Targa vs Targa. crankandpiston.com pits the new Porsche 911 Targa 4S against a 1984 Porsche Outlaw Targa to see just what two decades of engineering and development really looks like with its top off.
Come the late 1960s, Porsche found itself in a bit of a pickle. Despite the burgeoning popularity of the convertible 911 (a sportier alternative to the 356 it replaced), ever-tightening safety regulations in America threatened the very existence of convertible sports cars. Or at the very least put a sizeable dampener on showroom sales. Pulling the plug entirely was one way to go, but instead the designers at Porsche did some much-needed noggin-scratching to find a loop-hole, one that ultimately led to one of the most successful body types in the company’s history.
At the 1965 Frankfurt Motor Show, Porsche debuted the world’s first ‘safety cabriolet’, a traditional drop top – based on a short wheelbase 911 – that also included a rollover hoop from which a section of the roof could be removed and affixed manually. Offering improved structural rigidity and occupant protection, the new ‘Targa’ – a name derived from the infamous Targa Floria endurance race on which Porsche was a multiple winner – received a stamp of approval from both American regulators and critics alike, and was in the showrooms by 1967. Though updated with each subsequent 911 generation, it would be 29 years before the fully overhauled 993 Targa appeared in 1996.
Which brings us to the brand new 991 Targa, launched in January this year. Though based on the current 991 generation Carrera 4 – with extended rear axle and wider tyres to match – the new model pays tribute to its origins courtesy of its characterful rollover hoop. But is the newboy a ‘Targa’ in name only, or has Porsche taken this particular chapter of its history seriously?
As you can probably tell by the above images, that’s what we’re here to find out.
You join us – that would be myself and crankandpiston.com alumni James – in the Hatta mountain range, driving the brand new 2014 911 Targa 4S and its 1984 counterpart respectively. And one of us is slightly more nervous than the other. Our ’84 test model today is an ‘Outlaw’, a classic model fully restored but not completely in accordance with the original model (which is short-hand for ‘modified suspension, transmission and engine’). Its diligent owner has consequently sunk some considerable money into the process. Not only then is m’dear colleague piloting a labour of love, he’s also responsible for a model that will cost an arm, a leg, a portion of a kidney and a couple of deals with Beelzebub to pay for should we blow a fuse or kerb an alloy. It’s with slightly shaky hands then that a recuperative cigarette is lit at our first stopping point, giving me time to compare our two models, targa-top to targa-top.
It’s difficult for the eyes not to be drawn to the elder of our two statesmen (the ’84, not James). Based on the immensely popular ‘G-Series’ 911 – whose ‘73-‘88 production run is the longest in 911 history – our ’84 is not only 20 years older than the new 4S but also represents the first Targa generation (arguably) that truly captured the public’s imagination. What better benchmark could our newboy have than that?
Visually, the ’84 is off to a good start courtesy of the iconic jutting circular headlights and ‘impact bumper era’ front visage: a reminder of which is mounted on the rear grille. Let’s not forget that enormous ‘ducktail’ rear wing either. If these – for some reason – are insufficient nods to the G-Series’ illustrious heritage, then the ‘Carrera’ and ‘Porsche’ details on the flanks and engine lid rubber stamp the look emphatically. Porsche purists shouldn’t have much trouble picking their favourite from these two.
The seventh gen Sapphire Blue Metallic model standing beside it however is no quick-fix ‘tribute’. Unlike its 993-generation predecessor, which replaced the targa-top with glass that spanned the entire roofline, the new 991 4S boasts the iconic rollover hoop in period savvy brushed aluminium, as opposed to the satin black on our ’84 model: it even comes complete with the three vertical ‘gills’ that have been a model mainstay almost since the model’s debut. And the reasoning, bar an obvious nod to the model’s lineage, is a sound one. Notoriously top heavy – and wallowy to drive as a result – the 993 Targa was widely lambasted, its’ reputation for spitting any who dared press the loud pedal into the nearest lamppost becoming the stuff of legend (you can understand why Porsche felt the lighter mechanical folding roof was the best way to go with the 991 4S). Indeed, to fold the roof down, the entire wraparound rear windscreen slides up and out at the press of a button, a triumph of clever weight distribution. There’s even a ParkAssist Monitor to ensure the rear glass canopy doesn’t clout anything as it’s lowering. A revised Carrera 4 the new 991 may be – complete with 20-inch Carrera S wheels and Sports Tailpipes – but Porsche has clearly thought hard about the design. And yet, there are the iconic looks of the ’84 in my peripheral vision. It’s tough not to side with the old guard here.
