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-W├╝rttemberg, 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

By Vincent Falco
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