Joe Rusz, automotive journalist, was trying to explain to Jurgen Barth that he misjudged a low stone bridge driving through the French countryside in Provence tearing a small hole on the passenger side door of the pre-production 928 he was driving.
You see, Jurgen, before he ran the competition department at Weissach, was the car wrangler during the 928’s intro in Vence, France. So without too much fanfare, he summoned the mechanics he was having a drink with to go out, slap some bondo and red paint on the door and that was that.
The year was 1977. In its first 'clean sheet' design ever made, Porsche was poised to have a replacement for the 911 ready in case the ever tightening emissions laws and crash regulations made it pointless to continue on with its existence. Although the 928 was a radical departure from traditional Porsche thinking, Dr. Fuhrmann thought it was where the company should be heading. It was apparent that the trend for raw sports cars was giving way to Grand Tourers offering more luxury and refined power, so it was only logical. The public debut was set to be at the Salon International de L’Auto in Geneva in March of that year. There was to be an official press release scheduled on February 23rd, just a few weeks before the show, however, so 12 pre-production cars were hurriedly built for the occasion in Nice, France. Manfred Jantke summoned several journalists from around the world to convene in the south of France in order to see the much anticipated 928 and write about this extraordinary new car. Joe was one of them.
What’s she doing in a place like this?
Now, suppose you were sitting at the bar at some local dive joint and you struck up a conversation with this older woman who’d gone to seed long ago. ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane is softly wafting through the air as you think to yourself, ‘hmmm…she must’ve been quite the looker when she was younger.’ But what if I told you that this dame was once a globetrotting supermodel published in glossies the world over when you were in diapers. Her fabled past was so rich, so interesting you’d wonder why I wasn’t locked away in some insane asylum for conjuring this up. And if there was a remote chance that it was true, what’s she doing in a place like this? Intrigued? Read on.
No one knows what the Geneva show car was anyway.
You may not know who Jim Doerr is at the moment, but you will. You see Jim happens to be nuts about 928s and anyone who has Brain Long’s book, and has been aroused by it, can attest to this. Passionate? It’s a bit too tame of word to describe him really. This man will be the single reason why we’ll fall in love, and some of us for a second time, with early 928s. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The saga began on a September morning in 2010. Jim was in Boston staying at his friend Carl’s house for a ‘Sharks Party’ being held by 928 enthusiasts (if you’re clueless about why the term ‘shark’ is given to 928s, it’s because, well, they sort of resemble one). Scanning Rennlist over a cup of coffee, a thread titled 928 #6 on Ebay caught Jim’s attention; he summoned Carl over to have a look. “Check out this really early 928.” he said to Carl carrying on about how he always wanted an early version. His idea was to find one he could restore to look like the 1977 Geneva Show Car which was done in Guards Red with a white interior, white leather seats and black/white Pascha inserts…a very striking car. Carl blurted out, “No one knows what the Geneva show car was anyway.” Well, Jim thought it was a cool idea and left it there.
He plays it cool because in his mind this old girl is going to be his.
Back home, he intently followed the thread as if it was the season finale of Dallas. For the moment there was just a bit of chit chat and speculation until a member of the forum named Erkka piped in “this one is worth restoring.” Now Erkka has a reputation for being a bit of a historian on 928s, a prodigy with VINs and production figures, so his words were to be taken very seriously. Curiously though, the thread went cold after a few more exchanges and Jim remained quiet… pretty smart move. The last thing you want to do is to make other’s aware of your enthusiasm bursting forth like a little school girl’s first kiss with the most popular boy in school. He plays it cool because in his mind this old girl is going to be his. Back on Ebay, Jim reviewed the ad a bit more closely and found some pretty impressive content. Phrases like “pre-production 928, 6th one ever made…one of 10 pre-series 928s…” and “this car was used by Mr. Manfred Jantke of the Porsche Press Department for demonstration purposes.” You never know with an ad like this on Ebay. Could be a bit of fluff dreamed up by the seller to help unload a car that has been wearing the scarlet ‘A’ for most of its life - a hard sell so to speak. Having little idea what a “pre-production 928” was or how Manfred Jantke figured into all of this, Jim somehow thought the words sincere and genuine. Interestingly, despite the hype, the bidding ended… the reserve wasn’t met. I know 928s, especially the early ones many suggest to avoid, can be difficult to sell if their condition is a bit rough. But one wonders why a car such as this possessing what seems to be some provenance wouldn’t have been involved in some kind of insane bidding war creating astronomical figures for an old 928. But there it was…unsold. And that wasn’t the first time she’d been passed up like yesterday’s