The car with the wrong badge
Porsche 928 S4 (1987)
928-fans say that such things happen only to brainless users, because an owner who keeps the car maintained according to the book will shrug off all these worries with a smile. He knows that all the bits of the suspension are as strong as if they had been designed for a truck, all the other mechanical components are also over-engineered. Rust usually isn't an issue, but broken plastic body mouldings on cars which have seen a lot of boyracer use usually make the exterior look shabby.
It isn't so on our test car. There are only minor scratches to be seen here and there, even the twelve electric motors adjusting each seat work perfectly. The air-con does the Winterfresh-stuff properly, there isn't a single unnecessary warning lamp showing on the instrument panel. Don't worry, this car isn't perfect either: every time the right door is slammed shut, the grille of the aftermarket Blaupunkt speaker takes a flight to the footwell.
The detail that caught András's attention after acquiring the car was that most automated functions can be made to work manually. The bootlid can be opened remotely from the inside and with the key as well. The central locks can be popped up from the inside with large, rotating knobs and it is possible to bring the headlights to vertical position by pumping a rubber cap on each side in the engine bay. Injection of fuel is looked after by a relatively simple Bosch KE-Jetronic system, and the valves don't need to be looked after, since they have a hydraulic tappet adjustment. All 32 of them...
We crawl along the streets of the old factory site in first and at the gate we turn the car's nose towards the nearest country road. András is driving, and he's barely pressing the accelerator. Fiat Pandas and Chevrolet Sparks blast by us at alarming speeds, whilst the needle on our speedo hardly passes the 60 mark. If this is the way the owner treats this gem, I shouldn't be the one to do anyything worse to it – with this in mind we swap places and I take the wheel.
Just to feel something of the Porsche buried under thick layers of leather, sound deadening material, and rubber bushes, I dial up a cautious 75 on the speedo. It's a heavy fight. Every pothole, every rut in the road, even the road kills that have not yet completely become smelly, two-dimensional stickers on the asphalt try to twist the steering wheel from my grip. The engine emits an almost inaudible sigh, and apart from the rumble of the wide tires, the only noise you can actually hear is the creaking of leather on bigger bumps. Well, such a large herd of cows should start to complain when they are being pushed about, shouldn't they? Even if they've been dead for 26 years...
But I felt absolutely at home with the speed, so I could understand András. This car is a quarter of a century old. I also have some classic cars, and believe me, they don't like to be hurried. When I ask too much from them, sooner or later something breaks as a rule, the engine starts to stumble, I have to get used to some new noises. An old car should be treated respectfully – and this one has 320 PS on tap to tear its components apart. Anyways, why should I be pushing it? This specimen has only a wretched, four-speed Mercedes auto ‘box', the same type that you would find in the fashion-roadster Bobby Ewing had in Dallas. A proper performance-disheartening equipment. But I would be an absolute flop to tell my friends that after having a date with a mint 928 S4, I didn't get any further than the petting stage.
In the meantime we reached the M0 highway ring around Budapest. A dense queue of lorries awaited us as usual, we could hardly find a spot to enter the flow. I started to overtake the endless stream of trucks and by that time we might have been doing 90. Beware, the limit is 80 kph on this road... “Come on, push it!,” shouted András from the other seat at this moment. What? Push it? We are already cruising above the legal limit and we're driving on the M0 which has more hidden lasers on it than a cargo container full of smuggled Samsung CD-players.
“How will you know what a 928 is like, if you don't use that damn pedal properly?!,” he continued, still almost shouting. Wow. Here's this otherwise wholly normal guy, who was avoiding the stones on the street one by one when he was driving. It might also be interesting information that he has just recently paid back the last loan-instalment on this car. I also knew by then that the car lives in one of his friends' garage next to the radiator during the winter, otherwise it resides in András's own, unheated, albeit carpeted and regularly vacuum-cleaned garage. Must I really stuff it? This must be a bad joke.
It didn't come naturally, but my right foot buried the pedal as I was told. And this humongous piece of German steel walking on elephants' feet suddenly stretched its legs, wiped its eyes and set off for the horizon as if it was made of balsawood. Man!
The steering became lighter, it was full of feel at once, the gearbox jumped from one speed to the other like popcorn in the microwave. Our entire earlier low-speed struggle started to look like pushing a wheelbarrow stuffed full of pebbles in deep mud. At around 4500 rpm another magic happened: the big barge squatted on its rear wheels, lifted its front apron like a speedboat at a race in Monaco, the V8 started to roar, firecrackers were lit and all of a sudden we were doing 170. WHO CARES ABOUT LASERS? You've got just one life.
Apart from the penetrating rumble of the engine, only the roar of the tires became more apparent. The Falkens on the car are a bit wider and have a lower profile than the ones specified by the factory, they aren't too new either, so some of the noise can be ascribed to them. There are two facts you should know about the 928: 1) it was the first car you could have a conversation in at the speed of 250; 2) this was also the first for which you didn't need a runway to stop from 250. Both of these would require proper tires. András knows about the problem and will be switching to new ones soon. Wishing not to be too picky, I stopped making remarks – I didn't want this friendly day to end up in a complete overhaul of a perfectly good car...
By the way, the 928 also doubles as a proper family hatchback – if you have the perverted inclination to use it as such. The child seat fits in the rear, it has a boot of more than 200 litres, and if you have to carry larger items, it is variable too. The suspension could be called acceptable, the seats are just about perfect.
And the car oozes character too. There are the headlights, for example, poking in your view like tentacles of some giant snail. When you adjust the height of the steering wheel, the instrument cluster moves together with it – I wonder if this feature gave Nissan the idea for the 350Z? There are four sunvisors in the car... yes the passengers in the rear also get a pair to avoid a sunburn. And that burgundy leather... Famous poems have been written on lesser subjects.
I gave the car back to the owner for the last, short stretch of driving (I can't imagine why, but we had to stop to fill up the tank...). And András, who was so gentle with this car when I first saw him driving it, sent the pedal to the metal in a style I couldn't believe. This is how I got the taste of speed from the passenger seat in this car. It can really, really move. You just have to get over the petting stage quickly and start the spanking – real hard.