by Brian Willoughby, images by Doug Breithaupt
To replace its moderately priced and popular collaboration with Volkswagen, the 914, Porsche unveiled a tradition-breaking product during 1975 that was assigned the model number 924. Built in Audi's factory from Volkswagen parts, the 924 was even less of a true Porsche than its predecessor; however, it laid the groundwork for another new model that was intended to herald Porsche's future as well as the end of the rear-mounted engines cooled by air. Often viewed both then and now as the 924's big brother, the other new model would make its debut in 1977 as the 928. Positioned at the top of Porsche's hierarchy, the company envisioned the new 928 eventually superseding the beloved 911 for which eulogies were already being drafted. Yet, over time, the 928 proved to be less satisfying and certainly less successful than earlier Porsches and it quietly faded, unlamented and unreplaced, from the automotive scene during the 1990s.
Why the 928 failed is difficult to fathom since its specifications abounded with glittering technological marvels and the level of its engineering was so superior to most of its contemporaries that it had few legitimate rivals. It was a supercar that, thanks to its extremely high German-build quality, could be driven daily and practically worry-free. It did not suffer from indifferent hand-assembly techniques and employed a reliable, albeit unromantic, Bosch fuel injection system rather than the multiple carburetor set-ups still favored by Aston Martin and the Italians. Powered by a water-cooled, front-mounted V8 that initially displaced 4.5 litres and transmitted its power to the road through a rear-mounted transaxle, the 928 displayed perfect weight distribution (50% on each axle) that translated into superb handling. As if all this weren't sufficient, each subsequent update, such as 1979's 4.7 litre "S" model and the later 5.0 litre S4, only seemed to take the car from perfection to an even higher plane. Yet, in the end, the 928 was still hollow, still lacking a true soul, and still having its credentials as a true Porsche being questioned and challenged at every turn.
Perhaps most of the blame laid in the car's always controversial styling: it inspired feelings of either love or hate and nothing in between. The 928 looked like nothing else on the road upon its introduction and to this day, it remains unique in the annals of automotive design. With only its Lamborghini Miura-inspired headlamps paying homage to a past design, the 928 began life as a fresh sheet of paper that would evolved into one of the most un-Porsche-like Porsches in the Zuffenhausen-based carmaker's history. Appearing to be a futuristic, space-age design, the 928's exterior was bumper-less and cloaked in a slippery and highly aerodynamic hatchback bodystyle that somehow predicted the forthcoming "jellybean" trend by several years. After years of complaints concerning the less than perfect ergonomics of the 911, the 928's interior placed all of the car's controls in thoroughly natural and logical locations while enveloping the driver and up to three passengers in leather-lined, climate-controlled luxury. Although offered as an option due to market demand, the availability of a fully-automatic transmission further helped to diminish the car's reputation with "real" Porsche owners and the 928 quickly and unfortunately became viewed as an executive's express rather than a viable sports car. A Porsche should never be bland and generic and, in spite of Zuffenhausen's best efforts, the 928 was and, in the end, it could have just as easily been made in Japan as Germany.
All the while, the evergreen 911 continued to soldier on despite all efforts to kill it off and eventually, it would outlive every front-engined Porsche that mustered up to succeed it. Actually, as great a car as the 911 was and is, it was really unfair and a shame that the 928 was forced to attempt to make a place for itself in the older car's considerable shadow, since the 928 was a wonderful car in its own right. Likewise, fate might also have been kinder for the 928 if it had not been a Porsche at all. Imagine, for a moment, what this image attracting car could have done for any number of other carmakers if it had appeared under their name. Fortunately for the 928, it is now finally being allowed to break free of all the undeserved labels that were applied to it so many years ago and in, some circles, is even becoming somewhat begrudgingly recognized as a true classic. Recently, the 928 has even begun appearing in discussions of undervalued "sleeper" cars that may eventually be viewed in coming years in a quite different context that will be both sympathetic and appreciative.
Surprisingly, the end for all of the now "classic" front-engined Porsches arrived as recently as 1995 when both the 968, which was the ultimate evolution of the 924 platform, and the 928GTS, the final, overweight, spoilered derivation of the original design, both met their mutual demises. Of course, any car that attracts as much attention as the 928 did when it was new will be guaranteed to not be ignored by toy and model manufacturers and several introduced miniatures of the big, front-engined Porsche that would remain in production as long, if not longer, than the actual car.
