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August 2010: Of 911s and Sheaffer Targas

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • I love this 1980 ad, because it’s such a period piece. It’s 1980s to the bone — the fonts, the Robb Report excess. I have no idea from what publication this particular copy of the ad came, but am I the only one who is struck by the irony that it’s trying so hard to convey the idea of opulence…in black and white? Like, you couldn’t spring for a four-color ad?

Give a Targa advertisement
When you flash forward through the images of the 1980s and what this ad represents… Is this the Targa you want to remember? Extra Fine Points

This ad hails from the dark days of fountain pen history, a time when our favorite writing instruments were caught in a seemingly hopeless riptide: The old guard who’d learned to write with fountain pens in school — and could still appreciate the difference between a nib gracefully gliding on paper and a soulless tungsten ball — had pretty much decided that fountain pens weren’t worth the premiums they commanded. The coming horde of collectors who would fuel not only an interest in vintage pens but also a whole new market for modern fountain pens had not yet arrived.

The ad’s clearly selling a fantasy — passing off the cold, industrial Targa (I say that fondly, I rank it up there with the “51” as a classic) as a rich man’s luxury.

Looking back with hindsight, we can see a couple of cool parallels between the Porsche 911 Targa and the Sheaffer Targa (and don’t get me started about how the pen was never advertised as the “Sheaffer Targa” but always “Targa by Sheaffer” — that doesn’t make saying “Targa by Sheaffer” any more linguistically correct than, say, “Pinto by Ford,” “Gingrich by Newt,” or “squad by firing.”):

But back to this ad. When you flash forward through the images of the 1980s and what this ad represents — Wall Street greed, Gordon Gekko, all those power brokers snorting rails…we could go on and on up through Enron and subprime mortgages and auto-industry execs paraded before Congress. Is this the Targa you want to remember?

No. I’d rather this ad stay buried back in 1980. Certainly it isn’t worth the $10 eBay sellers want for the pages they clipped out of magazine. The Targa, by Sheaffer, that I will remember is a rock-solid pen for us cash-poor pen-collecting peons, for whom the PFMs and Masterpieces are financially far out of reach.

That has less in common with the Porsche 911 than, say, the Toyota Corolla. And it doesn’t pain me to say it one bit. Granted, an advertisement showing a Sheaffer Targa with a Corolla and my house in the background probably wouldn’t have sold nearly as many pens. But it’s a much better alternative ending to the story — at least in my opinion.

cover Further Reading: Porsche 911 Story: The Entire Development History, by Paul Frere
Think you know everything about the legendary Porsche 911? Confirm it by checking out this dandy tome by the grand master of Porsche road testing and writing.

Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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