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Porsche engineers have to fight to keep the Targa with each 911 generational change
2 Oct 2008
By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in Italy
PORSCHE has admitted that the Targa version of the current-generation 911 almost never made it to production, and that there is always discussion at the highest managerial level as to whether there will be future variations.
This is despite a long history for a model that – at 43 years old – is a mainstay in the 911 range.
Speaking at the launch of the latest version in Italy, 911 chief engineer August Achleitner revealed there was opposition to a Targa during the initial development stages of the 997-series in the early 2000s.
“We had to convince Mr Wiedeking (Porsche’s chief executive officer),” Mr Achleitner told GoAuto.
Porsche historical archives manager Dieter Landenberger added that, with the Targa sitting at around 3000 units globally each year, the volumes are not huge and that the loss of the series would not greatly impact on overall profitability.
He said that the fight “always continues” between Porsche’s engineers and bean counters to keep the Targa alive with each succeeding model.
“The Targa was in doubt. Mr Wiedeking didn’t like the Targa (idea, at first),” Mr Achleitner explained.
However, the consensus started to turn when management first viewed the design renderings for the 997 Targa, Mr Landenberger enthused.
With an improved glass-sliding roof system (as used by the previous, 996-generation Targa released in late 2001) set against the 44mm-wider Carrera 4 all-wheel drive body style, Porsche management came around the project.
This is one reason why the 997 Targa is four-wheel drive-only, as opposed to the narrower-bodied rear-drive and more fulsome all-wheel drive 996 version.
Extensive research carried out by Porsche also revealed that the typical Targa buyer is almost identical to that of a Carrera 4, so combining the two features together seemed a natural fit.
Left: Porsche historical archives manager Dieter Landenberger.
Furthermore, Mr Landenberger said that a hatch-style opening rear window is popular with female buyers, creating a unique selling proposition for the 911 against its Coupe and Cabriolet stablemates.
“It is easy for them to throw in their Prada bags,” he quipped.
Although women account for less than 10 per cent of all 911 sales, Porsche believes that their influence on the purchasing decision is crucial in many instances.
The idea of a 911 ‘hatch’ had been around since the very beginning of the 911 in the early 1960s, but was never executed because the technology to create a sufficiently workable opening rear glass unit was not ready until the 996 Targa debuted in 2001 – some four years after the Coupe version hit the streets.
Instead, the earliest Targas resorted to a zipped window design.
The 997 911 Targa, meanwhile, has employed a variation of the 996 Targa roof system made by Magna Car Top Systems since its release in September 2006.
Since then it has accounted for around 10 per cent of all 911 sales worldwide – a figure that Porsche expects to maintain with the latest 997 Series II.
Porsche first unveiled the Targa at the Frankfurt motor show in September 1965, as the belated replacement for the iconic 356 Cabriolet. Its name means ‘shield’ and strives to associate the 911 with the famous Targa Florio road race in Italy.
At the time, the 911 (and four-cylinder 912) Targa were the first of their type, introducing a new level of safety and security to the notion of an open-topped sports car.
According to Mr Landenberger, Porsche decided to go the Targa route as a direct result of the expected political and consumer backlash against the safety and security of convertibles.
This decision was taken in the aftermath of consumer advocate Ralph Nadar’s best-seller “Unsafe At Any Speed.” The book – which is often cited as the beginning of consumerism and consumer rights – highlighted fatal flaws in the design of many of America’s most popular new vehicles, including convertibles and rear-engine cars like the Chevrolet Corvair and Volkswagen Beetle.
As a result, like most manufacturers, Porsche expected US federal law to eventually outlaw the traditional convertible. The full drop-top 911 eventually arrived in 1982.
When the original production Targa arrived in December 1966 it was thus touted as “the world’s first safety cabriolet”, with Porsche underlining the rollover bar’s head-protecting qualities.
Other Targa attributes included increased structural rigidity and consequently improved dynamic qualities over a regular convertible, the elimination of the ‘air bubble’ effect on the roof at high Autobahn speeds, and much-reduced in-cabin air turbulence – an important plus point in the era of the beehive hairdo.
Sales soared, with Targa sales accounting for as much as 40 per cent of all 911 volume by the early 1970s.
Porsche persisted with the basic rollover hoop design well into the 1990s despite issues with noise insulation, bad sealing and car security, until the 993 Targa debuted in 1995.
This introduced a variation of the two-piece sliding glass roof module unveiled in the boldly styled Panamericana Concept car of 1989, and built by Magna CTS.
The module was later redesigned extensively for its application in the completely new 996 Targa in 2001, and lives on in modified form in today’s 997 Series II version.
More than 100,000 911-based Targa vehicles have been sold to date.
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