A brief backgrounder for enthusiasts of Porsche the company and the development of their 70's supercar the 928.
“Oh Lord - won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz – my friends all drive Porsches – I must make amends”
Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz (Pearl 1971, re-mastered 1999)
“…. perhaps your friends are better informed…?“
Mike Williams, May 2004
Despite the introduction of the 924 in 1975 claiming to be Porsche’s first front-engined, water-cooled design – its development project started in 1972 – one year after that of the 928’s.
When the Austrian born engineer, Ferdinand Porsche established his design bureau in Stuttgart in 1931 much of the first work produced was for the Porsche Type 60 ( later to be known as Volkswagen which did not exist as company in 1931). His earlier work included the Lohner-Porsche Electric Car exhibited at the Paris Expo. In 1900 – he designed the wheel hub motors as young engineer and race-driver. As Technical Director for Daimler-Benz, amongst other things, Ferdinand Porsche developed the now legendary Mercedes S, SS and SSK supercharged sports car in 1927.
In 1909 Ferdinand Porsche’s son – also christened Ferdinand was born. Known throughout his life as “Ferry” he went on to develop the first sports car under the Porsche name in mid 1947.
The official "date of birth" for the first Porsche is considered to be June 8th, 1948 – the project was started on 11th June 1947 with Erwin Komenda. Number one, a two-seat 356 with a 4 cylinder, rear mounted, air cooled 1.1 litre centre engine, with 35HP (later 40 HP) weighing 650 kg. A lot of the vehicle’s mechanicals were based on VW’s. Over the years though more and more Porsche designed elements dominated the vehicles.
Ferry Porsche commissioned Franz Xaver Reimspiess to design the Porsche Emblem whilst they visited America in 1952. Max Hoffman – Porsche’s American Importer felt that the cars deserved a quality logo. In the design Reimpiess included Stuttgart’s heraldic animal (a rampant horse inspired by the city’s origins as a stud farm), the state heraldry of Württemberg (curving stag horns) and the words ‘Porsche’ and ‘Stuttgart’ to express the importance of the company’s link to its roots. In 1953 the famous Porsche logo was introduced for the first time and began appearing on the centres of car’s steering wheels.
The 928 development project was started in 1971 and was designed by Porsche as the eventual replacement for the 911. It was the product of a company that had gone through much turmoil in the early 70’s. Ferry Porsche had moved the company on from being a family run business with father-son in-fighting causing loss of focus. A number of senior company members were “encouraged” to move on and a new chief executive was appointed – his name - Dr Ernst Fuhrmann. Previously with the Goertz Piston company, Fuhrmann was the man responsible for the design of the 1950’s Carrera engine (the engine was also used in the 550 Spyder etc).
Fuhrmann believed that Porsche’s long-term future should be built upon Grand Tourers with conventional engines – he went on to de-prioritise the 911 – believing that the 928 would be its successor. History shows us that his views were not necessarily shared, as the 911 continues to be a significant member of the product portfolio – whilst the 928 – despite having a good innings lasted only some 18 years.
The mid 70’s economic landscape was in turmoil. At the time of this political crisis, America was also in the grip of the Energy Crisis. In 1972, you could buy petrol for 40 cents a gallon. A year later, it was double that. This crisis also triggered a long-term recession with some of the country's biggest industries, like the motor industry and steel industry being the hardest hit. Factories laid off hundreds of thousands of workers and once-prosperous industrial cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit were in terrible trouble.
This was not the best of times to launch a big, fuel hungry, sports car. However the desire (need!) to win the affections of the American market – which was significant – overcame these obstructions albeit with a slightly smaller and less powerful engine than originally intended – but it used less fuel!
The Porsche 928 was unveiled at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show to immediate acclaim and went on to be named Car of the Year 1978 – the first (and last?) time that a sports car has won this accolade – note for comparison - that the 1977 European Car of the year was the Rover SD1.
Source:Porsche Press department, used with permission
There was a lot to celebrate about this innovative new car though. Styled by Anatole Lapine – the hatchback body featured aluminium doors, bonnet and front wings for weight saving. There did not appear to be any bumpers! In fact they were concealed behind the nose and tail sections, which were made of plastic, and matched the body style. Following minor impact – these panels ingeniously bounced back into shape. Aluminium also featured in the heads and block of first V8 from Porsche. Pop-up lamps – allegedly based upon the Lamborghini Miura were a quirky addition that completely changed the personality of the car when raised.
Other innovations included the Weissach axle. This unique variant of the semi-trailing arm suspension design was developed to eliminate oversteer an inherent problem with most cars then caused forced toe-out on braking / cornering. Sometimes called “passive rear wheel steering” this innovation dynamically changes the toe-in eliminating oversteer to such an extent that it can actually induce understeer! Weissach was the Porsche R&D centre where this suspension was developed.
As Porsches flagship car in its bid to move the business more up-market and capture North American sales the 928 truly was a Grand Tourer and was a great success. Its detractors however – the traditionalists – who believe that rear engined Porsches were the only true Porsches fought hard and continued to buy 911’s in significant volumes. Porsches response was to develop the 928S launched in 1979. The fuel crisis had abated and the full size 4.6 Ltr V8 moved the 928S into 300 bhp territory and beyond 150mph. A number of versions ensued with the S2, the revised S2 in 1985 – no S3 though, the S4 and the 330bhp 928GT. Finallly in 1992 Porsche launched their last 928 – the 928GTS a 350 bhp 170 mph super-car.
Photos:Author 1979 928 Auto DUJ 53T previously CSU 428, KEN 84 and originally allocated HDH 603T, taken august 2004 and aged in Photoshop
Production finally finished in 1995. The 928 had lost its way somewhat and never did what was originally intended – replace the 911. Historians write that it never “captured the spirit” of the 911 which went on to regain its lost ground and, along with other brands, was just too attractive to ensure the continuation of the 928. The GTS always struggled to sell well with 911 traditionalists and other competing cars from BMW and Mercedes dominating market share.
Apparently some 4,500 928’s were imported into the UK during the lifetime of the vehicle. Today there are some 401 registered owners on the 928.org site. How many 928’s still running are there in the UK? – it’s very difficult to say without direct access to the DVLA computers! – however estimates range in the 1000 to 2,000 vehicles range.
Fortunately the majority are deep-pocketed, pragmatic enthusiasts; who’s goal is to keep the legend that is the 928 alive and well!
The Porsche 928 was a world class super car and was seen as the car to have and to be seen in. The large price ticket restricted ownership to the rich and famous who could find over £50,000 in old money!
Those that did are:
- Nick Faldo
- Derek Bell
- Jonathan Palmer
- Simon Taylor
- William Woollard
Higher quality photographs
Porsche Type 928 Coupe My 1979
Porsche Type 928 Car of the Year 1979
Porsche Type 928 Coupe My 1979
Authors car May 2004 following respray and refurb
Kind thanks to Porsche’s press department for correcting and verifying factual information and supplying archive photography and permission for publication on the site.
Disclaimer: - The above brief history of Porsche and the 928 is believed to be accurate and true and is a personal interpretation of available information available to the author, as are any opinions expressed. Any inaccuracies are unintentional.