The mid-week long read: raising the bar

1w ago


The importance of the early 911 Targa cannot be understated. The early Sixties was an era of tricky transition between traditional open-top motoring and the increasing demand for road safety. The unprecedented design that Porsche devised to bridge this chasm rescued it from financial uncertainty and gave rise to a whole new genre of sports car. The Targa was the best of both worlds; quite literally a car for all seasons.

Growing concern about public safety had put the traditional convertible in the cross hairs in the US at this time and rumours were swirling that new safety legislation was being considered that threatened to ban the sale of soft-tops altogether. These developments made for grim reading in Zuffenhausen: the majority of Porsche’s 356 exports were soft tops, the lion’s share of those heading to the US.

As is so often the case at Porsche, motorsport provided the inspiration. It had long been standard practice to fit a rollover bar to its open racing cars, but incorporating this into an as-yet-unresolved 911 Cabriolet was far from simple. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, responsible for the original 911 coupe, found few positives in various convertible concepts being trialled and considered a bulky tubular construction out of the question. In the end, the solution was typically simple and elegant: a stainless-steel beam, wide in profile but thin in section, effectively emulating a small section of a fixed roof. The basic idea for what was referred to as the “safe convertible”.

Initial trials in the summer of 1964 began promisingly. A 20cm-wide rollover bar with removable roof section and collapsible rear window retained the coupé silhouette while vastly increasing the torsional rigidity of the body over a more traditional cabriolet. In production terms, the new design also reduced the changes needed to existing body panels – music to the ears of Zuffenhausen’s overstretched accounts department.

The curtain was raised on the first official ‘Targa’ at the IAA motor show in Frankfurt in September 1965, named after the gruelling Targa Florio endurance race in Sicily that Porsche had just won with the 906. But such a radical redesign in a relative short timeframe meant that the Targa was not fully resolved. It would take well over a year before Porsche was truly happy.

The emerald-green car you see here is the first 911 S Targa ever built, a pre-production prototype registered to one Ferry Porsche on August 2, 1966. It featured a variety of details that were not carried over, such as the plastic strips fastened to the B-pillar with three screws, decorative panels on the upper edges of the doors by the quarter windows and black-rimmed circular dials which were not included in the A-series until 1968. Even the roof construction is not entirely the same as the later solution. The car also featured special velour carpets, slightly more comfortable seats with basket-weave covers, and a limited-slip differential for the rear axle. Hat tip to the main man for that one.

Delivery of early series cars began in early 1967 and even then they were not without compromise. Customers were forced to grin and bear horrendous wind noise, enough to drown out the boxer engine at high speeds. The fiddly folding rear window also found few fans, especially as the plastic had the annoying habits of leaking in the rain and shrinking in the cold. Porsche even recommended keeping the rear cover closed below 15 degrees Celsius lest it become impossible to shut it again.

Help was at hand, however. After only a few months, a panoramic windscreen with heated glass was also made available as an option. It reduced the noise level slightly, improved the all-round visibility, and reduced the risk of theft. It quickly resulted in such high demand that by mid-1969 the soft window was dropped from the series range, only remaining available on request for a short period.

At around the same time, Ferry Porsche and his 911 S Targa went their separate ways. An American aerospace engineer acquired the car and kept it for the next 45 years. It was only in December 2014 that he sold it to Porsche collector Michael Heinemann, who brought it back to Germany and has loaned it to the Porsche Museum. Ferry Porsche would be delighted to learn that the first ever Targa, his Targa, is back at base, still going strong – and with over 300,000km on the clock.

Photos by Markus Bolsinger for Porsche Klassik.