mash either; rumor had it that it was listed on Ebay before…way back in 2003 without a taker. How could this be? The same day the listing ended, a fellow named Larry who contributed to the thread and lived close to the seller’s location went out and took a look at the car. Not only did he surmise that it was in fact the ‘real deal,’ but the car was a 1978 Euro 928 titled as a 1977 928 with a manufacture date of 1/77. Technically, the 928 made its debut to the public on March of 1977 with 12 cars built for press fleet duty, production started in the autumn of that year. The fact that this car was titled as a 1977 928 with a 1/77 build date and the 12th pre-production car was completed on February 22nd 1977 raises some pretty provocative questions. Armed with two very important books that every 928 enthusiast must have; one Brian Long’s ‘Porsche 928,’ the second, ‘Project 928’ by Julius Weitmann and Rico Steinemann, Jim poured over them as if a monk with a monocle by candle light. He looked for any small clue that would reveal something about this car, it was bordering on obsession. But there was a third book that would tie it all in neat little package. Road & Track’s ‘Porsche 928 Portfolio 1977-1994. The fact that this car may have been used for press purposes means that it’s sure to have a string of pictorial history behind it that’s yet to be discovered. He began to wonder if the car in the first Road & Track article published about it was the same as the one he was interested in. This warmed up Jim’s oven.
I’m getting goose pimples in anticipation of the next line I’m going to put down...
Things got serious now. He made contact with the owner of the car, Scott. The car was discussed, interest was expressed and somehow, I’ve yet to figure out how, Jim kept his cool and telepathically showed his poker face. Eventually, Scott told Jim what he wanted for the car and was happy to provide a copy of the title before any deal was made. What happened next? Well, I’m getting goose pimples in anticipation of the next line I’m going to put down... The seller, Scott, not only texted Jim a copy of the title but…wait for it – a letter from Porsche authenticating its speculated provenance as well as a picture of this very car in Road & Track. Could you believe any of this so far? The letter dated March 6th of 1992 had a subject title that read ‘Porsche Pre-Series 928 – VIN: 9288100016’ and went on to validate the engine type and number, gearbox number, exterior paint, interior material, optional equipment, and… and… the original selling dealer listed as ‘Factory Company Car’ with the German license plate of S-CX 2137 in parenthesis. WOW! That was it! Never mind all of the other more pertinent stuff; the plate number confirmed that this old girl was a model in several glossies the world over in her younger years. Every image ever published with a red 928 wearing this German tag was proof. It was also confirmed that Mr. Jantke did in fact use this car for ‘demonstration purposes’ and went on to state that it was indeed one of the ten pre-series vehicles used for quality observations and testing. Right, show time.
How he contained his excitement is anyone’s guess.
On the same day that Jim was making preparations for putting up # 6 at his father’s farm in anticipation of the purchase, he called Scott and made an offer. To Jim’s relief it was accepted but contingent on inspection. After the seller agreed to take the car to Larry’s garage for mechanical inspection, serial number validations, and crash damage, Larry gave Jim the thumbs up and the gavel pounded the sounding block - she was sold to Jim. It was all over, done - Jim did it but he’d have to wait over a month before he could see the car for himself. How he contained his excitement is anyone’s guess. This car that was now his led Jim on a crusade to find out about its other siblings. Days before the purchase, he began his search for the other pre-series cars and compiled a pictorial chronology of them on Rennlist. The car that was a big deal for Porsche now became an even bigger deal for Jim and nearly every 928 enthusiast bathed in this contagious excitement; I mean, how can you not? If you own a 928, this discovery should make you not only proud of your ownership to one but one step closer to Porsche Valhalla knowing that there now was definitive proof of the pre-series version’s existence bringing 928 lineage full circle. Here’s the bit that interests me though. By starting a thread on Rennlist titled “77 (78) Porsche 928, ‘Number Six,’ Pre-Production Press Car,” Jim set the bait. Suddenly, enthusiasts from all over the globe each brought what equates to a bottle of wine or scotch to the party, everyone was contributing bits and pieces to #6’s already storied past. Like spores sprouting up after a rain storm, people were coming out of the woodwork with facts, figures, articles, images, amateur historians shedding light where no other book did… truly amazing. Jim’s intent was to use the forum as a sort of introduction of this historically significant 928 and letting it develop into a living document, so to speak. The entry begins with specifics about the car such as engine/gearbox/chassis numbers, build date, a few quotes from Porsche’s letter of confirmation of the car, and the like. But the provenance he discovers begins to reveal just where this car has been. How does he know that this is his car? The German license plate bearing S-CX 2137 is on the car in those magazines.
