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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  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” 😉

  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 🙂

    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!

  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.

  15. Though I’ve had an interest in the 928’s for their unique styling, the performance/reliabilty is a huge negative. They aren’t in any way shape or form “raw.” If you want raw, get an 1987-1993 Fox body 5.0 Mustang, add a 3.73 rear gear and an offroad Flowmaster exhaust and you’ll smile from ear to ear driving it. You can get a near perfect example for about 10 grand American plus it won’t kick you in the nuts by breaking down like a 928 because they simply don’t.

    1. Here’s a video if the 928 racing, it destroys a whole field of 911 so your kidding if you think a 928 can’t shred almost anything old and new..its handling on long tracks with the v8 power is!!

      I own a 928s euro, its never broken down..I’ve also had a lot of v8 muscle cars too. How raw do you want a blody car?! ( like a escort or mini??), The v8 thumps, the body is timeless and at one point the 928 was ” The Fastest Production Car In The World!”…how many cars can claim that title..the Bugatti Veyron of the 80s ,beaten by the Testarossa Porsche struck back with the 959, Ferrari then hit back with the F40.. The 928 has pedigree, is part of history..its affordable , you wouldn’t buy a Ferrari and complain about servicing yet the 928 is very easy to live with..I hate people who just want a true supercar and then think there only going to put water and fuel into it..however the v8s go forever, the Auto is good and goes forever, the body has alloy doors,guards and bonnet, the rest of the body is Galvanized! The things live forever..electrics require switches and fuses and sometimes seat motors or window regulators ect.. There reliable cars, as reliable as any 30+ year old car..good luck with the Alfa, or Saab or whatever..nothing like a 928 and I think that’s the problem here with these clowns..its just To Much Car!

  16. Gee Randy..”Performance and reliability a huge negative”??!!?? Yes, your Fox body Mustang Is cheap, it still uses 1950’s technology– ‘Underhead Cam/ Push-rod engine and it WILL blow off my SHARK, for the first 440 yards. Then I come storming up next to to you in 3rd gear at 105 MPH, wave, and kick 4th gear and disappear to 145 MPH, where I hit 5th gear and CONTINUE to disappear to 185!!! I drove my 928S2 at the Pittsburgh Grand Prix this year. 350 miles out, 2 days of ROAD RACING and 350 miles back in a 35 year old car…with 180K miles on it… that cost me $3500!!!! You’d have to spend a lot more than $10k to get a Mustang to handle any way near a 928…Just for starters, since you mentioned a 3.73 rear, you have to throw out the ‘Stove-Pipe’ rear axle and replace it with full Weissach rear IRS…Basically re-engineer the entire back of the car. If not, I’ll take you on the 1st lap and the next time you see me is when I pass you…. every third lap…If you don’t end up ‘eating a tree’ first…LOL

  17. Had a 928 s2 for ten years, It was in storage for three years until recently, they are wonderful cars, very strong machines did 30,000 miles in it, they are a car that needs a lot of upkeep, due to the over-engineering and 1980.s electronics, the upkeep is very expensive, would not recommend daily use or to own one if you don’t have a dry garage on unrestored models, the car does not like been parked outside in the damp British climate for months on end, the radiators only last around three years and they are £1200 a shot, they go threw tyres like no tomorrow, they are not a sports car, they are a grand tourer, automatic cars are the better choice for modern traffic, you could not change gear faster than the automatic box anyway and if you think your going to through it around corners keep your eye on the speedo, 100mph feels like 70mph and 50mph feels like your doing 30mph due to its quitness and smothness, I’d keep it as a sunday driver or it will scare you off very soon, would not recomend buying one of a trader, they are usualy basket cases that have been sprayed and mot’d it’s not enough, it will have serouse teething problems for sure I promise you, every time my car is parked up I have to start the whole process again, once you pass the thresh hold of bedding it in, usually within the 500 mile mark you’ll be good to go and you will be the killometer eater, the 911 driver always slow down to take a peak at the old grand daddy as if they are a megalithic mystery of Porsche’s history, the only car designed by a computer and hand built, thick wool carpets, leather cockpit, weird shape doors and glass, they are phanominul bruts and aged very well as a classic, I paid nearly £4300 for mine when you could buy one for £1500 even though they were only good as a parts car, I had a red one too at the same time, was going to use it as a parts car, I see it on the internet all the time for sale, it had the bits and bobs they all want these days but they new to the 928s, that car had been smashed in from the rear, but it looked OK, so be carfull and it had only 58,000 miles on clock, a manual too, quite rare but every nut and bolt was seized or rusty, and nothing worked on it, been sat outside for years I reacon, low millage jobby its a tricky one, got to ask a question why is the millage so low?
    meet the owner, the real owner, not some flyboy car dealer, that’s been to the end of the street in it and back, all that timing belt talk is a load of trip, “Low millage 928 all belts recently changed,” weepy woo” can change that 7ft belt in an hour and ten mins, if the belt snaps the car stops with no damage, due to the s2 clever design, did you know people use to leave there 928s4 GTS at Porsche when the got their service bills. FACT.
    The s2 are the most reliable model and that’s is the truth, if you want an earlier model 1978 style put the telledial wheels on, change the steering wheel and the digital interior clock, take the spoiler off and you got a 320bhp- 4.7 instead of the underpowered 4.5 and they still look the same the GTS has a bolt on different rear light set up that’s all and different wheels with the little front skirts, back to the 1978 4.5 model, known for throwing water into the rear gear box off the over worked old radiator cooling too much shit, If you like winning gear boxes there the one for you, seem as the radiators don’t last long and it’s proberly had eight or so, cloth checked seats look great on camera but scruffy and delicate in the flesh, get black leather, and a few cans of prestige kiwi shoe polish….ha aha, keeps it lush, my most enjoyable cleaning chior.
    I love my black 928 s2, if I won the lottery id go round the world in it, after I’d ask Porsche to restore it, that’s my dream.

    Nice one Porsche for my 928 it’s just so german-german.
    Any questions be glad to help if I can.

  18. ive done plenty of research on the 928 and its all the same
    the maintanence will make you get a loan and there not
    easy to work on and most shops will not work on them. I agree
    with one of the other responses get a 968 or better yet a 951.