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.