It was the right idea at the wrong time.
These days Porsche builds something like 170,000 SUVs a year but there was a time when the company was so invested in the 911 product line — as a business, and an automotive sub-culture — that doing something else was sacrilegious.
Ernst Fuhrmann wanted something else.
In the Seventies outside of Porsche’s core fan base many deemed the 911 as old, out dated technology that’s been around since 1963 if you’re being conservative, and dated to as far back as 1948 if you traced the 911 all the way down to the Porsche 356.
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After so many years the novel rear-engined idea ran staid and Porsche needed to advance the 911 into the modern age. At around the same time during the ‘Me Decade’, Lamborghini was being its hip, egotistical self with the Countach looking like it came from the 21st century. The Lancia Stratos embraced futuristic wedge design to its core, and even BMW began the conception of its styling language that would prevail until Bangle when the M1 was released.
Under Fuhrmann as CEO at Porsche, the Seventies were anxious years in Zuffenhausen as the boss shifted focus over to a 911 successor. Yes, successor. The 911 was reaching the end of its shelf life. The answer was suitably modern, water-cooled, front-engined, with a trans-axle and a V8 engine. This big Grand Tourer was nowhere as sporty as a 911 in its concept or execution, but Porsche needed the US market and prioritised California’s Beverly Hills over the Nurburgring’s Brünnchen.
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The mood in Zuffenhausen wasn’t great as lifelong Porsche employees contemplated the death of their beloved 911 in favour of this big boat. But as it turned out the Porsche faithful refused to let the 911 die, and the rest is history.
Concerned with looming crash regulations, noise limits, and CO2 emissions, Porsche tried all sorts of configurations for the 928, including a rear-engined V8 design put forward by Ferdinand Piech. There were flat-six and V6 deliberations too, and Piech even envisioned a V10 made up of two Audi inline fives. In the end the V8 engine was chosen and by 1973 Porsche had a design by Tony Lapine ready.
The timing couldn’t have been worse — that same year the fuel crisis hit, and plans for a big, thirsty American-minded V8 had to be shelved while Porsche put the economical four-cylinder 924 to market first. Work resumed late in 1974 with the blind hope the crisis would subside by the time of the 928’s launch.
Against the trend of sharp angles in car design prevailing at the time, Lapine went with soft, sinuous curves everywhere, without any abrupt interruptions to the form by spoilers, intakes or wings.
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Even with that UPS the 928 just didn’t sell as much as Fuhrmann envisioned, and by the Eighties a new CEO, Peter Schutz, came in for the now infamous change of the guard — taking one look at a product development chart that was missing the 911, Schutz took a marker and extended the 911 line across the room, way past the 928. It was a symbolic gesture by the new boss that spurred on the entire company — the 911 would live on.
And so the 928 with so much resting on its wide shoulders fell away forgotten for decades, until the 40th anniversary brought back memories of one of the best engineered V8s of the time and a true Grand Tourer that remarkably stayed in production until 1995.
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And that 1995 GTS example is the one wheels borrowed for these photos from the Porsche Museum for a blast through the Black Forest. Or rather, not really a blast, but more of a reflective roadtrip, a “What if?” What if the 928 really did replace the 911…
Well, it didn’t, but the 928 started something huge at Porsche and even Fuhrmann couldn’t have foreseen it — the demand for GTs made Porsche spread its core focus away from the 911 and into more accessible models like the Panamera, Cayenne and more recently the Macan. The 928 made it acceptable for Porsche to reach further out and as such it was an important milestone in the company’s history even as an unloved castoff. It was just that the timing was wrong — 40 years later, looking at this thing, it couldn’t be more right.