1996 Porsche 911 Targa, Carrera 4S
PEGNITZ, Germany — Can Porsche's 911 live forever?
No. In fact, the end is nigh, about which, more anon.
Meanwhile, the legendary Stuttgart-based sports car maker
continues to ring changes on the rear engined air cooled
concept that seemed obsolete when the car debuted in 1963. Yes,
32 years ago.
Two new models join the party for 1996, one based largely on
style, the other more on substance.
The substantial newcomer is the Targa, a resurrection of the
sort-of-convertible, sort-of-coupe theme that Porsche first
showed in 1965, with its removable roof panel and fixed lateral
Now, 30 years later, Porsche again reinvents the open car. I
don't know whether its designers have ever visited SkyDome, but
that's how the new Targa works. Essentially the world's biggest
sunroof, made of a special tinted and laminated glass, slides by
electric power beneath the rear window.
You can position the sunroof to any degree of opening you
desire. A wind deflector, about a hand's width in breadth, flips
up at the front of the aperture at the start of the opening act,
to keep buffeting to a minimum.
When the whole gubbins is closed, you also have the option of
electrically unrolling a fabric sunshade, which is stored in the
deceptively tiny windshield header. You can go from coupe to
near-convertible, in infinitely variable steps.
Structurally, the Targa is based on the 911 Cabriolet body
Porschephiles will note the side window sill line that continues
around the back of the car. The rear side window terminates in a
point, rather than the graceful curve of the coupe. Unless
you're looking right down on the car, this is the most obvious
visual difference between the two.
Rollover protection is provided by the lateral roof frame
members, which extend from the reinforced windshield header to
the body; in effect, the roll bar is turned 90 degrees. Porsche
claims the new Targa passes the same rollover tests as the
If you're thinking you've seen this car somewhere before, you
are likely a Porschephile yourself, and are probably recalling
the bizarre Panamericana show car of a few years ago, which
clearly presaged this body style.
Driving the 911 Targa around Richard Wagner country in
southeastern Germany verified most of Porche's claims for this
concept. When it's all buttoned up, it's as snug as a coupe.
When fully opened, it is very nearly as al fresco as a
Cabriolet, and puts your hairpiece at considerably less risk.
Porsche chief engineer Rainer Wust told me he tested the Targa
in northern Canada on sunny, below-zero days, and was very
comfortable. My question: Where was the photographer for the
Timmins Daily Bugle when that was going on?
The only drawback to the Targa, and it's a serious one, is
poor rearward visibility. When the roof is "down", the two
thicknesses of glass are very nearly opaque under many ambient
lighting conditions. It's akin to driving a vehicle with heavily
Porsche opted for a dark tint in the roof glass to reduce
ultraviolet and heat transmission into the cockpit. They might
have chosen instead to let the fabric sunshade perform those
tasks, and lighten up the roof.
Alternatively, they ought to consider newly available glass
technology that can change opacity at the touch of a button: it
could be dark when up, and light when down. Given Porsche's
philosophy of continuous improvement, maybe we can look forward
to this in a few years.
As it is, the Targa returns an old and popular concept to the
911 family. Porsche expects Targas to account for some 10 to 15
per cent of 911 production. At a 10-grand plus premium over the
coupe ($103,600 versus $93,300) and at about three grand less
than a cabrio (which lists at $106,900) I have a feeling that
may be a conservative estimate.
The second new Porsche model, the Carrera 4S, is at least
partially a profiler's car. It's a 911 Turbo without the turbo.
In the old days, we'd have called this a "parts-bin special";
today, it was "created by combining components from Porsche's
comprehensive modular system".
The widebody differs from the Turbo primarily in the omission
of the latter's massive fixed rear spoiler, which also houses
the faster car's intercooler. Instead, the 4S uses the movable
spoiler of the rest of the Carrera line.
The 4S has Turbolook road wheels, but they do not share the
hollow-spoke technology developed for the Turbo.
Mechanically, the 4S has the Turbo chassis, including the
permanent four-wheel drive and massive brakes, with the
tell-tale red calipers peeking out from between the wheel spokes.
As with the Turbo, only the six-speed manual gearbox is
The major difference is, of course, the engine. The 4S, like
all 1996 Carreras, gets yet another power increase. It started
in 1963 with 2 litres and 130 horsepower; now it's up to 3.6
litres and 285 horses, an increase of 13 from last year.
Torque is also up, from 243 poundfeet at 5000 r.p.m. to 250
at 5 250. Although the peak occurs at higher revs, the torque
curve reveals substantially more pulling power at lower r.p.m.
than before, for better flexibility and lowspeed grunt not
that the old engine was exactly peaky.
This improvement is accomplished largely by a new three stage
induction manifold, in which various flaps open at various
r.p.m. levels to change the length of the intake runners. This
invokes a tuned-manifold concept, which boosts torque in the
low and mid ranges. One of these stages occurs at exactly 5000
r.p.m. you can hear the engine noise change to a slightly
harder, more metallic note.
The 4S displays steady understeer when briskly driven; without
the awesome power of the Turbo, it's even harder to get the
four wheel drive car's back end around. But most "normal"
drivers — if Porsche owners can ever be considered "normal"
– will simply enjoy the fabulous engine, excellent gearbox and
overall specialness of driving a 911, and not miss the risk of
stuffing the back end into first snowbank they encounter.
The 4S won't only attract poseurs who want their friends to
think they bought a Turbo. The four-wheel drive will appeal to
year-round sports car enthusiasts, especially in Canada where we
need all the traction we can get.
And at $106,900, the 4S is almost a third cheaper than the
Turbo's $153,700 — no small consideration, even to someone
wealthy enough to consider a 911 in the first place.
Now, what about the future of the 911? Harm Lagaay, the
Dutchborn chief designer in whose capable hands the future of Porsche
styling lies, says that changing customer and legal demands will
kill the 911 in its present form before the end of the decade.
The next level of crash test legislation will deal with
"corner" crashes, which will require more crush space in the
footwells, thereby forcing the front wheels farther outwards.
In addition, people are getting larger, and larger interiors
are needed just to maintain current comfort levels, let alone
improve them. Both factors point to an all new body.
Driveby noise legislation, already in effect in some European
countries, will spell the end of the air cooling that huge fan
makes a lot of noise.
Still, Lagaay says the 911 replacement, due before the end of
the 1990s, will still be rear-engined, and the car will
definitely look like a Porsche.
Elsewhere in the lineup, the mid-engined Boxster roadster
replaces the now-discontinued 968 as the entry-level Porsche
late next year. The 928 is also dead, and there are no immediate
plans for a direct substitute for this wonderful but
underappreciated grand tourer.
Published rumors of a front-wheel drive "cheap" Porsche like
the original 356 Porsche, based on Volkswagen components, in
this case the next-generation Golf, are strongly denied by
Porsche officials. Likewise the fantasies of a Porsche minivan
and sportutility (No, no. If there's a God in heaven . . . )
Sketches of the VW-based coupe look suspiciously like the
Golf-based Audi concept car from this fall's Frankfurt show, which
Porsche may well have had a hand in developing, so that may be
the source of the rumors.
In any event, Porsche has a strong product plan in place for
well into the next century. Those who feel Porsche could never
survive the disappearance of the 911 should take heart in the
knowledge that many Porsche fans thought the company would never
survive the disappearance of the original 356 either.
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie, among a group of auto writers
invited to a test site, prepared this report based on sessions
arranged and paid for by the automaker.