What If? 1988 Porsche 928 Turbo

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Abimelec Arellano

Welcome to What If, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. We’ll be taking you back in time—and possibly forward into the future—to meet alternative-universe automobiles. Even better, our time machine is working well enough to bring “short take” reviews along with the photographs and advertisements. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

(Originally published in Car And Steerer magazine, August 1987)

Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Schutz! When the charismatic American executive took charge of Porsche several years ago, he famously canceled the demise of the company’s beloved, if antiquated, 911 model. In doing so, he strongly rebuked the technocrats who were interested in bigger, better, and far more modern Porsches.

The “911 Forever” strategy has been popular with Americans, because we like our Porsches old-fashioned. But it’s been deadly to the firm’s European prospects. The 911 Turbo that struck us as a bit stale upon its return last year? The Germans like it even less. So the Porsche and Piëch families put an end to this exercise in nostalgia last year, demoting Schutz and elevating a relatively unknown family member to the chairman’s seat.

what if Porsche 928 Turbo ad mockup
Abimelec Arellano

A plan to replace the 911 with an updated four-wheel-drive model, called “Carrera 4”, has been terminated. 1990 will be the last year for the Porsche 911 in this or any other market. Instead, a new-generation 944, tentatively badged 968, will appear in 1989 with the performance of the outgoing 911 and then some. Four years later, a mid-engined car will appear at a price above the 968, using a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that will also appear in a 968 Turbo.

All of that sounds plenty exciting, but you’ll forgive us if our attention can’t stay on the future. Not when we have this car in front of us: the 928 Turbo. There won’t be a 911 Turbo sold on our shores this year; our internal contacts at Porsche say it’s because the 3.3-liter engine can’t keep pace with the upcoming Corvette King Of The Hill or Ferrari 348. No worries. Frankly, it wasn’t compatible with modern times anyway, in its performance or its (admittedly tamed) handling.

This Porsche Turbo, on the other hand, is ready to render the new super-Corvette irrelevant on arrival. While the new 928S4 with which it shares showrooms offers 5.0 liters and 316 horsepower, the 928 Turbo returns to the original 4.5-liter displacement of the early models, skips the new four-valve heads, and adds two small-displacement turbochargers. The resulting hurricane of horsepower is enough to frighten a Countach: Porsche is claiming an output of 425 Euro horses. Figure 415 of our slightly stronger American stallions. We are predicting a 0-60 of 4.2 seconds and a scarcely credible quarter-mile time of 12.8 seconds. This is just three tenths faster than what the 911 Turbo managed in our testing, but the old Beetle-backed Kraut wagen has always outperformed at the dragstrip due to its rear weight bias. Expect the gap to grow by leaps and bounds afterwards as the 928 Turbo stretches its legs to a claimed 186mph.

Driving the 928 Turbo is an experience like none other. The old 911 Turbo would give its drivers a five-count’s worth of lag on the freeway, but this new one always feels at least as strong as an old 928 — which is to say, plenty strong. The boost comes up quickly thanks to the relatively modest size of the twin turbochargers, and then it’s adios! to everybody from Peter Schutz to your local Testarossa owners. Porsche says they’ll eventually adapt the automatic transmission from the 928S4 for Turbo duty, but right now it’s a five-speed manual or nothing.

That five-speed has a relatively tall rear end to keep the 928’s rear end tractable underfoot. We can only imagine what it would be like with the 928 S4’s final-drive ratio, because even with the Long Tall Sally version it will chirp the rear tires in third gear, spin them out of control in second, and vaporize them in first, at any point you care to visit on the VDO tachometer. King Of The Hill who?

Thankfully, the bizarre checkerboard fabrics and styling excesses of the original 928 have been toned down to an all-black, all-business interior. Exactly what we expect from Porsche, right down to the mail-slot sunroof overhead. We’re expecting a price in the $80,000 range; current IROC-Z owners need not apply for a test drive.

what if Porsche 928 Turbo bronze
Abimelec Arellano

Our plan to get performance numbers on Porsche’s early-production US model Turbo was derailed by an unfortunate incident in which our road warrior mistook the throttle for the brake, causing him to drive into the “Yesterdogs” of Grand Rapids, MI, at just under Warp 3. He’s fine, which just shows Porsche’s commitment to safety, but the car is a total loss. We’ll report back when we have its replacement ready for our fifth wheel.

Count us among the many people who are happy to see Porsche’s focus turn away from the past and firmly towards the future. Can you imagine a world in which the 911 never went away? Where the firm continued to chug along with air-cooled two-valve engines all the way through the Nineties and beyond? How worthless would those cars be, both in the showrooms and after the fact? We’ll never know.

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