Motormouth spends a couple of days in the Black Forest with a Porsche 928 – it’s a 40-year old design now that’s finally earning its recognition, but Ferdinand Piëch had wilder ideas involving two Audi inline-fives
Forty years ago the 911 was flat-lining. Porsche boss Ernst Fuhrmann saw in it a bygone motoring era, and turning his back on the backbone of the company, the enthusiasts, he looking west towards America, towards wide open roads, palm-lined boulevards, and water-cooled V8s.
By the late Seventies Fuhrmann like many observers deemed the 911 archaic – after all it was launched in 1963 and rooted in an idea dating to 1948.
In particular, emerging emissions regulations stood in the way of further air-cooled engine development. Fuhrmann foresaw the end of the cultist 911, and for Porsche, a future in Grand Tourers.
The result was the Porsche 928, a transaxle coupé with a 4.5-litre V8 mounted in the wrong place and cooled by liquid, pah, launched as Zuffenhausen’s new flagship. In 1978 the European press gave it the Car of the Year accolade, and the 928 remained in production with continuous updates until 1995 – the example Motormouth took for a drive around the forests of Stuttgart is the run-out 1995 GTS model with a 5.0-litre rated at 345 horsepower and 500Nm of torque. Only the 928 never displaced the 911, and production carried on alongside the 911. The 928 never gained the notoriety of the elfer nor true acceptance amongst the Porschephiles.
Today stray Porsches are the norm – saloons, hybrids, plug-ins, and of course the bread in Stuttgart (or Leipzig, or Bratislava if you want to get pedantic where the Cayennes are put together), all the SUVs, over 160,000 of them a year. That’s 64 percent of total production.
Forty years ago things could have turned out quite differently for Porsche’s first foray into the sensible exotic car, because the 928 project’s powertrain was an unresolved matter when development started.
As early as 1971 Ferdinand Piëch (who went on to mastermind the Audi quattro, Volkswagen XL1 and Bugatti Veyron) was studying a rear-engined V8 concept, although this early in the design stage nothing was discounted and the 928 team also considered a good ol’ flat-six, as well as V8 and V6 options.
By far the most interesting proposal for the 928 came from Piëch who suggested a water-cooled V10 engine made up of two Audi inline-fives – that would’ve been particularly pleasing because he had a hand in developing the Audi five-cylinder, which in turn was one-and-a-quarter Golf engines. So it was a close thing, because the Porsche 928 very nearly ended up being powered by two-and-a-half Golf engines. In the end Porsche didn’t want more VW associations following on from the 914 and 924 entry-level cars, and Piëch’s V10 dream was crushed, perhaps the only time the infamous engineers didn’t have his way.
The 928 didn’t turn out to be quite as cool as Piëch intended, but in this GTS trim and an automatic gearbox it’s a perfectly contemporary cruiser, which goes to show how right Porsche got it 40 years ago despite the neglect towards the 928.
Anyway, nostalgia is an expensive thing, and the 40th anniversary of the Porsche 928 means the market has suddenly remembered what great, useable cars they are with prices climbing accordingly – the best GTS’ are already $150,000.