Ten Days of Affordable Exotics-Day 1: Porsche 928
Every gearhead wants to drive something unique. We yearn for the thrill of g-sled acceleration, the feel of cornering as though on rails, and styling that makes you the envy of everyone at Cars and Coffee. This usually means an exotic or nearly exotic car. The thrill of being shoved back in your seat, hearing the wail of a high performance engine, as the scenery outside your window blurs, as you watch the speedometer tell you you’re approaching warp speed, it’s an experience few others eclipse. The problem, for most of us, is that exotic car experience is usually accompanied by a hefty price tag, and that job working at Uncle Plucky’s House of Chicken hasn’t impressed your loan officer enough to finance a new Aventador. So, how do the true car geeks among us scratch that itch to go fast, corner hard, and look cool without selling off our first born? Look for those rare-but-attainable affordable exotics. As the average price for a new car is just over $33,500, I have tried to find exotics with an entry price around $40,000. Compared with the sticker of the 2018 Ford GT (around $450,000), Porsche 911 Turbo ($159,200 base), Ferrari 488 ($245,400), and the Lamborghini Aventador ($399,500), $40k begins to look like an absolute bargain.
Porsche 928 1978-1995 - Produced from 1978 to 1995, Porsche’s front-engined, liquid-cooled grand tourer was originally slated to replace the aging 911. The Porsche purists would not hear of this, and the 928’s following were looking for a different type of sports car. In every way the 911 was raw and visceral, the 928 was polished, refined. The big shark was built with high-speed, long distance travel in mind, in a country where one can often go from A-to-B in a fast automobile more quickly than commercial aircraft. The 928’s level of refinement, equipment, and handling characteristics, which were more stable than those of its’ 911 stablemate, likened it more to a luxury sedan. Initially available with a 4.5 liter, 237hp (219 in the U.S.) V-8, with either a 5-speed manual, or Mercedes-sourced automatic, the engine grew over the life span of the car to 5.4 liters, yielding 345hp. It was fed by Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection to a rear-mounted transaxle, which was used in place of a standard transmission to achieve a 50/50 weight distribution.
Pros: The 928 became both more powerful and refined over the years, eventually becoming a double-overhead cam, four-valves-per-cylinder engine design. Offered as the 928 when introduced, it would become the 928 S, then the 928 S4, the 928 GT, and finally the 928 GTS. This final iteration was the pinnacle of the design. Fully 80% of 928s came equipped with the automatic transmission, which eventually grew to be a four-speed overdrive unit. This made for a very capable long distance tourer. Power is plentiful, particularly in the later models. The 928 is very quiet inside, with an appealing, if muted, engine growl when on the throttle. Built to burn a tank of gas at high speed, the seats are quite comfortable for the front passengers. There are small jump seats in the rear which are suitable for children or amputees, may be folded flat for extra cargo room. These very capable cars are available for well under $40,000 in all but the final iteration. Comfort, performance, refinement, and exclusivity may be had for less than the price of a new Toyota Camry.
Cons: The old car guy joke goes “there is nothing more expensive than a cheap _____”. In this case, you can fill in the blank with Porsche. There are some potentially very expensive maintenance items on 928s. Torque tubes can be shockingly expensive to replace. Electrical gremlins are common, and the wiring harness tends to age poorly. The timing belt must be replaced every 30,000-45,000 miles, as does the water pump. A timing belt failure can cause catastrophic engine damage. Oil leaks from the camshaft seals, oil pump seals, and the front crank seal are common. These should be replaced along with the timing belt and water pump. The 928 engine compartment is quite hot as it is tightly packed with a sizable V-8. This heat is hard on all of the rubber and plastic components therein. Vacuum leaks can be caused directly by the heat, or corrosion from the manifold or valve covers.
Verdict: When shopping for a 928, spend a little extra and buy a car which has full and complete service history. Speak to the shop which did the work. Join one of the Porsche online forums, and read all of the past maintenance posts so you are fully educated. Learn as much as you can before you buy. Insist on a pre-purchase inspection by a reputable Porsche shop. After you have found your dream car, be sure to take care of all periodic and necessary maintenance. Deferred service kills these beautiful beasts.