A Brief History of the Porsche 911 Targa: Remember When Convertibles Seemed Doomed?
A legendary Porsche variant since 1967 just keeps getting better.
Think of driving a roofless Porsche 911 and the traditional Cabriolet convertible version may not be the first model that comes to mind. The Porsche 911 Targa is why, with the well-known body-style eschewing the full convertible top for a single removable panel between the windshield header and the b-pillar. Convertibles had represented a large and important part of Porsche's prior 356 model sales, giving us the iconic Speedster and more practical cabriolet. However, by the time the 911 was in production, the days of the typical full-convertible seemed as if they might be numbered. Here's some brief Porsche 911 Targa history to explain:
Porsche 911 Targa History: The Convertible in Peril
In the late 1960s, a rumor blew across the Atlantic from the U.S.-even then one of Porsche's largest markets—and it said the convertible was headed for an uncertain future. Proposed future safety regulations being considered by the Department of Transportation suggested convertibles were simply too dangerous to continue building for American roads. Without racing-style rollover equipment, a rolling crash in a convertible often had fatal consequences, especially in a time when many drivers on the road still failed to even wear safety belts.
Though the proposed legislation never came into existence, it posed a serious enough threat that Chevrolet added a "T-top" model with twin roof panels split with a central hard bar to its C2 Corvette lineup in 1968, hedging against the possibility that convertible models could no longer be sold.
But Porsche arrived with its Targa roof a full year ahead of Chevy, for the 1967 model year. Porsche felt roofless cars were essential to American sales and began development in 1964, the year the first 911 coupe was launched. The design was straight from Porsche's motorsports program; a roll bar several inches wide would stretch across the rear of the cabin, providing not just rollover protection but also structural stability for the car's new roofless configuration. Forward of the bar, above the driver's head, was a folding panel framed in metal with a vinyl skin that could be removed, then stashed away inside the trunk.
Behind the bar was a flexible plastic window that could also be removed, leaving behind a traditional-looking convertible with a somewhat chunky, aluminum-wrapped roll-bar. Design. Porsche presented the idea in concept form at the 1965 Frankfurt auto show, the name "Targa" hailing from the Italian open-road race, the Targa Florio. The motorsports naming convention would surely help sales, Porsche figured, and anyway, Targa meant "plate" or "shield" in Italian.
Porsche 911 Targa History: The Targa Enters Production
The first fully finished Targa prototype was ready in 1966 based on the 911 S of that year. It was presented to boss-man Ferry Porsche, son of company founder, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, for evaluation as his daily driver. After getting Ferry's approval, the company added the 911 Targa to the lineup for 1967 (we drove one of these early cars several years ago). A 1968 sales brochure claimed, "Some day, all convertibles will have a roll bar," and "roll-bar convertible safe as a coupe."
But the Targa's development didn't end there. By the end of 1967, Porsche had heard several complaints about the flexible plastic rear window: The piece was difficult to fasten, difficult to see out of, and led to too much cabin noise. Porsche began optionally offering a solid glass rear windscreen with defroster, and by 1969 the "soft window" Targa was discontinued.
The Targa design carried on through the 1970s as Porsche added large, U.S.-mandated 5-mph impact bumpers on the G-series 911. The Targa top also featured on the 1970-76 Porsche 914 as the only body style available, and it continued into the 1980s even as Porsche introduced a production 911 Cabriolet model for the first time in 1983 on the 911 SC. Finally, at the end of the 1994 model year, Porsche's traditional Targa top ended with the 964 series 911.
Porsche 911 Targa History: The Targa of the Future
Still, the Targa wasn't dead. Porsche reintroduced the Targa in 1996 for the last air-cooled 911, the 993 series. Instead of a removable roof panel, this new Targa had a large panoramic glass roof that used an electric motor to open rearward, like a giant sunroof. This, Porsche claimed, maintained structural rigidity better than the traditional Targa panel, while also allowing the roof to be opened and shut from inside the car at the push of a button. No more getting out of the car to complete the change from coupe to convertible, in other words. This style, while a novel idea, led to waning sales for the Targa model, though it still continued for the 996 and 997 generation 911s as well.
Finally, Porsche developed a happy medium for the 991 series 911 in 2014. The new Targa would have a removable panel as the earlier Targas did, but it would operate electronically, retracting underneath the rear window. It's a complex operation, far heavier than the original Targa panels, but market research showed that those spending more than $100,000 for a 911 Targa were happy to take on these compromises in exchange for push-button convenience. This same style Targa roof continues in the 992 series 2021 Porsche 911 Targa.
Porsche 911 Targa History: But Wait, There's More …
We should note that though Porsche is often credited as the first with the Targa design (and was, in fact, the one to trademark the "Targa" name), designer Giovanni Michelotti used a similar roof style for a 1957 Fiat 1100-based concept car while working at design house Vignale. Later, Michelotti would revisit this concept when designing an optional hardtop for the Triumph TR4 he also penned in the early 1960s. This hardtop consisted of a rear structure with a wraparound glass window, integral roll bar, and a central aluminum (later steel) removable roof section. The hard panel was difficult to stash in the small sports car, so a rollable vinyl "Surrey top" was designed as well.
In addition to these Michelotti designs, the 1965 Toyota Sports 800 also featured a single removable panel-style aluminum roof. Porsche stylists and engineers likely had at least seen these prior roof styles before embarking on their own removable Targa roof design.
Porsche 911 Targa Timeline:
- 1964: Porsche begins development on the first 911 Targa model before displaying its new model in concept form at the 1965 Geneva auto show
- 1967: The Porsche 911 Targa enters production after Ferry Porsche signs-off on his personal 1966 prototype 911 S Targa
- 1969: The early Targa's soft-plastic rear window is replaced with a conventional glass unit with defroster
- 1994: The last traditional 911 Targa model with a manual, lift-out roof panel is sold as a 964 series model
- 1996: Porsche re-invents the Targa as a large, sliding sunroof panel that encompasses most of the roof area for the 993 series model
- 2014: The Targa returns to its conventional appearance with the 991 series 911, but adds electric-mechanical operation for convenience
- 2020: Porsche debuts the new 2021 911 Targa, with a similar roof to the previous generation, plus all of the new features and specs found in the standard 992-series 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S lineup