Capped with a high-tech top, Porsche's new Targa recaptures the look and spirit of the original.
The automobile roof with removable or retractable panels has taken various forms, gone by different names, and given a dual personality to the cars that it covers. These vehicles are neither convertibles nor coupes but a little bit of both, and they have ranged from the slight and short-lived Smart Roadster of 2003 to the almighty and still current Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport.
The roof was a T-top on the 1968 Corvette and a surrey on the 1961 Triumph TR4. A series of partially alfresco Ferraris and the 1970 Lamborghini Diablo had targa tops, but it was four years earlier, in 1966, that Porsche introduced the term Targa—with a capital T and a trademark—as the name of a 911 variant that featured a removable roof section and a full-width, stainless-steel roll bar. Porsche took the name from the Targa Florio, the Sicilian race that a Porsche had won in 1963, ’64, and ’66.
This design concept resumes with the new Porsche 911 Targa 4 and 4S, the latest variants in the current 911 lineup. Their roof looks like the original Targa’s, but it is windproof and waterproof, keeps the air-conditioning inside the car, and operates automatically.
Raising and retracting the fabric-covered magnesium panel is an idiot-proof one-button operation that takes 19 seconds, just fast enough to beat the arrival of raindrops. Though the roof is easy to operate, its blueprint, with so many struts, flaps, catches, and springs that move up, back, and forward, evokes a Rube Goldberg cartoon.
While most automatic hard tops can be lowered or raised when the car is in motion, the Targa 4’s operates only when the car is at a standstill. This limitation is caused in part by the movements that the roof and rear-window structure perform when doing their dance. The window, under which the roof is stored, tilts so far back to make room for the roof that it covers a portion of the brake lights and can obscure the driver’s rear view, creating a safety issue. Like the original Targa, the new one is basically a partially decapitated 911 with a wide brushed-stainless-steel B-pillar that extends over the top of the car as a roll bar. Of course, the design has evolved. The rear window on the early Targas was made of plastic and was prone to becoming opaque and developing cracks and creases that would distort the driver’s rear view and degrade the car’s appearance. The window and its canvas surrounds also tended to sag, giving a swayback look to the 911’s dorsal line. The Targa was in production for only two years before Porsche developed a wraparound glass rear window that preserved the 911 silhouette.
Initially, the roof panel was composed of vinyl cloth stretched across an aluminum frame. It was held to the car by two latches at the top of the windshield and a pair of pegs that mated with holes in the roll bar. It was not unusual for these early roofs to break from their moorings and float across the freeway.
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