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Porsche 911 History

1996 Porsche 911 Carrera C4S and 911 Targa

Porsche quickly followed the 993-series Turbo with a pair of more-affordable new models, the Carrera 4S coupe and a completely reformed Targa. Both reached showrooms in early 1996.

The 4S was basically a Carrera 4 coupe with wide-body Turbo styling minus the whale tail. It also made do with heavier solid-spoke wheels, though they resembled the Turbo's, plus the stock C4 suspension, though a firmer sport setup was available.

It was déjà vu all over again, but unlike the "Turbo Look" options of old, the Carrera 4S was sensibly priced, starting at the same $73,000 as the Carrera cabrio. On the other hand, it was almost identical with the standard C4 coupe in performance.

The '96 Targa was something completely different: no longer a semi-convertible with a detachable roof panel but a rakish coupe with a giant power glass sunroof. The semi-convertible term was still apt, though, because the new design employed a "roof module," supplied by Webasto Systems, that was screwed and glued onto the cabrio bodyshell.

At a glance, the Targa looked much like any Porsche 911 coupe but had differently shaped roof rails, rear side windows, and backlight, plus telltale part-lines at the windshield header and C-pillar bases where the cap connected to the cabrio body. In all, the conversion was visually subtle and undoubtedly cost-effective.

The roof itself was a bit Rube Goldberg, comprising a small flip-up vent at the windshield header, a larger sliding panel, and three motors to operate the pair plus an interior sunshade. Pushing a button on the console opened the vent. Pushing it again sent the main panel rearward to nest inside the rear window at full stretch, leaving a 26 X 37-inch opening over the front seats.

Of course, the glass could be stopped at any point in either direction of travel. A second switch worked the sunshade, which was rigged to retract automatically if you opened the roof with the shade deployed.

Despite all the extra glass, the Targa weighed just 60 pounds more than a Carrera coupe with the smaller steel sunroof. The conversion also added 0.6-inch to height but didn't spoil aerodynamics. It even added a smidge of headroom, as the roof cap was slightly thinner in section than the normal coupe roof.

It was clever, this new Targa, but not without flaws. First, the roof glass was tinted a bilious blue, making for an aquarium-like cabin ambience, and aft visibility in full-open mode was murky even by day; you were, after all, looking through the roof panel and the back window. And though most testers found the glass-top nearly as rigid and tight as a steel-roof Porsche 911 -- thanks to the stiffer cabrio base -- a few mentioned the odd creak and groan of glass against rubber seals, especially on rough surfaces.

Nevertheless, Car and Driver's John Phillips thought "[d]riving roofless in this car is fresh-air nirvana...At speeds up to 50 mph, buffeting is negligible...Above 60 mph, the wind definitely begins to muss your locks, but it won't pull them out by the roots, as often happens in true convertibles."

It might seem odd that Porsche would go to so much trouble when the "true convertible" Cabriolet accounted for more than half of U.S. Porsche 911 sales. But "a difference to sell" was the name of the game, and Porsche Cars North America limited new Targa deliveries to about 500 a year.

That was sensible, given the $7,000 surcharge over the regular Carrera coupe and a $1,400 premium over the Cabrio. At least the extra money bought one other distinction: unique 17-inch pressure-cast wheels ringed with 24 Allen-type screwheads -- ersatz, of course, and a pain to clean.

Though the 400-horsepower Turbo grabbed most of Porsche's '96 headlines, other 911s boasted new power-boosters of their own. Road & Track's Joe Rusz listed "new cylinder heads with 1-mm-larger intake and exhaust valves, reprofiled camshafts with 4 degrees longer duration, and Varioram, a resonance-tuned-induction system largely responsible for that increase in power and torque." Those increases weren't huge -- 12 horsepower, for a total of 282, and seven extra pound-feet, for 250 in all -- but hardly anyone complains when Porsche turns up the wick.

As Rusz described it, "Varioram features six individual runners (one per cylinder) with variable-length intake pipes, two induction plenums (one per side), two throttle bodies (upper and lower) and a crossover tube with actuating flap. What happens, in a nutshell, is that Varioram functions as a single-stage system up to 5000 rpm and a two-stage system above 5000 when the second (lower) throttle plate opens and sleeves inside each intake runner retract, allowing air to flow into the secondary intake plenums. At 5800 rpm, the flap in the crossover tube opens, further increasing the cross-section of the resonance system. What you get is a broader torque curve, especially at high rpm...What you feel is a lot of oomph, especially in the upper rev ranges where the previous powerplant got a bit winded."

For all that, Rusz admitted the stronger engine didn't much improve non-turbo performance -- just a couple of tenths in acceleration, three mph in top speed (to 171 mph for the base Carrera coupe). What he didn't admit was that two-stage and resonance induction were not new ideas, and that Varioram was a bit complicated. But these engine changes were stepping stones to a planned wasserboxer 911, a historic departure for Porsche, but necessary to meet tighter anticipated emissions standards.

Porsche 911
Though not a big seller for years, the Targa body style returned as a 993 model.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

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