Home » Here’s What A Porsche 915 Might Have Looked Like If The Ex-GM Designers Who Made The 928 Had Their Way

Here’s What A Porsche 915 Might Have Looked Like If The Ex-GM Designers Who Made The 928 Had Their Way

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As a kid scribbling poorly proportioned 911s in your notebook, your dream might have been to work in the hallowed halls of Porsche in Stuttgart. The respect received from designing the next rear-engined masterpiece from the legendary brand was an irresistible dream back then. But in the Porsche of today, wouldn’t that job be a bit of burden?

Think about it. At a place like Hyundai, you could likely sketch almost anything feasible and the brass would consider making it. There are no precedents or preconceived ideas about what the next Hyundai car or SUV might look like, no classic shape baggage to heft into every design session. This is a brand that went to market with a parallel-universe El Camino that didn’t even have discernible headlights, for heck’s sake.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Penciling shapes for Hyundai or a similarly unbridled automaker sounds like a fun job; trying to appease thousands of so-called “Porschephiles” with yet another design that doesn’t stray far from what the brand’s done for the last sixty years does not sound like fun. It sounds, in fact, like a confining nightmare that will end with you getting burned at the same stake used for the guy who came up with the “fried egg” headlamps. Yikes.

Porsche and its Volkswagen sibling were apparently quite different in the late sixties. The Beetle had been around for over twenty years, and the new-for-1964 Porsche 911 was a next-generation, rear-engined 356; the VW group likely saw that the world was changing and the adapt-or-die ethos forced them to look at drastic changes. Change they did: the old Bug got replaced by something with the engine and drive wheels at the opposite end of the car (with a radiator, no less!) while the Porsche brand developed the 928: an all-new, front-engine machine with specs that resembled a Corvette more than a 911. They also launched two other products that were the antithesis of traditional Porsches, though they were in fact developed primarily by VW: the 914 and the 924.

Different Porsches 6 7
Source: Porsche

The 928 was so different looking that it was hard to imagine that it came from Porsche at all. If anything, this car looked like a product of the skies-are-the-limit design department of Bill Mitchell golden-era General Motors. The reason for that was quite simple: the designers at Porsche credited with these cars had cut their teeth at the World’s Largest Automaker. Anatole “Tony” Lapine had worked on the Corvette C2 Stingray in Detroit and later transferred to GM’s Opel division in 1965. After being recruited by Porsche as Design Chief in 1969, Lapine quickly hired some of his former Opel colleagues like Wolfgang Mobius, a designer who had worked on the mini-‘Vette Opel GT. Fun fact about Lapine: while in the US he had worked on one Corvette stillborn project that featured a front engine and rear transaxle. That sounds like a certain German car but I can’t quite picture it.

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The VW group of the time was a company taking honest-to-God risks, and behind the scenes they were working on concepts even more dramatic than these Porsches that never came to fruition. We’re about to look at an alternate world where they did.

Bugging Out

It’s widely known that by the sixties, VW knew that the Beetle was not long for a world that was moving on to very different new designs. The merger with NSU and Audi helped provide VW with a stepping stone to the water-cooled, front-wheel-drive cars like the Golf that replaced it. Still, as Jason has written about several times, there was another horse in the race to supersede the Beetle that went pretty far into the development process before getting literally crushed: the EA266. Here’s how Jason described it:

The EA266 was developed with assistance from a Porsche team led by Ferdinand Piëch — the same one who would later become Chairman of the Volkswagen group. The EA266 was a very novel and innovative little car. It broke with VW’s traditional tech in some of the same ways as the Golf would, using an inline, water-cooled engine, but unlike the Golf, which used the Mini and contemporary Fiats as templates for its design, the EA266 must have been looking at exotic sportscars, because it was mid-engined, with the drivetrain placed low and in the middle-rear of the car.

Ae266 Overall 6 7 6
source: VW via Car Design Archives

Indeed, a side schematic view of the car shows the water-cooled engine sitting on its side under the rear seat; the head of the motor faced towards the driver’s side of the car and the space opposite the motor was filled with a horizontal radiator.

