|For many people the Porsche 911 remains the pinnacle of motor car development. Yet Porsche themselves recognised it's failings over 20 years ago. Even then the 911 was an ageing 60s design. Porsche, with an eye firmly fixed on the future, penned a new, less idiosyncratic design and dispensed of, at a stroke, the 911's Achilles heels of rear- engined layout and air-cooled cylinders.||
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It was a well meaning change - in the days before electronic traction control the laws of physics gave the 911 some rather interesting handling characteristics and, without the benefit of a water jacket, it was getting difficult to make the 911 meet ever-tightening emission legislation.
I can still remember the motoring press carrying headlines like THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING and creaming themselves mercilessly over the technical specification and perfection of the then new 928 and it's rather bizarre chequered chess board interior.
But somehow the plan all went wrong.
Porsche engineers and their calculators (more likely slide rules in those days) failed to notice that most people didnt actually buy a Porsche, they bought a 911. Even today many people wouldnt know what a 924, 944, 928 or even a Boxster was if it ran them over. But if a 911 knocked them down they would sit in their hospital bed and proudly proclaim that a Porsche hit them. In the same way that the French loved the 2CV and we Brits love our Minis, the 911 had managed to wheedle its way into the collective high end supercar psyche and then steadfastly refused to die.
And, unhelpfully, Porsche couldnt leave the 911 alone and constantly improved and updated it, making it ever quicker and faster yet, paradoxically, tamer and more benign. The car they wanted to kill got ever better and ever more difficult to get rid of.
Faced with a wall of buyer apathy Porsche did the only sensible thing and moved the 928 into a different market, that of the Luxury Grand Tourer where it would compete with cars like Jaguar's XJS.
Hence most 928s, and certainly the most desirable ones, became the fully loaded autoboxed versions.
Porsche had widened their choice of cars - you could choose a hooligan 911 or a big soft smoothie 928 but, people being people, there was always going to be a perverse few individuals who required either a softie 911 or a hooligan 928. Porsche, as ever, were only too willing to comply and out of the darkest bowels of the factory came the Carrera GT which was then the rarest, fastest, most uncompromising 928 on the planet.
|Parked up, side on and from a distance it all looks innocuous enough ( despite the bright guard-red paint). It's chubby, round arse end and smooth, curving front give a less overtly threatening appearance than a wide- bodied 911.|
But as you draw nearer it's aspect changes as you are able to gain a better perspective of it's dimensions. It's wheelbase is deceptively short, it needs no wheel arch extensions because it's bus-wide and it's roof barely reaches your ribs. It must have the squarest, flattest shape of any car on the planet and reminds me almost of a crab on wheels, especially when those pop-up headlights get activated.
|The 928 created a dramatic statement in the 70s and it's barely diminished now. Only the black plastic picnic table sprouting from the rear give the car any semblance of age and you dont look at that too much as your eyes are naturally drawn to the enormous truck height cup alloys with their rubber band tyres. When you see ageless cars like this, you know why cherished plates are so popular - stick your own plate on a 928 and no-one could tell whether you've just paid 5 grand or 50 grand.|
From the rear you can only gawp at the width of the tyres and diameter of the drainpipe tailpipes. You know in your mind that Porsche dont major on showy visual effects so you subconsciously realise that pipes of that width are there only to let out the required massive amounts of gas and tyres of that girth are there to control what Porsche believe to be a landslide of power.
Once you've stopped drooling over the exterior you can try and negotiate your way in. It's not that the doors are small, you just have the matter of an 8" wide sill, the handbrake and space enough for a suitcase to stretch over. Backside first is probably easiest for those less nimble of body but don't forget to duck or else you'll be clouted on the back of the head by the roof. Inside, you're flanked by a further foot of transmission tunnel so there's no lack of shoulder room. On the passenger side, a space shuttle's worth of circuit boards hide under the carpet limiting floor space for taller passengers. On the driver's side the pedals lurk deep in the darkness beyond normal eyesight. It does have rear seats but getting into them is probably best left to small clambering children or double-jointed gymnasts. The rear hatch opens to reveal a rather tacky rear blind which appears to conceal a largish looking boot. Peeling it back reveals only space for a couple of A4 notepads or maybe a laptop and brief case so probably best left covered.
