Curbside Classic: Porsche 928 – Blasphemy With a Big Butt


(first posted 3/5/2014)      The Porsche 928 is perhaps more maligned than the recently featured 924. Water-cooling, an engine in the front and jelly-mould styling have all contributed to this car sitting somehwere near the bottom of the Porsche totem of worship. Porsche ownership is not on the cards for me, but if it was I would start with one of these. Why? I just love how they look.


Whilst this Type 542 Porsche proposal for Studebaker had no direct influence on the 928, it’s a good spot to start this story. Here was a four-place, water-cooled car designed for the US market. The prototypes were negatively appraised by none other than John Z. DeLorean, so Studebaker–in financial straits–pulled the plug on the project.


The next four-place vehicle in the Porsche continuum was the 1967 four-door 911. Commissioned by William J. Dick, part owner of a Texas Porsche distributorship, it was designed and built in the US so there is no indication Porsche considered it seriously for production. However, as Max Hoffman had proven, the US was to be a major player in Porsche’s future, as it was to be in the genesis of the Type 928.

By the late 1960s, Porsche Managing Director Ernst Fuhrmann–with one big eye on the US market–was pressuring Ferdinand Porsche to produce a combination of a sports coupe and luxury sedan. Incredibly, the 911, introduced in 1964, was considered near the end of its life cycle in light of falling sales and the belief that it had no room to improve. Design studies for this new model commenced under Ferdinand Piech, and by 1971 various options were mooted including mid- and rear-engined V8 arrangements. Also considered was a V10 to be sourced by twinning two five-cylinder engines linked to the VW-Audi EA-425 project.


Styling for the Type 928 was under the aegis of Anatole ‘Tony’ Lapine, in charge of the Porsche design studio since 1968 and with various GM designs under his belt including the Corvette CERV II. Wolfgang Mobius produced the sketches, which appear to have started with a more razor-edged look. One concept was eerily similar to the mid-rear engined Chevrolet Aerovette XP882. By 1973, as these styling mockups demonstrate, the 928 visual language had coalesced. Then it was put on hold. Project EA-425 had gotten in the way.


Commissioned by VW-Audi as a replacement for the 914, EA-425 came to be known as the Porsche Type 924. Harm Lagaay, under Tony Lapine, had styled this commission so the similarities with the 928 were part of the mercurial VW-Audi-Porsche nexus that had also given us the two versions of the 914. Due to internal politics, a fear that the car would be too expensive to produce and the energy crisis, VW cancelled the project at the last minute. Porsche bought it back and released it in MY1977 to replace the 912E. It was an instant hit.

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In November 1974, still close to the OPEC scare, Porsche took a gamble on the future and revived the 928 project. In 1977 it was launched to the public at the Geneva Motor Show. While the non-911-derived styling of the 924 could be excused as a continuation of the non-911-derived styling of the 914, the 928 had committed the inexcusable.

It was nothing like the 911.


Here was a four-place, water-cooled, front-engined piece of blasphemy. Under the hood was a 16v 4.5 litre V8 producing 177kW in euro spec and 163kW in US spec driving the rear wheels. A transaxle helped this car achieve an almost 50/50 weight distribution. A five speed manual and MB derived automatic (3, then 4 speed) were available; with 80% of 928s sold being auto, you have some idea to whom this car ultimately appealed. One interesting feature was the inclusion of the Weissach Axle, a basic rear-wheel steering system which increased stability when braking into a corner. Brock Yates, reporting for C&D, had this to say; ‘I can’t remember driving a car with more perfect ergonomics. The steering wheel and instrument pad adjust as a unit, and the pedals can be moved to accommodate the short. The engine is gorgeous–the best possible marriage of German and American technical acumen. There’s torque all over the place, and it stays smooth all the way to the red-line. The 928 is the fulfillment of an old enthusiast’s dream–the sports-racing car tamed for use on the street.’ With only 61,056 sold between 1978 and 1995, it appears the Porschistas weren’t listening.


This car was as unconventional in its appearance as the 356 and 911 were in theirs. The first series–the 928 with no appended initials (gold example above) was to my eyes the best. Pictured above is the next evolution, the 1980-commenced 928S. Changes under the hood included enlargement to 4.7 litres, and Bosch L-Jetronic replacing the K-version. Externally, the telephone dial wheels were swapped for a smoother-looking set. Front and rear spoilers were added to improve stability for this super-slippery shape. A body coloured side strip was added for the Beverley Hilton car park.


Further design changes were to be applied. Don’t be fooled by the colour here, this above example is the 5.0 litre 928 S4, which can be discerned by the much larger rear appendage and a deeper front dam. The original distinctive rear lights were also updated for this model. I shot these two within weeks of each other, finding two of the same colour in Melbourne. Go figure.


Originally I planned a piece similar to Paul’s seminal article on the influence of the Pininfarina Florida. The 928 is perhaps the most influential automotive design of the late 20th Century, but the list of cars that owe something of their appearance to it is too long. That jelly-mould shape was speaking it’s own new language, astonishing considering this was essentially a 1973 design. Body coloured and contoured front and rear bumpers are now the lingua franca of car styling. The proportioning was beautifully balanced with its own idiosyncracies. As Jason Shafer’s favourite Shakespearean declaims; I like big butts and I cannot lie. Other curious features include the pop-forward exposed headlights in the style of the Lamborghini Miura, which were also to distinguish the 924-derived 968.


In 1984, a longer wheelbase 942 was presented to Ferry Porsche on his 75th birthday. Three years later, this one-off was changed from green to Melbourne Crimson, and converted to clapdoor design with two rear-hinged units aiding entry to the rear. Hm. I think the less said about the Panamera in this ode, the better.


The last picture for this article was a tough one. Above is the Alfa Romeo Zagato Zeta of 1983. If there is enough encouragement from the commentary, I will post a pic of the Nordstadt widened and lengthened Golf with 928 internals.

With the recession of my hairline, I am now much more circumspect about how I spend my automotive dollar. My rule-of-thumb is now to spend half of my availables on the purchase, and keep half for any anticipated and unanticipated attention. Were I to buy a Porsche 928, it would be only a quarter of my cash sitting on the hood. I don’t know anyone who’s bought one of these on the second-hand market, but when they are available at beater prices expect previous owners to have applied beater standards of care.

Still, I think the Porsche 928 is a fantastic piece of automotive sculpture and one of the most important designs of last century.

More on the 928 HERE and HERE.