Among the earliest diecast producers to include miniatures of the 928 within their ranges were the German Siku, English Matchbox and the Japanese Tomica brands, and, strangely, their approaches to modeling the car were remarkably similar. All three models were accurately scaled and shaped and they all featured opening doors although the Matchbox miniature's wheels/tires were a bit oversized and the Siku's proportions appeared somewhat elongated. All three models were made for several seasons and in a number of color variations that can make finding any single model easy or a particular combination of paint and decorations exceedingly difficult.
While it is commonplace today for toymakers to offer more than one version of a model, this has not always been the case. One of the first diecast producers to market two separate ranges of models was Zylmex with their higher quality Pacesetter and budget-priced Dynawheel miniatures. The Pacesetter model of the 928 left something to be desired: featuring an inappropriate hot-rod appearance, the miniature was clearly intended as a child's toy. Interestingly, the Dynawheel casting was one of the only 928 models to be based upon the later bodystyles and while a crude toy with a rudimentary interior, it remains in production as a member of Red Box's Motomax Super Wheels range. Yet at least one other manufacturer also sold differing models of the 928: Playart altered its original casting that was fitted with opening doors to a simplified version that had no operating features whatsoever.
Certain miniatures somehow managed to capture the austere "blandness" of the 928 quite well. Leading contenders for the most boring models of the big Porsche are Yatming's and Hot Wheels' lifeless castings that must have been placed into production simply because the majority of their competitors had already summoned up a scaled down 928. Equipped with dull, inaccurate wheels and not a single operating gimmick between them, not even outrageous paint schemes could save either of these models from being terminal bores. The Hot Wheel looks best with the five-hole wheels and is still in production.
While some of the major brands failed to generate interesting models of the 928, many of the most intriguing miniatures appeared under the banners of some of the lesser-known or largely forgotten trade names. Worth seeking out for a complete collection of 1:64 scale 928 miniatures are the models produced by the Spanish-based Guisval, available in stock or rally form. The now-discontinued line of small scale cars from Road Champs (which has recently directed its attention toward 1:43 scale miniatures), produced a decent example in various colors. Even the old American favorite of Tootsietoy has done the 928, with the model still in production. Majorette offered a 928 model in it's Sonic Flashers series and later used this casting for a non-electronic version. No image is presently available of this model. While none of these toy cars are in the same quality and accuracy league as those from Siku, Matchbox and Tomica, they are fascinating and certainly less commonly encountered members of the small-scale 928 Porsche world.
Finally, a rather unique 928 was made by Hongwell and included in sets along with a few other cars and a transporter truck. Although the model can be faulted for its overly thick roof pillars, black window glazing, lack of interior and undersized wheels, one feature sets this model apart: its headlamps. Rather than depicting the car's headlamps in the flat, recessed position, Hongwell opted to model the lights in the raised position--apparently the only 1:64 scale miniature of the 928 to do so. For those who are curious, it should be noted that this model (as well as a Mazda RX7, Datsun 280ZX and a Pontiac Firebird included in the set) pre-date Hongwell's current and high quality line of 1:72 scale cars.
Thus we end our review of the Porsche 928 in 1:64 scale. A darling of the automotive press when first shown, the 928 quickly lost favor within the sometimes fickle world of cars and is only now beginning to have its damaged reputation adequately restored. Although its styling may not have been to everyone's liking, it was, from an engineering standpoint, a marvelous car with capabilities and attributes that are still admirable and worthy of emulation today. Perhaps the makers of toy cars knew something the rest of the automotive world failed to realize. Is it any wonder why so many diecast toy producers offered miniaturized versions of this under-rated German supercar?
928 by Matchbox
928S Premier Edition by Matchbox
928 by Siku
928 by Tomica
928 by Zylmex (Pacesetter)
928S4 by Zylmex (Dynawheels)
928 by Playart
928 by Hot Wheels
928 by Yat Ming
928 by Guisval
928 Rallye by Guisval
928 by Road Champs
928 by Tootsietoy