thought aloud by pablo deferrari
I like the shifter for the automatic transmission on the 928 in much the same way I like flies, bus drivers, nose hair, Marzipan, single-ply toilet paper and, I can't remember saying this before, being licked by a cat. I mean, look at the thing...it's as out of place as Dr. Dre at a Ku Klux Klan convention.
Before I begin to explain precisely why I have such a distaste for the horrid, bellowed, T-handled thing resembling something out of a Dodge Daytona, there's a bit of history to discuss.
If you didn't already know, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are great neighbors. These two dynamos live in Stuttgart, which means that when Porsche needed, say, a cup of sugar, all they had to do was pop 'round over to Mercedes, rap on the door and ask. And Porsche, being the younger neighbor, often found itself at their door asking for things to borrow because, well, money was a bit tight and they seemed to not have certain ingredients readily available at times.
"Porsche needed an automatic transmission that would handle the torque and horsepower of their new V8, and like a great neighbor, Mercedes had exactly what they were looking for."
But it was during the birth of their newest offspring that Porsche found itself in very short supply. You see, the 928 was the largest child that Porsche birthed at the time, and it had a voracious appetite. Resources were somewhat limited...remember, the company was going in an entirely new direction with this car—all bets were on.
So Porsche decided to be smart about things and not go about re-inventing the wheel. Whenever they ran into something a bit foreign to them like, oh I dunno, a radiator fan and clutch assembly, they figured Mercedes had one that would suit their needs. Of course they did, hands were shaken, an order was made and a fan magically appeared.
RIght, but then things got a bit more complicated...Porsche needed an automatic transmission that would handle the torque and horsepower of their new V8, and like a great neighbor, Mercedes had exactly what they were looking for.
see that 3-pointed star? yep, this fan originated from the W108 series Mercs which included the 280SEL 4.5 made up until 1972. This one is from your author's 1979 928.
Being that the 928 was going to attract new type clientele to Porsche, they figured that this, being the world's finest GT, needed to have an automatic to suit it's Grand Touring personality. So, Porsche's engineers hobnobbed with Merc's and a decision was made to use the internals of the legendary and robust 722.004 (W3A040) 3-speed transmission used on the W116 series 450SE/L, and C107 SLC, and R107 SL. Bear in mind that this information was never publicly disclosed officially as such, all the press had to go by was what they were told..."the 928 had the transmission innards from the mighty 6.9 series." This was misleading, of course, because the 6.9, with it's 286hp V8 packing 405lb-ft of torque (Euro) had a specially made transmission to handle its immense power, the 722.003 (W3N050), which also a 3-speed.
why re-invent the wheel when the wizards over at Merc already had it all figured out?
So, if we look at the horsepower and torque figures of the new 928 (229hp/250lb-ft) in Euro trim, and compare it to the most powerful 4.5 liter Merc, the R107 450SL sporting 222hp and 278lb-ft of torque in Euro trim, you'll clearly see that the 722.004 transmission was more than capable of handling Porsche's M28.02 V8. Not only were the transmission parts more readily available and plenteous, it made much more sense than using a transmission that could handle nearly twice the torque. And besides, the 6.9 would only yield 7,380 units...rarity comes with a stiff price tag.
the mighty and rare 6.9 along with its engine and transmission...er, a bit overkill for the 16V M28—for the time being.
the Merc's M116 4.5 liter V8 and Porsche's M28.01/02 lump...if Mercedes thought this lump needed the 722.003 trans, it would have paired them.
Although the press would like to believe that the 928 packed the transmission guts of the most most badass Merc of the day, in actuality, conservatism won the day...if it was good enough for Merc's 4.5 liter V8, it would suit the 928 just fine and would be especially easier on the wallet.
Now that you understand some of the history, you may be able to better understand my beef with the shifter Porsche chose to use. So you have the innards of best automatic transmission in the world, ever, and you, a sports car company, decide to regress back to your Audi/VW days and put a slap stick in the world's best GT car? What the hell is wrong with you?
I understand the mechanics of the whole system the 928 employed with a transaxle, but don't tell me there was a good reason to use this shit you placed in the middle of the console as the only means to drive an automatic 928. Come on. They went through great lengths to engineer this excellent transmission to fit into a transaxle configuration, and then program it to shift at redline when the driver felt aggressive enough to keep his foot down on the hammer but decided that Mercedes' ingenious solution of a notched shift mechanism was unnecessary...why?!?
this should've been the finishing touch on the world's best GT.
Listen, I don't own an automatic 928, mine's a 5-speed. But I do own an 80's vintage Merc with an automatic and I know exactly what I'm talking about here. I don't just put the thing in drive and putter off, I use that damn shifter as it was intended to be used. Sure, if you put it in drive, the transmission ALWAYS does an excellent job to match my driving mood, but sometimes I like to pretend it's a manual and do my own shifting. Yes, it may be unnecessary in the 928, but sometimes you want to leave it in 2nd in traffic to accelerate and decelerate with the joyous accompanying sounds only a manual in second gear can produce.
Furthermore, while looking at the broad next to me in a Porsche, I just might've forgotten that I was in 3rd and tried to shift up into the next gear only to meet a stop reminding me I was already in 3rd. Imagine what a clot head I'd feel like if shifted into neutral by accident.