words by frank nicosia shots by pablo deferrari

My interest in front-engine Porsches started while driving behind a particularly nice example of the breed in a funeral procession; an unlikely place to start this journey. It was a black 968 Club Sport with black wheels and a low-frequency exhaust note reminiscent of an American V8. 

I had minimal knowledge of front engine Porsches other than a few magazine articles that I have read over the years. The car intrigued me and looked like a relic from some bygone era; an era of “Members Only” jackets, Pierre Cardin, and general excess.  I realize that the car came a few years after the 80’s but some of the styling inherited from its predecessor was clearly evident.
I went home and researched the car on Wikipedia; learning the history of the various 968 and 944 variants. For the next few weeks, I was toying with the idea in my mind on whether I should look into buying one. My searches on eBay and craigslist led me to believe that this purchase would not be cheap (for me at least), and I really debated with myself whether buying another vehicle is a good move for me, or an additional expense I can do without. 

I half heartily decided that it wasn’t the right time for me to buy another car. Many months passed and then one day while driving through central New Jersey, I spotted a 928 with a for sale sign sitting on the side of the road. I almost got into an accident trying to pull over to get a better look. It was a black on black 1985 with 18” Turbo Twist wheels and a lowered suspension, the black paint looking like a mirror. The car was beautiful and I wanted it; that the car seemed like a bargain at $5,800 was even more alluring. 

"Did he expect someone to fork over $5K+ without trying it out?"

I called my wife that was away on a trip, and couldn’t even get the words out; I was so excited of this find located close to home. She told me to buy it if I really wanted it. At this point I knew little about 928s other than they looked like the 968 and had a V8. When I arrived home I quickly called the seller and set-up and appointment to see it. The guy told me it was pristine, perfect, and all the other BS people tell you when trying to unload a car. Since I was leaving for vacation in two days, I wanted to see it as soon as possible so I set up a meeting for the next day.
When I met the car’s owner, we exchanged quick greetings and I asked him if I can drive the car. He seemed a little taken back, but said “ok”. Did he expect someone to fork over $5K+ without trying it out? Who knows. He handed me the keys and I got into the drivers’ seat. The interior smelled like a Crown Victoria that served years of car service duty; a combination of cigarettes and pine tree air fresheners both fighting a battle for supremacy. 

I wondered why a pristine car needed a piece of carpet over the dash and had seats that were all ripped up—the definition of pristine must be open to interpretation I thought to myself. It was hot, so I pushed the window switch to get some air and nothing happened. He insisted they worked and fiddled with them a while until he managed to get the window down. I asked about the AC and he said it needed some Freon but worked “100%”. I found out a few months later that the car was missing the compressor in addition to a few other AC related components. All the Freon in New Jersey wouldn’t have made a difference.

I tried adjusting the seats and the controls seemed dead; I took the owners word that the seats could be adjusted easily with a cordless drill. I stuck the key in the ignition and after a short delay, the car started up. I put the car in reverse to pull out of the spot and realized that the steering was heavier than any other car I ever driven. I asked the owner who of course told me it needs a little power steering fluid. He said the rack used to leak but now stopped. 

Even with my limited automotive knowledge, I could reason that it doesn’t leak anymore because all the power steering fluid probably leaked out ages ago. On the test drive, the car had no power and felt sluggish, so I drove around for 5-6 minutes and then returned to the lot. The car that I wanted to come home with me turned into a huge disappointment. 
I told the owner that I would let him know. He told me to let him know by tomorrow since his intention was to list the car on eBay. The next day, I found the car listed on eBay as “runs 100%”, “needs nothing”, “everything works”, etc. The outside of the car really shows well in photos and it sold for $6,800. Probably a nice car for the right price in the hands of the right owner, one  that is willing to put the time, money, and effort into fixing it. 

My experience with this car forced me to engage in a little self-analysis and I came to the realization that I do not possess the mechanical expertise or the free time to sort out a “fixer-upper”. If I was going to purchase a 928, it would be the best one that I could afford. I decided to restrict my search to the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) since the logistics of purchasing a car from another part of the country would add some difficulty to the buying process. I also didn’t want to fly across the country to see another BS “needs nothing” car that needed a lot. 

"Like a jackass, I decided to forgo this step and told the owner 'I’ll take it'."

Months passed and my wife came across a 1991 928S4 posted online that seemed to be in great condition. I had seen the car listed before but the price was above my budget, even when the owner had just reduced the car a bit, the car was still out of my range. The pictures included in the ad showed an unbelievable interior looking like a brand new Porsche. I sent a few emails to the owner inquiring on the history and condition of the car. Based on my previous experience, I took his description with a grain of salt but was impressed that the car had a documented service history that stretched back to the mid-nineties. 
The car was still priced higher than I was willing to spend and I was not willing to drive 2 hours away to see it unless the owner would budge on the price. After a few email and telephone exchanges, the owner said that he was willing to part with the car for a price that was agreeable to me. I arranged a day to go see it. 

I set off in the minivan on a Saturday, with wife and baby in tow, eager to see my potentially new car. When I arrived at the meeting point, my first impressions of the car were generally positive but I had my reservations. I exchanged quick greetings with the owner and asked if I can take the car for a spin. He confidently said “absolutely”. The first thing I noticed upon opening the door was a pronounced crayon-like smell which I would later learn that this is a signature scent shared by most 928s. I can only wonder what combination of Teutonic chemicals and alchemy could produce such a strong smell after 20 years. 

I was eager to take this car for a spin and sat right down in the black leather driver’s seat. The car started up immediately with a loud roar. It performed flawlessly but I was reluctant to really drive the car hard since I was not the owner; well at least not yet. I tried the windows, AC, sunroof and everything worked fine. Maybe at this point I should have asked the owner if I could obtain a pre-purchase inspection. Like a jackass, I decided to forgo this step and told the owner “I’ll take it”. 
Over the next few months of 928 ownership I learned many things. For one, a documented service history does not necessarily mean the repairs were done correctly. My car came with a collection of high-dollar receipts from a dedicated Porsche repair shop. The records show that my car had an intake refresh done a few months before I bought it while the itemized receipt listed the replacement of one knock sensor. It defies logic that you would only replace one knock sensor when removing the intake; maybe the owner refused to change both. Of course, the other sensor went bad a few months later. I used the opportunity to do a second intake refresh and replace everything. 

Another thing I learned during the course of ownership is these cars need to be driven. A 928 just sitting there is a sin and your punishment will be problems. I make an effort to drive the car as much as possible and it has rewarded me with general reliability. My experience has not been totally trouble-free, but if you are expecting that from any 20+ year old car you need a reality check.

If you are considering the purchase of a 928, please be diligent in your search. Invest a few hundred dollars for a pre-purchase inspection by a competent mechanic that is familiar with 928s. Do a lot of research, and have some money set to the side for maintenance and repairs. 

In all, my experience with 928 ownership has been a positive one. With the number of 928s out there dwindling, these cars have become a super-rare sight and garner a lot of attention; I typically get questions from people every time I drive it. After fitting the car with a new set of 18” wheels, the car is often mistaken for a late model Porsche and most people won’t believe it’s a 20+ year old car when I tell them; it's a testament to the 928’s timeless design.  


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