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.