Targa Origin

One of Porsche’s most revered nameplates, Targa, has its origins in a fearsome endurance race initiated by Vincenzo Florio (1883- 1959), an Italian entrepreneur and heir to one of Italy’s richest family fortunes in the late nineteenth century. Established in 1906, the challenging event spanned ninety-two miles of unrelenting public highway scything its way through the Madonie mountain range east of Palermo in Sicily. The sinuous snake of asphalt almost immediately gained notoriety due to its dangerous high-speed straights and almost nine hundred punishing corners, but it was the circuit’s breathtaking scenery and superb spectator viewing which ensured the Targa Florio became motorsport nectar to racers the world over. Indeed, fast cars and the picturesque views of Cerda and Collesano proved irresistibleto racing’s glitterati. Ferociously close-to-spectator danger also proved difficult to ignore, and though Porsche’s official involvement as a works team began in 1956, the Austro-Daimler Sascha designed by Ferdinand Porsche won the 1,110cc class in 1922. Similarly, the overall victory for Mercedes in 1924 wouldn’t have been possible without the input of our man, Ferdinand, who served as Daimler Motor Group’s chief designer and based the brutal two-litre Benz on the firm’s 1923 Indianapolis car.

A privately entered 356 Cabriolet provided a taste of things to come when it rolled off the start line in 1953, but our favourite manufacturer didn’t announce its arrival as a works team at the Targa Florio until three years later, when Porsche’s Director of Motorsport, Fritz Huschke von Hanstein, shared driving duties with Italian F1 ace, Umberto Maglioli, in a 1.5-litre 550 RS Spyder. Maglioli ended up driving solo for most of the race (extending to more than 350 miles through repeat laps), an effort which resulted in Porsche’s first TargaFlorio win. It was, in fact, the Stuttgart brand’s first overall victory in endurance racing and marked the beginning of the firm’s story of success in Sicily — a string of wins which have since engrained themselves into Porsche legend, not least because Maglioli’s impressive victory signalled the first time a driver in the less-than two-litre class managed to beat cars powered by engines boasting larger displacement.

Jean Behra and Giorgio Scarlatti’s second place finish from behind the wheel of the 718 RSK in 1958 was followed by a win for Edgar Barth andWolfgang Siedel in the same model a year later. Jo Bonnier and Hans Hermann took a 718 RS 60 to the top spot in 1956, achieving a six-minute lead over Wolfgang von Tripp’s Ferrari Dino 246 S, but it wasn’t just wheelmen from mainland Europe who played a part in Porsche’s magical Targa Florio story. In 1961, for example, F1 stalwart and 1955 Targa Florio winner, Stirling Moss, was signed-up alongside a young Graham Hill in a move many considered to be a sure-fire recipe for success. Moss built an early lead of almost two minutes, but Hill’s unfamiliarity with the course saw the pair drop back down the field. Undeterred, Moss stormed through the pack when he resumed driving duties, taking the lead as he did so, but, regrettably, a blown differential near the finish line put paid to a third Porsche Targa Florio win on the bounce.


Nino Vaccarella and Bonnier’s third place finish in 1962 amounted to a class win for the 718 GTR, but overall winning ways returned for 1963 — despite fierce competition from a triumvirate of Dinos, the 718 GTR of Bonnier and Carlo Abate reigned supreme, winning by 11.9 seconds. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, Porsche was able to celebrate Herbert Linge’s class victory and overall third place in a Fuhrmann-engined 356B 2000 GS Carrera GT Dreikantshaber (Wedge Blade). For 1964, the boys from Zuffen- hausen achieved their fifth Florio flourish with the beautiful 904 Carrera GTS. Porsche had spent much of the previous year dabbling in F1, but the 904’s success at the hands and feet of Brit, Colin Davis, and his Italian co-driver, Antonio Pucci, beat rivals into submission by rising above the efforts of eight other 904s, including the sixth- place eight-cylinder prototype driven by Barth, Maglioli and Bonnier. In 1966, success in Sicily was once again earned by the speed demons from Stuttgart. The new, bubble-cockpitted 906 Carrera 6 was sired from the 904 and designed under the watch of newPorsche research and development chief, Ferdinand Piëch. Unlike the ladder-framed,plastic-bodied 904,the9 06’ sun stressed fibre glass shell hid a tubular spaceframe, more often than not allied to a 220bhp six-cylinder 901/20 engine, but it was the privateer 906 of Swiss Ecurie Filipinette (piloted by Willy Mairesse and Hubert Muller) which screamed across the finish line in first place, taking the win over Porsche’s factory cars. The 910 sports prototype followed the 906, and Paul Hawkins and Rolf Stommelen took Porsche’s seventh Targa Florio win by hammering their 910/8 to the top of a Porsche 1-2-3 podium before the model was replaced by the 907, driven by Vic Elford and Maglioli for 1968’s event. In keeping with what had become recent tradition, the Porsche won. Moreover, Elford’s efforts are seen as particularly significant — he came from behind to win the race after losing eighteen minutes on the first lap due to unexpected tyre failure. Clearly, by this point in time, theStuttgart standard in Sicily was well and truly set. Even so, ‘Quick Vic’ could only manage a second-place finish driving the 908/02 in 1969, but the same model campaigned by Gerhard Mitter and Udo Schutz claimed top honours with a time of 6:07:45s, setting a new course record. Furthermore, there were four Porsche cars in the top ten, including a 908/02 in first, second, third and fourth place.


