Driving Richard Attwood's Porsche 928 racer

Never has a 928 looked or sounded so good – here's how we got on when Le Mans hero Richard Attwood handed over his remarkable race car

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Of all the Porsche road cars turned into iconic and successful racing machines, the 928 seems an unlikely candidate. This was, after all, intended as the grown-up and refined modernist grand tourer, answering contemporary criticisms of the 911 being too raw, too quirky and too difficult to drive for a mainstream audience.

It’s certainly an unusual sight in a pit garage, even stripped, caged and stickered ready for the Historic Sports Car’s 70s Road Sports championship in which it has been racing for the 2017 season.

This tightly-regulated series insists on near-road specification with only the bare minimum of modifications. Diverse grids includes Lotus models pitching against TVRs, Datsun 240Zs, Morgans, Alfa Romeos, Lancia Beta Montecarlos, Ferrari 308s, Porsche 924s and more besides.

And in the thick of it is this hulking great lump of Stuttgart metal, V8-powered and driven with typical poise and precision to an overall class win by none other than 1970 Le Mans winner Richard Attwood.

Prepared as part of Porsche’s celebrations of 40 years of its transaxle models, this 928 wears the livery of Porsche UK’s four Classic Partner dealerships. Teams from each of the centres have played a part in keeping the car running, the original restoration and preparation carried out by Road & Race Restorations in Manchester. It’s now for sale at £40,000 ‘or best offer’, which sounds a conspicuous bargain when you consider how much you’d pay for a racing 911 of this vintage.

The raw ingredients for a racing car still seem a long way from being realised when you consider what the spec of this 1978 928 started life as. OK, you’ve got the between-the-axles weight distribution of that front engine and transaxle transmission. But even with 4.5-litres the V8 wheezed out a relaxed 237bhp, which is at least more than the smog-strangled US models achieved. And although this car has a club racing history and arrived ‘part prepped’ it was originally fitted with an automatic gearbox, as the vast majority of 928s were.

As part of the restoration this was ditched for the dog-leg five-speed manual gearbox option. The engine was tickled to a more promising sounding 300bhp-plus thanks to basic modifications and a more free-breathing stainless steel exhaust system. A bit more like it, albeit offset against a near-1500kg kerbweight. That's at least half a tonne more than many of the cars it was competing against. And the regulations meant it had to run its original road-spec brakes.

Racing of this kind is as much about the spectacle as anything though and there’s little doubt the 928 makes for an imposing looking racing car. As an early example it has the cooler wingless shape, complete with the clean flanks (later cars gained protection ridges), recessed rear lights and super slick engraved Porsche script across the rear panel.

Appreciation of the 928’s styling has been a long time coming but even with the racing livery the smooth lines and quirks like the reverse-kinked B-pillar and distinctive hatchbacked rear stand out as something forward-looking given its late-70s vintage. For a racing car the finish and standard of preparation are impressive, testament to Porsche’s desire to show off the restoration skills now available through its dealerships.

The later disc-style 16-inch wheels look more modern than the similarly sized Teledials a car of this era would have originally appeared on. But they did feature on early 1980s 928s so we’ll let that one go. In deference to the damp conditions the car's wearing Pirelli street rubber that Attwood admits are rather less tenacious than the Toyos he was racing on.

A surprising amount of original interior has been retained, much of the dash surround and switchgear still in place and the authentic Turbo-style padded three-spoke steering wheel taking pride of place, cementing this car as an early model compared with the later ones with the wide-bossed, four-spoke wheel used by most 80s Porsches.

The glovebox is gone, the central binnacle is replaced with a flat sheet of aluminium carrying the battery cut-off, lap timer and supplemental gauges and there is of course a full rollcage, a pair of race seats and six-point harnesses. But with or without the racing addenda it’s clear this is a racer not too far removed from its road car roots.

It even starts on the twist of a key, the V8 picking up eagerly and settling to a serious-sounding idle. It’s more refined and sophisticated than an American V8 but it has that all-important sense of muscularity that fits well with the 928’s inescapably solid build.

The baulky move left and down for first gear has me relieved that’s the only time I’ll be making that particular shift, the stubby lever having a tight gate and short movement but requiring some determination to slot into its ratios. For this short Stowe circuit and at the speeds we’re doing I don’t really need do more than back and forth between second and third, for which I’m grateful.

Slow and deliberate best sums up all your major interactions with the car, Attwood admitting it wasn’t at its best on tighter courses where its weight and the limited reserves of its standard brakes were something of a handicap. With room to stretch its legs, however, the 928 proved a lot more competitive, its first outing at Silverstone seeing Attwood go from ninth to fourth in the first lap and eventually taking third overall and first in class.

And it was a similar story at the Spa double-header, the big Porsche as close as it ever was all season to the pace-setting Datsun 240Z of Charles Barter and taking fourth place in both races. Despite not contesting all the rounds the 928 took Class A honours for cars over 3001cc and sixth place overall.

Alternating patches of dry tarmac and standing water and a Le Mans winner who knows the car inside-out in the passenger seat are an intimidating combination, my faltering progress around the compact Stowe lap reflective of my nervousness.

Attwood doesn’t say anything but the 928’s reaction means he doesn’t need to, the engine bogging down below 4000rpm while the gearbox’s bolshiness on downshifts sees me sail round a couple of corners with the clutch down still trying to find a gear, any gear. I realise sometimes things are best left to the experts so I pull into the pits and suggest Attwood shows me how it’s done. He doesn’t argue.

In that traditional racer style I then get a masterclass in minimal inputs and carefully considered lines, Attwood guiding the shifter back and forth with practised ease while conceding the gearbox isn’t the easiest. Although his Le Mans victory in the 917 remains a career high, he actually raced a near-standard 928S at Daytona in 1984, scoring 15th place overall in the process and seemingly cementing an affection for the car that’s lasted to this day.

He admits that you never escape the size and weight but that the inherent balance means it’s a predictable and easy car to drive, especially in the wet and on tracks where its V8 grunt can be fully exploited against the lighter and more agile competition.

Satisfied he’s given me enough pointers we pull back in and he leaves me to it. Somewhat emboldened by the demonstration I pick up the pace a little and all of a sudden a whole different car emerges. With a few more revs on the dial the V8 smooths out and makes its presence felt in more dramatic fashion. It’s still not kick to the ribs fast but there’s a muscularity to the power delivery that makes good on the tuneful sound reverberating around the cabin.

I’m not pushing too hard but the balance Attwood spoke of is evident in the slow turns, the front end turning in faithfully and the big Porsche responding positively to an assertive throttle, sliding through a wide window of neutrality and into lazy, easily caught oversteer over the still wet sections of track.

It’s the polar opposite of the 'dancing on its tiptoes' driving style you’d adopt in a 911, the bulk encouraging a more languid style that’s full of charm and character of its own. And you never, ever get bored of the soundtrack.

On Attwood’s recommendation, I start double-declutching on downshifts and this helps a great deal with settling the car on corner approach and giving me the confidence I’m not going to coast round with a box full of neutrals. For a car of its vintage it corners commendably flat and with real stability, qualities I’m sure a little more time and space would prove very enjoyable indeed.

I’m really beginning to settle into a groove, the 928’s curious combination of German modernism and good old-fashioned V8 muscle proving somewhat endearing. And highly addictive. 'Sounded like you were enjoying yourself out there!' grins the 928’s chaperone as I clamber out. Too bloody right I was…

Images courtesy of Jakob Ebrey and Porsche

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