The Porsche 928 is a modern classic. But it took many years to earn respect, and it is still controversial among some of the hardcore Porsche faithful. After all, it had a front engine – a V8 at that – and a controversial design; neither seemed like traditional Porsche engineering or design. When introduced in America in 1978 it even drew unfortunate comparisons to that glassy terrapin of the automotive world, the AMC Pacer. The 928 has generated heated discussions ever since.
The ‘Personal Luxury Problem’
The 928 was a personal luxury car as much as a sports car. And personal luxury cars have always faced the ‘personal luxury problem’. Buyers of this class of car want the power and distinctive design of a sports car, but also more luxury and comfort than a true sports car.
As Ford found with the Thunderbird in the 1950s, buyers of personal luxury cars want four seats, even if the rear seats are only marginally comfortable and used on rare occasions. But they have to be accessible too, unlike the vestigial rear seats in many 2+2 sports cars. And so, to the horror of T-bird purists then and now, Ford redesigned the car in 1958 to accommodate a rear seat. Sales greatly increased, proving Ford’s market research team correct.
The desires of looks/performance coupled with comfort/cabin room present a design conflict for marques such as Porsche, Jaguar, Aston Martin and others. Should they include a rear seat in their sports car offerings, and, if so, how to integrate this element into the overall design?
An early, and largely forgotten, Porsche prototype from 1969, the B17, previewed the search for a workable four-place Porsche. The car, designed by Pininfarina, was a traditional 911, but then stretched 204 mm to allow for extra legroom. The roof was also stretched and raised over the rear seat, giving the car a vaguely hunchbacked feel. Management were not pleased with the design and decided not to go forward with it.
Later, during the design phase of the 928, a shooting brake variant of the car was developed along with the coupé. Both variants made it to the clay model stage, but the first oil shock of 1973 delayed the whole project and the development of the shooting brake was canceled.
Ferry’s Birthday Surprise
The Porsche 942 was built in 1984 to commemorate Ferry Porsche’s 75th birthday. Though in many ways a standard 928, it was lengthened 250mm, the ‘B’ pillars were repositioned in a more upright placement for better access to the rear of the cabin, and the roof was stretched over the cabin at full height to create a true shooting brake.
Additional touches suggest some ongoing engineering projects at Porsche. The engine was an advanced 32-valve, five-litre V8. The front fenders were raised a little and new front and rear bumpers were included, a preview of the S4 model that would be introduced a couple of years later. Also, the headlamps were an advanced projector beam type set under glass dome, rather than the standard retractable round lamps.
The 942 was never meant for production, or even for the motor show circuit. It was a gift to Ferry Porsche, with special touches from each Porsche design and engineering department. Still, it was well resolved and a tantalising glimpse of what could be possible if the 928 was developed one step further.
Beyond the Shooting Brake
The ideas expressed in the design of the 942 would stay around the Porsche design studios and give birth to another four-place concept, the Porsche 928 H50 of 1987 (above).
Again a squared-off 928 form was used for passenger comfort and the chassis lengthened even more. A pair of short coach doors was placed behind the main doors making this a four-door hatchback or (gasp!) an estate car or wagon.
The H50 was a fully working test mule. It was driven 5,000 miles in various conditions and endured some wear and tear (note worn paint and ill-fitting body panels) Although specific details were not released, it seems that Porsche engineers decided that the chassis was not up to Porsche rigidity and performance standards in this elongated form.
The H50 was quietly put back in storage and not shown to the public for 25 years. It was finally introduced at Pebble Beach in 2012 sitting alongside the Panamera, a not-so-subtle hint that it was the ancestor of Porsche’s new four-door flagship.
Porsche would continue down the trail blazed by these two concepts with complete sedan prototypes, the 911-based 989 Panamera concept of 1989, designed by Harm Lagaay, and the 932 Panamera II. These were full sedan concepts, and while the 989 had a very distinct Porsche 911 flavor, the 932 did not. A severe downturn in 928 sales and overall Porsche revenues brought the projects to an end.
It can be argued that the 928 paved the way for the Panamera, and the Macan, and perhaps the whole of modern Porsche design. That’s a debate for another day, but as we can see these two concept cars, derived from the 928, and largely hidden from the public view, certainly helped create a path for the Panamera two decades later.