The Porsche 928
The Porsche 928 is to the automotive industry what Donnie Darko is to film and Hüsker Dü is to music – all critically acclaimed yet generally unappreciated during their time – cult classics.
Some twenty years ago I was eight-year-old living in Australia, a friend of the family decided he no longer had any room for his a collection of plastic car models. Knowing my fiendish adoration of anything four-wheeled, he bestowed them on to me. The Collection consisted of a Holden Kingswood and a Holden Tirana (which I loathed at the time as my father drove a Falcon XY), a ’57 Chevy, and a Porsche 928. The two Holdens and the Chevy had been lovingly assembled, particularly the latter, which sported a two-tone, emerald and pearl, paint job. The Porsche had not been painted at all and the only alterations to its matte, beige, plastic bodywork were white slivers of superglue fumes – I instantly fell in love with it.
The 928 is an acquired taste, and not not the most obvious candidate for design icon. The front indicator clusters give the car a goofy look, definitely not aided by those bulbous pop-up lights. It was dubbed the land shark for the way it “ate up the road” and its distinct snout, but it does not resemble a particularly aggressive shark though – no Great White or Mako – but more docile critters like the nurse or lemon shark.
But a lemon it most definitely was not. Porsche produced the 928 between 1978 and 1995 and it was only towards the end of its production life that the car started to look dated, burdened by the many (albeit slight) cosmetic additions. For me, the original car of the late 1970s remains peerless. It was at its purest form with its tucked-in-chin, ‘phone dial’-style rims (though the later ‘flat discs’ are also nice), and no spoilers or side skirts to ruin that profile (which Ford took inspiration from for their initial Sierra).
Sure it has a buck toothed grin, but it works so well with that long sloping hood, those rounded overhangs give it a tall and graceful pose. Then there’s that rear end: simplistic yet purposeful; angular yet smooth – it must have looked alien compared to the box-like vehicles other manufactures (particularly the Germans) had in their stable at the time.
The car was a revelation when it debuted at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show. Styled by Wolfgang Möbius under guidance of Anatole Lapine, it was a benchmark in design and technology with many of its innovations still in use today. Aesthetically the most notable feature seen first on the 928 were its integrated, body-coloured polyurethane elastic bumpers – basically colour-coded bumpers. Porsche would say their aim was to reduce drag, what they achieved was the first car with bumpers that looked like they belonged on the vehicle. No mean feat considering the newly heightened safety regulations at the time
The interior of the car was also ahead of its time, the chunky, divisive center consol is a staple on sports cars today. The 928’s instantly recognisable single bar steering wheel, adjusts with the instrument cluster (famously/infamously digitised in later variants) for optimal visibility. The car was also practical, yes the back seats cannot accomodate most adults but when folded down and coupled with that large boot and long hatch, the 928 ended up with an enormous luggage space.
We must not forget that the 928 was a radical departure for Porsche. The Stuttgart Company had made its name building sports cars with rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat engines. Here we have proper Grand Tourer with a V8 up front powering the rear wheels, Porsche’s only venture using such a configuration was the far more demure 924 released just a year or so before. The tech that went into the car elevated Porsche to new heights – electronic fuel injection, a four-wheel steering system (“Weissach Axle“), and a transaxle that helped Porsche achieve a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. To this day it remains the only sports car ever to be announced European Car of the Year.
Throughout its prodution life, the 928 donned some radical guises in the form of limited editions and prototype vehicles. The “Study H50” added an extra set of doors and is nowadays considered the precursor to the Panamera. A Shooting Brake version, the 942, was presented as a gift to Ferry Porsche on his 75th birthday in 1984
Whether or not 928 will grace us again (as a derivative of the Panamera) is still up for dispute. If it does, it will most definitely not retain the 928 moniker as Porsche has long since dropped its numerical naming bias. The man behind the 928, Ernst Fuhrmann, believed it would replace the 911 as the Porsche’s flagship. In this aspect it failed – the 928 ceased production sixteen years ago whilst the 911 is still evolving and is now close to its seventh incarnation – as a perpetual piece of automotive design, not to mention fan favourite and a superlative driving machine, it was, is, and will remain, a resounding success.