THE 928 AT 40

Sing it loud: “Happy Birth­day!” Launched in 1977, the 928 de­sign master­piece is 40-years old

911 Porsche World - - Contents -

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

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 Words: Johnny Ti­pler Pho­tog­ra­phy: Antony Fraser

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

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 with white Pasha trimmed Re­caros. Check out the elec­tric con­trol pan­els on the seat bol­sters

The 928 still looks pretty fu­tur­is­tic even to­day. The early ’77 car has a pu­rity of shape that the later GTS can’t match, with its flared arches and rear wing 240bhp v 350bhp is the mea­sure of progress from the 928’s 1977 launch to it bow­ing out in 1995.

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