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?

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Kieron Fen­nelly Pho­tog­ra­phy by Matt Dear & rich pearce

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

‘C’ pil­lars.

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

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