It’s a wild and interesting answer to a question that nobody asked: what if Porsche kept building the 928? Artist/designer Daniel Arsham’s Nebula 928 imagines what the car would look like if production hadn’t stopped in 1995 and the model received an update at the dawn of the new millennium.
As the latest of a half-dozen collaborations between Arsham and Porsche, the Nebula takes an eighties icon and showers it with “Y2K aesthetics,” that is to say, design cues from a period broadly defined as the years between 1997 and 2004. Unveiled at the Porsche X exhibition at SXSW in Austin, Texas this year, this one-off concept is a fascinating re-contextualization of an old car with later-era cues that also puts the spotlight on one of Porsche’s lesser-loved models.
The 928 was Porsche’s luxury touring car from 1978 to 1995, and its radical (for Porsche) placement of a water-cooled V-8 engine in front of the driver ushered in the company’s “transaxle era” that also included the four-cylinder 924, 944, and 968. The 928 gradually got faster and better-developed through the 1980s and early 1990s, but it also got more expensive, thanks in part to unfavorable exchange rates. As a result of the latter, sales in the U.S. (Porsche’s biggest market) dwindled. The model was discontinued after 1995. It only would have taken a few more years and another refresh, then, for the 928 to have made it into the Y2K era.
Unlike the 911, which has been a canvas for tuners, customizers, and artists like Arsham for decades, the 928 has remained in the shadows. It’s a car Wall Street guys drove in the ‘80s, and Tom Cruise drove one in Risky Business, but the 928 is not remembered for a whole lot else. “It’s not as popular in the Porsche universe. It’s like a stepchild almost,” said Arsham when sharing why he chose it instead of other, more cherished Porsche models like those used for his other projects.
Despite that, the 928 shares a trait with its fellow models that lends itself well to this sort of reimagining. “Porsches in general have always been around and they have always evolved slowly over time, so they’re kind of like this time machine,” he explains.
The Nebula started life as a standard example from 1978, the first model year for Porsche’s front-engined, water-cooled wonder. After he bought the 928, it sat in Arsham’s garage for a couple of years—he was unsure what exactly to do with it. Then, the idea of an early 2000s 928 came up.
In the year-long process it took to create the Nebula, Arsham worked with digital automotive artist Khyzyl Saleem on the exterior, completely redid the interior, and had the 4.5-liter V-8 completely rebuilt. Everything in the car reportedly functions and it is fully drivable, although Arsham admits that not all the panel gaps are up to factory standards.
If you don’t exactly know what “Y2K aesthetics” are, you’re not alone. This isn’t exactly a mainstream movement in the car world, but a few quick looks of the Nebula’s details will bring you right back to the days of Apple eMate laptops, metallic-look clothing, hints at futurism and tech optimism in the dot-com age, and Britney Spears.
A central theme on the Nebula both inside and out is “meta-balls,” circles or blobs splitting from each other like cells. The front fog lights and turn signals as well as the lower intakes follow the theme, with a dot-gradient pattern on the fog lights and Arsham’s studio logo outlined in the marker lights. The brake lights and rear signals follow a similar pattern and between them “Nebula” is spelled out in lights with a futuristic font. Just above that is the rear wing, which is reminiscent of another 2000s Porsche – the 996 GT3. The artist 3D scanned an actual GT3 wing and then had it resized to better fit the 928’s proportions. A pair of compact rally car mirrors slim up the shape a bit, while the wheels ape the ones from Porsche’s 1989 Panamericana concept car (although they also remind me a bit of wheels from the first-gen Prius). The oh-so-2000s metallic paint looks like a mix between the well-known Porsche factory shades of Cassis Red and Frozen Berry.
The car only gets wilder inside with purple everywhere, from the custom-woven fabric inserts to the Ultrasuede dashboard and the door cards. Aluminum also features prominently, with a blobby two-eared shift knob and an even blobbier asymmetrical steering wheel milled from a single block of the metal. The stereo, meanwhile, looks the part of a new millennium motorcar but is period correct to the car’s original build date in the late seventies.
The whole car looks like a digital concept rendering in photos but it is indeed the real deal, so it was cool to look it over in the flesh at its Austin debut. Is it over the top? Sure. A little gaudy? Maybe. Would it hurt to work that gigantic aluminum steering wheel on a hot day? You bet. But it also points toward a new trend we may start seeing in the car world. Nostalgia is just about the most powerful force in our hobby, and you don’t need a calculator to realize that the year 2000 was nearly 25 years ago. We haven’t seen many Y2K-themed projects (yet) in a hobby that’s currently in love with the eighties and nineties, but give it time. You may see more meta-balls and metallic mauve in the not-so-distant future.