There are people who fear flying sharks above all other imagined, non-existent things. The only reason that this tops their list is that they don’t know about the 1988 Porsche 967 Panorama Turbo van, a fictitious object that makes airborne Great Whites seem like one of David’s cats.
If you weren’t around in the late eighties, you probably can’t imagine how things like the TV show “Alf” and Moon Boots ever existed. You’d also find it hard to conceive how minivans were a market as hot as crossovers are today. The practicality of the concept was impossible to ignore by families, particularly those that had no interest in cars and just wanted the maximum amount of cargo and people-space in the most space and fuel-efficient package possible.
Unlike sport utilities today, there were essentially no manufacturers offering performance-oriented minivans, unless you count examples with shiny wheels and dealer-added SPORT VAN stripes as valid enthusiast propositions. For example, you were not going to see a minivan on the floor of a Porsche dealership. Seriously, can you imagine what a German engineered, rear-engined flat six minivan would even look like?
Actually, you could imagine it quite easily. Honestly, there was much more precedent for a Porsche van than ever existed for the sedans and sport utility vehicles they make today. Except for the “six cylinder” part of that earlier description, Volkswagen had been building that exact machine for nearly forty years as Dr. Porsche’s own Type 2 “VW Bus”.
The “bus” was in its final days by the late eighties in the form of the T3/ Vanagon, really the only other vehicle on the U.S. market that shared the same drivetrain layout as the vaunted 911 (rear engine, rear-wheel drive).
Launching a Porsche non-sports car actually would have made even more sense in the late eighties than it does today. Porsche was in the midst of a crisis then; sales went from 50,000 units in 1986 to a paltry 14,000 by 1993, a dramatic drop that nearly killed the company. The fact is, Porsche was turning into a boutique carmaker with nothing profitable to offer the masses. The company’s entry-level car during this time was a rehashed 924S which to many seemed like a poor value next to ever-improving Japanese things like a concurrent RX7 (or the later crypto-928 Nissan Z32 300ZX). The Boxster helped turn the tide for Porsche in the nineties, the best-selling Cayenne really cemented their return, but could a minivan have turned it sooner?
Just like the Touareg begat the Cayenne, the Vanagon could have been a good starting point for a Porsche van. Many enthusiasts have done engine swaps on Vanagons by putting in six-cylinder motors from Porsches (or even from other manufacturers, most commonly flatties from Subaru). Oftentimes these owners add Porsche wheels to their builds to take them up a notch. Porsche themselves have made such concoctions, include this white one in the images below that was up for sale a little while back which they’d constructed to chase 959s or other machines back in the day which a standard van would have been hard pressed to keep up with (and supposedly made seven copies of at around $150,000 a piece). However, I wanted to see what it would look like if the VW Group went all-out on making the performance minivan of their dreams, or more like nightmares.
To turn a Vanagon into a 1988 Porsche Panorama, we start by adding the air cooled 3.2 liter six in the back of our Vanagon, hooked up to a five speed manual transmission (Tiptronic might be available after launch). That would be nice, but not scary. For that, Porsche would also offer the ultimate family hauler (and we mean hauler): the Turbo Panorama.
Taken right out of the fabled 930, the flat six in this monster would be bored out slightly and have the KK&K blower (talk about a turbocharger company that needs to change their name NOW) to pump power up the 290HP for some serious people moving energy. Also, I think (beefed up) Syncro all wheel drive might be a must for winter driving or even just balancing power delivery out somewhat to help in the end-swapping-resistance department (I know it will be a deathtrap but I’d rather it not be THAT much of a death trap). The high center of gravity could be offset by the time-honored engineering trick called “making the damn thing wider”. Huge 245/45R16 back tires on signature Fuchs rims and wide rear track will also help to keep the tail from switching places with the nose. Steering, suspension, and brakes will all get the Porsche treatment in an effort to make this thing about as far from a Dodge Caravan (or stock Vanagon) as possible.
Outside, old 928-style light clusters for fog and driving lights sit where the original Vanagon turn signals lived, and covered headlamps mean that the low, squinting, menacing “eyes” will signal other motorists to get the Hell out of your family’s way. Blacked-out side window pillars clean up the greenhouse. I’m also thinking that the sound and feel of a sliding side door is just too much of a juxtaposition for a performance machine, so there will be hinged rear doors (with roll down windows) on either side of the van, like on a first gen Mazda MPV and not unlike on the VW Transporter “Doka” crew cab pickup truck. A smooth, body colored lower body is flared to accept the bigger tires; extra engine cooling intakes feed the beast below (including the intercooler which is mounted vertically next to the cargo area and unfortunately encroaching slightly on the luggage space of Turbo models).
