Things I learned from not buying a Porsche 928

My wife and I play a lot of backgammon. We used to record our backgammon scores in a book. Over time, those yearly books became a bit like an old family bible. The book for any given year would record events, aspirations, goals, achievements. At the start of 2005, one of my listed goals in the backgammon book for that year was to “Buy an old Porsche”.

I’m still waiting, though this week I came mighty close.

Porsche is one of those marques with a truly iconic vehicle in it’s history, a vehicle that’s surrounded by the rest of the cars that wear a Porsche badge. If you aspire to owning a Porsche, you usually aspire to owning a 911. The problem with that is that buying a 911 can be prohibitively expensive. Here in Australia, you won’t get much change out of $30,000 for an older 911 and that’s not even one of the more desirable ones. A 1980’s Carrera with the 3.2 engine and G50 gearbox will set you back at least $35,000 for a cheapie and even more for a good one.

I aspire to owning a Porsche. I’m a car guy and they make some truly outstanding sports cars. I’ve always enjoyed their commitment to excellence in what they do and I freely admit that I’d like to have one, one day. Like most people, however, I can’t afford a new Porsche so I’m going to have to fill my perceived P-car needs via some entry-level, second hand cars.

A lot of people who share my dilemma find 1980’s Porsches that aren’t 911s to be an affordable entry point. These were the first water-cooled Porsches. They saved the company, had wonderful handling and their styling still stands up to scrutiny today, but they’re still part of “the rest” of Porsche’s range and I’m fine with that.

One of my favourite Porsches from this era is the 928 (the other is the 944 Turbo). In a recent update on my search for a new car, I asked about whether or not it was possible to have fun with an automatic transmission. I also mentioned that I was considering a big V8 cruise-mobile for my next car and a few people in comments guessed that it might be the 928 I was considering.

Well, this week, I took one for a test drive.

It was a 1984 Porsche 928S in a dark metallic red, with a red interior similar to Saab’s ‘Oxblood’ interior from around the same era. If I couldn’t get a decent S4 version of this car, then an ’84 or ’85 model is the one I would be after. It had the higher output 310hp engine, the last of the pre-cat engines that came to our shores before the first 32-valve models (with 30 less hp) in 1986.

The 928 still looks wonderful today. Whilst it never really stood a chance of fulfilling its mission to replace the 911, the 928 was still a remarkable vehicle. A true late 1970’s Supercar in every sense of the word.

I approached my test drive with some degree of caution, but a greater measure of excitement. I’d done quite a bit of research on the 928 and ownership experiences seem to be reasonably expensive, but also consistently very, very good. These are a car that seem to stimulate devotion amongst conscientious owners, which was music to my ears.

The car I drove wasn’t in showroom condition. The paint was marked here and there, but it was still remarkably good for something that was 28 years old.

A lot of credit for the car’s first-class mechanicals belongs to the owner, a guy my age named Mark. Mark has owned the car for the last 7 years and is only selling as he now has a third child and the 928 only seats two in the back. It’s not his only car, of course, they have another to do the more menial family duties, but it sounded to me like family outings in “Ruby” weren’t so unusual.

It’s also Mark’s terrific job with the car that forms a big part of my reluctance to proceed with the car. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

I’d only been in a 928 once before – a friend’s GTS. The car was incredibly powerful but I came away from that experience wanting something a bit more…… organic. The 928 is a GT car and as such, it very smooth and quiet. I wanted to feel the V8 in the pit of my stomach, the same was I could always feel the boxer in my Alfa 33’s. The 928’s build quality is evident in its smoothness, though, and the detachment you have from that big thumping V8 in front of you.

That GTS experience was as a passenger. This time I’d be in an “S” model with lower output, but I’d be the driver. Would it be any different?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. The car was still brutally quick and it holds the road remarkably well for something of its size. I’m sure a long-distance trip would be a very relaxing and rewarding experience. But from my vantage point behind the wheel, it still felt more detached than I’d hoped.

