sports car to win that accolade. Cynics might say, the automotive version of the Eurovision Song Contest: an event for people not that au-fait with contemporary pop.
Chronologically, then, the 4.7-litre 928 S appeared in 1980, and matched the 930 Turbo’s 300bhp power output. Transmission was either five-speed manual or three-speed Daimler-benz automatic, with cruise control and climate monitoring also dovetailed into the luxury spec. The base model went out of production in 1983, with just the 928 S available till 1986, after which the highly revised and facelifted 5.0-litre 928 S4 arrived, joined a year later by the S4 Club Sport. That was followed in 1989 by the 928 GT, available only with manual transmission, though as I’ve said elsewhere, a manual ’box is rather lost in a 928. As for our second subject car, the S4 and GT were phased out in 1992, ushering in the ‘N Programme’ 928 GTS as the final evolution of the V8 supercar. The bodyshell was broadened at the rear with wider wings, and marked out by a continuous red-light reflector strip, body-coloured rear spoiler and Cup-design external mirrors, with side mouldings positively (from an aesthetic viewpoint) absent. New 17in diameter Cup alloy wheels were introduced, bearing 225/45 ZR 17 tyres on 7.5in rims at the front and 255/40 ZR 17s on 9in rims at the rear, complete with tyre pressure monitoring system. The V8 engine was redesigned with a longer stroke crank, raising capacity to 5397cc, with four-valve heads, LH Jetronic fuel injection and electronic ignition. A fivespeed manual was standard issue, with fourspeed automatic optional. As an indication of performance, the GTS developed 350bhp @5700rpm, giving a top speed of 171mph (275kph) and 0 to 62mph (100kph) in 5.7s for the manual and 5.9s for the auto. Production of the 928 GTS concluded in 1995, with 2831 units built, and in total, Porsche made 61,056 examples of the 928 between 1978 and 1995.
My initial impression on getting into the Museum’s GTS is the solidity of it, and I feel cosseted and down low in the cabin. It’s done 29,000km (in the hands of the CEO) and naturally it’s in tip-top condition. The ruffled leather chairs feel very firm, even though the texture of the leather suggests otherwise. The deep pile carpet and switchgear on the console and the instrument gauge binnacle are all stylistically typical early ’90s, well finished, and a period AEG telephone dates the look. On a baking hot day in Stuttgart the air conditioning in the blue GTS is extremely efficient, if fairly noisy.
Like a pair of errant Easter Eggs juxtaposed against this gargantuan ’50s TV set, their bitmapped reflections projected overhead, the Eagles’ contemporaneous ditty, mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice comes to mind; the 928 encapsulated exactly that Sunset Strip aura in ’77. Actually, it’s an apt enough metaphor for Porsche ownership, period: you can check out any time you like; but you can never leave. I’m locked in. PW
Interior architecture largely the same and each displaying accessories of a bygone age. It’s not hard to imagine Wiedeking on the car phone doing a deal. Wood trim is restrained, though, and grey very ’90s. The ’77 car, meanwhile, is wonderfully ’70s...
What’s this old scrapper in the foreground? Well, it’s actually the 1977 Geneva show car, which also belonged to Ferry Porsche till 1979. In the background is the late model 928 GTS that was Porsche CEO, Wendelin Wiedeking’s company car in the mid-’90s...
Shark like front end characteristic of the 928. Wheel sizes a sign of the different eras: 17s the for the GTS and 15s for the 1977 car