Why Porsche Needs To Bring Back Its Brilliant Front-Engine Transaxle Cars


Porsche 928 cutaway with a clear view of the transaxle on the rear axle. Photo credit: Porsche

The 718 Boxster and Cayman have taken over as the cheap Porsches of the day, sort of like modern-day 914s. Yet those of us who got into inexpensive classic Porsches another way have been left in the dust. Porsche made brilliant front-engine, rear-transaxle cars in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and they owe us a new one.

This year marks the 40th birthday of the lovely Porsche 928, a fascinatingly innovative car that was originally meant to replace the then-aging Porsche 911. Not only did it look like a spaceship in comparison to Porsche’s flagship 911, and come with state-of-the-art lightweight aluminum parts, but it offered one killer feature above all others: a transaxle in the rear.

A transaxle combines the rear differential with the transmission, putting power to the wheels in one neat little package. It also helps balance out the car by moving the transmission’s weight from the front to the rear. Distributing the weight evenly among both axles makes a car handle better, even in a big grand tourer like the 928.

Admittedly, I’m on Team 911 in the great 928 vs. 911 debate. I started loving Porsches because the 911 was adorable, and cute always sells. However, the often less expensive transaxle cars are widely credited with saving Porsche by making P-cars accessible to the masses.

Depreciation of the less widely loved transaxle cars was too sharp for many Porsche fans to ignore, and transaxle-equipped Porsches—including some 928s that originally sold for six figures—found a whole new set of admirers among those of us looking for a good, cheap, fun sports car. Self included: I own a later, less powerful transaxle car: a 944, which only cost a few hundred bucks.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with my little beater 944, but the neatly balanced driving dynamics of a car with an almost 50-50 weight distribution are just too good. My transaxle Porsche is light, nimble and tossable in a way that the new 911s simply aren’t. Unlike the lighter and lovely but mid-engine Boxsters and Caymans, the 944’s front engine bay is spacious and easy to access for any desired fixes or upgrades.

Image credit: Porsche

This is the second year of Porsche marking a big anniversary of its beloved transaxle cars without actually making another transaxle model for us to flog around. Last year, the company celebrated 40 years of transaxle cars at the Porsche Museum, celebrating the one fantastic innovation they so sadly abandoned. They’re back at it again this year, with a 40th birthday celebration for the 928 this weekend at the Nürburgring’s Oldtimer Grand Prix.

Porsche Classic Director Alexander Fabig even said in a Porsche press release that more people are starting to come around to the coolness of the 928, hence the exhibit:

Interest in the 928 is growing rapidly among our customers. At the Nürburgring, we will revive it in all its diversity and give a few tasters of the expertise we offer.

However, celebrating these cars without having a new one feels a little wrong. Sure, it can take many hours to swap the clutch in a transaxle car, but in today’s high-tech world of annoyingly complex fixes that you practically need a computer science degree to diagnose, that shouldn’t be a reason not to make one.

Photo credit: Porsche

Of course, the front-engine, rear-transaxle layout isn’t dead. Cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, Mercedes-AMG GT and Ferrari F12 have that layout, but none of those are a Porsche. If Porsche’s going to wave around “there is no substitute” as a company slogan, perhaps they need to realize that applies to transaxle fans as well.

Owners of old transaxle Porsches that cost a few hundred bucks are getting older, making more cash, and left without a newer replacement from the right side of Stuttgart. Porsche, if you’re not allergic to taking our money, give us a revived 924/944 or 928.

It’s time.


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