Earlier in the week, several readers cited the Panamera’s missing link, which prompted a closer look.
Porsche have made several attempts at a four seater over the years, from stretched versions of the eternal 911, to a long-wheelbase 928 created for Ferry Porsche’s 75th birthday, but perhaps the most serious attempt was this. Porsche were no stranger to crisis; for decades prey to the changing needs, regulations and currency fluctuations of the vital North American market. Having almost gone bust on several occasions since the Seventies, Porsche, under chief engineer, Dr. Ulrich Bez, schemed a larger, more mainstream model to help stabilise the business and protect them from exposure to an increasingly volatile sports car market.
Enter 989, a four-seater, four-door fastback saloon, based heavily on 911 styling cues. This wasn’t some speculative concept, destined for a few motor show stands and then oblivion, 989 was a real project with serious ambitions for production. It was to be powered by Porsche’s own front-mounted V8; potentially a new 80 degree unit. However, its conception coincided with the post-1987 recession; one which almost brought several specialist manufacturers to their knees by the early ’90s. In the wake of this, several key Porsche projects fell by the wayside, the 989 being one of them in 1992.
But did we really miss much? While its styling (on the surface at least) appears a good deal more harmonious than the model that eventually went on sale, the Panamera is a more successful package. Firstly, the 989 wears its 911 influences too overtly, especially as they were cues that would see the light of day in perhaps the least attractive 911 derivative ever – the 996. And as has already been pointed out, with its sharply sloping roofline, 989 would have been a rather confined space for rear seat passengers; to say nothing about luggage. Realistically, the 928 would have been a far superior jumping off point, but by then Porsche had, under styling chief Harm Lagaay jettisoned Anatole Lapine’s styling legacy; opting for a retro theme, based firmly upon their evergreen icon.
It was another decade before we finally saw a four-seater Porsche in production, but the 2003 Cayenne was a horse of an altogether different stripe. It did however soften the motoring world for the 2010 Panamera, which takes us back where we started.