My conclusion – I could still enjoy a 928, but I couldn’t help but feel that I’d enjoy something else more.

The other side of the equation, one that I thought I’d prepared myself for but still managed to creep up on me, was a fear of the costs of ownership. A 928 is not expensive to buy, but there’s no such thing as a cheap Porsche and in the 928’s case, this seems to be especially prevalent.

Mark, our diligent owner, has gone to the trouble of installing a hoist in his own garage and spending four-figures in the right manuals and special tools in order to do all his own maintenance and repairs. For him, it’s a source of enjoyment. It’s also his preference because there aren’t any specialist 928 repairers here in Hobart and he hasn’t had consistently good experiences with any other workshops that might be willing to take it on.

I can’t do what Mark does. I don’t have the space, or more importantly, the skills.

The drive and the reality of the maintenance situation have caused me no loss of respect for the 928, but they have made me think twice about my decision to pursue one. If I’m to get a Porsche, it looks like it might have to be one of their more traditional boxer-engined cars, with a more widespread field of knowledge and workshops available.

That, of course, means more money. That’s OK, though, as I’ve got plenty of time.

In the interim, I’ve decided to get something much more familiar. I’ll be on a plane to Sydney next week to check it out and, all going well, drive it home. It’s actually much more exciting than what I thought it would be to have finally settled this decision.

What is it? I probably won’t keep it as too much of a mystery. A few people know already.

But if it’s OK with you, I’ll wait until I have pictures before sharing it out loud here on the website.

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17 Comments

  1. I never cease to be amazed by the number of car magazines running articles on old supercars along the lines of “you would be mad not to buy one” without adding the critical but ” if you want to lose your house, partner, job and sanity as quickly as possible.

    What ever you buy – enjoy, I am in the process of saving up for an ng vert, next year hopefully.

  2. Geez… I hope you’ve come to your senses and decided to buy another Viggen 😉

    (ps: I’ve also had a 928 fantasy over the years)

  3. Well if you want to feel that good old growl in your belly….there is only one car I can think of. It’s a musical instrument that will, if it it is in truly fine fettle, sing to the soul..the (Alfetta) GTV-6. It lacks the super grunt of the 928, but hell it is a rewarding car to drive!

    1. I love them! My father was an alfetta nut back in the early 80’s, we had about 5 of them. Love the chase in the Bond film, Octapussy.

      I agree – nuts to the V8 – get a GTV-6!

  4. Hi Swade et al,
    My browser was such that the end of the line of visible text as I read your latest blogging was ‘….Porsche is one of those marques with a truly iconic vehicle in it’s history, a vehicle that’s surrounded by the rest of the cars that wear a Porsche badge.’ I was expecting the next line to read: “Those of you who drive a classic 900 will understand what I mean” 😉
    Regards,
    Ian

  5. I’ve never driven one, but my uncle had a 928 a few years ago and that thing cost him a pretty penny to maintain. I think you’ve dodged a bullet there!

    Why not look at a 968? Think that would be a lot more ‘raw’ than a 928.

    Volvo T5…Come on! They sound grrrrrrr-eat!

  6. I agree with J Fan about the maintenance costs. The 928 suffers from poor mechanical accessibility, huge complexity, and poor reliability. This means that very few mechanics will even work on them.

    It’s really really hard to keep one maintained the way it was designed. For instance, wheels are indexed to the hubs and should be balanced together; almost no independent has the equipment to do that. It’s a vicious circle, and it leads to the realization that owning a used 928 is more expensive and aggravating than buying a new Porsche (unless you let it decay, as most owners do).

    No such worries with most 911s or with any Boxster. 924/944/968s are a special case. You buy the owner, not the car. Avoid owners who wanted a Porsche for Honda money and you should be OK.

  7. Swade, you have come to same conclusion as me. The 928 is a great touring car though it will never be a true sports car like a 911. The 944 s2 feels a lot more like a sports car then a 928. I had the opportunity to drive a black 1992 928 GTS and a 1992 968 coupe and convertible all the same week. (In a previous life I worked for a Porsche dealer). The 968 was way funner to drive the n the 928..

