Porsche’s 911 Targa 4: What’s wrong with this picture?

Porsche 911 Targa Operation

Porsche’s 911 Targa mechanism, as envisioned – we think – by Jules Verne

Let’s be clear: I don’t own a Porsche 911 Targa, nor have I driven one. As a fan of the 911 platform since Johnson (Lyndon – not Andrew) was in office, I’ll admit to finding the 911’s growing footprint and price mildly distressing, but that distress doesn’t minimize my very real affection for the 911’s looks, engineering and capabilities. With all of that, why can’t Porsche – and those other firms with a German ‘zip’ code – keep things simple?

Early Porsche 911 Targa

An early 911 Targa: Simpler times, mechanism

I know as well as anyone that the requirements of governmental agencies, insurance companies and well-heeled enthusiasts are often at odds, but if you need a classic example of the world turned upside down, look no further than the mechanism moving Porsche’s Targa top.  When introduced, the 911 Targa provided a panel over the passenger compartment, easily removed and replaced by one height-and-weight proportional American – back when you could still locate a height-and-weight proportional American. And the very early Targas had a rear plastic window with zipper, which offered an easy-enough removal process for a generation growing up with British roadsters. Although that removable plastic eventually gave way to a fixed (glass) rear window, the removable panel over the passenger area remained, and no one seemed stymied by the small amount of physical exertion necessary to remove or reinstall it.

Today, the newest Targa employs a mechanism which looks to have been conceived by Jules Verne. We’ll let the folks in Porsche’s communications office describe it: “The roof is made up of two movable parts: a soft top and a glass rear window. The rear window, which is attached to the convertible top, is opened and tilted rearward at the push of a button. At the same time, two flaps open in the Targa bar, releasing the soft top’s kinematics. The convertible top is released, folded into a Z-shape as the roof opens and stowed away behind the rear seats. Once the top has been stowed, the flaps in the bar and the rear window close once again. The roof takes around 19 seconds to open or close while the vehicle is stationary.”

Porsche 911 Targa

Beautiful…but why does beauty mean complexity?

Do you have that? Now, while I don’t remember removing the top panel from a 1st-gen Targa, I have a very clear memory of undertaking the removal and reinstallation of any number of tops attached (and detached) to Ferrari’s 308 and, later, 328 GTS. And while it may have taken more than 19 seconds, it wasn’t much more. Yeah, you had to get out from behind the wheel, but that was – I think – a small price to pay for the relative simplicity of Ferrari’s do-it-yourself system. Enzo would have thought there something slightly feminine with Porsche’s overreaching tech used to accomplish such an essentially simple task.

So, while I know Porsche won’t redesign the Targa based on my observations or preferences, I’d like to make the argument via the marketplace. For every added complexity to the modern automobile, there is – eventually – a used vehicle that much harder (and that much more expensive) to maintain for the second and third owners. Of course, that’s been the case forever, but with the introduction of more electronics under the hood, along with telematics under the dash, the environment has never been so hostile to those caught with a nice car (specifically, a nice German car) and no extended warranty.

With the additional costs to service and maintain the complicated car, resale goes down, residual values follow, and the corresponding cost of ownership goes up. Whether the OEMs wish to consider the lower lease rates on new cars, or the higher residuals – and better resale value – on used cars, the market will better support the brands if carmakers work to keep things simpler – and not (PUH-LEASE!) more complicated.

I’m as far removed from the purchase of a used 911 as I am a new one, but in the back of my mind I still believe I could pull the trigger on a pre-owned Boxster. Until, of course, Jules Verne redesigns the top mechanism…