At the end of Leg 3, our first day of sheep instead of lamb, I compared results for the special stage in Gander, a 3.9-mile slalom through residential neighborhoods where the fire hydrants had been removed, and it was a mild surprise and a source of pride that we were eighth fastest overall. (This is the stage in which the Saxby-Rees 911 all-wheel-drive twin-turbo--till now the most formidable car in the rally--left a very expensive puddle of oil in the street.) Faster cars were the '67 Ford Mustang fastback converted by its Australian owner, Len Cattlin, to right-hand drive, equipped with a 5.0-liter V-8 and a six-speed sequential transmission, and running on racing tires; Jerry Churchill's grotesque '97 Dodge Viper GTS; the BMW M Coupe rebuilt in San Raphael, California, off a salvage title; the Baldhead Racing Porsche 944 Turbo from Ontario; the Datsun 280Z with a bored and stroked engine running at a compression ratio of 12.0:1 and sucking on three Webers; the impressive Ford Mustang GT of Newfoundlander Daniel Gosse; the Ford Falcon Rally Sprint driven by Canadian rally champion Tom McGeer (who'd put the car on its side during demonstration runs in the provincial capital); and the '72 Porsche 911 Targa of Targa Newfoundland marketing director Scott Giannou. On a 19.7-mile stage during Leg 4, we easily moved up to sixth, 5 seconds behind the Mustang GT and 24 seconds after the leading Mustang fastback.
Beyond questions of dynamics, there was the evocative stylishness of the 911 Targa's sleek roofline and the trick, electrically retracting glass panel. Those who kept urging us to spin the rear tires--calling out, "Burn 'er!"--were more dazzled when we pressed the center console button and quietly withdrew the tempered panel and its cloth shade along internal tracks to a position inside the rear glass. Whenever the car was displayed during our lunches at places such as Beachy Cove Elementary School or the Muddy Shag Lounge and at night in the various hockey cathedrals, I kept explaining to the uninitiated why it was called a 911 Targa, but when I took the story back to the first Targa Florio, run in Sicily in 1906, their eyes crossed, and their thoughts turned to having a traditionally restorative feed of cod tongues.
The final thing to say about our car is that the Targa Newfoundland administered a pounding to every entrant. One particularly brutal seaside stretch caused Peter Buckingham's '65 911 to jump out of gear, forced a Subaru Impreza WRX to the limit of its suspension travel, and rapped the Baldhead 944 Turbo's skid plates. But the 911 Targa--with only 3.9 inches of clearance and with unique damper and spring tuning compared with the Carrera--never suffered these ill effects. More than that, the reinforced roof rails groaned only on the most insufferable patches.
Sometimes when we sat at a starting control, we'd chat with spectators, and they'd ask if we were enjoying the scenery. "It's all going by in a blur," we'd respond. Sometimes we would be able to appreciate subtleties such as trees on a hilltop ("a hat of woods") or a well-kept, colorful house on the level top of a hillock (this clearing being called a "nuddick"). Many special stages ran right along the sea, which I loved, and some others had us dramatically high above it, Big Sur-style. Mostly, though, I looked where I wanted the car to go and reminded myself to breathe.