|The interior design is the only part of a 928 that ages the car, ie the shape and material of the switchgear. Even then it's not too bad. Ergonomically its a great improvement over the 911. Firm leather seats take a grip of your body and are adjusted by a confusing array of electrical dials on their flank. All mod cons are provided right down to the seats' bum warmers, despite the Carrera's supposed hard image. In the roof sits a strange letter-box shaped hole purporting to be an electric sunroof. It's probable only use is so that Germans can wave flags through it after one of their team's footballing successes and hence can be left shut for the foreseeable future.|
|The engine fires into life instantly and sits burbling quietly to itself. A couple of dabs on the long, heavy accelerator are enough to confirm that it has razor sharp response and will send all passers- by scuttling for cover with the exhaust's somewhat liberal interpretation of noise emission laws.|
Now, where has first gear gone again? Oh, yeah, bottom left. It's a dog-leg-1st gearbox and a bit of a quantum mind- shift after so many years of H- plus- 5 pattern. Frankly, it's something you would get used to very quickly but if you always change sequentially through the gears you wouldn't have a problem. In the interim you just have to avoid consciously thinking about changing into, say, second gear or else you just end up confused.
Actually, except for around town where you make heavy use of first-second- first repetitions, its a better layout for the gears. It gives more direct ( hence faster/easier) shift from the heavily used fifth- to-fourth- and- back ratios and, with the way many modern cars are going with huge top gears and little torque, should be utilised more.
The accelerator may be heavy and long but it certainly doesnt dull the responses - you certainly wouldnt want to try and control the V8's raging horsepower with an on/off switch. It's weight only adds to the feeling that something rather special is going on and the result is certainly worth the above average amount of effort you have to put in. Nail the pedal hard (but not even fully down) in first and you're slammed back hard into the seat with neck muscles trying to brace your head. Woe betide anyone daft enough to be rooting around the glovebox when the loud pedal gets hit in first gear ( or second or third or fourth for that matter).
Only fifth gear can abate the fierce acceleration and
even then the car rages on remorselessly. Porsche claim a matter- of- fact and
entirely believable 330bhp peak. But it's the huge lumpy amounts of horses that
it chucks out at any indicated number of engine revs that is really impressive.
It really doesn't matter how many revs are showing from zero to hero and beyond,
the engine delivers more than adequate pull at any point. It's even well- behaved
and docile when trundling along in top gear on a sniff of gas, reporting a rather
laughable mid-20s fuel consumption. Compared to something like a BMW
V8, it feels quite gruff but in a taut, tough, hard manner and not a
rough one. Some of this is probably down to the deep base heavy metal music it
outputs through the exhaust as it certainly isn't vibrating or any other such
One of the problems with noise emission legislation is that it can only measure quantity and not quality and, as such, can't recognise the fact that Queen at 110db is far easier on the ear than the Spice Girls at 80db. The meter may find it bordering on the unacceptable but I suspect that all but the most dead of souls can't fail to be stirred by the righteous sound of a rumbling V8 which is the motoring equivalent of Last Night of the Proms.
The other pedals, thankfully, dont require as much effort as the throttle. Normally, the thought of pushing a decade- old clutch ( which is built to withstand a small nuclear explosion) should send most of us running towards a Charles Atlas course. Fortunately, the weight's more than acceptable and the movement, though long, gives a nicely fluid feel to its action and has a smooth take- up. The gear change came with dire warnings of an upcoming arm wrestling contest and, yes, it's slightly stiff /heavily sprung in any particular plane. It's even and not notchy through the gate, the change action itself being short, sharp and mechanical with no hint of slop, despite the remote rear changing transaxle.