Side View Ea266
source: VW via Car Design Archives

You would think such a layout would result in a compact car with handling like a sports car, and journalists who got a chance to try them out seemed to find that was indeed the case. We’ll have to take their word for it, since not only did the EA266 project not move forward, but after a regime change at the helm of VW every example built was reportedly crushed by an actual tank. Such a scorched-earth approach might be attributed to a not-invented-here attitude from a new leader combined with a disdain for the sports car division being given such free reign in developing a bread-and-butter car, but Jason is not convinced that’s the case:

(There were) likely more rational reasons VW could have decided against the EA266 path. The car was quite complex and sophisticated for what was to be a high-volume, entry-level car, maintenance access would likely have been tricky at best (removable rear seat, or no access, like a Boxster?), and there were persistent cooling and noise issues to deal with.

I think Jason is likely right; everyone was following the Mini’s formula for a reason, and the launch of cars like the Renault 5 and Honda Civic proved that VW likely made the right choice in going with what was almost certainly a more economical solution. Ah, but what about the division that had developed the EA266? A solution too complex for a mass-market car doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work for a high-end sports car firm like Porsche.

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Mobius Mystery

I remember reading an article long ago where a journalist was riding with race driver Danny Sullivan in a Porsche 911 Turbo, wondering out loud why the Indy 500 winner was taking it so easy behind the wheel.  Danny’s response? “This car can bite you.”

Indeed, a giant heavy pendulum behind the rear wheels will make it very easy for the front end to be where the back was if you let off the gas at the wrong time. Porsche must have known that virtually every new supercar about to be introduced after 1970 would have the motor smack dab in the middle for a reason; they obviously even chose that layout when developing the family-compact EA266. As interesting as the basic EA266 was, the plans for the future were almost more intriguing. Look at the full chart below- we have a sporty minibus, convertible sports cars, and sleek-looking coupe:

Ea266e (1) 6 7 4
source: VW via Car Design Archives

Honestly, none of these proposed vehicles really seemed like VWs; they all seemed more suited to the sensibilities of the Porsche brand. Those sports models look remarkably close to the formula for the Boxster that came much later, and “Kleinbus” would have been a sports minivan a good decade and a half before anyone else even released any kind of minivan at all.

Jason and others have already raved about these concepts, but I’m most interested in the one at the very bottom. This sketch, supposedly by Mobius, appears to be a totally new aesthetic direction for VW or Porsche; it’s quite similar to the Citroen CX that wouldn’t be released until 1974.

Ea266e (1) 6 7 2

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Oddly enough, it also bears a strong resemblance to the one-off Heuliez-bodied Porsche 914/6 Murene concept with a similar fastback roof, longer nose, and partially skirted wheels (though the Mobius sketch is obviously better resolved):

Custom 914 Porsches 6 7
source: archives Heuliez

The handling that journalists raved about in the EA266 would have been much appreciated in a Porsche-branded car, particularly by more novice drivers who might have found out the hard way that driving the 911 was an acquired taste. The cooling issues of the low radiator in that EA266 concept would be solved by removing it entirely and just using the air-cooled flat six. Why turn an inline engine on its side when you could just take the entire 911 drivetrain and turn it around to face forward? Could this not be a way to bring that entire sleek EA266 concept to life as an out-of-the-box new Porsche, years before the 928?

Catch The 9:15 To The Future

Even if a new kind of Porsche was released in the early seventies, just like the later 928 it wouldn’t have replaced the 911; at least not right away. With the small 914 already available though, how could Porsche justify another new car? The answer would be to have this EA266-based model positioned as a larger, real four-passenger vehicle.

