23 June 2016

This is why the Porsche 928 died

If the Porsche 928 could talk, we imagine it would have said something like this when it was introduced to the world at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show: “Settle down, everybody. I know I’m not the 911. But hey, I’m actually 17 numbers better! That’s pretty awesome, right?”

Well, not everyone thought so. Misunderstood, underappreciated, often maligned and ultimately jettisoned, the Porsche 928 wasn’t a bad car. It couldn’t have survived for 18 years if it was. But it certainly had a bumpy road. It’s always tough following a legend.

“The car was supposed to replace the 911, which put it in an unfair position to begin with,” said automotive writer and Porsche aficionado Rob Sass. “It wasn’t a sports car and was never meant to be a sports car. It was a GT – heavier, not as nimble as the 911 and built to carry the family on weekend getaways.”

In the late 1960s, Porsche engineers believed they had pushed the rear-engine 911 as far as it could go, with slumping sales reinforcing this idea. So they began conceptualizing a luxury touring car that might have wider appeal. Ernst Fuhrmann offered the first design in 1971, and while rear- and mid-engine configurations were considered, the 928’s engine ultimately landed up front – and it wasn’t a six-cylinder. The 928 was Porsche’s first production car powered by a V-8.

Sass said Porsche purists couldn’t help but compare the 911 and 928, and it all started with the mechanicals. “The 911 had an air-cooled engine in the rear; the 928 had a water-cooled engine up front. The 928 is more complicated than the 911 – it had a cooling system, a radiator and power steering, all things the 911 did not.”

Original plans called for a 5.0-liter engine, but economic constraints left the 928 with a 4.5-liter power source. Critics called it slow, and it could never shake that reputation, despite the installation of more powerful engines in later models.

“It isn’t slow,” Sass said. “Some called it a German Corvette because it had a V-8, but the transaxle is in the back for better balance. It’s well engineered.”

The criticism didn’t end there. Porsche 928s have a reputation for catching fire. Sass said that reputation gets played up, especially in an era of social media. But such fears are easily dispelled. It comes down to simple maintenance.

“People think that 928s are difficult, and it’s true that things like the timing belt and water pump are hard to get at. But they need to be maintained and replaced, as do the rubber lines – transmission, fuel injection and power steering. Those hoses contain flammable fluids, obviously. Ethanol and age cause fuel lines to crack and leak, and people tend to neglect them. There’s your biggest fire hazard.”

Sass said Porsche discontinued the 928 after the 1995 model year for purely economic reasons.

“Porsche was still an independent company at the time (it is now part of the Volkswagen Group), and two big problems were working against the 928: A). It didn’t sell well, and B). It didn’t share components with other models. So at a time when Porsche had to consolidate in order to cut costs, the 928 was a logical cut.”

In fact, Road & Track said the 928’s fate was inevitable. “The 928 had to die in order for Porsche to live, but it was a special car,” the magazine wrote. “It didn't have the same appeal as a 911, but that didn't make it worse, just different.”

Sass is certainly a believer. “The 928 has a kind of timeless design element so it doesn’t look dated. If you stay on top of maintenance it’s a great car. Interestingly enough, it may have the last laugh. Porsche makes a water-cooled front-engine car called the Panamera, and there has been talk of building a two-door coupe version of it.”

Just like the 928.