With its 350bhp, air-cooled, eight-cylinder, three-litre lump, the 908 was the first Porsche sports car to be designed with the maximum engine size permitted for the competition it was being entered into. For 1970, the flyweight 500kg908/03 driven by Jo Siffert and Brian Redman claimed the top spot. Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunnen’s 908/03 was close behind, with the latter’s blistering 33:36s lap time never beaten in the history of the Targa Florio. Gijs van Lennep and Hans Laine had a good go, but the best they could do was settle for a fourth-place finish, while the 908/03 of Le Mans hero, Richard Attwood, and rally sensation, Bjorn Waldegaard, finished fifth. Interestingly, Elford tested a still-in-development 917 short-tail during practice laps, but deemed the car too much of a handful for the Florio’s twisty circuit — he had to be lifted out of the car as a consequence of exhaustion.

Siffert and Redman’s 908/03 was engulfed in fire and rendered a total loss following an accident in the 1971 Targa Florio. The pair’s bad luck was compounded by Rodriguez suffering a crash in Porsche’s second car. Gerard Larrousse and Elford completed the race, although their thirty-ninth-place finish fell far short of Porsche’s expectations. Feeling hard done by, the firm withheld from fielding cars for 1972’s race, though a staggering twenty-seven Porsches were entered by privateers. Among the pack were nineteen 911s and a duoof 914/6s. Even with a string of impressive wins behind it, however, the Porsche works team’s most revered victory at the Targa Florio came in 1973, when the competition was staged as the final round of the World Sportscar Championship. Watching YouTube footageof the Martini-liveried 911 Carrera RSR prototype slithering around Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie’s corners is bewitching. Van Lennep and Muller powered the ducktailed 911 to the lead by the close of the third lap, with the wide-arched silver hard-top crossing the line ahead of Jean-Claude Andruet and Sandro Munari’s Marlboro-painted Lancia Stratos. Thanks to its instantly recognisable spoiler, the 315bhp Nobert Singer-engineered RSR was visually similar tothe 911 Carrera RS production car, but wider wings, heftier track width, 917 suspension and brakes from the same Le Mans racer bolstered the Neunelfer in readiness for its triumphant win. Interestingly, one key difference between parts applied to bodywork for road and those for racing was the RSR’s ‘Mary Stuart’ rubber wing extensions, items which extended the ducktail over the rear wheel arches. Rounded and upright, the nickname referenced the sixteenth-century Scottish queen’s collars.

Although a historic Targa Florio is held today, the 1977 event was the last official staging of the competition. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the Italian government called time on the race: taking place on public roads with practically no safety features (unless you count straw bales at some of the turns as adequate protection for unruly spectators positioning themselves directly in the line of the world’s fastest sports cars travelling at full chat), the event attracted evermore powerful race cars posing constantly increasing risk to life. That said, however tragic, it’s amazing to think only nine people — a figure including ill-fated spectators — died at the TargaFlorio during its71-year history. This pales when compared to the Mille Miglia, where fifty-six people lost their lives over a thirty-year period. Pleasingly, Porsche is the Targa Florio’s most successful manufacturer thanks to eleven overall victories in Sicily. Additionally, the Stuttgart crew achieved nine second-place finishes, twelve in third place and racked up eight fastest laps. Moreover, as mentioned at the startof this article, the Targa Florio is a race which inspired the name of a perennially popular automotive body style.


