This Modern Porsche 928 Race Car Is Pure GT Nostalgia
Photography by Will Broadhead
The King is dead, long live the King. This wasn’t quite the cry that went out across Stuttgart in the early seventies, but words to that effect were uttered in the hallowed halls of Porsche headquarters anyway, at least among some of the employees. The King of course was the 911, and before you say “What do you mean was?’ just hold tight and all will become clear.
You haven’t got to be a Porschephile to know that slowing sales of the 911 had the chairman of Porsche, Ernst Fuhrmann, getting twitchy about the lifespan of the model that had delighted motorists and lead the Porsche line since 1963. It seems like madness to even contemplate now, but as well as the falling sales there was the fear of new legislation that might have destroyed Porsche as a business in the United States, never mind the energy crisis.
The projected ban on rear-engine cars never materialized after all, but the German’s weren’t working with the benefit of our hindsight. So, after Fuhrmann turned the screw a little, Ferry Porsche ordered the design of a new model. The company had been considering adding a luxury sports tourer to the line-up in any case, so the brief fell to combine the two; a new model that filled this gap in the market for GTs, and one that would be the replacement for the venerable 911.
1971 was the year in which the car that would eventually become the 928 was to begin its life in the focus groups and draftsmen’s boards of Zuffenhausen, and later the R+D center at Weissach, such that six years later the fruit of the designers’ and engineers’ labors was a debutant at the Geneva Motor Show.
With the 911, Porsche had created an army of fans around its design icon, and though those eyes and so many others fixated on the car that was to replace it. But if anxiety had been the catalyst for the conception of the 928, then perhaps its byproduct was that of disbelief and unease.
On the face of it, this new kid on the block bore little to no resemblance to its family, save for the black horse on the hood. In-fact the prodigal son looked more like the mailman’s kid, and for the Porsche faithful it was going to take some soul searching to accept that the water cooled, less curvaceous machine with the V8 mounted at the wrong end of the car, did in fact share DNA with the rest of the brand’s family.
To spend one’s time making comparisons though is like telling me an apple isn’t an orange; this car was never supposed to be a 911, and it was a terrific machine on its own merits that would have been better-received by the Porsche crowd had the 911 not been planned for obsolescence alongside it. It did win car of the year in 1978 after all. It may be radically different to the Porsche poster child, and though it’s bigger that just means there is more to love. In the initial offering, the 928 had 237 German horses galloping out of the 4.5-liter lump of V8 under its long front hood; nothing to be sniffed and. It was a well-designed car, and people are unnecessarily afraid of its “longest timing chain ever made.”
The 928 for instance featured a transaxle that helped to more evenly distribute the weight around the car, as well as cutting down on excess lard. It also featured an early version of passive rear wheel steering in its suspension design, which helped to eliminate oversteer.
Sure the 911 was still the track weapon of choice, but head to head, they weren’t light years apart, and again, these were cars built for different purposes. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary year of the intended heir to the 911 throne, and Porsche decided to focus on the car’s potential as a competitor on the track rather than the road car’s cruising prowess. So,, four Porsche classic centers in the UK wanted to create something to celebrate the life of this ugly duckling in this regard.
Together with endurance racing legend Richard Attwood at the controls, who successfully raced a 928 to a 4th-in-class finish at the 1984 24 Hours of Daytona, the group put together a 1978 Porsche 928 in racing trim and entered the HSCC ’70s Road Sports championship.
That very same car won this year’s title in the series, and in celebration of that fact, was on display at the NEC Classic Motor Show last weekend, amongst Porsche UK’s larger display. It looks every inch a racer from the period with its clean and colorful livery. It’s worth remembering that at the end of the model’s lifespan in 1995, these cars were fitted with a 5.4-liter V8 and kicking out 350 ponies, never mind the massive helping of torque served up with it.
I will admit, it is never going to win a beauty contest if I’m judging, but then that’s why De Niro was Travis Bickle and Dustin Hoffman was not. It’s still not an offensive looking machine mind you, and efforts were made to improve the styling over the years with spoilers and skirts added to enhance performance and looks. Still though, the original is striking in its simplicity. It’s a bold design (the triplet of glass in the back for instance), but it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be for the sake of it. In amongst the 911s and 356s that characterize the brand’s street cars, the 928 holds its own and it was getting no less interest and affection than anything else on display with Porsche crests. Some things just get better with age.
The point is the 928 was always more of a function over form design, as was the original brief. A luxury touring machine that had more reliable engineering, healthy performance specs, and also ease of use that bested the outgoing model. To that end it made a good case to be a deserving replacement, it satisfied the requirements laid out at the start and then some—over its lifespan, roughly 60k units were sold in various trim levels.
It was and is a great motor car. As we all know though, the 911 still lives, and outlived the 928. I’m not here to convince you that the 928 is a better car, just offer up some musings on the model inspired by what was a beautifully turned out modern-vintage race car with the name “Attwood” on it. The car was a serious step change for Porsche at the time, and in that sense, a groundbreaking moment for the manufacturer. It is also a product that will never be able to escape comparisons with its predecessor (and successor).
The King was never dead. Long live the King, and his heirs.