Porsche certainly had considered such a vehicle even by the 1960s with the flat-six 1963 VW EA128 and the rather gawky-looking stretched 915 concept:

Ea128 6 7

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Porsche 915 Concept 6 8
sources: Jason Torchinsky and YouTube screenshot

Our “production” large EA266- we’ll call it the 1972 Porsche 915– would start from scratch visually with the mid-engine layout and look of the Mobius sketch. To keep the car low, I wouldn’t have anyone sitting on the motor as in the EA266 VW prototypes; the rear wheels would now move much further back in the car as in the Mobius sketches. The rear seats could sit in front of the engine and not really increase the length of the car that much more than if the flat-six sat between the axle and rear bumper. I do like the Mobius sketch and fully understand that he was trying to keep the length as short as possible for the VW design brief, but I’d like to stretch the length to give it proportions that are more appealing (and not so close to the infamous Dale car).

Schenatic 6 5

You can see that for such a low, sporting car the 915 boasts an almost absurd amount of cargo space, even without folding down the rear seats. You almost don’t even need the frunk space under the hood, but overall I think that a gargantuan 1972 Fleetwood Brougham would have less luggage capacity.

I’ve tried to stay true to Mobius’s design, utilizing a 914-style front end to cap off the wedge. My rendering shows German tags on a US-spec car with chrome bumpers that likely would give way to rubber versions for the 1974 regulations. Yes, the wide Turbo-style rear tires and black-centered Fuchs wheels sort of pre-date my timetable but let’s just run with it. Tony Lapine obviously was inspired by the headlamps on the 1968 Miura; he copied them on the front end of the 928, so there’s no reason that he wouldn’t have encouraged Mobius to adapt such a feature earlier. Somehow regardless of the design a Porsche never looks totally right with concealed headlamps.

915 Outsid 6 7

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Intentional or not, I like how the split running down the side of the Mobius sketch grew taller as it got to the back, which would allow for a recessed black space to put in cooling/intake vents for the motor. The 914 door handles are favorites of mine so they’ll make an appearance here (a rare time that Porsche didn’t use VW parts bin items to finish off a car). Speaking of doors, I almost forgot: with all of this extra length and longer wheelbase, I don’t want doors that compete with an Eldorado for length. No, we need to accelerate the timeline for the Porsche Panamera by around forty years and make thing a four-door. The overall shape would look like nothing on the road made by any brand before; something that VW and Porsche were still open to back in this golden era of innovation.

This assemblage of sketches includes Mobius’s idea for the aesthetics of the rear of that design (bottom right-hand corner sketch); naturally, the close-to-the-back wheels create an aggressive LeMans-racer HotWheels tail:

Mobuis Sketch 6 7
source: VW via Car Design Archives

I love it but admit that the sketches need to be toned down a bit to get the approval of Teutonic powers-that-be. To that end the tires are fully concealed and a full-width taillamp with PORSCHE script Heckblende runs just below the hatchback.

Rear View Porsche 6 8

Most Porsches have shared a similar dashboard design for years, and it had a flaw shared with a number of other cars. The famous “five dial” 911 gauge cluster seems logical at first, but when you actually sit in one it becomes readily apparent that the outer dials are pretty well obscured by the steering wheel. I want to avoid that issue and also get the tach and speedometer as large as possible. What can you do?

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Certain cars (like the early Honda Prelude) used a concentric speedometer and tachometer; it’s appreciated by some but others find it sort of confusing. My idea would be three-quarter arc main gauges where the void spaces overlap. This “Two Pac-Man” layout allows for the gauges to be a far larger diameter than if they were side by side.

Instruments Controls 6 7

The remaining issues of steering-wheel-obscured gauges are avoided by simply putting all of the secondary gauges dead center, which also makes the clock more visible to passengers. The climate controls include levers for a choice of engine heat or a gas-fired heater to give faster warmups in winter (even pre-heating the cabin). Secondary control toggles extend out of the driver’s gauge pod; they’re translucent plastic so they glow softly at night or brighter when activated. A lower console surrounds the gear shift for the manual 5-speed or the optional and unloved “Sportomatic” with knob-activated clutch. The console in this example holds the air conditioning and power window switches; Europeans of the day wouldn’t want this kind of shit but with the 915’s price likely being higher than a Cadillac it would be essential for the American market.

I wanted the design to be just funky enough without going Italian-level extreme.