22 Reader Comments

  • 1
    John NC June 29, 2016 at 15:28
    Still one of the best looking cars of all time in my opinion. I was born in 1973, my Dad drove a neighbors when I was a kid and took me along, then I saw it in Risky Business and that was it, loved the car since. To this day I get fired up when I see one. Would love to own one, would not love the service costs.
  • 2
    bruce cusmano atlanta June 29, 2016 at 15:37
    I have owned three 928"s over the last 35 years as well as numerous 911"s. They are a bit like my children, each is different and I love them both. The 928 is an incredible automobile, solid and very fast once it gets going. I will look foward to having another as I just had to say good- by to my S-4 a few weeks ago as I reached my limit in the area of repairs at almost 200,000 miles driven regularly . Let us be kind to an old friend. If any one out there has a young model that you are looking to find a good home for, do email me. No reds please. I would prefer a 1995. I'm on my 26th Porsche, one wife and two unique children.
  • 3
    Matt Kempton Pennsylvania June 29, 2016 at 15:59
    I always loved the 928, It was and still is my Favorite Porsche. Yes a true GT, but it out performed the 911 in every category as it was to be the 911's replacement. Technology and engineering caught up and the 911 was saved. Purists can't complain about the 928 anymore, Porsche has a 4 door sedan and an SUV!
  • 4
    ken Daytona Beach June 29, 2016 at 16:47
    i disagree with the writer regarding this cars propensity for fires. my 86 caught fire because porsche did not fuse the power wire to the O2 sensor. the wire chafed thru the grommet that feeds the wire thru the transmission tunnel (where it gets hot from inadequate insulation) and melted the harness in the engine bay near the fuel cooler. just an fyi. despite that, i still miss her
  • 5
    JohnPVAZ Scottsdale, AZ June 29, 2016 at 16:50
    My favorite Porsche. It was well balanced thanks to the engine/transaxle layout and that V8 could really pull effortlessly compared to the screaming of a 911 engine. It was too much of a change though with power everything, auto tranny and AC that worked. Value was halved driving off the lot so a great buy on resale.
  • 6
    Frank Vellake Gainesville,Fl June 29, 2016 at 17:07
    I bought a 1979 Euro spec 928 in 1986. I kept it until last Fall...almost 30 years. I could never grasp why it was so unloved. I spent a lot of money on it over the years but it was a great car.
  • 7
    Jim Seattle, Washington June 29, 2016 at 17:37
    The 928 is a sad story. While taste is individual, I think the Porsche team did a great job with the GT styling and much of their lineup today owes a debt as well. As for fires, this seems to be a Porsche issue, deserved or not, and not just with 928. All said, best to leave the great 928 in the past instead of a remake model - remakes seem to return bloated imitations!
  • 8
    Tom Stahler LosAlamitos, CA June 29, 2016 at 17:43
    Is it possible, without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, that the 928 was Porsche's "New Coke"??? The same slap in the face to consumers that woke them up to Coca-Cola, could have been a planned wake up call to purists... The 911 never went away, in fact, sales of the iconic car improved. But the poor 928... It is only in retrospect that we see the benefit in these front-engine water-pumpers and the fabulous engineering and 50-50 balance. As a racer of a 968, I can attest to all the benefits! Beware: these cars are now showing up at the auctions and are fetching a constantly improving buck....
  • 9
    Robbie Robbins Central coast of California June 29, 2016 at 17:44
    I bought a new 928 the first year the 4 valve engine was available. The car had many problems that were extraordinarily expensive to fix. Living in the south the air conditioning even though I ordered the car with a second unit in the back never was adequate. It was a wonderful car to be in and to drive especially long distances. The cost of maintenance however led me to trade it in on a 1990 C2 cabriolet. I am the original owner of a last year BMW Z8 and find driving the two amazingly similar and always a pleasure. The 928 is, in my opinion, one of the best looking cars of all times.
  • 10
    Robbie Robbins Central coast of California June 29, 2016 at 17:49
    I bought a new 928 the first year the 4 valve engine was available. The car had many problems that were extraordinarily expensive to fix. Living in the south the air conditioning even though I ordered the car with a second unit in the back never was adequate. It was a wonderful car to be in and to drive especially long distances. The cost of maintenance however led me to trade it in on a 1990 C2 cabriolet. I am the original owner of a last year BMW Z8 and find driving the two amazingly similar and always a pleasure. The 928 is, in my opinion, one of the best looking cars of all times.
  • 11
    Andrew Philadelphia PA June 29, 2016 at 18:07
    Your first love is always something special. I got my drivers license in 1979, but I never REALLY drove until 1985 when I borrowed a brand new 928. It was like the difference between kissing a girl and, well, you know. I ended up buying a C4 Corvette the next year because it was the closest I could get to owning a 928 (and a C4 Vette IS pretty close to a 928 in feel and performance, although certainly not in fit and finish). I still have that same C4, 30 years later, but I will always love the 928!
  • 12
    Jack Griffin Dallas, TX June 29, 2016 at 18:14
    The 928 certainly earned my respect when, in 1984 at the Daytona 24 hr, a 928 finished several places ahead of me in my beastly 935. Of course, I had a 2 hr pit stop due to turbo failure; but, still the 928 finished 15th OA, a great on-track performance.
  • 13
    Edd Weninger Overgaard, AZ June 29, 2016 at 18:56
    Great car !! I owned 2 of them. A 1980 bought new and driven >150,000 miles. Replaced in 1986 with an S4. Loved the variable rate power steering, the aerodynamics and the balanced heft and excellent handling.
