By the early 1970s, it was clear to every auto manufacturer who targeted America with its products that increasingly tough and complicated emissions and safety regulations were on the way.
America was Porsche's biggest market, and while the rear-engined 911 continued to sell well, higher-ups reasoned it was only a matter of time before such restrictions hampered their bread and butter. By developing an entirely new Porsche, one with all the latest federal regulations already incorporated, Porsche hoped to meet the new standards head on. In the meantime, if the Stuttgart company had to kill the 911 because of such standards, it would be prepared to transition.
Engineers were given free rein to "invent" the newest Porsche, and plans for the 928 began in October 1971, with a basic design finalized in 1972. And what a design it was, especially within the walls of a company that had in its 30-year history built nothing but cars with a little engine behind the driver. But if America was the target market, a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive V8 Grand Touring car certainly made sense from a sales standpoint. Americans loved their V8s.
The 928 debuted in March 1977 at the Geneva Auto Show, and while Porsche purists bristled at the thought of such a pedestrian layout, the new car received much acclaim. The $28,000 928 borrowed no parts from other Porsches, and its shape was like nothing else--a futuristic design with a low, wide stance, a long, sloping hood, a sharp nose, and an evenly rounded rump. "Telephone dial" wheels completed the package. At the time, design head Tony Lapine stated that "a car which is liked immediately will not hold up over time." Porsche had designed a long shelf life into its latest creation, and at the same time had handsomely incorporated 5-mph safety bumpers front and rear.
The body made use of collapsible polyurethane pieces over front and rear hidden bumpers, with aluminum doors, hood, and front fenders, and steel for the remaining panels. Though now commonplace, at the time, trying to coat such differing materials with a uniform paint job was a feat of ingenuity.
Beneath the handsome and complicated skin lay an advanced and well-balanced powertrain. A 90-degree, all-aluminum, 16-valve, 4.5-liter V8 with Bosch Continuous Injection System (CIS) fuel delivery produced 219 hp and 254 ft-lb of torque. It was mated to a fully synchronized rear transaxle with either a 5-speed manual or optional 3-speed automatic, and weight distribution was nearly perfect at 51%/49%, front to rear.
Suspension was fully independent all around, and Porsche worked hard to perfect the 928's rear suspension, which would allow it to accommodate over-aggressive drivers without the erratic tendencies of snap oversteer. The resulting "Weissach Axle" was an engineering breakthrough, a multi-link setup that made the 928 one of the best handlers in the world.
The cabin was nothing short of plush, with supportive leather seats, an ingenious tilt steering/instrument binnacle, and all the comforts of a true luxury GT. And it could move, too, with 0 to 60 mph coming in just over 7 seconds, with a top speed over 135 mph. By the time the 4.7-liter 928 S arrived in 1983, the car was rated at 146 mph, making it the fastest in America.
Displacement, power, and top speed increased as production continued, with a 5.0-liter appearing in 1985, as well as revised brake and suspension components and a 4-speed automatic to replace the 3-speed. A 928 S4 debuted in 1987, now with 316 hp, and a 928 GT entered the fold in 1989, complete with a limited-slip differential and available only with a 5-speed. The 928 GTS replaced both the S4 and GT for 1993. It featured freshened bodywork and a bigger 5.4-liter engine now putting out 345 hp and capable of 170 mph. It also cost nearly $85,000.
By this time, the 928 had practically disappeared from the American market. Sales had fallen dramatically, and Porsche redoubled its efforts on the 911, which had weathered the regulatory storm mostly unscathed.
In all nearly 61,000 928s were built during the car's 17-year tenure. Even by today's standards, it is a competent, comfortable GT, and a well-sorted one will offer plenty of high-speed thrills over continental distances.