Sales of the 356 Cabriolet in North America had been vitally important to Porsche’s bottom line, helping toincrease the brand’s visibility in a hugely lucrative overseas territory. Indeed, thanks largely to the efforts of Max Hoffman (the famous post-war importer of European sports cars to the USA and the man instrumental in the development of the 356 Speedster, Mercedes-BenzW198 300 SLandtheV8-equipped BMW507) ,the land of Uncle Sam quickly became Porsche’s biggest sales market. Despite Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche’s preference to stick with a coupe body for his then new 911 design, it was clear the Stuttgart brand needed something suitable to replace the open-topped 356, but there wasan unexpected challenge to deal with: the period’s motoring scribeswere circulating rumours regarding the USNational Highway Traffic Safety Admin- istration’s apparent desire to outlaw sales of traditional drop-tops due to the high probability of occupant death if a convertible flipped. Consequently, needing a model suitable for both European and North American dealer showrooms, Porsche deemed a regular cabriolet out of the question, a decision which gave rise to a different route to realising a fresh-air 911. The Targa concept was born.

The star of Porsche’s exhibition stand at the 1965 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Targa was a 911 equipped with a lift-out roof panel, a fixed rollover safety bar and, in time for production, a collapsible plastic rear window. While it wasn’t a full open-top, this was the most exposed the 911 would be until the introduction of a full cabriolet variant of the model some seventeen years later. As confirmed by Jochen Bader, Workshop Manager at Porsche Clas- sic, the first Targa was built mid-1965 and was kept by Porsche as an experimental test mule until thesummer of 1967. The installed engine, Type 901/01 with serial number 900059, though not original to the car, is one of the first hundred flat-six test units produced (engines in this range were development units not made available to the public) and, though early Targas feature a foldable plastic rear window (as opposed to the fixed glass dome available from 1968 and becoming standard Targa equipment thereafter), Targa number one’s soft rear screen is entirely removable and is attached to a unique base with a wooden bow. We say ‘is’ because chassis 500001 survives to the present day— the car is currently undergo- ingcomprehensive restoration at Cranfield-based classic Porsche sales and restoration specialist, Export 56.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many early coupe components and unique features which didn’t make it to 911 Targa series production can be found on 500001. Non-adjustable strut domes, exposed wooden dash inserts, a simple knee pad, the different front partition wall, the position of the windscreen washer bottle (mounted on the inner right-hand wing) and hub cap centre emblems fixed where the Targa script would later find itself positioned on the rollover hoop all serve to mark this car out from series production Targas. Incidentally, in Italian, Targa translates as shield, which Porsche marketing man, Harald Wagner, deemed perfect to emphasise the protective nature of the roll bar, whilst paying tribute to Porsche’s victories at the Targa Florio. 500001’s solid roof panel and the fully unzippable soft rear window are the more obvious features separating the prototype from production Targas, though chassis- components correct at the point of manufacture — but superseded by the time of 911 Targa production — also make this Targa stand out from those that followed. That said, the keen eyed among you might recognise incorrect features for a Porsche of this age, a result of modification many years after production, when old 911s weren’t considered historically significant. For example, the hound- stooth-trimmed seats would have originally been finished in black leatherette, while the wheels and dash trim are from a later 911.


911 Targa production started in 1966 in readiness for the 1967 model year. A total of 718 Targas were produced in the first twelve months of assembly. Buildnumbers were then increased from seven cars each day (compared to fifty-five 911 coupes) to ten. A sales boom was underway, although issues concerning supply and demand meant British buyers had to wait until February 1973 for the right-hand drive 911 Targa to arrive on UK soil. Porsche pitched its new design as “the world’s first safety cabriolet” — the aforementioned roll bar afforded the host vehicle structural rigidity and extra protection in recognition of what the manufacturer thought US legislators were poised to bring into law, yet the Zuffenhausen design team managed to make the Targa’s defining feature — a practical solution to a concern about driver and passenger security — a thing of beauty by affording it a brushed metal finish. A design element that would go on to become an important part of the 911’s heritage, this stainless ‘hoop’ ensured the first open-to-the-elements 911 was instantly identifiable, even to the most casual of car fans.

The Targa’s rollover bar was updated with a trio of ‘gills’ in 1969, drawing further attention to the model’s most distinctive feature, but despite Porsche’s efforts in styling, there were detractors who thought the 911’s beauty was actually inhibited by the roll bar, as though it spoiled the smooth lines of the model’s flowing bodywork. In truth, a completely new body style was out of the question — interchangeable parts with the coupe reduced machining and tooling costs, leading doors, wings and other exterior panels to be shared between the two body styles. Despite the extra weight delivered by chassisrigidity enhancements, the 911 Targa tipped scales at just fifty kilograms more than its closed-top sibling. The Targa’s removable rear window helped to lighten the load (at the same time as improving aerodynamics), but it didn’t do much for the model’s looks. In fact, when viewed side-on with the rear window removed, the car can be described as having an appearance similar to that of an Erdbeerkörbchen (strawberry basket). Consequently, a fixed, heated and beautifully curved glass rear screen became permanent in 1969 after being offered an option a year earlier. More practical and more elegant than its plastic (and often brittle) predecessor, the domed glass immediately banished the early 911 Targa’s slightly awkward looks. Plus, because the new rear screen was bonded to the roll bar, structuralintegrity of the car as a whole increased. New seals made the Targa better protected from the elements, and when driven at high speed on the autobahn, the new rear glass retained its shape, unlike the earlier plastic screen, which suffered from unsightly ballooning. As time went by, Targas mirrored the trim level of hard-top 911s.

