Porsche 928

40 years cel­e­brated

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - THIS WEEK - WORDS Nathan Chad­wick PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Magic Car Pics

’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.

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