The black-and-white illustration is a magazine advertisement from 1968, and it portrays a Porsche 911 Targa zipping down the street of a big-city business district. The Targa is glamorously open to the elements with its hard plastic roof stowed and the zip-out plastic rear window stashed. A stylish couple occupy the front seats. Beneath, the caption: “Some day, all convertibles will have a roll bar.”
The 2016 Porsche 911 Targa is a stylish, brand-new expression from the Stuttgart carmaker, almost exotic-looking compared with the coupe. Back in late 1966, the very first 911 Targa was also a stylish, brand-new expression. Of course, Porsche sold plenty of 356 Cabriolets in the 1950s, especially in California where the stripped-down Speedster with its chopped windscreen was an instant classic. Yet when Porsche introduced the 911 in 1963, the expense of engineering and producing a convertible version seemed beyond the automaker’s means. In that era of new safety requirements mandated by the U.S. government, the future of the convertible seemed problematic in any case. Instead, people were talking about the T-top, a convertible-style roof
design patented by legendary designer Gordon Buehrig in 1951 and that eventually first appeared on the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
These times birthed the Porsche 911 Targa, which first rolled onto the street in December 1966. Its signature was a sturdy steel hoop where the B-pillars would be in a coupe, and the car looked like a modernistic convertible for the swinging ’60s. The Targa bar both made the roofless bodywork more structurally rigid and seemed to offer passenger protection in a rollover crash (though no formal promises were made). “Targa” came from Porsche’s racing success at the Targa Florio road race in Sicily; it means “shield,” a kind of description of the trophy that gentleman racer Vincenzo Florio gave to the winner of the event he established in 1906, and Porsche executives liked the connotation of safety.
At first the Targa was an unexpected sales hit, but even after Porsche substituted a glass wraparound rear window for the original makeshift plastic one in 1968, sales declined gradually through the 1970s.
The hard-edged rasp of the air-cooled, SOHC, 2.0-liter flat-six mesmerizing, as its twin triple-throat Weber carburetors suck down as much air as they can.
After Porsche revived generally moribund 911 sales with the 1983 911SC Cabriolet, the Targa continued as a kind of small-volume specialty model through the 1980s with the 911 Carrera 3.2 and then into the 1990s with the 964-series of the 911.
Things changed in 1994, as the Targa version of the new 993-series 911 became a serious luxury model thanks to a unique, sliding glass panoramic roof. Yet this innovative design didn’t move the sales needle even as it continued into the 996- and 997-series. It was expensive and didn’t work too well, either. The Targa nameplate was broken.
Thankfully, Porsche finally fixed it. Just look at the 2016 Carrera 4S Targa if you have any doubts. Its roll hoop is finished in stainless steel just like the classic Targa’s, and it looks more distinctive and better than ever before. This all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S (every Targa now comes with all-wheel drive) also continues to express luxury, and the S-model has a water-cooled, 3.8-liter flat-six engine that makes 400 hp.
It’s gotten a little easier to “remove” the Targa’s roof in the last five decades. Hit a button on the center console and what seems like half of the car’s rear bodywork swings up and away on
spindly arms while the roof lifts off its perch. It moves rearward and down, as the bodywork slips back into position to conceal the roof within the car’s depths. Believe us (and plenty of befuddled onlookers), it’s quite a spectacle.
The 2016 Porsche 911 Targa is a delight to drive. Docile around town in Santa Barbara, California, the car comes alive with a push of the Sport button as we climb into the mountains above the city. Throttle response sharpens, flaps in the exhaust open to let the engine bark, and suddenly we’re having a little twisty-road time, with the sun beaming into the roofless cabin. The Targa S-model’s engine just howls, filling the cabin with an ever-intensifying crescendo of flat-six noise until the car reaches its 7,800 rpm redline. This particular Targa is equipped with a seven-speed manual gearbox, and rev-matched downshifts come easily enough thanks to properly spaced pedals, though if you’d prefer to let the computer sort it all out for you, Sport Plus mode gives you automated rev-matching.
The 1967 911S Targa accompanying us comes from the Bruce McCaw collection, one of just 718 such cars built that year. It’s shockingly small, about the size of a first-generation Mazda Miata. Once we’re in the driver’s seat, the hard-edged rasp of the air-cooled, SOHC, 2.0-liter flat-six mesmerizes us, as its twin triple-throat Weber carburetors suck down as much air as they can. Even in the top spec 911S version of the Targa, there’s just 180 hp (SAE gross) but fortunately there are only about 2,400 pounds to move, and the five-speed manual transmission on the S-model helps to amplify the engagement factor.
The ride is uncommonly good for a nearly 50-year-old sports car thanks to the progressive action of the torsion-bar springs, and there’s not much body roll to note. The roll hoop helps create
decent structural stiffness, so there’s significantly less cowl shake than in other open-top cars from this era. The shift action of the dogleg five-speed through the long, skinny lever is light but also vague by modern standards. Then there’s the signature steering feel that marks this car as a classic 911. The extreme alignment that’s meant to help this short-wheelbase, rear-engine car track straight and true means that the helm is always alive, writhing in your hands.
As we look back through the Targa’s history, it has been the 911 that enthusiasts have loved to hate since the 1970s. It’s the luxury model, the poseur version. Yet after a day spent on Southern California’s coast in the sunshine (and even during a rare cloudburst), the comparison of these two cars reminds us why the Targa body style is so special to us. Conceived as a half-measure, partway between a convertible and a coupe, this concept has become an asset, not a liability. This is the convertible for coupe lovers. While the 911’s mechanical madness ensues around you, the cabin floods with midday sunshine, yet it’s also calm and draft-free. That’s the Targa magic.
1967 Porsche 911S Targa Specifications
- Price When New: $6,990
- Value today: $147,660 (avg)
- Engine: 2.0L SOHC 12-valve flat-6/180 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 144 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm (SAE gross)
- Transmission: 5-speed manual
- Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, RWD convertible
- L x W x H: 163.9 x 63.4 x 53.0 in
- Wheelbase: 87.0 in
- Weight: 2,381 lb
- 7.4 sec (est)
- Top Speed: 140 mph (est)
2016 Porsche 911 Targa 4S Specifications
- Price: $118,525/$145,220 (base/as tested)
- Engine: 3.8L DOHC 24-valve flat-6/400 hp @ 7,400 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 5,600 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed manual
- Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, AWD convertible
- L x W x H: 176.8 x 72.9 x 50.8 in
- Wheelbase: 96.5 in
- Weight: 3,428 lb
- 4.6 sec
- Top Speed: 183 mph