928 Ways to Kill the 911
A world without the Porsche 911 is not a place I like to imagine, but to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, you’ve got no place as a writer if you’re not willing to indulge the occasional dark thought. So here goes: no iconic uber-beetle, that unmistakable silhouette honed by decades of aerodynamic refinement no more than a dream, the gruff, off-beat idle and yowling, warbling top-end scream of that fabulous pancake six merely an echo from an alternate plane of reality, that gently bobbing front end, living, ethereal steering, initial understeer and physics-defying post-apex traction no more corporeal than an emotion. This 911-less world is a cold and colorless place for anyone with petrol in the blood, a nightmare scenario for those of us who love great cars like others love the sun, so we should all be thankful that Porsche never had their way—they never killed the 911.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. The 911 was difficult and expensive to build, its basic architecture already over a decade old by the mid-seventies, when huge advancements in the technology of car building made assembling the old rear-engined beasts less profitable nearly by the day. Conceived during a time when Porsche was still a relatively tiny, boutique maker of highly-specialized machines, the Typ 901 was designed to be built largely by hand, a long, expensive, and laborious process that could only be partially automated. Furthermore it was cramped, quirky, and rapidly losing sales. Enter the 928, of which development began in earnest around this time.
Intended to address all of the aforementioned shortcomings of the 911, the 928 was designed from the offset to be easier to manufacture, maintain, drive, and live with on a day-to-day basis. Much more of a GT than its predecessor, it combined modern levels of luxury, refinement, and technology with performance easily matching, if not surpassing, that of its rear-engined older brother. Released in 1978 to nearly universal acclaim, it was awarded “Car of the Year” by the European press.
With a front-mounted, all-alloy, overhead cam V8 and rear-mounted transaxle, the 928 had ample power, perfect 50/50 weight distribution and the thunderous soundtrack of a muscle car, all wrapped in a beautiful, unadorned body penned by Wolfgang Möbius—its exposed, flush-fitting headlights popping up to expose bullet-shaped fairings when turned on among our all-time favorites. Its futuristic interior was incredibly well appointed, leather covering most surfaces, including the dash and headliner in many examples. With all the electronic and power equipment one would expect of a high-end luxury sedan, Porsche’s new coupe was a wonderful place to spend time, regardless if you had first-gear hairpins or continent-crushing high-speed cruising on the mind—it really was effortlessly capable of either.
Later versions offered significantly more power by way of increased displacement and more valves, culminating in 5.4 liters, four per cylinder, and 345 HP in the final GTS version from 1991, which was good for 170+ MPH and low five second 0-60 times. Though far from a flop with some 60,000 built, the 928 was never successful enough to replace the 911, either. If it weren’t for a seven-foot timing belt and other ridiculously indulgent engineering touches, the V8 cruiser might’ve actually been somewhat reliable, thus avoiding the reputation it later gained for catastrophic engine failures. If you’ve ever wondered why you can pick up a once $100k example for less than the cost of a down payment on a new Kia, wonder no more.
So here we are in 2013, the Carrera still with us and selling in greater numbers than ever before, and the newly-released 991 continuing the rear-engined bloodline with honor and distinction, with no less than 15 planned versions on the way—hard to believe that Porsche once thought the 911 had reached a developmental peak, yet another reason the 928 was green-lighted.
Every time I hear a GT3 RS wound out through the gears I think back to that NBA point guard-length rubber belt, and I thank God for making the complexity-loving engineers who developed the 928’s engine—cheers to you, guys, and to your spectacular reliability failures.