That said, at launch, the 160bhp 911 S Targa’s two-litre flat-six delivered 50bhp less than the coupe equivalent, although both cars enjoyed the same sense of style. The 130bhp 911 L Targa sat further down the pecking order. Later, 1974 saw a radical revamp of the 911 concept, resulting in arrival of the ‘impact bumper’ G-series. The Carrera 2.7 enjoyed mechanical fuel injection and 210bhp, while the 200bhp Carrera 3.0 of 1976, a car currently enjoying its forty-fifth anniversary, gained a continuous injection system. In 1978, the 911 SC Targa was revealed, but even when rumours started circulating regarding the potential discontinuation of Porsche’s flagship model at the start of the new decade, the newly developed Carrera 3.2 (for the 1984 model year) ushered in a Targa variant packing a punchy 231bhp.


The first fully open-topped 911, the SC Cabriolet, debuted in 1982 as a 1983 model. Up until that point in time, Targa-badged 911s had enjoyed success as a highlight of the 911 line-up. The full drop-top’s arrival, however, caused the Targa’s shining light to dim. Not enough for Porsche to stop producing the model (the basic concept lived onuntil 1994 before being rebooted with the 991-generation 911), but certainly enough to have a significant impact on sales figures. It’s worth noting that from 1975, a satin black roll bar could be specified in place of the brushed metal part supplied as standard equipment, but by the time the 964 Targa pitched up in 1990, the darker finish was the only available option. Also, the most aggressive classic Targa is accepted as being the open-top version of the 1987 911 Turbo (930). In production for only a single year and often thought not to exist, only 193 examples are thought to have left Zuffenhausen’s workshop doors. It’s a real ‘Marmite’ model, combining Targa style with the chunky looks of a whale-tailed Turbo. In 1995, Targa took on a new twist. By this time, the 993 was in production, the last generation of 911 to truly be able to trace its roots back to the 901/911 prototype. This last hurrah for air-cooled Porsches brought with it a radical new way of looking at the Targa concept — the 993 Targa made its debut in Frankfurt, thirty years after the original semi-open 911 was presented to the world. The “new Targa for a new generation” featured an electrically operated retracting glass roof panel which slid inside the host vehicle’s rear window at the push of a button. User convenience was the order of the day, but at what cost? There was no longer the need for a standalone roll bar, meaning in profile view, the new Targa was virtually indistinguishable from its coupe stablemate, the only notable difference being the way the rear side window sloped to where it met its neighbouring bodywork. There was no removable roof panel, no iconic metal ‘hoop’. Admittedly, the new panoramic view afforded to occupants when the glass panel was in place was a great idea, but to all intents and purposes, the 993 Targa was a hatchback coupe with a fancy sunroof.

The revised Targa concept continued with the 996 Targa of 2002 and thefour-wheel drive 997 Targa of 2007. Thankfully, Porsche acknowledged the historical significance of the original Targa when a brushed metal roll bar was fitted to the 991 Targa 4 and 4S. Operation of the roof remained electric, but the domed rear window concept returned, with all eyes on the 424bhp GTS in 2015, heralded as the most powerful 911 Targa ever built up until that time, though as demonstrated in this issue of 911 & Porsche World, that output has since been eclipsed by offerings in the 992-generation 911 Targa range. Big bhp and electrical trickery are, of course, all well and good, but if we’re being honest, they’re not wholly true to the original Targa concept. Modern versions may be fast, practical and convenient, but in terms of style and desirability, there’s definitely an argument they can’t hold a candle to the classics.

Porsche was clever enough tomake its first open-air 911 distinctive and classy through a well-executed design. Almost six decades on, we’re pleased to see demand is once again high for this sexy, middle-aged model, especially considering used Targas in excel- lent condition can be bought for a significantly lower purchase price than the equivalent coupe. Oh, and that predicted ban on soft-tops in the USA? It never happened, but that didn’t stop Porsche progressing with what would go on to become a hugely influential and much copied semi-open-top roof design, despite Targa being one of the manufacturer’s registered trademarks. And with launch of the new 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition, plus Export 56 taking care of the very first 911 Targa’s restoration and preservation, it’s safe to say this important Porsche body style’s future looks just as safe and secure as its illustrious past.