991 Cabriolet vs Targa
For over 30 years the 911 has offered two distinct forms of open-top motoring. With the 991, the differences have narrowed, so which is best?
Many enjoy the experience of open-topped 911 motoring, but which model does it better?
Open versions of the 911 have been around for so long it is hard to imagine that for its first few years the 911 existed only in Coupe form. Although convertible 356s proved popular, especially in America, planning for the 356’s replacement simply didn’t take into account the idea of a rag top: demand for convertible 356s had declined to below 20 per cent by 1960, and against heated debates about the shape of the new Porsche between chief body engineer Erwin Komenda and Butzi Porsche, the convertible was overlooked. In any case, the additional cost of tooling for an open car would have been hard to justify when all resources were committed to the new Coupe.
Pressure from the sales department soon led to experiments with 911s, but the results lacked structural rigidity: the roof sagged in the middle, and reinforcing the body appeared less than straightforward. This route was soon abandoned, but recognising the strong demand for an open-top car, especially for the US market, Porsche’s designers and engineers came up with the removable panel idea and the trademark ‘roll-over’ hoop, which Porsche christened ‘Targa.’ It has been said that the Targa idea was a response to proposed US safety legislation which would purportedly ban convertibles. Indeed, it did seem that with the Targa’s distinctive brushed metal hoop, Porsche appeared to be anticipating federal road safety laws. There may have been an element of this, but the reality is slightly less visionary: Zuffenhausen badly needed an open 911.
The Targa managed this while retaining acceptable structural strength. Despite the reservations of the conservative Porsche management, production went ahead. The Targa top proved a great success, and within a year of its 1966 launch output had increased from seven to seventy cars per week. It became a popular option, amounting on occasion to 40 per cent of 911 sales during the 1970s.
It took the arrival of Peter Schutz in the CEO’S chair at Zuffenhausen to make the convertible 911 a reality. Technically this was entirely feasible, thanks to more sophisticated construction techniques, a solution, in fact, that Porsche could have implemented years before. What was needed was the impetus of the new CEO and his enthusiasm to promote, rather than terminate, the 911.
The Cabriolet soon took over as the more popular version of the open 911, though Porsche kept the Targa in production. However, in 1993, the last year of the 964, a mere 267 Targas were made. It was hardly surprising that when the 993 was announced there was no Targa version, but Porsche had no intention of dropping such a distinct and established model. When the Varioram 993 appeared in 1995, a Targa emerged as well, and it had a brand new design: gone was the notchback look, replaced by a roofline very similar to the Coupe’s, yet having far slimmer
Reprising a design originally intended for the 924, Porsche produced a model with a striking glass roof. This retracted inside the rear window to create an aperture equivalent to removing the old Targa’s roof panel, but all achieved at the touch of a button instead of having to stop the car, lift out the roof panel and then stow it. To offset the effect of the sun through the glass, the new system also incorporated an electrically operated blind. This elegant reincarnation of the Targa was a success, and in two years over 7,000 993 Targas rolled off the Zuffenhausen assembly line.
The advent of the completely rebodied 996 allowed Porsche to incorporate such components as air conditioning and hood mechanisms, which had never been considered when the original 911 was designed. It meant that the hood of the 996 Carrera Cabriolet was able to fold away neatly, instead of sitting obtrusively on top of the rear body. At the same time, a change in the manufacturing process
enabled the Targa mechanism to be inserted through the windscreen aperture and lifted into place.
Because the effect of speed is to create suction above the car, this would pull the Targa panel upward, thereby enhancing the efficiency of its seals when the car was underway. Grafted on to the roof of the 993, the major criticism of the first sliding-glass Targa was wind noise at speed. The 996 Targa was more refined, and, despite an 80kg weight penalty, performance was barely affected. The Targa’s damping was 10 per cent stiffer than the Coupe’s to accommodate the greater mass and integrity, and the leak-proof nature of the structure finally allowed Porsche to introduce a feature Ferry had always wanted on the 911 – an opening rear window. The 997 range continued the Cabrio–targa duo, the only significant change being the Targa, which Porsche deftly moved upmarket by making it available only with the Turbo wide body and four-wheel drive; the Gen2 997 Targa received a full-width rear reflector, further demarcating it from lower specification 911s.
