Retro Review: Porsche 928

The Porsche 928 was supposed to replace the 911. It didn’t, but the 928 did prove Porsche could make a front-engine V8 into a classic.

Porsche’s New Halo

Porsche 928 -

Porsche 928 – |  Shop Porsche 928 on

It’s hard to imagine today, but there was a time when Porsche was looking to replace the 911 with a new, more modern halo car. Back in the 1970s, Porsche’s managing director Ernst Fuhrmann felt the 911 had become so refined, had gotten so near perfection that the company would soon need a new model to keep the attention of fickle US buyers. That, and the market was shifting in favor of Grand Touring cars, rather than performance machines like the 911. The new car would push the brand forward and, hopefully, make money at the same time.

The Porsche 928 was a major departure for the company and unlike anything they had done up to that point. While the 911 could be traced straight back through the 356 to the Volkswagen Beetle, the 928 would be Porsche’s first clean sheet design, foregoing all those classic Porsche traits: the rear engine placement, the air-cooling, and the boxer engine. Instead, the Porsche 928 would chart a new path. And while it had been the 911 that has survived, it’s easy to see the insights and influences of the 928 across Porsche’s lineup today.

Development and Specs

Porsche 928 -
Porsche 928 -

Work on the new car began all the way back in 1971. One of the earliest decisions made was that the new car would indeed depart from Porsche’s Volkswagen-derived designs (both the Beetle and the VW-Porsche 914). Foremost, this meant the new car would be a front engine design firmly in the mold of competing GT cars from Mercedes and BMW.

Initially, Ferdinand Porsche had considered using a V10 engine, basically combining two Audi five-cylinders, but the company’s board favored creating something new, rather than venture back to Volkswagen right as they were attempting to differentiate Porsche’s brand.

Porsche 928 -
Porsche 928 -

The M28, a front mid-mounted, water-cooled, fuel-injected V8, would get the nod. The 4.5L M28 made 240 horsepower in its European spec and 219 horsepower in the US. This engine was connected to a front transaxle sending power to the rear wheels. Buyers had the choice of a three-speed automatic or 5-speed dogleg manual. A four-speed automatic would follow in 1983 and automatics would make up approximately 80% of all 928s sold.

The Porsche 928 finally debuted in 1977 at the Geneva Motor Show to much acclaim. The car would garner the 1978 European Car of the Year award and win plaudits from the automotive press as the best handling Porsche on sale. In proper Porsche fashion, engineers would continue to improve on the 928 throughout its run.

Innovations and Improvements

Porsche 928 -
Porsche 928 -

The 928 had a handful of key innovations that gave it a leg up on the 911. First, the rear engine design of the 911 means the car’s weight is biased to the rear, making it tail happy in cornering and prone to oversteer. The 928’s front engine placement, along with the transaxle, gave the new car a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Some purists might miss the squirrely fun of the 911, but fewer stockbrokers and dentists would end up wrapping their new sports car around a telephone pole.

The next innovation for the 928 was a fully independent suspension that included the new Weissach axle in the rear. This design traded in the 911s trailing arms, which tended to toe out the rear wheels on deceleration, for new linkages that cause the rear wheels to toe in, allowing for greater control in cornering. The 928 also sported a widened wheelbase, from the 911’s 87 inches to a full 98 inches, further enhancing stability.

Porsche 928 -
Porsche 928 -

But the 928 wasn’t satisfied with improved handling, either. Among its other key design elements was its hatchback design, complete with rear sun visors, aluminum over steel body, and unique folding pop-up headlights. The Porsche 928 even had integrated bumpers back in a time when most European sports cars were having their aesthetics severely compromised by US safety standards (I’m looking at you Lamborghini Countach).

One of the 928’s signature features was the car’s new center console. Never had a Porsche sported a center console and this modern design feature would go on to be integrated into all subsequent Porsches, including, yes, the 911 itself. Also of note is the 928’s unique instrument panel which moves with the steering wheel then the latter is adjusted.

The Risky Business of Halo Cars

Porsche 928 -
Porsche 928 -

At the beginning of its run, the Porsche 928 was priced as it was positioned, as Porsche’s halo car. As such, the 928 started at $26,000, or roughly $100,000 today. And while the car never achieved the pop culture status of the 911, it still got noticed by a few Hollywood producers. Major 1980s hits like Weird Science, Scarface, and Risky Business each featured a Porsche 928 as the hot new thing.

By the early 1990s, the price of the 928 had risen to around $100,000 (or around $200,000 today). Of course, the high price of the 928 reflected the expense of producing the car while maintaining a profit. But it also meant sales flagged as competitors were able to offer alluring alternatives for less. Porsche was hurting financially by the middle of the decade and looked to a new generation of the 911 and a new entry-level car, the 718 Cayman, to replace the rapidly aging 928.

Porsche 928 -

Porsche 928 – |  Shop Porsche 928 on

The final Porsche 928s would roll off the assembly line in 1995, a total of 61,056 units across its decade-plus run. While it didn’t replace the 911, the 928 did give Porsche designers and engineers plenty to work with for decades to come. From the Macan to the Panamera, the 928 proved Porsche could do front engine V8s was well or better than any carmaker out there.

For more awesome Porsche, check out our list of the ten best here.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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