I’ve driven and raced a variety of Porsches over the years. I’ve put significant miles on a 356 Convertible D, raced a 2.7 Carrera with MFI twice in the Modena Cento Ore, took our Boxster S on two 1,000-mile Oregon Porsche club tours, piloted a 1968 911 L on the 800-mile Oregon Alfa club Northwest Classic, drove a water-cooled 911 as the pathfinder on the 2018 SCM 1000 route, and had 914/4s and a variety of other models.

With each of them, I recall the first time I slipped behind the wheel. The Stuttgart DNA was omnipresent. There was no mistaking that this was a Porsche.

That’s not the case with my 1991 928 S4 auto. I’ve had it about two months and put 500 miles on it.

I’m still confused by the signals it sends me when I get into the driver’s seat.

This last weekend I took it for a 150-mile loop on some of my favorite GT roads. I took Highway 26 to the Oregon coast, then Highway 6 towards Tillamook. Along the way I stopped at my favorite Rover Club watering hole, Brown’s Camp OHV park. In the parking area where we air down our rigs to 10 pounds or so for better traction, the towering weapons-grade SUVs had fun challenging me to some runs. I told them the 928 was secretly a 959 Paris-Dakar tribute car and I didn’t want to embarrass them.

I took Highway 47 home, with its never-ending stretches of 80 mph gentle curves, slowing down as I passed Pacific University and the home of the Forest Grove Concours.  Then back to 26 and home.

The 928 is a brilliant high-speed GT car. Since I last drove it, I’ve made some necessary improvements. I sourced cupholders that slid between the seats. My latte was now secure. Then I had Peter Clover at local specialist shop Mobile West install a mid-range Alpine Bluetooth stereo, new amp and all new speakers. He explained that the original amp and speakers were designed around the cassette deck that came standard with the car, and it was time for an upgrade.

Total bill was around $2,000. I’ve learned with Peter than no matter what I ask for, the bill is always around $2,000. And it is always money well spent.

I picked the car up from SCM headquarters, got my latte and figured out how to get the deck to talk to Pandora on my phone.

As I cruised along with traffic at 80 on Highway 26, latte in hand and classic rock on the stereo, I was one happy guy.

But was I in a Porsche?

Not like one I had ever experienced.

First of all, the steering wheel is thick and the steering heavier than expected. Very un-Porsche-like.

Second, this is a car designed to have a friend along and have relaxed conversations while you are covering prodigious amounts of highway.

If I had been driving one of my four-cylinder Alfas, I would have been busy rowing through the gears to extract the necessary power from the 1.6-L, 120-hp engine. With 5 liters, 32-valves and 330 horsepower, I didn’t have to work nearly so hard. Or at all, actually.

As the 928 rides the seam between digital and analog cars it has some anachronistic aspects. The dash layout and switches could have come from Kukla, Fran and Ollie (bonus points if you don’t have to look up that reference). The headlight switch is huge and looks like it was designed for Saab drivers to use while wearing mittens. There are no lights behind the power window switches on the center console so you just poke around until something starts to happen. Let’s not mention the Maserati-tribute analog clock.

The ridiculous instant-mileage digital gauge lets you know you are getting the same mileage as a Sherman tank under most circumstances – as if any 928 owner would care. The slider switches for the temperature could have come from a Honda Civic of the same era. There is a separate button for the a/c and a separate fan switch. I have the same setup on my 1971 Jaguar V12 and thought it was goofy on a 50-year-old British car, let alone a 30-year-old Porsche supercar.

But once you are hustling down the highway you aren’t aware of any of those things.

The 928 feels planted and sure-footed. It has enough easy horsepower to make two-lane driving fun instead of an exercise in terror.

I longed for company. I wished that our executive editor Jeff Sabatini, our Senior Editor Rory Jurnecka, or Porschephile Jim Schrager could have been with me. I wanted to talk about the car and what it represented.

When built, it was Piech’s kick-ass, take-no-prisoners ultra-Porsche that left everything about the 911 behind.

