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Silverstone to Nürburgring & back - 928 miles in a 928

The 928 is a trans-continental express, and we cement its reputation by driving 928 miles from Silverstone to the Nürburgring and back in a 928 GT. There’s a bonus ball: Hans Stuck gets reunited with his 928 CS too.

Would you believe it’s 928 miles from Silverstone to the Nürburgring? Let’s do the distance in a 928 and see if we can verify it! I’ve picked up this gleaming white 928 GT, courtesy of Gmund Cars of Knaresborough, and met up with my oppo at showery Silverstone, where we bookmark the circuit before heading for Dover. We check in with DFDS Seaways at Dover docks and ease the Great White Shark on board the good ship ‘Dunkerque Seaways’ for the two-hour crossing to Dunkirk. No evacuation procedure here – though I can’t speak for my colleague in this instance – and we relax in the Premium lounge watching the yachts bobbing up and down on the briny. Dunkirk places us a few miles further east than Calais, and we set the compass for Spa-Francorchamps to bookmark the circuitous route to The Ring.

Our sleek steed has done around 91K, so it’salready had a good life. Another 1,000 or so isn’t going to have a profound effect either on its value or condition. First registered in August 1989 and delivered to AFN Guildford, its early years were spent in Surrey and Berkshire before records seem to peter out in 1995. As we purr eastwards, I can’t help thinking that if any car merits an automatic shift, rather than the five-speed manual we’re blessed with here in the GT, it is the 928. First, dog-leg left, is more or less redundant in most circumstances, except when I’m moving around in a parking situation, while 2nd to 5th are processed in short order, so torquey is the 5.0-litre V8, even though they are quite widely spaced. In fact, it pulls from virtually a standstill in 5th. Normally I appreciate a manual shift, but a car like this suits an automatic, and you expect the car to do the work for you. For a coupé, it is a roomy shell and I can stretch my well left leg out behind the pedals which is welcome on a long run. The steering’s nicely weighted, for the AutoRoute/Autobahn, at any rate, while the brakes, secure as they are, do require a certain amount of pumping to get them up to scratch. The voluminous 19-gallon (86 litres) fuel tank demands £85 to brim it, which is a bit of a shocker, but then at a steady 70- 80mph it does well to average 25- 30mpg, and that does allow considerable intervals between refuelling stops. Nevertheless, I’ve seen the on-board computer monitor the fuel consumption from anything between 10mpg under hard acceleration, to 35mpg on a light-footed 60mph cruise, while shuffling along in a queue it’s a depressing 22mpg.

I’ve got into the habit of running with headlights on, so I turn the 928’s switch, and up pop the frog-eyes from their housings at the front of the car, spoiling the overall symmetry of the egg-shape, and yet they are a pair of eggs themselves. Running at night, they each have a nice little light on the top of them so from the cockpit you can tell where the front corners of the car are. We need to cover a bit of ground, so I turn up the wick. At high speed, it’s imperious and dominant of other traffic. At 100mph it is rock solid, and it’s easy to see where the trans-continental express allusion comes from: it is up here at these sorts of speeds that the 928 comes into its own; no shilly-shallying with your national speed limits; this is the definitive autobahn-stormer. Or, certainly was, back in the day, before its modern water-cooled V8 counterparts came on the scene. But there’s a paradox. It’s tricky in tighter corners of the kind between, say, Höhe Acht and Adenau, requiring quite deft handiwork with the wheel. Speaking as someone who once owned a barge, I recognise a wallowing sensation when I experience one, and on the back roads this certainly does have an inclination to do just that, and under these conditions it’s not the quite the relaxing experience that a grand touring car should be providing. Journeying through the Ardennes-Eifel mountain region, alongside grassy hill pastures dotted with cattle andhay-balerolls, little villages of white houses with geranium pots on their windowsills, are some wonderful motoring roads, which I can attack with the 928 in a scruff of the neck kind of way, though it’s stolid rather than lithe in the manner of a 911. A legacy of its 40-year-long history? Its successors are way more capable in the twisty bits.

Some other aspects date it, too. The dashboard and console paraphernalia are well coordinated, especially compared with a contemporary 911 from the 1980s, though it’s all very much of the Starship Enterprise persuasion. The Blaupunkt Bremen cassette player totally gives the game away; I mean, it must be 25 years since I last played a cassette tape. However, the 928 GT is a very efficient mode of express transportation, a proper grand touring car for crossing continents in considerable comfort and ease. And that is precisely why Porsche handed out a small number of 928 Club Sports to its star drivers during the late 1980s, so they could travel in style from circuit to circuit.

