I first came across the Porsche 911 Targa in 1971 when I was 15 and my mother bought me the metallic blue Corgi Toys 911S Targa that had just hit the shops in January of that year. I still have this model today.
The only other Porsche model I owned back then was a yellow and red Solido Carrera 6 my father had given me about three years before that. A car-mad teenager, I had no inkling at the time that I would test drive my first 911 barely eight years later, and become hooked on the marque for life.
Because of that Corgi model, I, and probably thousands of others, assumed that the glass rear window and removable roof panel were exactly how the full-sized Targa had always been. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise when, many years later, I saw an early Targa in Germany with a plastic zip-up rear window.
While it's not usual to see early glass rear window 911 Targas today, the very early soft window Targas are not exactly thick on the ground. Like many of the early 911s that lived in the damp northern European climate, they simply rotted out and died.
With restoration costs far exceeding their retail value when they became 20 years old, these more mainstream cars were simply forgotten. In the late '80s classic car boom, all the smart money poured into more "desirable" limited edition models like the 1973 Carrera RS.
I'm once again at Ruf's Pfaffenhausen headquarters. This time, however, I have not come to drive one of his amazing new Porsche-based creations. On a previous visit several years ago, Alois Ruf showed me his classic restoration department across the road from the main showroom and workshop. At the time, this building was shared with the development department and the Maserati service department, so space was at a premium.
Since then, however, things have changed. The Maserati cooperation fell by the wayside and Ruf was able to devote more space and effort towards the restoration of classic Porsche models. Now, more and more existing owners of Ruf cars, well as classic Porsche buffs who value the wealth of expertise of Ruf's engineers and craftsmen, are bringing their older Porsches, as well as rusty or non-running but potentially valuable cars, to Ruf for restoration.
The one I've come to drive today actually falls outside those parameters, as it was once the property of a Ruf employee. Today it's a key model in Alois Ruf's personal collection.
Targa production began in January 1967 and this car was the 67th built. It rolled off the Zuffenhausen production line in May 1967, painted the same Irish Green as the original 1965 Frankfurt Motor Show car.
Porsche made three Targa models in 1967, the four-cylinder 912, the 130-hp 911 base model, and the 160-hp 911S. This green car is the middle model.
"This Targa originally belonged to Jurgen Rinow, a former employee who is now retired," Ruf recounts. "Jurgen already owned the car when we first met in 1974, and shortly afterward he came to work for me."
Early 911s had no rustproofing to speak of, and the green Targa slowly deteriorated over the years. By the late 1980s, Rinow had to make a decision on what to do with the car as it was no longer road worthy.
Since early Targas in good condition were very rare, it was logical that the green car should be restored to as-new condition in the Ruf works. By then, Rinow was close to retiring and no longer needed a sports car.
So when the classic restoration department had finished the work, Ruf bought the car from him. Because Rinow had owned it for so long and even came to work in it most days, the car is known within the company as the Rinow Targa.
Looking at it today, I cannot help but think how small it is. Next to the 997-based Ruf Greenster, which takes it styling cues and paint color from this Targa, it looks like a three-quarter scale model, particularly in width. If you have ever seen a classic and new MINI together, the relative size relationship of these two generations of 911 is similar.
Looking more closely, I admire the fine finish that Ruf's craftsmen have achieved on the bodywork, paint, and interior. The new coat of Irish green is smooth and consistent, with no pinholes or filler sanding lines in sight. The chrome work is also up to scratch. It is not perfect, as on a new car, but looks to be in A2 condition, with the patina of age.
The cabin is similar. There are no imperfections on the seats, which were re-upholstered in original factory material, and the dashboard and all the interior fittings are present and correct. However, the car feels used rather than new, and that to my mind, is an advantage. With 95,865km on the clock, it would indeed be strange if this 42-year-old Targa looked and felt totally zero-timed.
Step in and you quickly realize that the relatively broad and flat seats would come as a culture shock for people used to modern figure-huggers. That said, I recently sat in a 1970s Audi 100 Coupe S, BMW 2002, and Mercedes Fintail, and realized that all the German car makers had broadly (no pun intended) similar ideas for the shape of their seats during this period.
The 130-hp carburetor motor requires the choke and a bit of technique to start from cold. Prod the throttle a couple of times, turn the ignition key-and once it catches, you need to do a tap dance on the gas to encourage it to stay awake.
Once it's running, it still needs weaning off the choke over a couple of miles before it's entirely happy to run smoothly without aid. You can smell the rich mixture in the exhaust, underlining the fact that modern Super Unleaded smells foul compared to four star.
The 130 hp isn't a lot by today's standards, but this early 911 only weighs around 2,000 pounds. Its steering is light and full of feel thanks to low weight and narrow tires. The words "agile" and "lively" spring to mind. Once warmed through, the 2.0-liter engine is sharp and responsive and makes a lovely noise. The gurgle of induction over the flat-six wail is something special. It creates an overlay of fine mechanical sound missing from today's cars, which are stifled by drive-by noise regulations.
Although it sounds a lot more mechanical than today's 997, the early 911 is not noisy per se. The mechanical symphony fills its compact cabin, particularly when the roof panel is off and the windows are down, but then that's what you want. No one seeking isolation from the driving experience buys an open car.
In today's terms, 130 hp makes this car brisk rather than fast, and the long throws of its gearshift lever and the relatively large steering wheel are in tune with its performance capabilities.