The complete redesign which the 2011 991 represented allowed Porsche to introduce a far greater degree of technical commonality between its two convertible models. Essentially they use the same mechanism: an electro-hydraulic system using four individual cylinders, two operating the roof and two the rear deck. The beauty of this became apparent with the launch of the 991 Targa in 2014 when it reverted to the original Targa-top design, but with an entirely mechanised operation. At a stroke, Porsche had recreated the third 911 body style, now completely distinct from both Coupe and Cabriolet. It also meant well-heeled open 911 fans had a more difficult choice.
Dynamically, there is little to choose between them. PASM and adaptive dampers are now standard across the 991 range, and these completely overcome
“Porsche had recreated the Targa body style, which was now completely distinct from both Coupe and Cabriolet… it also meant well-heeled open 911 fans now had a more difficult choice”
any comprises earlier open 911s might have exhibited in trading handling precision against ride quality. On the latest open models the die-hard Coupe enthusiast might notice a slight shimmy occasionally in the Cabriolet, and a faintly discernable heaviness, but steering response, turn-in and grip achieve the same high standards of the Coupe, while the ride in the PASM’S softer settings is firm yet comfortable.
Because of its 4x4 transmission, wider body and more elaborate roof, the Targa adds a further 70kg to the Cabriolet’s 1,585kg, yet once again Porsche successfully disguises this. Some traditionalists might even prefer the Targa’s handling, its traits to roll more than the Coupe and squat harder on its rear wheels key driving characteristics of a traditional 911.
For most Targa owners, both potential and actual, this information probably falls into the ‘good-to-know’ category, rather than something which is likely to influence their buying decision. On the other hand, ultimate refinement will be of interest: both Cabriolet and Targa 991s are prone to greater wind noise at high speeds – any folding roof, however sophisticated, will inevitably create more wind noise. The Cabriolet is marginally quieter than the Targa, owing much to the standard-specification wind deflector that deploys over the Cabriolet’s rear seats. In terms of practicality of its roof application, the Cabriolet again comes up top, its roof electronically stowed or returned in just 13 seconds – crucially, at speeds of up to 30mph. The Targa, however, takes 19 seconds for its kinetics to remove its roof and, owing to the fact the glass rear screen slides back over the car’s rear clusters, this can only be done when stationary.
Since the 993, the Targa has regularly accounted for 10 per cent of 911s built, despite having shorter production runs (it’s usually introduced a couple of years after the presentation of the latest version of the 911 Coupe). Its 2014 relaunch with the retro Targa look enhanced its exclusivity and reputation as the easier going, more relaxed 911, despite its astonishing performance and handling. Certainly the Targa’s halfway open roof makes it a more versatile grand tourer than the open-or-closed ragtop.
Interestingly, Porsche chooses to price both Targa and Carrera Cabriolet with comparable four-wheel drive at the same level (£91,718 in the UK). One of the few minor criticisms made of Porsche’s open 911 duo concerns not the cars, but Porsche’s marketing: given the acknowledged exclusivity of the Targa, it should be differentiated from the Cabriolet by not just its profile, but by a dedicated interior. For most, what surely matters is how they go, and as it is, nothing differentiates the essential dynamic zest of both models. For the fortunate punter however, choosing between 991 Cabriolet or 991 Targa boils down to whether you prefer classic convertible or stylish exclusiveness. A nice dilemma, some might say.
left Only minor, Gen2-led updates separate these Targa and Cabriolet interiors. Targa offers better all-round vision than Cabriolet with roof up
left Kinetics behind the Targa’s roof mechanism is impressive to watch, which is just as well – the roof can only be stowed/returned when the 911 is stationary