Curbside Classic: Porsche 928 – The Future Of Porsche, Twenty-Five Years Too Soon

The 928 story is a big one, given what a radical departure it was for the brand that was so deeply associated with rear-engined boxers. And although the 928 was a formidable performer, it didn’t represent the future of Porsche, in 1977; the 911 went on to carry the brand’s identity for some decades further. But with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the 928 actually was the future of Porsche, given the Cayenne, Panamera, and a 928-ish coupe to come. Maybe the classic 911 era was just a temporary holding pattern?

The 928 was created under false assumptions: that the 911 had no future, and that its rear-engine configuration might even be outlawed in the safety-paranoia that was so rampant in the late-sixties and early-seventies. So a big, safe, front-engined GT was envisioned as the way forward, especially for America, which used to take a giant share of Porsche production. The question was exactly what that engine should look like.

Ferdinand Piëch wanted the 928 engine to be a V10 version of the Audi five-cylinder (EA827 family) engine. Piëch left Porsche for Audi in 1972, so its difficult to say whether that was before or after that move.  But did it really make a difference? As a Porsche scion/owner, he always had something to say in what happened at Porsche, and we all know how that worked out in the end. Piëch’s move to Audi was designed to get him out of the family business (for now), and the Porsche directors over-ruled him, and decided to design their own V8 engine from scratch. They were worried about what folks would say to having a “Volkswagen” engine under the hood. What else is new? The EA827-derived V10 did of course find its way into the Lamborghini Gallardo, as well as the Audi R8.

What the Porsche engineers wrought was definitely not in the usual Porsche idiom: a 4.5 liter V8 with wedge-shaped combustion chambers and SOHC heads. Quite the contrast to the 911’s air-cooled hemi-heads. The block used the recently-perfected high-silica content aluminum that allowed pistons to run directly in it’s bores, a concept the Vega pioneered, but stumbled on.

In another nod to GM engineering that was never properly developed, the 928 used a flexible driveshaft in a solid tube connected to the rear-mounted transaxle.But unlike the swing-axles that the innovative 1961-1963Tempest used, Porsche developed an advanced rear suspension that incorporated some passive steering, called the Weissach Axle. But that doesn’t change the fact that this illustration is incorrect; Porsche did not pioneer the “use of a water cooled front engine and rear transaxle drivetrain”. The Tempest did (CC here)..

The early versions of the 928 engine made 240/217 hp  (Europe/USA). A healthy number for 1977, and the 928 achieved its goal of being an effortless high-speed GT. But it was large, heavy and thirsty, and never sold in the number envisioned. Porsche’s next CEO, American-born Peter Schutz, quickly scuttled any talk of killing the 911-golden calf/cash cow, which only further marginalized the 928. The early versions’ “telephone dial” wheels were memorable,

as well its op-art upholstery.

The V8 got a number of minor performance enhancements over the following years, but the major evolution was introduced in 1985, the 5.0 L 928S, now featuring DOHC hemi-heads, and making a then-lofty 310 hp. With some additional tweaks, this engine continued to serve the 928 through its long live that finally ended in 1995, almost twenty years after its birth. The final variants were 5.4 liter, and rated at 350 hp.

I’m not going to kill myself by spending a half hour googling all the variants to figure out what exact this 928 is, but it undoubtedly is a fairly late one. It does keep company with some interesting machines, including a clapped out Fiero back there.

Appropriate to the likely proclivities of this 928 enthusiast, this one is a stick shift. The 928 does have a dedicated following, although one has to hope to avoid a serious mechanical melt-down. Don’t ask what it costs to rebuild one of these motors; cheaper to look for another 928, for sure.

The plastic cover of the obviously-leaking sunroof is a bit disconcerting too. But love demands its sacrifices, maybe a bit more so than average with a 928.

The family resemblance with the current front-engined Porsches is of course all-too obvious, and deliberate. The 928 arrived too soon; the baby-boomers were still young in the eighties and the 911 became an icon of the times, even if folks didn’t know how to drive them properly. But Porsche has proven the irresistible magnetic attraction of its brand name, no matter what it puts it on. The only question left is whether the future coupe will be called 928. Or has that number lost its luster?