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What Is a Targa? A Very Brief History of an Automotive Staple

What Is a Targa? A Very Brief History of an Automotive Staple

In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, the automotive landscape was awash with targa-top cars. Conventional convertibles required heavy mechanisms (or worse, motors or hydraulics) to work and got rid of a major structural component—ya know, the roof. That in turn sapped performance from sports cars by making them less rigid, heavier, and slower. There were also very real fears among automakers that the U.S. government would ban convertibles in the name of rollover safety in the late ’60s—even though that never happened, the automakers freaked. In fact, there were zero American convertibles built from 1976 to 1981.

A solution for all of these problems was to ditch the folding fabric roof of a convertible altogether and replace it with a removable panel mounted to a sturdy roll hoop behind the driver. It helped with rigidity, especially, but also provides a margin of safety if the things go sideways (or upside down). Hence, the targa was born in the 1960s, soon after the related T-tops and sunroof/moonroof panels became common. All provided a way to get some fresh air to the passengers without sacrificing (much) weight, structural integrity, or rollover protection.

The Targa name itself is inspired by the Targa Florio, a road-rally so wild and dangerous that it could never exist today. To put it in modern terms, imagine the Le Mans-winning Porsche 919 Hybrid pounding around 45 miles of Italian countryside, on public roads, while cattle and old ladies roamed the streets. The Targa Florio was a death wish for anyone except the most skilled drivers in the world—which made them and their cars legends. Most of the cars that raced in the Targa were open-top roadsters to help reduce weight.

So, if you wanted to feel like Lorenzo Bandini or Jacky Ickx without the chances of hurting yourself or worse, a sportscar with an open-air vibe was as close as you’re going to get. And because Porsche won the Targa Florio more than any other manufacturer, the open-top 1967 911 got the Targa name to honor the company’s exploits in that famed Sicilian race. The 911 wasn’t the first car to use a targa-style roof, but it became the first well-known example and is the source of the name.

Other great cars like the Toyota Supra, the Ferrari F355 GTS, and the Acura NSX all had targa-top variants. There was even a Bentley with a targa roof. Don’t believe me? Google the 1999 Bentley Continental Sedanca Coupe. Fun fact: only 73 were made.

Those legends aside, arguably the two most famous targa-top sports cars ever made are the Porsche 911 Targa and the Chevrolet Corvette. But there are a number of modern cars that offer a Targa experience. The Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, and the Lotus Elise (discontinued here, but available abroad) are all targas you can still buy today.

So where did all the other Targas go? By our count there are five, maybe six on sale today. But since modern convertibles are far more rigid than they used to be, and can meet federal safety standards, targa-tops just aren’t necessary anymore. Occasionally new cars will come out with a targa-top configuration—the Porsche 918 Spyder and LaFerrari Aperta are two recent examples that spring to mind—but these days it’s often a stylistic choice, or required by the car’s structure or performance goals, rather than a strict necessity.

For the most part, modern convertibles offer a more open experience with fewer compromises than a targa roof panel would, and as a result, targa models have become less common. So relish the C8 and the 911—and their targa-top brethren—while you still can.

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