Cigarette break in the bag and the shakes relatively under control, our convoy sets off once again in search of a suitable strip of winding tarmac, James up front in the ’84 and I in the 991. I’ve yet to explore the ‘84’s cabin in great detail but I suspect the 20-year gulf between our two test models will be striking. Those of you familiar with the current 911’s well-crafted, elegant cabin will find little difference in the black leather-clad upholstery, bar the ‘Targa 4S’ door sills. Mercifully our test model has a proper paddle shift gearbox as opposed to the button configuration offered as standard throughout Porsche’s model range. The Sapphire Blue detailing on the transmission tunnel is a nice addition, and the Sports seats are a welcome (optional) addition too, mounted low for that dynamic feeling and just supportive enough without being uncomfortable. It’s beautifully put together but doesn’t quite offer the wow factor as the exterior looks.
That is until the starter switch is turned, firing the 395bhp 3.8-litre flat-six into life.
That oh-so-familiar Porsche soundtrack quickly floods the cabin, ricocheting about the rear glass canopy as it does so. Said soundtrack – via the twin tailpipe sports exhaust – even manages to out-blast the air conditioning, which is currently doing battle with the midday’s 44-degree heat.
Like the Carrera before it, precision via Porsche’s electronic power steering is seriously impressive when our convoy starts to wind its way further into the mountains, the very idea of understeer and bodyroll mockingly cast aside thanks to the Porsche Active Suspension Management and Torque Vectoring, which stiffens the MacPherson/multi-link suspension arms for improved cornering and gives more precise steering-feel through the corners respectively.
Blip the throttle and 395bhp kicks in with very responsive acceleration, linear enough to keep up the momentum – aided in no small measure by Porsche’s always swift, always excellent seven-speed DSG gearbox – but not aggressively so, power being fed through all four-wheels courtesy of the Carrera 4’s all-wheel drive system. Though emphasis may be on sending power to the rear axle, rarely is there a twitch from the back end, composure the order of the day rather than lairiness. Into the corners, good feel through the brake pedal allows me to slam on or ease momentum down gradually. One does wonder how the 991 would handle with the optional Sport Plus button.
As is the case with convertibles/safety cabriolets however, the rigidity – despite the excellent chassis and the headlining rollover hoop – cannot quite compare with that of the hardtop model. The difference is small and the balance is still exceptionally good, but still the 991 Targa does feel just that little bit softer through the turns compared with its tin-top counterpart when we really start to push on. It’s a realisation that causes me to lift, to stop pushing the front end quite so hard, and to bring our spirited drive down a couple of pegs. Ah. There’s that magnificent soundtrack again.
At much less than ten-tenths I’ve still managed to leave James and the ’84 far behind, and it’s some considerable time before they both appear. Time for a driver change.
VERY gingerly, I open the door to the ’84 and climb in. Suddenly I’m all too aware how James felt this morning though for a slightly different reason. While the thought of stacking this 80s classic makes several hairs go white, this will also be my first run a classic Porsche. A rear-wheel drive classic Porsche. From an era when rear-wheel drive Porsches – convertible or otherwise – were considered very difficult to drive and had a unfortunate habit of snapping into uncontrollable oversteer should the mood take them. Suddenly those rocky, rather hard mountain walls are looking an awful lot closer.
This being an ‘Outlaw’ Porsche, there are some significant changes beneath the iconic exterior. Both the suspension and transmission have been updated for improved grip and response respectively, while the brake callipers are now much bigger than standard. The 3.2-litre normally aspirated flat-six under the bonnet has also received FabSpeed exhaust headers and a new airbox among other mods, meaning a hike in power from the model’s original 217bhp (though without a dyno run, the owner can’t confirm an exact figure).
