The Targa Top, One of Many, Many Porsche innovations

THE HISTORY OF THE PORSCHE TARGA TOP is as rich and diverse as any of the Stuttgart sports-car manufacturer’s technological innovations produced over the course of history of Porsche itself.  Here are some examples:

  • Key ignition on the left side of the steering wheel for faster race starts
  • Synchronized transmission
  • Four-cam engine
  • Le Mans 962 C race car’s double-clutch transmission reincarnated today as the PDK automatic
  • 928’s rear-axle steering
  • Transaxle transmission in the 924
  • Exhaust gas turbocharger in the 911, etc. etc.

The list goes on and on and on.  The Targa design developed by Porsche is yet another such unprecedented innovation.

So what is the history of the Porsche Targa?  And when did that history begin?

September 1965 marked the introduction of the 911 Targa and its top.  The venue?  Where else?  Thee place to make a big splash when introducing one’s latest and greatest innovations to the global automotive market — the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

What is a Targa?

A Targa is both the name of a particular Porsche model variant as well as its respective removable top.  Porsche calls it “the first safety cabriolet in the world with a fixed safety or roll bar.”

Specifically, the first ever Targa on an early-model Porsche 911 consisted of a removable, portable folding roof and a folding plastic window at the rear.  The genius of the Targa concept is that it allowed for the following positions:

  • a fully closed position
  • a fully opened position with the roof removed and stored away, or
  • the rear window folded downward

The major impetus for the genesis of the Targa top was the USA market’s looming severe safety regulations.  Stateside, there were growing anxieties over the safety of car occupants if a car flipped upside down.

Consequently, Porsche took proactive measures by developing the Targa.  The ambition was to avert the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rumored outlawing of all cabriolets on American shores.  So chalk another one up to necessity as the mother of invention.

So what’s with that name, “Targa”?

Porsche had to come up with a name for its roof-system innovation.  The company narrowed its realm of choices to namesakes of tracks and races around the world where Porsche took the checkered flag multiple times and/or won their classes consistently.

The grueling Targa Florio was a shoo-in.  The Targa Florio was an endurance race on open public country roads through the mountains of Sicily, Italy, outside the island’s capital of Palermo.

The Targa Florio track course used most frequently was about 45 miles in length, running from sea level and up to high mountainous elevations.  Despite the unprecedented challenge and difficulty of the course, Porsche managed to win the race 11 times, more than any other car manufacturer in history.

While Porsche mulled over what race to use as a namesake to settle on, credit went to Harald Wagner, Head of Domestic Sales.  Legend has it that Mr. Wagner had an epiphany and blurted out, “Why don’t we just call it ‘Targa.’”  And so it goes.

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Thus finally armed with the name “Targa,” Porsche applied for a patent on the Targa concept in August 1965.  Later Porsche obtained an exclusive trademark for the Targa name.  When the Porsche marketing copywriters put together the Targa’s sales brochure, incidentally, they unearthed the fact that “Targa” literally translates from Italian to “shield” or “number plate” or simply “plate.”  Who knew?

While the Targa top originated with the Porsche 911, there were other models that made use of Targa tops.  There was the Porsche 914 and then the Porsche Carrera GT that featured this innovative Targa roof system too.

Early 911 Targa Introduction — First-Generation 911

The first Porsche 911 Targa debuted in the autumn of 1966, joining the 911, 911S and 912 Coupe models.  The distinctive roof system consisted of a wide, reinforced brushed stainless-steel Targa roll bar known as the Targa band.  This comprised the 911’s B-pillar.  The rear window was a foldable plastic affair.

In late-summer 1967, Porsche subsequently extended the option to customers to order a fixed-in-place and heated rear safety-glass window.  In the following year, this option became standard and remained the same until this roof system was redesigned after 1993.

G-Series 911 Targa — Second-Generation 911

The G-Series Porsche 911 originated emerged surfaced in late-summer 1973.  The G-Series 911 makes up the second generation of the Porsche 911.  New United States Congressional legislation triggered substantive body changes to this second-gen Porsche 911, such as:

  • Boxy bumpers — designed to sustain impacts of speeds up to 5 mph yet avoiding any body damage
  • Bellows on the sides of those bumpers

The Targa continued strong as a model variant in the G-Series generation despite the major modifications precipitated by the aforementioned United States legislative safety edicts.  Moreover, these safety changes had no impact on the Targa roof system.

However, Porsche offered the Targa roll bar or Targa band as black in color, in addition to the original brushed stainless-steel finish.  The Targa roof system and roll bar maintained its status-quo appearance beyond the end of the G-Series production run in 1989.

