Why not a Targa? Is the Open-Top Porsche Today's Best Value?

Prices on air-cooled Porsches continue to go up, up, up. But there’s a way to buck to this trend and get a good deal on a great classic. How about a Porsche 911 Targa?

The Targa remains a lower-priced option. Exhibit A: We drove a 1973 Porsche 911S Targa that was advertised by Fantasy Junction at $145,000. The Coupe variant would have commanded a higher price-10 to 15 percent more, says Bruce Trenery, owner and founder of the Bay Area classic car dealership.

Looking to spend less than six figures on a 911? That Targa discount can be found all the way down the 911 range. Hagerty says that a driver-level 1977 Porsche 911 Coupe is worth $27,500. Knock off $1500, it says, for the Targa.

 

Why a Targa?

Convertibles have been part of the Porsche lineup since the creation of the very first 356 in 1948. When the 911 made its grand debut at the 1963 Frankfurt Auto Show, though, it had no ragtop variant.

Would Porsche’s traditional convertible end with the 356? During the model’s final calendar year of production, just 16.5 percent of the cars built were convertibles.

Late in 1965, at that year’s Frankfurt show, Porsche finally unveiled the open-air version of its latest sports car. Its name, Targa, invoked Porsche’s motorsports history, and Henry W. Manney provided Road & Track’s initial report.

“Based on the 911 chassis (available in 1966 in both 911 and 912 versions) and fitted with light mag wheels, it has a vast chromium rollbar behind the driver’s seat and thus can be driven in open form, with the back window in for a sunroom, with the top on and back window open for maximum comfort in really hot weather, or else all buttoned up,” he writes in the December 1965 issue.

“I will pass by the obvious comment about the rollbar but the fact remains that many people are put off by convertibles because they like a solid roof over their heads. With the Targa, they have the best of several worlds and the whole output can undoubtedly be sold in sunny places like California, for example.”

Almost a year later, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, stylist of the 911 and known to many as Butzi, explained the thought process behind this new Targa. “To me it should have been a pure cabrio alongside the coupe,” he says in the November 1966 issue of Road & Track.

“Porsche: Excellence Was Expected,” Karl Ludvigsen’s tome on all things involving the brand, explains what happened: “But Butzi Porsche was overruled. Because the open model would still take only a small share of production, he was told, it would have to use all the structure and rear sheet metal of the coupe. Within these strict limitations, the Targa took shape.”

The Targa bar provided the bracing necessary to give Porsche’s new 2+2 an open-air option. In fact, Butzi added that the Targa’s roll bar should be legal for competition (which, as history now shows, never really happened; the coupe became the one to race). Porsche even lauded the Targa as “the world’s first safety convertible.”

Did this Targa, a revolutionary idea for its time, sell well? Yes, it did. Initially it represented 40 percent of 911 and 912 sales in West Germany- and that was before Porsche unleashed it worldwide for the 1967 model year. A decade later, the Targa remained in demand, still accounting for more than 40 percent of 911 sales. Even though a true convertible joined the 911 lineup for the 1983 model year, the original Targa design remained an option through 1994, the last year for the 964-chassis cars.

The Air Is the Appeal

All these decades later, the Targa still has its fans. “First of all, I love the lines, with that big curved rear window. And the black hoop on my ’85 ties together really well with the black Fuchs,” gushes Targa owner and auto exec Dominick Infante. “But there is also the practicality. With the Targa panels on, it is much more like driving a coupe than a cabriolet would ever be, especially in bad weather. Also, it has a stiffer structure for better handling. With the top off and neatly folded away, it has the real feel of an open car.”

Another fan: Mark Donohue. He drove a Targa, along with three coupe variants, as part of a track test featured in the January 1970 issue of Car and Driver. At the time he was “just” a Trans-Am champ, as his Indy, IROC and Can-Am titles were yet to come.

“It has trailing throttle oversteer (like the coupe), but it was much more predictable,” Donohue explains after driving the Targa. “Going through the banking you could hear constant tire squeal which means it’s committed and predictable and you can change it around and it stays neutral, whereas with the others it was either oversteer or understeer.”

The Car and Driver editors added another endorsement for the Targa: “If anything the Targa-which was equipped with the nonremovable glass rear window rather than the more common zipout type-featured better visibility than in the coupes.”