The cabin is also a significant eye-opener. There is no aluminium trim, no leather upholstery and – given the 300-plus kilogram difference in weight to the 991 – a much simpler, more stripped out look with barely any switches or buttons to contend with, a far cry from the 991: I’m tempted to tap one of the five gauges to see if the needle moves. What concerns me the most though are the leather door pulls hanging from the panel rather than handles. They feel robust enough, but I’ve already lost my nerve after a few goes, opting for the ‘reach through the window and pull the handle from the outside’ approach when I want to get out.
For the full effect, we decide to get the roof down on the ‘84, a process that involves nothing more complicated than twisting three ratchet handles, a bit of brute force, a couple of scuffed knuckles, quite a lot of swearing, and a few furrowed brows when we wonder what to do with the roof once it’s been removed (not wanting to scratch it, it’s placed carefully on the ‘84s rear seats).
My main concerns however are the GTS Classic ST seats, which offer minimal options for adjustment. They lean so far back in fact that I’m struggling to reach the steering wheel at all, forcing me to move the seat as far forward on their runners as I can, being careful not to make indentations with my knees in the beautifully archaic dashboard. Feeling a few extra beads of sweat run down my back as I reach for the ignition switch, the flat-six turns over – after a few nail-biting seconds – first gear is selected via the five-speed manual box, and my first ever drive is a classic Porsche is underway. I’m wondering how an 80s Targa will compare to its modern day counterpart, and am guessing the precision and balance will be difficult to replicate.
Exerting a staggering amount of force through my left leg to depress the floor-mounted clutch, I’m soon slotting home third (which, as the owner mentions, ‘is a little tricky’) and picking the pace up to 50kph. This blistering pace is soon scuppered as I downshift and turn into the first corner. There is no power steering – I’m grateful there’s even air conditioning – and through the opening few twist and turns, I’m muscling this 1299kg museum piece with everything I’ve got in my shoulders, the ferocious sound of that flat-six rocketing through octaves as I – gently – wind the throttle back in. I can barely hear the 991 following in my wheel tracks.
The thought of ‘apexes’ disappeared at the first corner, my concern now solely on the 217(ish)bhp being pushed through those rear wheels, the effort required to drive convincingly in third gear, and keeping the ’84 on the black stuff. The very idea of driving the ’84 as I had been doing just moments ago in the 991 is ludicrous as I stand on the brakes to bring the speed down, ready for another downshift. There’s no twitch and no lean as we flick-flack from one left-right to another, though that’s probably because the speedo has yet to hit triple figures. I’m just waiting for the rear end to turn round and bite me. Or worse still, bite the scenery. Constantly hoiking myself up in the GTS seat for a clearer view through the windscreen. Finding the right point of the rev range to select third without grinding the gears. Ensuring the temperamental handbrake actually has been pushed all the way down. Constantly wondering ‘what the hell is that?’ when yet another strange noise makes its presence felt. It’s all absolutely exhausting. But the drama. The sense of occasion. The sense of heritage and the connection with the act of ‘driving’. It’s sensational, and I can’t help thinking – in-between thoughts of an imminent collision – how different the ’84 experience is the 991.
In the newboy, such is the ease with which the front end can be hustled through the corners, that comparisons with the hardtop 911 are inevitable, comparisons in which the Targa – by its heavier, convertible nature – falls short. It’s still awesome, just not quite as awesome on the limit as the hardtop 911 Carrera. Then there’s the ’84, a model that – topless or otherwise – drives with so much raw energy, not quite hitting the same speeds as its grandson but threatening to bite back if given the slightest justification. It’s hard work and it’s nerve-wracking, but it’s also brilliant.
I’m eventually pulled from the ‘84s cockpit by Davison, who’s keen to have another go (though my left calf muscle could use a rest anyway). It’s difficult, having slid back into the 991, not to be impressed with what 20 years of development can produce. Though perhaps not as stiff as its hardtop alter-ego, the Targa 4S nevertheless offers the precision, the power and the nimbleness of a 911 with a dash of history thrown in for good measure. Not terms you could honestly use when describing the ’84 Outlaw. Makes you wonder whether, 20 years from now, the same will be said of the 4S
Full technical specifications available on page 2