The driving experience is not so much about sheer velocity as enjoyment, and it gives off so much sensation through your fingertips, seat of the pants, and the soundtrack that you feel you are alive too. It is the perfect summer Sunday morning companion and you can't help but smile as you lope along in the sunshine.
Typical of early 911s, the long travel suspension and tall-profile rubber deliver a cosseting ride that will come as a stark surprise to owners of more recent Porsches.
Today's 997 Targa becomes an open car in seconds at the touch of a button, and it has been that way ever since the sliding glass roof was introduced with the 993 Targa.
While the latest Targa is two cars in one, coupe and convertible, and the 911SC Targa made you get out to remove or replace its roof panel, which laterally folded up for stowage in the front compartment, the original soft rear window Targa laid claim to being four cars in one. The Targa roof could be used that many different ways: fully closed, top section out, rear section open, or top and rear both open together. Porsche even gave these options names-Targa Hardtop, Targa Bel Air, Targa Voyage, and Targa Spyder, respectively.
With the rear section closed there is remarkably little wind in the cockpit, even at high speed, a definite plus for ladies with expensive hairdos. But while the Targa was undoubtedly popular with its owners, its detachable roof was not without its problems.
Body flex meant that the roof panel leaked, while the plastic rear window was hard to open and close. In fact, Porsche advised owners not to try this in temperatures below 15°C because apart from the fact that the zip system is fiddly at the best of times, it is especially so in cold weather.
Even in summer it takes time to offer the window up to the top fasteners, locate the zip in its rail, and seal everything up properly. Just as with an old-style convertible with a fiddly canvas roof, you'll definitely get wet if caught by a sudden deluge.
In an attempt to solve the issue of the fiddly soft rear window, Porsche began to offer a glass rear window in 1968. While this didn't allow the same degree of "openness" as the soft rear window, it offered durability and security. It also looked better. The folding rear window remained an option, but was quietly dropped in time.
You know how once you notice a particular car, you suddenly start to see more of them? Soon after I drove the green Ruf Targa, I caught a re-run of Gerry Anderson's UFO sci-fi series on TV.
Episode 10 was originally aired in March 1973, and featured a car chase with an orange 911. I saw this for the second time a couple of years ago, and noted the 911, but it was only after I had driven the green car, and the same episode was aired yet again that I noticed it was a soft-rear window Targa. Just like buses, you don't see these cars for a while-then they all arrive together
Longitudinal rear engine, rear-wheel drive
2.0-liter flat six, ohc, 12-valve
MacPherson design struts with torsion bars
Four wheel disc assemblies
Peak Power: 130 hp @ 6100 rpm
Peak Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
The Targa Is Born
The idea of a sports car with a rollover hoop came about after American safety activist Ralph Nader went after "unsafe" cars like the VW Beetle, Chevy Corvair, and then the English sports cars that were popular in the U.S. in the '60s. His campaigning effectively created a vacuum for open sports cars for some years until Porsche came up with the rollover hoop for the Targa. This innovative solution quickly spawned copycats like the Triumph Stag, Ferrari Dino 246GTS, and Fiat X1/9.
Porsche's clever solution was to fit a boxed-steel hoop over the car. Running from shoulder to shoulder, this bar replaced some of the structural rigidity lost by removing the roof. Apart from protecting occupants in the event of a rollover, the Targa's hoop also satisfied U.S. motorsport regulations, allowing the car to be used on track where a cabriolet could not.That just left the question of weatherproofing. A conventional solution would have been to fit a folding canvas roof over the hoop. Instead, with consistent lateral thinking, Porsche made the hoop part of the roof itself, with the opening sections ahead of and behind it.
The original Frankfurt show car suggested that the Targa would go on sale with two roofs. The first would be a fully weatherproof single-piece plastic panel that would have to be stored at home when not in use, while the second was a lightweight fabric cover to keep in the boot for use in emergencies. However, tests quickly showed that the latter ballooned up at speed.
By the time production started, Porsche had discarded those ideas and developing a semi-rigid roof panel that could be folded away and stored in the luggage compartment. This killed both birds with one stone. The early Targa featured a fabric roof section with a plastic window behind the hoop. Not dissimilar to the one found on a full Cabriolet, this could be unzipped and folded down for the full open-air experience.
Form follows function, and something as prominent as the rollover hoop was impossible to play down visually. Despite his initial reservations, Butzi Porsche was pleased with the outcome of the new design, and so decided to make a positive feature of the hoop by finishing it in brushed stainless steel.
The all-new body style needed an all-new name, and here Porsche couldn't have done better. "Targa" was chosen after the Targa Florio road race in which the company successfully competed. And as Targa is also the Italian word for shield, they scored twice.
Also significant is the fact that the first Targa to roll off the production line on December 21, 1966, just happened to be the 100,000th Porsche built. Bizarrely, it was to become a police car for the state of Baden-Württemberg, of which Stuttgart is the capital.
So the first ever Porsche Targa was painted white and red, and had a loudspeaker and flashing light atop its hoop. It was also the first Corgi Toys Porsche 911S Targa model, debuting the year before the blue civilian version I own went into production.
It wouldn't be such an exaggeration to say that Porsche's Targa concept preserved the sports car industry of its era, until a less cynical and more enlightened attitude eventually prevailed. -VF