We’ve all heard the term “two door coupe” and “four door sedan,” but what the devil is a “shooting brake?” It’s a bizarre term for a car of any sort so let’s cover a bit of background.
At one time, the only other version of a car besides a coupe or sedan was a wagon, otherwise known as the “station wagon.” Anything outside of these three basic designs was a truck, but modern automotive technology has blurred those lines significantly.
American designers love to mimic European style but at the same time try to pay homage to our own heritage, which isn’t a bad notion until they get too deep in a rut. In Europe, the wagon was known as the “estate car” or the vehicle that could carry both people and luggage from the estate to the train station. This is where American automakers derived the term, “station wagon.”
Post WWII, the Ford “woodie wagon” became popular with the young surfer community because it could carry several ‘dudes and boards’ with ease. They were bought cheap and inevitably, gearheads turned some into hot rods. American automakers romanticized this trend with both real and fake wood affixed to virtually every wagon they produced. It was also a styling cue they couldn’t seem to let go of until they became hideous vinyl decals almost everyone hated. Today, just mentioning the term “station wagon” or even “wagon” conjures images of fake wooden-clad land barges, which in turn makes customers ill and repulsed. Oddly enough, the modern SUV is essentially a wagon but few are willing to admit the similarity.
Wind the clock back in Europe where a heavy wooden wagon used to break horses was called a “brake.” Some say it was a variation of the Dutch word, “brik,” but this later evolved into a wagon that could carry a hunting party along with their gear. This sporting conveyance was called the “shooting brake.”
After the horse gave way to the automobile, coachbuilders converted high-end cars such as Rolls Royce and Bentley into estate cars capable of carrying similar groups and gear. Society progressed to the point where large vehicles became limousines and sports cars became the status symbols. But even people who can afford lavish sports cars occasionally still want to carry more than two seats worth of people. I mean what silly man would want to take both his wife AND child to the beach for the weekend? (Along with a few luggage items.)
So, in the modern car landscape of the last half-century, the “shooting brake” evolved into a sporting two-door wagon. The form has been played with on different levels but its recent lineage has been largely avoided by most car-makers. Only the exotic versions get this unique touch, but it isn’t as though the idea hasn’t been toyed with on our shores.
Probably the earliest example aimed for production owes credit to Mr. Harley Earl. For those unfamiliar with the name, he was the father of both the concept car and what we now know today as the new car auto show. Earl was the first to sculpt designs in clay before going to prototype, a time-honored process still in use today. One of Harley Earl’s concepts was the 1954 Chevrolet Nomad.
The Nomad Concept was styled to resemble the new Corvette but had a back seat and carry space, hence it was probably the first American shooting brake. However, as many already know, GM chose to utilize the design into their Bel Air series and the most famous two door wagon ever domestically produced was born.
The 55-57 Nomad is still one of the most sought after classic cars to date, and while still technically a shooting brake style, falls far short of being a sports or grand touring car.
Across the pond, Italian automaker Lamborghini didn’t ignore the style and built a true four-seat grand tourer complete with v-12 power. The Espada holds many of the shooting brake traits but still fell into the realm of exotic, as in not easily attainable.
Volkswagen created a similar movement when it produced its Golf model in a two-door hatch, blessed it with a zippy 16-valve engine and the GTi was born. The GTi is credited with being the origin of the “hot hatchback” craze, which still carries on today even though most models have given way to four-door practicality. Volkswagen briefly sent another model to our shores called the Scirocco,but it was eventually dropped from the US lineup. In 2008, they attached the nameplate to a stylish new coupe that many say possesses the panache of the shooting brake. Sadly, there are no plans to bring the new Scirocco back to our market, and that’s too bad because it shames the Golf in the pizzazz department.
This has always made me scratch my head at why this style hasn’t found a home in the USA? So many of us look at sporty cars, and would love to have one, even a V6 model, but we swear them off for woeful back seat room and lousy trunk space. They just aren’t usable for real world duties. Today the craze is for CUVs, SUVs, or Crossovers, and some new models are so small they are nothing more than tall hatchbacks. People still swoon over the Camaros, Mustangs, and Challengers but eschew them for their drawbacks. But what if they didn’t have some of those downsides? What if you could have a Camaro with a back seat fit for actual humans and carry space to boot? Maybe like this?
This rendering shows the possibility of a Camaro shooting brake. Not exotic, not insanely expensive, and just as usable as a hot hatchback. But why stop with the Camaro?
Personally, I think this Mustang rendering could use a slightly higher roofline, but the fact remains its ultimately doable, and sharp looking as well. Don’t think so? True, the initial shock of the car looking different from what you may be used to is there, but look at the hot-selling model from Hyundai…the Veloster.
I think this car sells for the exact same reason cited above, because it blends a sporty coupe nature with a level of practicality. But I also believe either the Camaro or Mustang shooting brake is a far better looking car.
The Dodge Challenger is already the most spacious of the three domestic sporting models so a shooting brake version makes the most sense here. Granted, I think this rendering desperately needs a roof/hatch spoiler but outside of that is a real winner. This is no Ferrari Lusso but it would be a fraction of the cost and incredibly useful.
All these renderings made me reach back to a favorite body style of mine from 1972 and I toyed with the shooting brake idea. This 72 Plymouth Roadrunner was already a spacious car with a roomy trunk but the extended roofline turns it into a hot two-door wagon. I stack this up against a Nomad any day, and while it isn’t a corner-carving sports car it proves the best versions of the useful wagon style have been left untouched far too long.
Kia is putting this Sportwagon version of their popular Optima sedan into production, but once again only for Europe and Australia. Its terribly sad such good looking, usable machines fail to make it here in lieu of more SUVs. Even if this car isn’t a shooting brake it still proves a wagon can be both practical, sporting, and nice to look at in your driveway.
The shooting brake remains an awkward name for a style of car, but it still holds a tight grip on the dreams of most gearheads because it gives us the driving experience we relish with more than two seats and pitiful luggage space. Now if the American market could just catch up with the rest of the world instead of being choked by the bean-counters, we might actually see the dreams become reality. But thank you, Ferrari for actually building such a fine example to inspire us all.
- T. August Green