Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth
There’s a reason why car enthusiast sites have features like Murilee Martin’s Down On The Street and Paul Niedermeyer’s Curbside Classic. People enjoy photos and commentary on cool old cars, particularly those that are still being driven. Site publishers, on the other hand, like drawing traffic and those features do draw in new readers often searching for information about a particular make, model and year. Hence after Murilee departed from Jalopnik, they started a series called Found Off The Street.
So when I saw a Porsche 928 in what appeared to be pretty decent shape sitting at a repair shop in Royal Oak, I asked our esteemed ed Ed if I could take a whack at it. The trick, of course, is to be the same but different.
This particular 928 is from the 1981 model year and the shop’s owner told me it was a customer’s car. According to the president of the Michigan chapter of the 928 Owners Club, who had left a club flier for the car’s owner on the passenger seat, like many early 928s this car has been fitted with a body kit to match later model years. That may explain the slightly ill fitting fascia, or it just might have been dinged in a parking lot. The rest of the car was pretty clean and the pearl white paint sparkled when the sun started shining through the gray March sky. The odometer indicated only ~22K miles, but the 928 club guy told me that, again, many owners of early 928s replaced the original 85mph speedometers, so that might not be accurate. The original “phone dial” wheels have sadly been replaced with larger rims from a late model Porsche. Still, it’s a nice looking car in what appears to be fine shape for a 30 year old car.
Aaron Severson’s Ate Up With Motor already has a history of the 928, so there’s no need for me to reproduce his fine work here. Instead I’d like to ask some questions. Was the 928 ahead of its time? Does the 928 not get its due from car guys? We know that Porschephiles never fully embraced the 928. The flier from the 928 club even expresses how owners can sometimes feel lonely because some Porsche enthusiasts don’t consider the 928 to be a “real Porsche”.
I think that some of that attitude has spread to auto enthusiasts in general causing them to not regard the 928 as highly as they could. It’s also possible that the 928 inherits some of the “not a real Porsche” stigma attached to the 924 which shared the 928’s layout but was originally designed by Porsche for Volkswagen. After the oil crisis in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, VW killed the project. When the 914 went out of production and Porsche needed an entry level car, they bought the rights from VW. Though Porsche purists turned their noses up at the 924, it sold well enough to get the company back on solid financial ground.
It’s true that when it was introduced, the 928 was controversial. After decades of Porsches with horizontally opposed boxers, the 928 featured a V8 engine. It was the first car designed as a front engined Porsche and was also the first water cooled Porsche street engine (again, the 924, which went on sale before the 928, was originally designed as a VW and carried an Audi designed engine). The first clean sheet design for Porsche (the 911 was ultimately based on the VW Beetle’s design, via the 356), the 928 was also the first Porsche intended to be as luxurious as it was sporting. To Porsche purists, everything about the 928 was wrong.
Tony Lapine’s styling deliberately departed not just from Porsche convention but also from the creased, angular styles then popularized by ItalDesign’s Giugiaro. Critics compared the 928’s look to that of a melted bar of soap – though early versions were not very aero (with a cd of ~.40). Lapine felt that departing from convention would make the car’s styling more timeless. I think that time has proven him correct, and a 30 year old 928 still looks like a modern design. To his credit, Lapine takes comparisons with the AMC Pacer in good humor.
However, it’s not the exterior design that has me asking those questions. What has me posing those queries are the C6 Corvette, the Aston Martin DB9 and other modern sports cars that feature an engine mounted in the front of the car while the transmission is mounted in the rear. A torque tube containing a driveshaft spinning at engine speed connects the two major drivetrain components. The 928 was not the first car to use this layout, the “rope drive” Pontiac Tempest of the early 1960s comes to mind, but the 928 was the first modern performance car to do so. Also, though its specific design is not as widely imitated as the layout is, the 928’s “Wiessach axle” taught the automotive world the importance of controlling steering inputs from the car’s rear end.
Initially, with the 928 joining the similarly laid out 924, later replaced by the “all Porsche” 944, it was thought that this would portend the end of rear engined cars at Porsche, but the 928 never sold as well as Porsche expected and the 911 outlived them all. It would take decades (and the SUV fad) for Porsche to have sales success with a front engined vehicle, the Cayenne. Recently Porsche has introduced the Panamera, also a front engined car that seems to be targeted much at the same market as the 928 was. The Panamera has a completely conventional layout, though, and since the 944 and its 968 derivative Porsche has not made a car with a front engine and a rear transmission.
Ironically, the 928 has proven to be more influential on other sports car makers than it was on Porsche itself.
The rarity and condition of this 928 were what caught my eye. That relatively cherry condition was in contrast to a rather tired looking 924 parked at the same repair shop. From the accessory Porsche front license plate I’m guessing that like the 928 Owners’ Club, the 924’s owner also got tired of being told that their car wasn’t a real Porsche.
For a complete gallery of images in 3D and 2D, please visit Cars In Depth.