The brakes are, of course, massively powerful and, thankfully, wonderfully controllable so you can torture the front tyres almost as much as you do the rears. The chassis tends to ride fairly flat even when you try and stand it either on it's rear end or on it's nose, hence you dont pitch about in a wildly bucking body. Somebody made a good effort at explaining how those clever geezers at Porsche had linked the engine to the rear transaxle to keep the nose down but I'm afraid it was far too technical for me to understand. Their attempt at demonstration of it's squatting behaviour went over my head too but that could have been because they chose to demonstrate it by gunning the 928 to the red-line in 2nd through a rather small gap in traffic and just before an approaching roundabout. My mind sort of wandered off elsewhere in a similar fashion to the way it had when shown how the 928 could spin it's wheels at 70mph in the wet.
|The good pedal control means you can point and squirt the Porsche about with aplomb in the dry at least. In the wet the tyres have a hard time in the unequal struggle with the engine but at least the chassis stays calm as the tyres fritter away all that engine power. The engine's massive depth of power means you dont have to work the pedals and stick very hard to go very fast. Of course there are always the times when you will want to and the car will respond with an extra thrill of exhilaration for you to overdose on further. For the record, sub 6 second 0-60mph was supercar class then and is still awesome now. 170mph top end may sound a little dull in a post-McLaren F1/Jaguar XJ220 age but it's still way more than most of us would ever dream of or dare go.|
|What you do need, though, to get the car's best is some fairly big, wide empty roads or small busy roads where you're catching other traffic at a frightening speed because the width of the car means you have to squeeze through some very tight gaps. Much better to skip past on a surge of gas through an oncoming space than have wing mirrors kissing as you try to sneak past at a steady speed.|
This is not to say the 928 doesnt handle is does, and it does so very well. But it's all too obvious why the 911 remains popular in the face of on-paper/technically better/more advanced designs. The 911 is small and narrow but feels incredibly wieldy whilst the 928 just feels large and slightly ponderous in comparison (Note: only in comparison to the diminutive 911) but only in the same way that a supermini feels so good to drive because you can throw the little thing about and dodge through any little gap. In a 928 you're better off just aiming for a point on the horizon and holding on for dear life.
When you've got the space, the 928 responds well to the helm; the steering has a tight, direct feel responding faithfully to every input and gently conveys messages back to your hands. Despite the steering's tautness it never feels overly-heavy and, for my mind, strikes just the right balance of feel without getting difficult to park and manouvre. Around the bends it grips the road to at least the limit of most people's bottle. Pushing ever harder around a long tight sweeper merely compresses your body ever harder into the seat bolsters. Backing off creates only a gentle line tightening effect and even hard changes of tack fail to unsettle the car. All in all it's a perfectly-balanced, roll and pitch free, impressively stable handler. At the back of your mind should always be the fact that 330 horse are struggling to get out of a relatively short wheelbase car. When you're given the power it's up to you not to abuse it, especially on a car from pre-electronic idiot override days.
The cost of such road manners is often a rather crashy ride. With massive, low profile tyres and stiff suspension the 928 GT is never going to do an impression of your favourite sofa. There is some tram-lining and a jerky ride at lowish speeds but its more than compensated for by the stability and body control at speed. To be fair, the ride is far better than you have any right to expect and anyway it's not this car's reason for existence.
In theory a 928 should be a practical, if expensive, everyday supercoupe. In reality this version probably walks a little too far on the wild side and is probably better saved for those days when driving is an open-roaded pleasure, not a nose-to-tail pain.
Is it worth buying one?
Tough question. For what you get, 928s are becoming very cheap to purchase. Trouble is, they dont get any cheaper to run. Even if it's reliable (which it probably will be as its a Porsche and amazingly well built), just the cost of fuel and tyres and regular servicing would burn a large hole in many a pocket.
Image may also be a problem for many a perspective Porsche driver. Whilst every man and his dog know what a 911 is, you can barely hear the metallic rattling of the engine at the traffic lights for the pinging of snapping knicker elastic and muttering of envious underbreath curses. The 928 attract studious attention from the more mature car enthusiast and mere admiring glances from other slightly less knowledgeable individuals.
Early 928s are going through that unloved stage where dreamers can buy them but can't afford to look after them so there is going to inevitably be some rather trashed buckets out there. However, if you can afford to run one properly you will at least know that you're investing your money fairly wisely (in car terms, at least) as they can't possibly drop much further. Plus, as all old Porsches eventually become desirable, so long as you buy with a little care to start with it could actually be a reasonably sensible investment
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