|Now there is another niche that seems ready to be tapped: a sleek wagon with two doors and sports-car panache, its image entangled with European aristocracy, fox hunts and baying hounds.|
The car is a shooting brake, which was conceived to take gentlemen on the hunt with their firearms and dogs. While the name has been loosely applied to station wagons in general, the most famous shooting brakes had custom two-door bodies fitted to the chassis of pedigreed cars from the likes of Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce.
Although the shooting brake’s glory days came before World War II, and it has faded from the scene in recent decades, the body style is showing signs of a renaissance as automakers seek to invent (or reinvent) new kinds of vehicles for consumers constantly on the hunt for the next new thing.
The 2007 Volvo C30, ... the Audi Shooting Brake concept car shown in Tokyo a year ago
The beat went on at the Geneva auto show in March, where Renault showed its Altica concept car, which it called a “break de chasse,” or station wagon for the hunt.
In an automotive world of barrier-bending crossover vehicles and imprecise labels, definitions can be fuzzy. But in general, a station wagon (known as an “estate” in England, a “break” in France and a “touring” or “variant” in Germany) is a four-door sedan with a cargo compartment under a squared-off back end. The shooting brake, however, is a luxury coupe with a squared-off back.
It is not your basic two-door hatchback, a body style with different proportions: the hatchback tends to be squatty, while a shooting brake is sleek and has “a very interesting profile,” in the words of Peter Horbury, executive director of design for North America for the Ford Motor Company.
“It makes use of the road space it covers a little better than a normal coupe, and also helps the rear person with headroom,” Mr. Horbury added. “Especially in America, every member of the family has their own car. The occasional use of the rear seat means you can do one of these cars,” even if such a wagon lacks the everyday practicality of four doors.
One famous shooting brake was based on the 1965 Aston Martin DB5. The company’s longtime owner, David Brown, had the factory make the special car for him so he would have a place for his shotguns and dogs. He then had an English coachbuilder, Radford & Company, build a dozen more for customers.
Over the years, other Aston Martin shooting brakes followed, and in 2004 the Italian designer Nuccio Bertone took a page from the past and made a shooting brake from Aston’s Vanquish supercar for the Geneva auto show [Bertone Jet 2]. Still, there is no sign that Aston Martin is contemplating a revival. [sad day...]
But other European manufacturers clearly are. The Volvo C30, first glimpsed in concept-car form at the Detroit auto show last January, has four individual seats and a small glass tailgate. The limited luggage space is designed for briefcases, but the rear seats can be folded flat to make more room. More important for the target audience is a powerful audio system.
“We focused on delivering European utility, but it will go well in Boston, New York or Montreal,” said Simon Lamarre, the studio chief designer for Volvo. “It is an urban shooting brake, not a hatchback. It’s a new car that will give us growth, new customers we didn’t have before: active city people with no kids.”
There is a precedent at Volvo for the C30: the P1800ES of 1971-73. While the Swedish automaker never called that car a shooting brake when it was new, it neatly fits the description.
Audi’s Shooting Brake concept has about the same luggage space as a Ferrari F430, and similar ambitions. It’s a sports car with a 250-horsepower engine and interior touches like a short shifter for speedy gear changes...
There are even precedents from Detroit. General Motors’ sporty two-door Chevrolet Nomad and Pontiac Safari wagons of 1955-57, now prized by collectors, neatly follow the shooting brake formula. G.M. has twice presented latter-day concept versions of the Nomad, in 1999 and 2004, but neither was a serious contender for production.