The round headlamp covers move out of the way to allow 911 style headlamp units to protrude, or they could rotate around 180 degrees:
This thing looks serious. This thing WOULD have been serious. In the rear, a Porsche has to have a “Heckblende” with a giant script on it, and our van moves the license plate up into the tailgate. The oil filler and dipstick would be in the door jamb, not behind a flip-down license plate as on the Vanagon where more than one full-service gas station was known to accidentally pump fuel into the crankcase. The overall look in back (and front) ended up surprisingly and unintentionally like the late and unlamented VW 412 wagon. Still, the Type 4 is right there in the VW Group family (and where the late Bus/Vanagon got its motor from anyway):
The Vanagon interior would get spiced up with a new dashboard featuring the iconic five-circle Porsche cluster. There’s a center console for the shifter that would make it impossible to walk into the back of the van from the front seat but this is NOT that kind of van.
The console also features controls for the air conditioning system, a car phone, and the Syncro pictogram display for the all wheel drive system. There’s also a place for a CD player unit to complement the eye-wateringly-expensive Blaupunkt Berlin stereo system (which, based on most old German cars I’ve driven, likely sounded worse than a Kraco head unit with Sparkomatic speakers from K Mart). That Berlin had the later version of the “controls on a stick” design:
Porsche 911 seats are used in the first and second rows, while the third row is upholstered to look similar. Door panels also emulate Porsche sports cars. True gangstas would choose four or six optional Recaro seats and an available Blaupunkt television to live between the seats (but six Recaros would mean that if Beau came along for a ride in a dilapidated thirty-year-old example found on Cars & Bids today, there’d be no room once David, Jason, Mercedes, Matt, Patrick, and Thomas were seated).
Vanagons with air conditioning used a T-shaped overhead console for the vents which we’ll spruce up more with overhead reading lamps and aircraft-style FASTEN SEAT BELT warning lights. Believe me, you sure as shit better buckle up.
Now, the Vanagon was never exactly cheap, so clearly the Porsche Panorama would cost a pretty penny. I’m imagining around a $45,000 entry fee for the base model with a normally aspirated Carrera motor, rear drive only, slightly-less-flared fenders (or no flaring at all), and perforated vinyl seats. I even thought about a bored-out or turbocharged four-cylinder Panorama model to start out the lineup but I’m afraid that would be too much like the slow, very early V6 Cayennes that end up on “worst Porsche” lists.
The Turbo model would sell for nearly twice as much; if that means around a hundred grand in 1988 then that’s about $250K in today’s money — right up there where the top-level Cayennes are sitting. Also, the only possible competitor for this thing in period, the AMG Mercedes ‘Hammer’ V8 wagon, cost even more and wouldn’t have offered nearly as much interior space (and it had merely a joke rear-facing fold-up third row).
You’re a stockbroker with three kids that survived the 1987 crash and are still going strong? What are you gonna buy as a family car? A Chrysler Town and Country or a Toyota ‘Monorail’ van? I think not. Also, considering that the Volkswagen group ultimately sold a Chrysler minivan under their own brand, I think that upgrading a VW to a Porsche hardly counts as a travesty. Ultimately though, the idea of an overpowered Volkswagen bus for the price of a Mercedes is absurd. A tall loaf of bread with a sports car engine seems to be a recipe for disaster, regardless of the amount of German engineering behind it. If I had the means to buy a fancy family transporter at the time, I’d obviously never, ever buy a Porsche Panorama van like the one in the image below.
No, I’d get a Metallic Graphite Black one instead, right? I’m not stupid.
1988 Porsche Panorama Turbo
4 Door, 7 Passenger, Rear-Engined, All Wheel Drive Minivan
Base Price: $89,765
As Shown: $98,458
Options On Photo Car:
upgrade Blaupunkt Berlin IQR88 Stereo
Blaupunkt Compact Disc Player
Hard-wired Escort Radar Detector
Finish-to-Sample Metallic Blue Paint
3480cc air cooled turbocharged flat 6 cylinder 290HP
Getrag 5 speed manual transmission
Independent front and rear suspension- coil springs
Front disc/rear disc brakes
Rack and pinion steering
0-60: 6.3 seconds
Top speed: 137 MPH