There are many ways to tackle a legend like the 911, mostly because there are so many 911s to choose from. Air-cooled or water-cooled? Stock or modded? Coupé or drop-top? Carrera or S? There’s a 911 for every taste, nay for every fetish! And I will confess to having a thing about chrome, the colour blue, thin bumpers… And the occasional Fuchs, if available, is always appealing.
Porsches are not really that rare here – even the air-cooled ones. But pre-concertina-bumper 911s are not common anyplace, as far as I know. In the US, the crash padding started even in 1973, with some rather ugly rubber bumper guards at the rear. But the damage was global by MY 1974, when Porsche turned their hitherto perky star model into a pouty ans spotty teenager, with rubber add-ons ribbed for nobody’s pleasure.
It was the first really ignominious change to an otherwise damn near perfect design, but the car had already had a few updates since its 1963 debut. Up to now, the ones I had caught were 912s (1966 models, both times), so I hadn’t really pondered upon those little changes up to now.
But this 911T is clearly showing the precursor signs of a major evolution – it just manages to hide these to the immediate observer by cunningly keeping them mesmerized by that shiny set of Fuchs. The slight elongation of the wheelbase is not really noticeable, given that there is no earlier car next to it as a point of reference. Looks can be deceiving.
Likewise, the interior doesn’t seem very different from an early car, until you google a photo of a ’63 Porsche’s dash. The 911 driver’s world was Technicolor in the mid-‘60s, then faded to black. They took the faux veneer away and stuck in a rather unattractive steering wheel in lieu of the classy wood-rimmed item that was there beforehand.
That front spoiler makes the front end look a bit chunkier. Or just a bit chinnier, if that word existed (it doesn’t really, but Craig Brown used it, so it’s good enough for me). Doesn’t make too much of a difference to the whole car, really, but these little differences are starting to add up.
The one evolution that does make this 911 Targa look like it’s on the verge (of something bad) are the flared fenders. Yes, it was the ‘70s, so flares were the “it” thing, be they on cars or on trousers, though the former are less of a bother, as they are easy enough to take off.
That extra wingspan does serve a real purpose. The 911 was born with a 2-litre engine, but by late 1969, the flat-6 had grown to 2.2 litres. In mid-1971, certain markets received the 2341cc engine, often misleadingly labelled as the 2.4; the range switched over to that engine wholesale in 1972. Tyre and wheel sizes were unchanged, but the track did get wider, especially at the rear, so the body had to follow suit.
T’was the era of diminishing returns (emissions controls), and increasing displacement was one of the ways to keep Porsche’s iconic engine in the game. By mid-1971 then, our 911T (T for “Tame”, I assume, as this was the least powerful 911) churned out 130hp, which sounds almost comical today. But compared to a 21st Century car, these early 911s weigh next to nothing – about 1100kg for the slightly heavier Targa.
You could still hit 200kph with the 911T; acceleration, from 0 to 100kph, was at 10 seconds flat (-six). OK, to be entirely frank, that was decidedly not a very impressive performance for the times. We’re not dealing with a speed freak like the 911S (0-100kph: 7.5s; V-max: 235kph). The 911T was more in the grand tourer category.
To be clear, I’m not sure if this car has the “2.4” or still has with the 123hp 2.2 litre flat-6, or even whether it was upgraded to the 2.7 litre that came in 1974 – a popular swap, it seems. They all sound the same in any case, so perhaps having the more reasonable (and a smidgen cheaper?) 911T version makes it all worthwhile. Speaking of aural delights, detaching the top must make the ride a lot more melodious. The car comes with a radio set, but it’s probably no contest to that half-dozen giant air-cooled metal cicadas sitting behind the rear wheels.
I love the way the Targa top completely transforms the 911’s feel and appearance, with that thick metal-clad roll bar and that dramatic wraparound rear windshield. As a coherent shape, Butzi Porsche’s original coupé is unbeatable, but at least the Targa was a novel, smart and interesting design, not a mere toupee-wearing variant of the same old same old.
It’s due to the perceived threat of full convertibles being outlawed in the United States that Porsche created the 911 Targa. One need only contrast the Porsche solution with the clumsy cages that were the Triumph Stag or the late-model BMW 02 cabriolets to see why the Targa became a thing for a (little) while, just like T-tops. And flared trousers too, though those come back in style every once in a while.
The 911, unfettered by fads and seasonal fashions, remains aloof. It’s of the ‘60s by birth, but transcends time. Today’s rear-engined Porsches have really only piled on the pounds (and the horsepower) and added a bunch of electronics to the mix, but the family resemblance is undeniable. The 911 will turn 60 years old in a couple years and it’s still with us – in name and in spirit only if not in fact, but that’s already pretty exceptional.
The 356, glorious and hallowed though it may be, was but a squashed Beetle. The 911 is Stuttgart’s true masterpiece. All it takes to convince oneself of this fact is to be in the presence of an early model Targa like this one on a sunny day. That and a hankering for a (set of) quick Fuchs.