    Since that day I have personally wanted a silver 968 cab with a blue convertible top. Actually my first choice is midnight blue 993 cab thought the 968 is more attainable.

    Swade, consider a 968 you will not be disappointed.

  8. I’m going to actually suggest two cars. The Porsche Boxster (I almost bought a 2000 for $10,000 a couple of years ago, but needed the extra room) or the Honda 2000 which is probably the best japanese affordable sports car ever made. More fun than the MX-5 and with a bigger turbo rush than the RX8.

  9. I used to have a customer that owned a 9k aero and a 928s4. He never complained about how much the Saab cost to fix — but we put rear tires on that pork chop every 6 0r 7 thousand miles — and those Michelins were not cheap.
    He said the 928 was lots of fun but that he could drive 4 or 5 Saabs for what the Porsche cost in repairs.

  10. Swade, too bad we never organised for you to come for a ride in my 928 while you were in Sweden… OK, mine is stripped out, CF race shells, no insuation etc… so by no means comfortable… but definately has that kick and rumble that you were after 🙂

    IMHO
    While 928’s can be expensive, that is mostly due to neglect of regular maintainence… I have to totally disagree with whoever comented that they are unreliable… The reason for the maintainence neglect… well usually that would be the prices that Porsche centers charge and the lack of knowledge by indy service centers for 928’s.
    So if you were to buy a 928, be sure to find a well maintained example and yes you would be far better off doing all your own wrenching… 928’s are not that technically advanced to be able to work on yourself… sure they were in ’78, but by todays standards, not so much.
    The Porsche service manuals are excellent and readily available as .pdf for $0, plus the Rennlist forum is an fantastic source of information and (for the most part) friendly knowledgable people…

    The last time I went to the ‘Ring’ before this whole Saab saga got out of hand 🙁

  11. I’ve never really warmed up to the 928 except that I really like the way that the hatch/rear quarters managed to look rounded yet Teutonic at the same time. There’s an art study in there somewhere. I’ve particularly never liked the bean-slotted wheels with the more avant-garde design of the body work.

    More familiar? I’ll reserve judgement, but I’m hopeful that it’s that big V-8 that you wanted.

  12. There are three brands of automobile that I truly love. Porsches, Saabs, and MINIs. My father sold Porsche’s and Audis in the 80’s, and on occasion he was able to take a 944 home for the weekend. It was always Guards red and it was one of the coolest cars I’d ever been in.

    During the summers, I’d go to work with my dad every once and a while and I’d rotate sitting in the cars through out the showroom. I was always a fan of the checker board interior of the 928, to this day it still catches my attention.

    The one thing that I’ll never forget, though is the first time I was in a 911. It was a brand new 1982 911 SC, my dad and I took it out on one of the parkways and a run. I’ll never forget the sound of that air cooled boxer engine, the whole experience was so great. We still talk about that to this day.

    As a kid I was lucky to be around some really excellent cars, we never owned them, but it didn’t matter. I always carried around a chunky 928 key that my dad gave me. I wish I still had it.

  13. A 928s from early 80´s is a good car, but the automatic transmission makes it a bit to lame. But as a daily driver it could be on the expensive side.
    Strange thing is that the best place for spare parts is USA. Cheaper than Europe even though all the extra shipping and customs clearance.

    The GTS is getting a new chassie this winter. Spring rates goes from soft “American oriented” 215/120 lb/in to sport/race 600/425. That will do a lot for handling and behavior (gotta try keep up with Mats and the Beetle evo… )

    Happy hunting for some new wheels!
    /P

  14. Oh my God. V8 or V6 ? What a dilemma.
    I do not know availability down under,
    but I would go for a 4-in-line (!) 968 CS (manual of course).
    Much more of a drivers car than the fat 928 or the charismatic GTV.

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