Which brings us to our Nürburgring noggin: lunch in the Porsche hospitality tent with none other than erstwhile F1, F2 and DTM star - and two-times Le Mans winner (’86 & ’87), the ebullient Hans-Joachim Stuck. The Zuffenhausen promo girls usher us into the marquee beside the Nordschleife, where Hans greets us warmly. He’s here for the Porsche Driving Experience training day, just ahead of the fabulous Old Timer meeting, wearing his Volkswagen Motor Sport representative’s hat, a role he’s performed since 2008. We’ve got a surprise for him. Last year we spotted the very 928 CS he was given in 1987 in the private collection of OPC Gelderland at Leiden, belonging to proprietor Mark Wegh, and Mark kindly agreed to have Hans’s 928 trailered to The Ring for this rendezvous. Hans was overjoyed to be reunited with ‘his’ 928. In point of fact, he received a succession of 928s during his tenure as a Work’s driver, and the first one he inherited from Stefan Bellof. ‘I knew when I joined the Porsche factory team in ’85 that all the drivers were allocated these cars, and Professor Bott said, “Hans, we want to give you a car, and Stefan (Bellof) just gave his car back yesterday,” so I took Stefan’s 928. He’d brought it up to Weissach the day before, it was washed, and they put some fresh tyres on it, but there were still loads of things in the car belonging to Stefan: I found a pair of shoes, some tickets for the race track, all sorts; he must have lived in that car. I’d never driven a 928 before, but I found out in the first 10km going from Weissach to the motorway, the power, the sound - that V8 is a jewel - you have this long hood in front of your nose, perfect seating position, it was just great.

Hans had five 928s in total. ‘Year by year we regularly got new cars, and this was the second one. I loved it from the first day I got it. ‘it’s in mint condition, still perfect. Look at the quality of the leather - even the steering wheel, maybe a hundred people have touched it, but it’s still like new! So cool, my little baby.’ An original number plate amongst the toolkit under the hatchback confirms it’s his car from ’87. ‘I had two white ones when the 962s were in Rothman’s livery, and then when we had the Super Cup I had a dark blue one, then another white one, and last one was a red 928 GTS, which was a real flyer: it had 350 horsepower, and for me the great thing was that it was a perfect car for driving long distances between the tracks for races and testing, but also you could go onto a track with it and it was a perfect track car as well. Don’t forget this was a Club Sport and the Club Sport is set up precisely for that.’ Indeed, the sound of the Club Sport V8 is a much stronger, more purposeful note than our GT’s.

He waxes starry-eyed. ‘This was a fantastic car to drive really fast, but it was still a relaxed drive. In ’86 I drove my 928 to Le Mans and then I did the 24-Hours, and after the race I was still so fired up with adrenalin that I started to drive back home, but then I felt so tired I drove into a parking lot and fell asleep - and suddenly there was a policeman knocking on the window to see if I’m still alive! The longest journeys I did in the 928s were from Austria to Le Mans and Nardo in southern Italy. I live in the south of France now, which is about 9 hours from my home in Austria, and I do it regularly, and l like that. I never have any problems getting tired. If I do sometimes, I stop, I run around the car five times this way and five times the other way, and it restores the blood circulation. What really makes me crazy is traffic jams; I hate that, and the German motorways at the moment have so many road works.’

Having viable back seats, the 928 could also serve as Stuck family transport: ‘My son Johannes was carried around in there as a baby, so it brings back really precious memories. Now I really regret I didn’t buy it for a good price after I was supposed to hand it back, and now I probably couldn’t afford it! Still, I’m happy to see it in such great condition here.’ His personal ‘old timer’ collection includes a BMW 700 – ‘from the years that my dad was driving; I also have a BMW 2002 Turbo, a ’51 Beetle which is my year of birth, and I have a ’79 convertible Beetle; I have an M3 CS, the one with the carbon roof, and my wife has an ’83 Turbo-Look 3.2 Carrera Cabriolet. And I also have a 1936 Porsche tractor!’ Is there room for a 928? Who knows! Hans takes ‘his’ 928 CS up the road to Dottinger Höhe: ‘do I really have to give it back? It runs perfectly, the gearbox is fine, there is no rattling, great steering, good power; it’s a big day for me. If Mr Wegh ever wants to run the car in a classic event and he needs a driver he should call me and we’ll do it.’

Not on this occasion though. The Nordschleife startline is rammed with privateer punter Porsches, and it’s wet, and not a day to be on track in this particular icon, at any rate. As Hans points out, ‘today is the classic day, where people come with their really precious 911s, 914s and 356s, and they take the cars out with instructors to get to know the track. We (Hans and Walter Röhrl) have a Panamera Turbo to give taxi rides, and the lucky ones draw a raffle ticket to get the ride.’ We estimate at least 100 Porsches on track. It’s raining on and off, and later when we drive around to Brunnchen to watch, they are coming gingerly by in batches of half-a-dozen cars, led by an instructor in a 991. A Panamera swoops into view, going three times as fast: that’ll be Hans!

We pay our respects, and on the way out we bump into Walter Röhrl. I can’t resist asking the question: was he ever offered a 928? ‘Not exactly; they lent me one to drive home from the factory one evening, and next day on the phone they asked if I wanted to keep it, and I said, “no, and if you want this car back you will have to come and collect it!” It was just not my kind of car.’ Each to his own. 928 miles in a 928, though? After the long haul back to Blighty in the Great White Shark I can’t wait to get out in the flighty Boxster.

Thanks to DFDS Seaways for the calm cross Channel crossing:

Andrew Mearns at Gmund Cars for kindly lending us the 928 GT:

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