The Porsche 911 Targa – A body style for the ages.

The Targa body style has featured prominently in the 911’s lineup over the last few decades and we got to experience one in Milwaukee recently. 

As far as sportscars go, there are usually two body styles: coupes and convertibles/cabriolets. In the hope of keeping things simple, I’m choosing to momentarily ignore the numerous other styles like Gran Coupe and Shooting Brake, which come in two or four door variants. See, that got complicated real fast.

So, back to the coupe and convertible. The former has been widely appreciated for maintaining structural rigidity, an important aspect for any car that will be driven spiritedly. The convertible, on the other hand, was more for leisurely cruises on good days with a shining sun and a clear sky. Essentially, the convertible was for those who wanted to feel the wind in their hair and be exposed to the elements while driving their car.

During the middle of the 20th century, the issue of safety did not get as much attention as it does today. Convertibles were considered less safe than coupes, because there were no roll bars and if the car turned upside down, the chance of survival was slim. Essentially, the car was as safe as the ability of the person behind the wheel. Of course, modern convertibles are bristling with numerous safety mechanisms, including pop out roll bars that only activate in the event of a car flipping.

However, during the mid 1960s, Porsche came out with a novel new body shape, which it named ‘Targa’ after the famous Sicilian road race. It was somewhere in between a coupe and convertible, with a glass (occasionally plastic) rear windshield, a solid steel hoop which functioned as a roll bar, a removable and foldable roof section and the front windshield.

Fans of structural rigidity could now enjoy sunny days by simply unlocking and removing the roof, which fit neatly into the boot in front. Safety was not compromised and the new shape quickly became popular. Numerous examples of the body style rolled out of the factory, bearing the Carrera, SC and even Turbo branding.

The recent growth in the classic Porsche market had the manufacturer repeatedly looking back to their early cars for inspiration. In 2014, they launched the new 991 Targa, drawing attention to the body style, which now had a fully electric folding roof. As is usually the case, the classic version also began to get more attention.

While the 911 is not the only car to offer a Targa top variant, it certainly is one of the most iconic. I had spotted a white 911 SC Targa at the Accumoto Open House and got chatting with the owner, Tony Sottile. A proper Porschephile, he told me he was based in Milwaukee and told me to visit whenever I could.

One very busy month later, I got back in touch with Tony and we agreed to meet on a Tuesday afternoon. Cue one short-ish bus ride and I was standing in Tony’s garage in downtown Milwaukee, looking at the white Targa.

One of the universal things about car enthusiasts is that we love to give our car a personal touch, to make it truly ours. A little sticker here, a part there, a set of extra headlamps, the list is endless. The final product is something that we’re proud of driving and being seen in. To this end, Tony had set about personalizing his car in a discreet manner. A set of H4 headlights, a couple of changes in the engine bay, a set of Vitaloni side mirrors, a Martini decal around the ignition lock and an aftermarket steering wheel and shifter knob were just some of the things he’d done to make the car his, along with basic maintenance.

As we got talking about the car, it was clear that he was genuinely besotted by his Targa. The previous owner – the wife of the director of the Petersen Museum – had not driven it much and since Tony had taken delivery of the car, he had spent all his time remedying that.

As we drove around the Third Ward area basking in the Midwestern sunshine, I began to understand why the Targa was the perfect compromise between a coupe and convertible. Wind buffeting was imperceptible, yet both occupants were sufficiently exposed to the elements to be able to enjoy the ride without any fatigue. The sound of the flat six engine echoed off the red brick buildings, which quickly turned into a blur.

As we stopped at a few points around the waterways for me to photograph the car, I realised the car had a unique silhouette. The proportions were still correct and nothing seemed out of place, which is more than can be said for a lot of convertibles these days. Roof on or off, the iconic 911 shape was still preserved.

While the Targa top does appear on a number of cars these days, the designers at Porsche did a fine job working a new body style into an iconic body shape. Both have endured for decades, to the point that the firm simply re-released it with minimal changes to the body lines while updating it with an electric mechanism. After my ride in Tony’s Targa, I definitely consider myself a fan of the Targa top and 911 Targas in particular.

As we were talking on a side street, a red blur turned the corner sharply and headed straight for us, its trademark sound announcing its arrival. That’s a story for another day….

A big thank you to Tony Sottile for bringing his 911 out for the afternoon and for his hospitality. Wishing you many happy miles in the car!

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