This particular 928 had good bones to start with.

It had been in storage for many years. Greg Maissen, the knowledgeable salesman at Hi-Tech Automotive in San Rafael walked me through it. He told me his specialist, Deven Wailes, had poured his heart into this car to get it right.

It was a two-owner, 60,000-mile car with paperwork back to its original sale and window sticker. It had never been hit or painted.

I paid $29,928 for it.

My friend Chris Bright gave it its initial shakedown by driving it to Portland up Highway 101. It went for its finishing touches to 928 specialist Al Blanchard at A&P Specialties. His bill was less than $6,000. (Does anything under $10,000 count as a “bill” on a classic car or is it just your monthly tithe?)

This process has not been inexpensive – I don’t think I have crossed the $40,000 mark yet but I’m certainly closing in. That’s a far cry from the $20,000 I see 928s selling for online.

However, Al said it was one of the very best, solid, correct 928s he had ever worked on. My instructions to him were just do everything it needs. Don’t even ask. Just do it. This car is about to be driven long distances by crazy gearheads and let’s get it ready for them. 

Owning old cars is a play-to-pay game. I am probably “above market” (well, if I don’t know who does?) but for me the car is priced right for the value it represents.

I’ve signed up for the 1,000-mile Oregon Porsche Club Northwest Passage in June. I look forward to taking my U-boat out, putting it into a wolfpack with other Porsches, and setting off across the Oregon High Desert.

For a Porsche-lover, the 928 is a complicated experience. I’m joining Piech in his expression of the ultimate Porsche of his era.

I’m just hanging on for the ride and enjoying the hell out of every mile. I live in the Disneyland of collector cars and am thrilled by the new adventure ride I have just discovered.

14 Comments

  1. Avatar
    A & P Specialties

    Thanks for sharing your 928 experience. I passed the story on to our technician, Robert, (Alan’s son).
    Happy Motoring, Paul Quimby, Service Manager, A & P Specialites

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    I don’t understand the Piech reference. Did you mean Fuhrmann?

    Great story. Pretty fair all around.

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    Nice assessment of a later model 928. I think you should also get behind the wheel of a manual transmission variant and feel the power-band differences in the engine shifting points. I have always found the automatics great for cruising, but not as responsive or fun as the manual cars. The earlier cars (78-82) have a much lighter feeling as well. To compare the 928 to a 911 is a great comparison, however, they are totally different weapons and I think should be kept in those categories. Perhaps you can compare a Grand Touring Ferrari that has an automatic to your 928; this would be more appropriate. Glad you are logging some miles, and we all appreciate your feedback in the 928 circle. Merry Motoring!

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    Bravo, Keith.

    I’m happy to hear that your nesting phase with the Shark is well under way.

    Hmmm…maybe I’ll drive my 928 up to Oregon to visit my daughter at school and join you for that rally…tempting!

    Be well.

    Cheers,
    Paul

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    As a Portland native who formerly did KLIQ radio at PIR and as an editor for Competition Press and Autoweek in the “good old days” before moving to Dallas, I am well aware of the journey you took in the 928. I miss that about Oregon. And, I, too, am well aware of the financial journey you are having with the car. I have a 1984 Ferrari QV Cabriolet for which I paid $25,000 and am now closing in on $43,000 total to make it a brilliant, reliable driver. But, like you, I’ve found it well worthwhile. Hope to see you at the FCA national meeting in Portland in July.

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    Great follow-up, insightful review, Keith. Makes me continue to long for my long-gone 1986 928S. Yet, I still garner some of your noted driving nirvana in my current BMW Z8. Really appreciate your stories.

  7. Avatar
    John Kuhn Bleimaier

    “If it does not have 3 pedals it might as well be autonomous.” (copyright) J.K. Bleimaier)

    John K.B.