- Road & Track June 1977 (“Porsche 928, Technical Analysis & Driving Impression, Tomorrow is here.”)
- Road & Track Buyers Guide 1978
- Motor Sport 1977
- Motor Revue (Auto Motor und Sport) 1977/78
- Auto Motor und Sport March 1977
- Auto Motor und Sport October 1977
- Rallye Racing October 1977
- Car Styling Quarterly #19 July 1977
- Carman 1978
- Japan’s Car Graphic 1978
- Hobby Technik 1977
Coincidentally around the same time, PCNA was looking for the oldest Porsche from each model line in the US to help commemorate Porsche’s 60th anniversary. So Jim submitted the letter from Porsche as proof that #6 fit the bill and was then officially chosen as the oldest 928 making it an entry in the Commemoration’s gallery shared with a Guards Red 944, a 924 in Signal Green and a Mint Green 968. Later he receives a contest badge designed and created by the Porsche museum and a letter from the President of PCNA.
As if everything he’s discovered so far wasn’t enough excitement for the time being, Jim manages to get a hold of Joe Rusz himself who graciously sends him a letter titled “About that 928” recounting #6 and the press launch. Then he makes contact with Joe’s co-pilot during the press release, photographer John Lamm who gets the research editor at R&T to dig up some extra photos Joe took of #6 and its stable mates at the launch. A slew of non-orchestrated photos are sent putting the viewer right in the middle of the all action. Just fascinating...
Oh, that 928! I didn't realize which car you were talking about, since I have driven many Porsches over the years. Your car was the first 928 I ever drove--in Vence, France, where Porsche held many of their intros back then. John Lamm and I shared the ride (he was the photographer on that trip and riding along), while I was the designated driver. Near the end of a long day of flying around the French countryside (in Provence), we approached one of those stupid, low stone bridges that do nothing but take up space by the side of the road. I was too far to the right and as we passed I heard a "thunk."
A bit later, contact is made with Leonard Turner, who was Panorama’s Chief photographer that year and goes on to recount his experiences at the press launch. Leonard recalls how that was Pano’s first European launch, they were still pretty new in the business. As they set out early that first morning to shoot a few photos, he describes how the cars weren’t even washed… so he took it upon himself to give one of the cars a bath. Jokingly, he mentions how he was probably the first American to wash a 928. He fondly remembers Joe being there too and how they became good friends. This recount of events is followed by yet another wave of photos Leonard took during the launch adding to the already growing collection.
Want more? How about a bunch of black and white slides sent in from another journalist who was there, John Rettie. He wrote an article about the 928 launch for Hot VW magazine back in 1977. Like slow wave building momentum, enthusiasts began contributing magazine articles, memorabilia, more period photos. One guy has the original Panorama April 1977 issue about the debut and shares the entire article. Another sends images of 928 engines, gearboxes, bodies, even various states of assembly during his visit to the Werk II facility in Zuffenhausen back in March of 1977 ...yes, yes, I know; at the same time of the debut! Jim even collects an original 1977 press kit and dinner menu, the same ones given to all of journalists in attendance. Jim also found original artwork by Danish artist Lasse Bauer of none other than Number 6.
One car, one man
I don’t think anyone would’ve expected this sort of turnout. How one car, a very significant one at that, manages to bring enthusiasts from all over the world into one virtual room for a trip down memory lane is astounding. Even more so is how a passionate owner becomes an on-the-fly historian and begins to make connections that bring all of those involved 35 years ago together again to share their mementos of this very important place in Porsche history. One car, one man. Remember that inference of the distinguished looking woman in the dive bar laden with a superstar past? It was number 6, only she was unassumingly parked in someone’s driveway waiting for the right man to share it all with.
Editorial note: Pablo wrote and submitted this article for publication to Porsche Panorama in July 2013. Pano loved the article but needed to photograph #6 for publication, however she was in mid-restoration and not available at the time. So the article was stillborn.
Pablo and I were convinced the historical photos were so rich, that current photos weren't needed. As I published Pablo's article, it became very clear this was true.
I hope you enjoyed his article as much I enjoyed collaborating with him to share this story. - Jim Doerr