Words: Johnny Tipler Photography: Antony Fraser Just 42 examples of the 928 S4 SE reached GB in 1988; one was instantly turned into a racer. We drive it alongside one of its siblings in deepest Snowdonia
Gentleman’s carriage? Forget it! The S4 Special Equipment is a 928 Club Sport by another name, capable of hustling round the twists and turns of Snowdonia’s Evo triangle with the best of them. We’re guests of Tech9’s Phil Hindley, who has wheeled out this pair of V8-powered titans from his personal collection for us to evaluate in rural Wales.
Strange fruit for someone more readily associated with racing and tuning 911s, the 928 SE holds a particular fascination for Phil: ‘I remember this 928 racing in 1988, reading the magazines in my early Porsche years, and then two or three years ago I bought an ’88 model 928 SE. Porsche produced 42 of them for the UK market, and in Europe there were 19 Club Sports, so I always had an interest in them. I’ve got a list of all the chassis numbers and I knew that the very first one belonged to the car that was raced (WP0ZZZ92ZJS841630).’ Acquiring it was another matter: ‘I was at Silverstone Classic last year and, walking across the paddock, I saw a white 928, and I noticed it didn’t have a sun roof, and it had SE forged wheels, and it was E-reg, when most of them are F-reg. Talking to the driver, basically it had been owned by his father for 20 years, but when his father died the son decided to sell the car. So, as he’s telling me the story I thought, ok, it’s for sale then. And he said, “I think this is the car that Tony Dron raced,” so, bearing that in mind, I started looking round the car, and it’s got SP stamped next to the engine number, so two boxes ticked, an SE with its original engine. And under the carpets were the roll cage mounts. So, we agreed a deal, and I literally wired the deposit straight into his bank there and then.’ Phil then set about recreating the car as it had been in period, a production racer, albeit fairly standard. ‘We knew it had a Safety Devices cage in it, and I’m actually a Safety Devices dealer, so asked them to make me a cage but they said they’d thrown away all those old plans and they couldn’t do it. So, I said, look, if I bring you the car you’ve got the cage mounts in the floor, you must be able to make a cage based on those dimensions, so that’s what happened, they made the cage to suit, to all intents and purposes the same as the one that was in it, so that was quite exciting. And then installing all the simple race stuff, the seats, belts, though I haven’t gone the whole hog and put the old fire extinguisher in because at the moment it’s not particularly needed. We’ve got a really good guy who does all our decals, and from photographs and measurements we recreated the original livery and it works well.’
The 928 SE’S ABS was one of the first incarnations of the system in ’88, so it was new technology and a fairly primitive ABS system. So, from that point of view, Porsche wanted to promote this car
showing that it could be raced, and that’s nice as it was an official Porsche project and that makes it a nice piece of history, too. It’s just a nice car to own, part of my collection, and it’s a lot of fun.’ The car took pride of place at PCGB’S 928 extravaganza at Brooklands earlier this year, where racer Tony Dron was reunited with it. (See sidebar). ‘We were racing at a similar time; I started in ’91 and Dron was still racing, so we remembered each other from that period, and we had some good conversations, like at Brooklands where it was nice to sit down and talk about it in more detail. Ultimately, it’s a big, heavy car; yes, it’s powerful, and he was up against 2.7RSS and cars like that, and he would retained all the original trim, so they took qualify on pole and next minute the lights the cage out and all the race bits came off would go green and all those little 2.7RSS it, they put the trim back in and sold it on. with fantastic traction and high power-toThe great thing is it’s got all its original trim weight ratio, were just gone, and he was and I’ve retained that.’ During Tony Dron’s still sat there trying to get this lumbering racing tenure the car was set up at his thing off the line.’ behest by suspension guru Rhoddy HarveyBailey. ‘It’s still got its Bilstein suspension, and with this being the first chassis, it ” has a few unique features, so for instance only one mirror and it doesn’t have a rear wiper, whereas all the SES that followed had a rear wiper. We found out that the SES had a particular series number, G28/55, for the gearbox type, and this car was fitted with an earlier one – G28/12 – so that’s I note that when it was raced it wouldn’t quite a cool feature. have had a passenger seat: ‘No, but I ‘It’s a special car, and the 928 was a wanted to keep the car road-legal so it can clean sheet design conceived in the early maybe go to Europe to an event or ’70s, a car ahead of its day, and I think it something like that. It was always roadwill become appreciated as time goes on. registered. Porsche raced it in ’88 and ’89, From an engineering point of view, it’s quite and then at the beginning of 1990 Porsche a complex car; there was a lot of kit on GB advertised it for sale – “offers in excess them, and, yes, it’s a big, heavy car, but of £35K” back in October ’89. They’d you can’t get away from the sound of that
It’s a special car and the 928 was a clean sheet design, ahead of its day
engine. And the balance of the chassis is good, though this one is a bit twitchy because it’s lower and race set-up running on Michelin Pilot Sport Club tyres.’ The other car is more forgiving; it’s completely standard, and it’s interesting to feel the subtle differences between the two. The SE had all-leather trim whereas the Club Sports had plastic trim for some reason, and maybe Porsche GB deemed that UK buyers wouldn’t buy them unless they were top spec and fully loaded. But ultimately the suspension, wheels, everything else is the same. The SE runs lightweight Fuchs-made anodised 16in-diameter forged wheels, with 8in rims on the front and 9in on the back. ‘A contemporary road test report implies that it was unusual to have an 8in wheel on the front of a car, and the road testers said the car tramlined on less than perfect roads, which it does a bit, but back then they weren’t used to having such a big wheel on the front of a car because at that point hardly any vehicle had an 8in wheel on the front.’
