Collectible Classic: 1978-1995 Porsche 928

August 21, 2009
0909 03 Z+1984 Porsche 928 S4+front Three Quarters View
The Porsche faithful have never forgiven former engineer and board chairman Ernst Fuhrmann for perverting the brand's sports car purity with the 928. But, like the Cayenne and the Panamera, the 928 is a worthy Porsche family member that did its duty--keeping the company alive and kicking through turbulent times.
The 928 was conceived in 1971 as the car that would define Porsche's future. Stuttgart's fear was that mounting U.S. legislation might soon throttle its beloved 911. As the Nader era gained momentum, there was a real possibility that the high-strung, air-cooled, rear-engine Porsche might be declared verboten at the flick of a bureaucrat's pen. Forgive Fuhrmann for not knowing that the 911 was cruising placidly toward immortality.
According to Karl Ludvigsen's Porsche chronicle, Excellence Was Expected, Fuhrmann's crack engineering team needed only a few days to agree on the 928's key details. This first clean-sheet design in the company's history was also a sharp break from its past. The 928's front-mounted, liquid-cooled V-8 was the first large-displacement, mild-mannered engine to wear the Porsche crest. The cabin was larger and more luxuriously outfitted, with an eye toward trumping the BMW CS, the Jaguar XK-E, and the Mercedes-Benz SL. One link to the past was a rear-mounted transaxle to optimize packaging, weight, and balance concerns.
0909 04 Z+1984 Porsche 928 S4+front Interior
The 928's V-8 was designed with a relatively small 4.5-liter displacement to facilitate a low hoodline and to achieve respectable fuel economy. The die-cast aluminum engine block had a high silicon content to circumvent the need for cylinder liners. Although this scheme proved unsuccessful in the Chevrolet Vega, Porsche solved durability issues, and the same Alusil (aluminum-silicon) cylinders were fitted to 911 engines beginning in 1974. A lower-block girdle integrating five main-bearing caps with two longitudinal reinforcements provided rigid support for the forged-steel crankshaft.
Topped with belt-driven single overhead camshafts, an elaborate tuned-runner intake manifold, and Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, the 928's V-8 looked spectacular in comparison with today's plastic-shrouded engines. Porsche stylist Anatole Lapine added to the spectacle by suggesting a glossy white paint finish for the intake runners.
Chassis details included Porsche's first power rack-and-pinion steering, an unequal-length control-arm front suspension (versus the 911's struts), cost-effective coil springs (instead of torsion bars), and a clever compound pivot in each rear-suspension trailing member that provided stabilizing toe-in during deceleration. Although the last feature wasn't an original idea, Porsche made it seem like a technological breakthrough by dubbing the arrangement the Weissach axle. (Weissach, Germany, is the location of Porsche's development center.)
0909 01 Z+1984 Porsche 928 S4+side View
The first-generation 928 arrived for 1978 with 219 hp and a choice of five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmissions. That power allotment isn't impressive by today's standards, but the only Porsche with more power thirty years ago was the king-hell 911 Turbo (930) armed with 253 horses.
Enthusiasts weren't sure what to make of a Porsche that looked like the coupling of a 911 with an AMC Pacer. The introductory psychedelic-pattern cloth upholstery and headlamps gazing heavenward didn't help. As the 928 evolved with additional valves, camshafts, power, and displacement, it gradually earned a following, although those disciples rarely included 911 owners.
Mike Maesch, a Detroit-area management consultant, is an exception. His Porsche fleet includes the 930 slope nose formerly owned by Olympic and NFL great Willie Gault, a slightly less distinguished 1972 911T Targa, and the 1989 928 S4 featured in these photos.
0909 06 Z+1984 Porsche 928 S4+rear Passenger Seat
Maesch's grand prix white 928 is a clean, three-owner car with 87,000 miles. Updates for this fourth series, which bowed in 1987, included more power (316 hp), larger taillamps, a larger wing (which is handy for serving tailgate buffets), and a nose job.
The 928's low cowl and bucket seats tell you that this GT takes driving seriously. The first instrument binnacle to adjust vertically with the steering column helps optimize cockpit ergonomics, and there are storage locations galore. With an overall length only 0.8-inch longer than a modern Honda Civic sedan and a wheelbase that's shorter by nearly eight inches, there's not much room in this tidy package for rear passengers. Two full-scale adults can plug their behinds into the +2 perches, but riding there for more than a few miles is not for the intolerant or the infirm.
The Mercedes-Benz-supplied four-speed automatic (which first became available in 1983) takes the edge off initial acceleration, so the four-cam, 5.0-liter V-8 doesn't really hit its stride until second gear. Charges to the 6400-rpm redline serve up 60 mph in a bit more than six seconds and a top speed of more than 150 mph. According to Maesch, his 928 delivers about 20 mpg on long trips.
0909 05 Z+1984 Porsche 928 S4+headlamp
The 928 takes bumps in stride. There are slightly squishy roll and pitch responses following quick steering or braking inputs, but high-speed sweepers are confidently executed with mild understeer. The steering is heavy and numb on-center in Maesch's car, but that's probably due to the high-mileage status of his particular rack-and-pinion gear--a known problem area for 928s. The fixed-caliper, opposed-piston brakes (upgraded in 1985 models) felt powerful and fade resistant during our sprints to and from 120 mph.
0909 02 Z+1984 Porsche 928 S4+engine
While it's true that the 928 eventually outlived its usefulness, the liquid cooling and creature comforts it pioneered quickly spread throughout Porsche's lineup. Even the sacrosanct 911 benefited from technology developed for the 928.
4.5L SOHC V-8, 219-220 hp, 254-265 lb-ft;
4.6L SOHC V-8, 234 hp, 263 lb-ft;
5.0L DOHC V-8, 288-326 hp, 302-317 lb-ft;
5.4L DOHC V-8, 345 hp, 369 lb-ft
TRANSMISSIONS: 5-speed manual 3- or 4-speed automatic
DRIVE: Rear-wheel
SUSPENSION, FRONT and rear: Control arms, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, available ABS
WEIGHT: 3500 lb
Years produced
Number produced
61,000 (including 25,106 U.S. deliveries)
Original price
Value today
Why buy?
No Porsche collection is complete without this noteworthy deviation from the firm's devout sports car faith. The 928's striking design, usable two-plus-two seating, well-rounded performance, and relaxed persona make it a charming collectible. The aluminum and galvanized-steel body panels have a higher than average resistance to corrosion. Since this is an intricate machine with a complex electrical system, avoid project cars, high-mileage examples, and any 928 lacking comprehensive service records.


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