40 years celebrated
’Porsche abandoned plans to race the 928 at Le Mans amid fears that it would be uncompetitve’
The Porsche 928 was intended to be the car that moved the Stuttgart marque forward, driving up profits with a big, sporting GT that could devour asphalt at high speed along the autobahns and beyond, yet be perfectly usable as an everyday car. Instead of displacing the 911 from the limelight, however, it simply drifted away from it. When production finally ended in 1995, this grand machine fell into expensive used coupé territory and values slumped. Then came widespread neglect – you could pick up tatty but usable S4s for well under five grand not that long ago – but now, approaching its 40th birthday, the 928 is finally starting to move out of the 911’s shadow and forge a path of desirability all of its own. Could this still-futuristic GT be the grandest tourer of them all?
Given the current – and seemingly neverending – cult of 911, it’s hard to imagine that Porsche ever wanted to kill it off. But while any pre-impact bumper 911 is now worth a fortune, sales were cooling off sharply towards the end of the 1960s. Worse still, Porsche saw what Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed, had done for the Chevrolet Corvair and harboured real concerns that the USA might ban rear-engined cars altogether.
The solution was to move away from an outand-out sports car towards something markedly different. The new car was to have all the power and handling nous of the 911, but in a more usable, stable package.
Development took six years under the stewardship of Ernst Fuhrmann, and the move to a front-engined layout was soon settled upon after rear- and mid-engined options had been briefly considered. The engine was a bone of contention too – a 60-degree V6 was considered and there was even talk of a V10, though others took fright at the 1973 fuel crisis and suggested smaller engines. However, the final choice was a 90-degree 4.5-litre V8.
It was released to critical acclaim at the Geneva Motor Show in 1977 and was named European Car of the Year for 1978. Sales began in 1978, led by vibrant colours and spectacular interior textiles, the Pasha flamboyant blackand-white seat coverings a particular highlight.
Despite all this fanfare, sales were sluggish. Porsche purists didn’t take to the revised layout and it cost a lot more than the 911, the car it was supposed to replace. In 1980 Porsche released the 928S, which packed an upgraded 4.7-litre engine that kicked out just under 300bhp. But it wasn’t enough to give Porsche sales the shot in the arm it needed, leaving it to make a loss for the first time in its history. Ernst Fuhrmann, the man who’d guided the car’s development was forced aside and Peter Schutz came in.
The 911 was due to go out of production in 1981, but Schutz, recognising its market importance, reinvigorated it and fixed various problems, thereby prolonging its life. As for the 928, it would continue to be sold alongside the 911 instead of replacing it. This decision arguably removed some of the 928’s gloss, and matters worsened when Porsche abandoned plans to race it at Le Mans amid fears that it would be uncompetitive.
But the 928 got better over time, even if its sales were only a fraction of the other cars in the range. The S became the S2 (in the UK, at least) in 1984, and a 5.0-litre option was added two years later. In 1987 this became standard fitment to the S4 – we Brits apparently didn’t mind missing out on an interim S3.
The S4 introduced significant revisions, including new pistons and camshafts, larger intake valves and upgraded fuel injection. New bumpers, wraparound rear lights and a rear wing distinguised it from earlier models and today it represents a sweet spot within the 928 range.
The 5.0-litre V8 is no crude American lump of iron, so while it delivers a deep baritone grumble, it’s refined at low speeds. But point it at a long stretch of A-road and it’s almost as if the 928 clears its throat on kickdown with an angry, bass-rich roar. On sound alone, it’s a lot more soulful and exciting than a certain flat-six…
There’s considerable weight to the steering – this is a car for A-roads rather than B-roads –
1977 PORSCHE 928 AUTO WHAT TO PAY CONCOURS £25,000+ EXCELLENT £17,000-£22,000 USABLE £11,000-£16,000 PROJECT £7500-£10,000 PRICE WHEN NEW (1978) £21,800 Later 928 styling lacks earlier delicacy, but retains ‘hidden’ front and rear bumpers.