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    I’ve always wanted a 928. I even attended a 928 meet here in the Black Hills last summer, crashing the party (so to speak) with my Boxster S. Loved seeing the various iterations of the Porsche that’s not really a Porsche. They’re still cool…

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    The comment about manual vs auto couldn’t be truer. I owned a 89 928 auto for 17 years loved it, picked up a 91 GT 8 years ago, night and day diff. You get much more involved with the annual and it’s a lot more fun ( except in stop and go traffic!).

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    Glad you are getting some time with the 928. If the dash and controls remind you of 1971 there’s a good reason for that. The 928 project was approved by Dr Fuhrmann in Oct 1971 so most design work was done in 72/73. The 1973 Arab oil embargo delayed production for about five years. Over the 18 years of production Porsche didn’t do much to update the interior. Later years did get a new instrument cluster with the “onboard trip computer” that’s giving you that MPG display. There are many other things that can be displayed in that window. I used to keep the “miles remaining” displayed. That was also depressing to watch! Once you take the three-hour hands-on course from a qualified 928 Owners Club instrument cluster instructor and you figure out how to use that four-way stalk that controls the displays you’ll be fine! I don’t think there is a word in German that equates to user friendly or intuitive. My 2014 MB nav is not much better. Once I had the 928 controls figured out, I used it in TSD rallies, even won my class at the Porsche Parade.

  11. Avatar
    Colin Cohen for Martina Truck LLC

    Keith, Welcome to the world of Grand Touring. Your experience with the 928 is exactly what a GT car is supposed to offer. Take the boat train to Calais; and get you to Monte Carlo in time for dinner without having to peel yourself out of the car. It took prodigious performance to do that in the 60 through the late 80s when the traffic and speed controls made it impossible. All the comments you made about your previous Porsche and Alfa experiences are applicable to a different class where the driving is more important than the destination; and you were not expected to use or transport anyone else once you got to that destination. In short you were “experiencing” not touring.

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    Having owned and enjoyed four 928 models in the last 30 years (1982, 1987, 1989, and now 1993) I ca attest to your comments and your driving experience. I used mine for high speed travel in the Rocky Mountains back and forth between Alberta and British Columbia, easily eating the 700 mile trip in under 10 hours, and once in 8 1/2 hours but we won’t talk about that. Whenever I think of selling my GTS I read a well written article like yours, and forget any idea of letting her go.

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    I purchased a 1988 Porsche 928S4 with 24,500 miles from the original owner last year. It was added to my eclectic fleet of 66 Volvo 1800S (bought new) – 65 Shelby GT350 (bought in 68) – 67 Jag E Type (owned 30 years with 37,000 miles) – 94 Alfa Spider ( 5600 miles) – 92 Mini 1275 Mainsteam ( 30,000 miles) – 03 Mini S Dinan (ordered new) – 00 Boxster S 030 package (41,000 miles)

    I have the same mixed signals from my 928 as it is a long legged touring car but will dance when pushed. It requires a heavy hand to be fun. The controls are exactly as described which is embarrassing for such a high line car for that time period.

    I was lucky to find the 928 and have the history from day 1 but the car was not really used for 10 years which resulted in approximately $10,000 of maintenance including steering rack/torque tube/fuel regulators -lines/fuel pump/timing belt-water pump. Now down to “little” items such as dash dimmer/turn signal return/hatch release/clock upgrade. Surprisingly the original radio is not bad so no plans to replace.

    The next trip is to Daytona for the 24 hours……fingers crossed for 250 miles.

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    Glad to read that you are enjoying the car as intended. I own an 89 S4 Auto, which is great to drive in Los Angeles. I have taken a 1000 mi roundtrip to NorCal for a Rally, and you are correct, it’s an awesome car for 2 people to enjoy on a grand tour. Don’t be shy about using the gear selector as a tiptronic type transmission, it will hold gears to redline and make the twisties rather entertaining. The car can be 4 wheel drifted, but that isn’t something I would venture to try. Try experiencing first gear start… by placing it in second gear at a complete stop, then flooring the accelerator. At red line, it will shift to second, then be ready to shift it manually higher because it will hold second. Enjoy!