Like A Shark, You Move Or Die

“It doesn’t look enough like a Porsche,” you say? I’d like to think that Dr. Porsche would never utter such a thing. Can you really imagine Ferry Porsche insisting that all of his cars be fundamentally the same as something he built half a century before? No, that kind of “Harley Davidson” attitude had no place in this fabled Stuttgart firm.

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Still, as radically different as the Porsches of the seventies were from their forebearers, we now know there were even more radical plans afoot. It’s a shame that these dramatic ideas by talents poached from an American-owned giant never saw the light of day.

 

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Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
2 days ago

I love this and I want one.

Alpine 911
Alpine 911
14 days ago

Fantastic article!

Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
14 days ago

Just came to say that “Wolfgang Mobius” has to be one of the best names ever…

Chris Lewis
Chris Lewis
14 days ago

The overlapping gauges look brilliant – even if my immediate thought was that they’d snap the first time you got above above 3000rpm or about 50mph. But of course you’d arrange for the standoff height of the needle to be proud of the bezel.

But it’s the kind of great idea that only seems obvious once it’s been done – I’m kind of amazed to have never seen that in an actual production dash.

Elhigh
Elhigh
15 days ago

I don’t think the overall concept is bad at all, but I just want to tip my cap to you for those overlapping gauges. That’s straight-up genius.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
15 days ago

Absolutely love those gauges. Fantastic.

AKA Rukh
AKA Rukh
15 days ago

Great job, Bishop!

I wanted to be an automotive designer, before I joined the military. I loved the wedge designs of the 70s and 80s (while my friends were lost in the Testarossa vs. Countach debate, I had posters of Vectors on my wall). My love of Porsches too was cemented when my dad bought a 914, when I was a kid. Later, my military career would afford me the opportunity to own a tuned 928 S, while living in Germany. The shows I took that car to morphed into a love of VWs and Audis too, especially the Rabbit and Mk1 Scirocco (my screen name comes from my Roc).

Your sketch has combined lots of things I love. I love the whole thing, inside and out; and if they had made this, I would consider it a personal grail, today. I’ll take one in Birch Green.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
15 days ago

I don’t know, this design sort of seems very reminiscent of a lot of English card designs. I am seeing the Rover SD1 with the bumpers from the original Jensen Healey and the quarter panels have sort of a Triumph TR 7 look to them. Maybe a bit of Ferrari 365 GTC/4 overall.

BTW, the 1972 Porsche 915 is the transmission that replaced the 901 in the 911 in 1972, so the date is spot on.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
15 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Edit button not working:
Apparently, the internal codename for this
https://www.total911.com/stretched-porsche-911-surprises-at-2016-goodwood-revival/
is also 915

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
15 days ago

Looks to me like Ford totally ripped off this car when designing the Pinto’s C-pillar.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
15 days ago

I will endorse any plan that starts with putting a 911 engine in backwards.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
15 days ago

That EA128 is fantastic. I mean, your imaginary car is also fantastic, but looks at that big slab of patrician germanness. I want one.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
14 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

The 928 looks futuristic even today. The fact it’s so old is staggering.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
15 days ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

Yeah, it’s like what if Tatra and GAZ got together in a joint venture in the mid 1970s, in a good way

AKA Rukh
AKA Rukh
15 days ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

In case you didn’t know about it, the VW Brasil 1600 ‘Zé do Caixão’ reminds me of the EA128. but smaller and a bit rounder. Somehow I will get one to the States, someday.

Elhigh
Elhigh
15 days ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

It looks like a big stolid practical hat.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
14 days ago
Reply to  Elhigh

It looks like a Mercedes-Benz W116 road-testing prototype before all the bumpers, lights and grille were designed/installed.

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
15 days ago

Those Pac Man gauges are fantastic… I haven’t been so tickled by a piece of design in ages. Funkytional and space efficient… somebody needs to make those happen somewhere.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
15 days ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Oh, sure, why not do the nav map with dots your car eats as you travel along?
Are the fruits gas/charging stations?

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
15 days ago

Yes, also the ghosts are police cruisers.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
15 days ago
Reply to  MAX FRESH OFF

LMAO

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