x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The overdue return of the shooting brake

The shooting brake style of car, once a rarity, is making a comeback, Kevin Hackett reports

To the casual observer, it might look like a simple estate car but a closer examination usually reveals something distinctly sporty, something svelte and often something not quite right about the overall proportions. But it's different, and that's what makes the shooting brake style big news right now. We've seen it before, granted, but we haven't seen it for quite some time.

To clarify, a shooting brake is a sporting estate car, with the accepted standard being a two-door body style, with either a steeply raked hatchback rear opening or a full estate tailgate.

The term derives, not surprisingly, from the hunting fraternity and originated long before the car itself. Shooting, that's obvious, but a brake was a chassis used for breaking in horses. The name stuck and in the golden age of coachbuilding there were many variations on the theme, with standard road cars being altered to accommodate larger loads while retaining that essential element of sportiness.

Possibly the most famous of these is the Aston Martin DB5 shooting brake. Aston's boss in the 1960s, David Brown, was an avid country sports enthusiast and, while he found his own DB5 to be ideal for most situations, he wanted one with enough room for his dogs, guns and the occasional picnic hamper.

So he had the factory make him one. It retained the gorgeous looks and the reworked rear end was as elegant as it was practical. At last Brown's dogs, ensconced in the rear quarters, were unable to munch on the DB5's leather upholstery. It was the must-have vehicle for country types and it set in motion something of an Aston tradition.

Marek Reichman, Aston Martin's current design director, says that getting the looks right is often extremely challenging. "Everything goes back to proportion", he says. "If a car is visually well balanced in the beginning then changing those proportions in any way will result in imbalance."

Looking back at historical Aston Martin shooting brakes, he singles out the DB5 and the one-off Bertone Jet 2 show car of 2004 (which was based on the then Aston flagship Vanquish) as examples of getting it right. "It's the side profile of any car that defines the design direction," he continues. "A body shape with 'movement' is always going to be more difficult to adapt to the shooting brake style because it's synonymous with having a very abrupt, squared-off rear end."

Will we see another factory-sanctioned Aston shooting brake? Reichman says there are no plans at present but won't rule it out as a possibility in the future. "The marketplace wants and demands diversity from manufacturers, which is one of the reasons we re-invented the Aston Martin Zagato. But right now the Rapide offers the added practicality of a shooting brake but retains the beauty of the DB9 on which it is based. None of the current models would really work with a shooting brake rear end so if we were to do another one it would have to be a totally new design."

An example of a totally new shooting brake is Ferrari's glorious FF. Instead of toying with the bodywork of the outgoing 612 Scaglietti, Pininfarina went back to the drawing board and came up with something original. The looks are definitely love-it-or-loathe-it, but in today's marketplace it's totally unique and could not be mistaken for anything else.

Is the Porsche Panamera a shooting brake? No. It's a sleek saloon with a rear hatchback but its rear end is not square enough to make the grade.

Jaguar's new XF Sportbrake is another matter but unfortunately there are no plans to sell it in the GCC. An estate version of the XF was never part of the company's game plan so it's testament to the skills of Jaguar's designers that the car's appearance is so well resolved.

The fact that this oft-maligned style is making its way back to production cars is good news for any fan of the automobile. For it proves that, while there really is nothing new under the sun, at least we consumers are being offered a vast array of choice when it comes to our next set of wheels. Practical, stylish and exciting, the shooting brake's return is most welcome.

khackett@thenational.ae