Classic Drive: 1982 Porsche 928

Piloting Zuffenhausen’s original grand tourer

Times were a bit awkward, to say the least, when the Porsche 928 made its debut at the 1977 Geneva Auto Show. The effects of the 1973 oil crisis still lingered and automakers struggled to catch up with new emissions and fuel economy mandates, making for hasty packaging and under-powered engines. It wasn’t easy for designers either as they wrestled with the just-as-fresh 5-mph bumper standards. In short, these circumstances gave Porsche quite the challenge to conceiving its first luxury grand tourer.

This 1982 example’s odd aesthetic is as unmistakable today as it was over four decades ago, but the 928’s futuristic design wasn’t just meant to wow onlookers, though it does that quite well—designer Wolfgang Möbius Möbius’ masterpiece garnered stare-downs from countless bystanders and plenty of camera phones flew up as we cruised the ocean front boulevards of the Westhampton portion of Long Island, New York. The 928 was purposely shaped for a strengthened roof and high level of crush resistance. More importantly, it also featured plastic, color-matching bumpers integrated into the styling, a revolutionary design cue that spared the 928 the aesthetic indignity of protruding black plastic “diving boards.” Interestingly, the 928’s odd combination of a streamlined design and awkward angles didn’t do any favors for aerodynamics, measuring a 0.41 cd of drag.

The 928 is not a large car and its footprint is about the same size as today’s 991 911. Swinging open the large and heavy framed door yields a surprisingly intimate cabin for a 2+2. It’s hard to imagine anything larger than a child or a piece of hand luggage fitting in one of those back seats without forcing the front occupants to kiss the dashboard. The two front occupants are accommodated well with low-slung leather buckets that both hug and support with a variety of power adjustments. The dashboard appears elevated and the hood, long.

To alleviate potential visibility issues, the 928’s gauge cluster and the steering column move in tandem as one unit when the power-adjustable column is repositioned—a touch Nissan later adopted on the 300ZX. Other than feeling minimalistic compared to today’s LCD-screen-festooned interiors, the 928’s quarters are smartly laid out, simple, and friendly to the driver. Since the 928 helps define the automotive cliché of once being well ahead of its time, it also feels that way from behind the wheel, hardly resembling something originating from almost four decades ago.

Just as carburetors began their slow-march into obsolescence, the 928 contributed to the changeover to modern fuel injection with its 4.5-liter V-8, later enlarged to 4.7-liters. The 4.5-liter version powers this Competition Package car. According to owner Jeff Cuje, an aftermarket exhaust was fitted by a previous steward, adding a touch of American muscle car-style baritone burble, but the Porsche mill is still as refined as V-8s come.

Emissions regulations choked the mill down to 219 hp for North America, versus 237 in Europe, while torque came in at 245 lb-ft. Unlike today’s fast-revving V-8s, the 928’s mill increases momentum more lackadaisically, needing slightly less than seven seconds to hit 60 mph—slow by 2017 standards, but respectable for its period. Still, rev the motor through its range and the 928 pleasantly surprises once you’re cruising, effortlessly carrying speed as it gobbles up mile after mile of asphalt without strain even on the Long Island Expressway, which is a far cry from the super-smooth German Autobahn.

More than 80 percent of U.S.-spec 928s came equipped with a three-speed automatic, with a four-speed auto arriving later on. That makes this five-speed dogleg manual-equipped car a rarity—and shifting slightly more complicated. Even if you’re used to driving these performance-oriented gearboxes that keep first gear out of the way (as it’s typically only used for setting off from a stop), shifting this worn-out transmission, with its long throws and sloppy actuation, requires concentration. The gearing is tall, too, making one work the lazy 4.5-liter up to its low 6,000-rpm redline. In a 911, you row your own with purpose, but in the 928, it’s more of a chore since you’re supposed to sit back and enjoy the scenery as it zips by. But for me, it’s part of the charm.

To thoroughly curtail any concerns for tricky handling in the wake of the difficult 911, Porsche engineers developed the Weissach Axle for the 928. Regarded as one of the earliest rear-wheel steering systems, it consists of an additional lateral link on the inner side of the setup’s semi-trailing wishbone arm. This allowed the rear axle to passively induce toe-in when lifting the throttle instead of toe-out. While the 911 was a handful that would send you spinning if you lifted mid-corner, the 928 is the complete opposite. This, along with the 928’s 50/50 weight distribution and hydraulic-assisted rack-and-pinion steering box—a well-weighted and precise setup that translates every input into a perfect adjustment—lends the car a naturally balanced, confident, and planted feel.

Whether it be the straights of I-495, or the twisty farm B-roads of the Hamptons, the Porsche 928 is a showcase of Zuffenhausen’s ability to dial in ride and handling composure. Despite its lack of pace, piloting a 928, let alone owning one, is a great treat for any enthusiast. Values for early cars have yet to truly climb and aren’t likely to do so in leaps and bounds. That said, asking prices for later higher-performance variants such as the 345-hp, 1993 928 GTS might shock you if you’re used to sub-$10,000 early 928s on Craigslist.

As a 928 owner, you may not get the sort of universal respect that you would if you drove a 911, but at least parts supplies for mechanical bits are strong, even if prices are every bit as expensive as they are for more valuable P-cars. And therein lies the rub of the 928–it’s difficult to own one without losing more than the car’s value on maintenance–and that goes double or triple for poorly kept cars. The moral of the story? Buy a 928 because you love the car and buy the best one you can afford. A 928 owner may not get the sort of universal respect that as the owner of a 911, but the 928 is not without its street credibility, either.

1982 Porsche 928 Specifications

EXPECT TO PAY $14,000 (Hagerty insurance average value)
ENGINE 4.5L SOHC 16-valve V-8/219 hp @ 5,250, 245 lb-ft @ 3,600
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
LAYOUT Two-door, four-seat, front-engine, RWD coupe
L x W x H 178.0 x 74.0 x 50.2 in
WHEELBASE 98.0 in
WEIGHT 3,300 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 140 mph (est)