This One Here

Some Porsche years and variants are simply more desirable than the rest. A rule of thumb: If it wears an S badge and the smaller bumpers used up through 1973, it probably falls into that elite category.

The 911S made its debut for 1967, offering more performance thanks to more power, upgraded suspension and improved brakes. Even its wheels became classics: The iconic Fuchs made their debut on this model.

 

BEHIND THE WHEEL

 Porsche 911 may be one of the most usable classics around. There, we said it. The doors open wide and provide easy access to a roomy cockpit. Outward visibility is excellent. Steering is telepathic. (Yes, the car has its quirks, but let’s ignore them for now.)

The 1973 Porsche 911S Targa offered by Fantasy Junction fires right up from cold and quickly settles into a comfortable idle. The aftermarket Wevo short shifter has a definite tightened-up feel, but it can be easily replaced if it’s not your cup of tea.

The roof may be cut off but, the car still feels solid. The doors close with that usual Porsche thud. “The Targas often whistle a bit on the highway with the top up,” Fantasy Junction’s Bruce Trenery notes, “so that is an issue for some people.”

Despite the high-output engine, the car is quite benign around town. It doesn’t stumble, falter or behave poorly. The brakes, always a strong point on the 911, don’t pull to one side or raise any issues.

This particular car’s most controversial feature: the color change. Brown isn’t for everyone, and the Red Metallic respray looks stunning-not ostentatious yet not too meek, either. Collectors may not be impressed with it, but at least it’s period-correct and technically could have been applied at the factory.

The Porsche 911 adopted the larger, energy-absorbing bumpers for 1974, meaning the 1973 cars were the last to have the original look. As a result, they’re now highly coveted.

“Early 911s were continuously developed, and the 1972 and 1973 models are generally considered the most refined and usable of the bunch,” Fantasy Junction explains in the 1300-plus-word description of this particular car. “The 2.4 liter engine (technically 2.3 liters at 2341cc) provided more torque, and the S model was the most desirable, providing the highest level of equipment and the most power.”

This one is a three-owner car that was sold new in California. The engine was rebuilt, receiving a few favored upgrades like SSI stainless-steel heat exchangers, a Wevo short shifter and hydraulic chain tensioners.

The original Copper Brown Metallic paint, though, had been changed-once to green and then to Red Metallic, a hue more common on the Porsche 914. That red, Trenery notes, was a favorite of the previous owner and was applied while the car was apart for its restoration.

“I would say that the chocolate brown is not a terribly popular color,” Trenery says about the original hue. Over the years, he continues, a lot of Porsche owners covered up the earth tones with brighter colors like red and silver.

How much does the repaint hurt the car’s value? It depends. If the original color is currently popular, Trenery estimates a 10 percent drop in value after changing it; if the color isn’t in demand, the price hit can be as little as 5 percent. Although now, he adds, there is increased interest in originality as well as unusual colors.

As always, the market will wag the dog and dictate which colors and options command a premium. What remains consistent is that the 911 Targa offers more sunshine for less money.

“With all Porsches, the main thing to me is the body. If you have a car with a nice body, you can fix anything else. If you have a rust bucket or an accident-twisted car, you can never really make it perfect again in practical terms.” 
—Bruce Trenery, owner, Fantasy Junction

MEET FANTASY JUNCTION

None

Fantasy Junction should charge admission to its showroom. All the blue-chip collectibles are there, from Ferraris and Porsches to Alfa Romeos and Jaguars. Bruce Trenery founded the dealership in 1976 and now works beside his son Spencer-and the dogs.

Their inventory isn’t limited to cars from the days of carburetors and wire wheels, however. During our visit we saw a 1994 Mercedes-Benz E500, one of the high-performance, V8-powered sedans built in conjunction with Porsche. In the past year, prices on top examples like this one have nearly doubled and are now closing in on six figures.

The dealership is located in Emeryville, California, right around the corner from Pixar Animation Studios. And if you have time for a drink or a game of chance, walk around the corner to the Oaks Card Club, an Emeryville icon since 1896.

Fantasy Junction 
(510) 653-7555
fantasyjunction.com

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