Type 964 911 Targa — Third-Generation 911

The 964 911 became the third gen of the Porsche 911 Targa.  Revolutionary was the fact that Porsche launched the very first all-wheel-drive 911 in autumn 1988.  This technological advance came to be known as the Porsche 911 Carrera 4, Type 964.

Porsche ensured that the Type 964 would keep the iconic 911’s classic body shape; however, nearly 85 percent of the 964’s parts were completely new in stark contrast.

Next Porsche released the 911 Carrera 2 the following year, a variation on Porsche’s classic rear-wheel-drive 911.  With this new model, the Coupe, Cabriolet and, yes, the Targa all were available for purchase.

The Targa variant came in the form of the 911 Carrera 2 Targa and the 911 Carrera 4 Targa.  Both models remained in production through 1993, continuing the classic Targa roll bar and removable center roof section.

All told to this point in time, Porsche built 87,663 Targa models through these first three generations of the Porsche 911.

Type 993 911 Targa — Fourth-Generation 911

Then there was the Type 993 Porsche 911, the last of the water-cooled flat-sixes.  It was released in autumn 1993.  The fourth-gen 993 sported a brand-new body design, with wider front and rear wings.  The engine and chassis benefited from comprehensive upgrading, too.

The first 993 911 Targa arrived in November 1995.  This new 993 Targa underwent the most radical transformation.  Gone were the familiar classic wide Targa bar and removable Targa top.  In their place were the following components:

  • Roof consisting of segments of tinted, heat-insulating glass, extending from the windshield frame to the rear
  • A longitudinal safety frame containing the glass roofing
  • A push button in the cockpit now automating the glass roofing, thus retracting the glass roof segments behind the rear window and fully exposing the center roof to open sky above
  • Reduced wind noise and buffeting when open
  • Tapered rear window
  • Preservation of the classic coupe roofline

Type 996 911 Targa — Fifth-Generation 911

Since the 993 was the last Porsche 911 air-cooled flat-six, the fully redesigned fifth-gen Type 996 was the very first water-cooled six-cylinder boxer Porsche 911.  The 996 was introduced in 1997.

Then the 996 Targa debuted in December 2001, concurrently with the Coupe and Cabriolet.  The 996 Targa inherited the same electrically automated roof system from the 993 Targa.  The roof’s surface area expanded to more than 16 square feet, a first for any Porsche 911.

Unique to this 996 Targa was a folding rear window.  This enabled easy access to the rear storage compartment.  Luggage storage space amount to about 8 cubic feet.

Type 997 911 Targa — Six-Generation 911

Debuting in September 2006, the sixth-gen Type 997 911 Targa retained the same basic design of the 996 Targa.

But some incremental evolution, as is inherent to any Porsche, did occur.  Porsche designers added a re-designed rear lid for easier compartment access.  Lightweight glass replaced the glass roof of the 996.  This special glass yielded a weight reduction of approximately 4 pounds.

Another new feature was the addition of two high-gloss polished aluminum strips.  These gleaming accents ran parallel to the edges of the roof.

Finally, the 997 911 Targa models came in only two variants:  the all-wheel-drive 911 Targa 4 and the 911 Targa 4S.

Type 991 911 Targa — Seventh-Generation 911

The seventh-generation 991 Porsche 911 arrived on the market in September 2011.  This initial 991-gen release included only the Coupe and Cabriolet variants.

Then, in January of 2014, Porsche released its most innovative roofing system to date in the 991-gen Porsche 911 Targa.  Here’s what Porsche had to say about it:  “The classic Targa idea was successfully combined with state-of-the-art roof convenience for the first time….The new 911 Targa represented a high-end, innovative new edition of the 1965 classic.”

To be honest, that’s not at that all far from the truth.

And truth be told, the newly designed 991-gen Targa roof indeed went back to the future.  It bears a striking resemblance to the classic Targa that was introduced at the 1965 Frankfurt Show:  archetypal B-pillar wide Targa band, roof section overhead, and surrounding rear window sans the usual C-pillar.

Speaking of the future, the 991’s Targa roof is literally robotic, moving up and down by depressing button inside the cockpit.  When taking the roof down, the automated roof section moves in complete harmony with the roof system’s other moving parts, concealing the entire hardtop element behind the rear seats.

Check out this robotic top in action as depicted near the end of the YouTube video above.

Like I said, back to the future.

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But it remains to be seen what the intermediate and distant future holds for any further evolutionary redesign of the Targa roof system.  But I’m sure it will be fun to see. . .


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