It’s said that the V8 engines were handpicked for the Se/club Sport models, and Porsche inscribed Club Sport on the sumps of the SES as well. ‘So, when I take my engine out I’m going to see if it’s there.’ Phil shows us his database: ‘I’ve got a lot of paperwork to do with the 42 SES, with all the chassis numbers and hand-written notes of my research, and I’ve found out which cars are where: so, some are known cars that have been damaged or there’s a problem with them, so there’s a couple of Cat-d cars written off, and some have been exported or scrapped, and the rest are current known cars, and there are less than 15 good cars out of 42 still on the road.’ Phil also has copious SE material including magazine features, such as Fast Lane magazine from October ’88, and the original press pack from March 1988: ‘How to recognise a 928 S4 Sport Equipment? It was based on a right-hand drive ’88 S4 finished in white, silver, red or black, along with things you can’t easily check, like specific camshafts, identical to the 928GT, but with no transaxle damper, and front spring rates stiffer than the S4.’ According to the press material, the 928 was still the range-topping model: ‘The new 928S Series
4 Sport Equipment has been added to the flagship series of the Porsche high performance road car range, aimed specifically at the truly enthusiastic driver.’ Phil sums up: ‘The performance was simply gigantic in a car that was just as easy to drive as any GTI, so, back in the day, it went down quite well with the press, albeit fairly expensive.’
History books shut, it’s time for an outing. From Phil’s rural Cheshire base, it’s a swift blast in beguiling sunshine into majestic Welsh hill country, through beautiful deeply wooded green valleys. Phil’s driving the race car, I’m in the ‘standard’ 928 SE, and it’s like falling into an armchair, so palatial and comfortable are the seats. First thing to remember with the manual box is dog-leg 1st and the handbrake on the right-hand side of the driver’s seat; plus the pedals are in quite a different orientation to where you would expect them to be: the brake pedal is quite high up and the accelerator pedal is more to the right than I’d remembered from our recent hike to the Nürburgring in a 928GT. I follow Phil, and, going along the road, it’s an extremely handsome car viewed from the rear. If the racing livery seems a bit ‘Jimmy-look-at-me’ in this context, remember that this is the real thing, airing on road instead of track. As for the standard SE, I feel it is slightly slow off the line, but once I’m in 2nd and 3rd, the traction and power delivery is awesome. It’s now, in these swooshing dips and troughs, crests and rises, that elation creeps up, because compared with the GT that we took to the Nordschleife, this is in a different league as far as handling is concerned: it’s precise, there’s no sense that it’s oversteering or understeering, its power delivery is spot-on, and it’s good fun to use the gearbox on the twisty bits as I slot from 2nd to 3rd and 4th, and of course the 5.0litre V8 motor is so torquey that you actually needn’t use the gearbox; it’s just nice to do so. It’s so much fun slotting through the gears, though you can be in 4th and it does all the work for you. Meanwhile I’m accelerating hard in 3rd from 2000rpm, and I’ve got the windows open to better hear the gruff V8 soundtrack echoing off the stone walls. The ride is interesting – it seems to be a kind of compromise between pretty firm and tight, so the car feels planted, and yet there’s an element of bounce over the poorer quality road surfaces. Both cars are on Michelin Pilot Sport Cups, which seem to suit them very well, even if the racer is a bit fidgety on the country lanes. All S4s have the strut brace. The acceleration is just phenomenal in both cars, and they are both sincerely thrilling machines hurtling through the bends and the ups and downs; they do indeed feel like heavy cars, but they do handle. Perhaps it’s that which makes it such an awesome thrill, heaving these relatively large sports GTS through every manner of corner and camber, swaying this way and that. I even find myself committing rear- and midengined heresy, imagining I could actually live with this monster front-engined format!
Back at base, time to reflect. Like palaces on wheels, the 928 S4 SE is a plush cabin environment. The non-race car has done 125,000 miles, and still the upholstery is in perfect condition. The white plastic piping that trims the seats is sunbleached but none of the stitching is split. The gearshift feels firm, resolute, positive, and there’s a little glove box between the seats for storing sun glasses and things. There’s an original-looking Blaupunkt Toronto radio, and air conditioning. Surprisingly, perhaps, the race car has done 140,000 miles, but as Phil reflects,
I’ve got the windows open to better hear the gruff V8 soundtrack
The 928 SE racer was a handful on track at first, until an imbalance was discovered between the front damper and the ABS system as Tony Dron recalls. Suspension is still the original Bilstein setup, which works surprisingly well on the road