Musings on the Motoring World

It is time to resurrect the Shooting Brake

With the rush to release an ever increasing number of new model ranges every year, it seems that car makers are basing more of their decisions on elevator pitches. If it isn’t raised or comes fitted with some sort of miracle electric drivetrain that humbles the supercar royalty at the exit of every Cars and Coffee, the suits don’t want to hear it.

That might be a way to explain the constant barrage of new or rehashed classic monikers reborn as a pseudo-crossover, fueled on a diet of electrons, or better yet, both. Car makers nowadays are hooked on today’s low hanging fruit, which is going to make this pitch for the Shooting Brake all the more futile because it can’t be easily summarised as “its new and cool”.

Perhaps one of the most perplexing jargons humankind had ever come up with, the term ‘Shooting Brake’ wasn’t even coined by bored product planners scraping the bottom of the thesaurus for another way of fancying up a ‘wagon’. Many believe that the term originated from pre-Victorian times where it was used to describe a four-wheeled cart originally used to train horses, or ‘break’ them in, that was converted for use as a means of transport for a hunting party who fancy a spot of ‘shooting’ for sport.

When the rich started buying cars, the coachbuilders and car makers simple adopted the term for their early ‘horseless carriage’ creations that had bigger enclosed wooden frame bodies to carry occupants in relative comfort around reserves to their hunting destination. If the connection wasn’t literal enough, the French word for shooting brake is ‘break de chasse’ or literally translated as ‘break of hunting’.  

After the war, the use of the ‘shooting brake’ moniker, like its blue-blooded patrons, slowly disappeared. Gradually as cars were being widely adopted by the general public, and took on a more utilitarian role in day-to-day life, it lost its aristocratic connection and instead took on the more generic descriptor of ‘estate’, which some regard is a throwback to the shooting brake creations that were used to cross the estates of the landed gentry.

As estates adopted the four-door layout of its sedan relations, the shooting brake name was used to identify two-door coupes that have been converted or ascribed with a wagon-like extended cargo area. However as the traditional estate buyers started gravitating towards MPVs in the 1980s, and later moving onto the crossover in the early-2000s, the estate market quickly dried up. Too small to grow the bottom line but too risky to bet the company on, the once popular estate became a niche model, its less-practical brethren, a vapid fantasy. These days the only shooting brake examples are the handful of coachbuilder conversions, Ferrari’s GTC4Lusso flagship grand tourer, and Mercedes-Benz’s four-door coupe wagons, which technically doesn’t count. All of which, rather ironically, commands the princely sum only an aristocrat can foot.

In recent times however the market is seeing the terminal decline of both coupe and estate forms as customer demands and expectations start changed in favour of more practical body styles. Four-door coupe variants are easily outselling its two-door counterparts for having a rear set of doors instead of sex appeal, whereas SUVs have outmoded the estate with its added ground clearance and the promise that it won’t get bogged in the mud. There is a reasonable chance that most users won’t use these additional ‘extras’ as often as they’d like to imagine, but it is the thought of having it in the first place that ultimately seals the deal for many.

In this day and age, for a niche product is to succeed, it has to find its place on the far fringes of the automotive Venn diagram. Sharing too much commonality with a mainstream genre would render its own existence moot. In this respect, the shooting brake has the right ingredients to step in and carve out a comfortable niche.

With its stretched roofline and extended cargo space, the shooting brake offers something the traditional four-door coupe can’t – namely rear headroom and luggage room. Keeping to a two-door form – rather than an estate’s four-door layout – would land the shooting brake outside the traditional SUV customer base considering that the two-door SUVs has since failed to catch on with the general public, proving that the customers in this end of the market isn’t too keen on forsaking practicality for street cred.

Street cred, however, is the one thing that the shooting brakes have in spades, both from a contemporary and historical perspective. Its rarity and combination of a coupe aesthetics with practicality is a esoteric combination that no other niche could fulfill.

Lastly, the origins and heritage of the shooting brake as a choice of the aristocracy certainly lends legitimacy and an aspirational value to coupe customers who want something more than just space for themselves and a set of golf clubs. On second thought, maybe that is all the elevator pitch has to say to sum up the reasons why the shooting brake should have a shot at a comeback, it would have surely saved everyone a great deal of time.

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