In 2000 I was moving from New York to Los Angeles. I needed a car. My boss at the time was selling his 1992 Porsche 928 GTS with just 20,000 garaged and pampered miles. The word "cheery" doesn't even begin to describe it. And it could have been mine for the low, low price of $10,000. More amazingly, this one had a manual. Only 77 GTS model 928s ever made it to the United States. Of those, just six had manuals. [Update: only 77 928 GTSs showed up here in 1995. Between 1992 and 1995 2831GTS cars were produced — thanks rennlist] And I had the money. However, he warned me, just because you are paying Honda money for a supercar, doesn't mean it doesn't have supercar needs. The engine, while awesome, was notorious for eating oil and heaven forbid it needed a repair. Or two. Or a part. The straw that broke the camel's back was my boss explaining that it cost him $1700 to replace the window motor. Once in Los Angeles, I bought a Sentra. Biggest mistake of my life. I've already let a 928 slip away from my actual garage once; there's no way it's not making it into the Fantasy Garage.
In 1971 Porsche read the writing on the wall. The nifty 911, while just seven years old, was reaching what they thought then to be the limits of its rear-engined, air-cooled design. I'm not talking just performance, but also crashworthiness, noise and emissions were impending concerns. Most troubling though, was the threat that because of the Nader-Corvair incident, there was some talk of the US banning rear-engined cars altogether. Additionally, the 911 was an evolution of the 356, which was an outgrowth of the VW Bug. Which meant that P.J. O'Rourke was right; Porsche's flagship was an "ass-engined Nazi slot car." The company needed a modern, clean-sheet design.
There were other considerations, too. In the hands of a good driver on a closed course, the 911 was very capable and supremely rewarding. In the hands of most customers on the street, it was a widowmaker. And they were uncomfortable, loud and — compared to muscle cars dominating the all-important North American market — slow in a straight line. Porsche's top engineers began work on an all new vehicle that would combine the white-knuckle performance of the 911 with all the appointments and accouterments of a world-class GT. The new car was to be a major source of pride for Porsche, too. For the first time every part would be 100% Porsche, not leftover VW bits (notwithstanding that the 928's three-speed auto was sourced from Mercedes). "Projekt 928" was underway.
They considered many designs, including rear and mid-engine layouts, but ultimately it was decided that maximum passenger comfort dictated a front-engine, RWD layout. A transaxle would help the new Porsche achieve a BMW-like "perfect" 50/50 weight distribution. Interestingly, the original design called for a 5.5-liter V8, but the OPEC silliness of the mid-1970s saw the displacement shrink to a less-thirsty 4.5-liters (and at seven feet long, its timing Gilmer-type timing chain was the longest ever fitted to a car). Don't feel too bad, though; one group of managers was pushing for a V6. Luckily, the engineers refused. The body was designed in semi-secrecy behind curtains in the factory, alongside 911 production. Prototypes were nearly beaten to death in severely hot (Africa) and cold (Finland) weather testing. Projekt 928 was even doing better than expected in crash tests. All that was needed was the Board of Directors to give 'em the go code.
Before we go further, we must discuss what an alien the 928 was, vis-à-vis Porsche. A water-cooled, front-engined V8 sitting in front of the steering wheel would have been exactly as odd as Billy Graham coming out in favor of cocaine. And Jews. The design was anathema to everything Porsche stood for. Everything, save for one thing: like all Porches, the new 928 was a driver's car above all else. With that in mind, Porsche's directors gave the car their blessing. It debuted at the Geneva Auto Show in 1977, was quickly named car of the year (a first for such an expensive vehicle) and entered production in 1978. (Okay, a few were made in 1977, but sold as 78s.) World, meet Porsche 2.0. Side note. Before some of you start your inevitable sniping, listen up. While it's true the 924 was launched in 1976, making it the first front-engined Porsche for sale, the design of the 928 predates it by a year. And the 924 was originally going to be a VW. And it had a 95 horsepower 2.0-liter van engine. And it sucked, quite unlike the 928.
The engine was all-aluminum and the cylinders were sleeveless. It was the first vehicle to be equipped with four-wheel steering since the Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (a Nazi armored truck). Actually, the 928 featured passive rear-wheel steering. Known as the Weissach axle, this improvement on the semi-trailing arm suspension largely eliminated lift-throttle oversteer. Before the 928, if you were to lift the throttle in RWD car with an independent rear-end, the tendency was for the shift in weight distribution to cause the vehicle to snap-oversteer. Fun to watch on TV, but not ideal in a race. With the Weissach axle, the rear wheel would toe in, preventing oversteer. Most sports cars that still use semi-trailing arms feature a Weissach axle. The 928 also had a double-disk clutch and a torque tube (where the differential is bolted to the transmission as opposed to the suspension). The 928 was also advanced on the inside. Porsche's flagship featured an instrument binnacle that raised and lowered with the steering wheel, a trick it took Nissan's Z a few decades to copy. Rear-seat occupants were treated to both sun visors and AC.
The 928, or "Shark" as its adherents refer to it, had a long production run (1978-1995) with continual updates from Porsche, including lots of high-tech goodies from the 959. When it debuted, the mechanically fuel-injected SOHC 4.5-liter mill made 219 horses in North America and 237 hp in the ROW (rest of world). At the end of its 17 years, the 928 was packing a 32-valve 5.4-liter unit delivering 345 hp. It also featured 12.5" Brembos. Zero to 60 mph took about five seconds flat, and top speed was in the neighborhood of 170 mph, if not a touch faster. That number, still quite respectable today, for a time made the 928 the fastest production car in the world. Only the Corvette ZR-1 and Lamborghini Countach were faster. But none of these facts are why I'm putting forward the 928 to be locked in our Fantasy Garage. I mean, just look at it!