The Porsche 928 bowed for 1978 as the first production Porsche with a V-8 engine.
See more pictures of Porsche 928.
In the early Seventies, Porsche chairman Dr. Ernst Fuhrmann, no small inventor himself, sweated along with his colleagues at Porsche's Zuffenhausen headquarter -- not about what was going wrong (nothing much was in those days) but what could go wrong. Mainly they worried that the Porsche 911 just might stop selling (perhaps suddenly) before they could ready a replacement. Their concern was not unjustified. The 911 was then nearing its tenth birthday, no successor was in sight, and Porsche knew better than anyone that no car lasts forever. Even the evergreen 356 had run "only" 15 years.
As we now know, time was not running out on the 911 at all. But Fuhrmann and company couldn't know that back then, and we can be glad. Perspiration and no little inspiration spurred their genius to produce a fabulous new Porsche unlike any that had gone before.
Other concerns prompted thoughts of a 911 successor. Most immediate was the trend to increasingly stringent emission, safety, and noise standards not only in the United States -- then Porsche's most important export market -- but in Europe, as well. This led to the idea that the air-cooled/rear-engine concept might not be able to keep pace -- that it could, in effect, be legislated out of existence.
All this came together in project goals for a new model that, in the beginning at least, was seen as a 911 replacement. As Dean Batchelor recorded, it first had to have "all the quality and performance of previous Porsches" and "be capable of meeting any and all government regulations that might be conceived in the foreseeable future." The latter seemed to imply a water-cooled engine in front, which by then was seen as a given for all future production Porsches.
The new car would also have to be more refined, comfortable, and luxurious than any prior Porsche so as to compete with Mercedes and BMW. And it would have to play well in America, where more than half of all Porsches were sold. Of course, a long production run was assumed -- at least 10 years -- which called for styling that wouldn't quickly become dated.
Adding significance to these requirements, this would be Porsche's first "clean-sheet" road car. (The 356 was VW-based, the 911 had evolved from it, and the 924 was taken over from VW after this new project was started.) Considering that, it's amazing that the 928's basic concept was "worked out, deliberated, and decided within a few days," as Fuhrmann later told author Karl Ludvigsen.
By late 1973, Porsche had decided on a relatively large-displacement, water-cooled V-8 up front, plus a rear transaxle, all-independent suspension, and all-disc brakes, the last two long-standing Porsche traditions by this time. Mounting the transmission aft would confer more even front/rear weight balance with the forward engine, plus a high polar moment of inertia to aid handling and high-speed stability.
A 90-degree V-8 might seem rather "American," but Mercedes offered one nonetheless. And it had certain advantages over the 60-degree V-6 that was briefly considered (and may have given rise to rumors of a "new 911" with a front six): superior power potential and running smoothness, greater scope for future displacement increases, and compactness -- important, because Fuhrmann wanted the characteristically low Porsche hoodline. Design chief Tony Lapine deliberately planned the styling to be futuristic and a little shocking, in line with his notion that if a car looks good right away, it soon starts looking old hat.
The Porsche 928 wasn't small, but was an efficiently packaged grand touring coupe.
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