  • 14
    Robbie Robbins Central coast of California June 29, 2016 at 19:01
    I bought a new 928 the first year the 4 valve engine was available. The car had many problems that were extraordinarily expensive to fix. Living in the south the air conditioning even though I ordered the car with a second unit in the back never was adequate. It was a wonderful car to be in and to drive especially long distances. The cost of maintenance however led me to trade it in on a 1990 C2 cabriolet. I am the original owner of a last year BMW Z8 and find driving the two amazingly similar and always a pleasure. The 928 is, in my opinion, one of the best looking cars of all times.
  • 15
    Jeremy Weiss Bridgewater NJ June 29, 2016 at 19:12
    The 928 Porsche was and is a fantastic GT car. It's performance was legendary, both in its top speed and in its handling. In 1978 it was awarded European Car of the Year. Still to this day the only sports car to ever win that award. In 1987 a stock Porsche 928S4 driven by the late Al Holbert at the Bonneville Salt Flats set a record at 171.92 mph for the worlds fastest production car. In 2007 and again in 2009 Carl Fausett took his 1978 Porsche in the open class up Pikes Peak setting the record for the fastest two wheel drive car up the course. Keep in mind at that time the course was mainly gravel! It's construction of aluminum, steel and plastics really set the car apart from anything else available in the world at its debut. From extensive use of aluminum in the suspension, steering gear and drivetrain, to its use of Lupolen for the worlds first production automotive plastic fuel tank down to the plastic bumper covers that every car has today. The Porsche 928 IS the grandfather of the modern car. Like we all know "There is no substitute" Nuff said!!
  • 16
    Robbie Robbins Central coast of California June 29, 2016 at 22:02
    I bought a new 928 the first year the 4 valve engine was available. The car had many problems that were extraordinarily expensive to fix. Living in the south the air conditioning even though I ordered the car with a second unit in the back never was adequate. It was a wonderful car to be in and to drive especially long distances. The cost of maintenance however led me to trade it in on a 1990 C2 cabriolet. I am the original owner of a last year BMW Z8 and find driving the two amazingly similar and always a pleasure. The 928 is, in my opinion, one of the best looking cars of all times.
  • 17
    Bill Clay Bethany, CT June 30, 2016 at 08:11
    I have two 928s right now - one I've owned for 9 years, the other just followed us home from a car show this summer. The 928 is a wonderful GT - the perfect weekend road trip car that your wife will actually enjoy riding in for hours. When the Panamera came out, some of the 928 nuts on Rennlist photochopped the rear section of the cabin from it and it looked exactly like a modern iteration of the 928 - eerily so. Agreed that it is one of those few car designs that defies the passing of the years.
  • 18
    Bernard car in NY i'm in FL June 30, 2016 at 20:15
    i am going to make a long story short. I am the original owner of a 1983 928S that had been sitting in my moms garage since 1985. I used it (on Sat. nights!) for 3 years '83-84-85 and very rarely used it from '86 to '99, then I dropped the insurance on it stopped renewing registration and and it sat until i took it out and had it brought to a well known Porsche expert in NY, Westchester county. The owner was amazed, it only has 8,700 orig. miles on it and the interior smelled of leather. I have my orig bill of sale, window sticker, books and title, everything is orig, too much to say here. They replaced the tires (orig were Pirelli) even though they were brand new (said it was a safety issue) dropped gas tank and fuel lines and cleaned them, new fuel pump, cleaned injectors, new battery. It started right up and ran smooth as glass. I'm so glad I ordered it with a 5 speed and every factory option, dealer options were fully polished wheels with factory Porsche crests in each one and others too numerous to go into here. Question, do I ship it to Florida and start using it or do I sell it now after 33 years?
  • 19
    GabrielS California June 30, 2016 at 12:05
    I've owned my 84 928s since 94. The overall build quality is impressive and very solid. Top quality materials were used in its creation. It has always started...until recently. After much prodding and testing, the issue was simply a temperamental fuel injection relay that eventually gave up the ghost entirely. The trick in avoiding expensive repairs is to get a service manual and do as many repairs and maintenance as possible.
  • 20
    Sam UAS July 2, 2016 at 11:29
    "People think that 928s are difficult, and it’s true that things like the timing belt and water pump are hard to get at" I'm sorry but saying that the timing belt and water pump are hard to get at is a false statement. You undo the top engine oil cooler line from the radiator and then take the fan shroud out on the 87+ cars, even easier on the earlier models with the mechanical cooling fan. Then you have about a foot of space without even needing to take the radiator out! I have changed timing belts on V6 Acuras and 4 cylinder Hondas and can tell you the timing belt job on a 928 is very easy to do in comparison. Not sure why every time there is an article about 928s people cry about the timing belt job, while other exotic cars its much more difficult job to do. They are very reliable and working on them is not really that bad. Comments like these comes from people that have never worked on a car before...
  • 21
    Kevin Oregon July 3, 2016 at 17:33
    Nine Eleven, schmine eleven. Did ANYONE see the Cayenne coming? I have Porsche cars in my collection. They're wonderful machines. I wouldn't own one of those damned oversteering 911s, period.
  • 22
    Todd Florida July 19, 2016 at 18:30
    I've read for years that the 928 was the most expensive-to-maintain Porsche ever . . . if you go by the book.

Join the Discussion