Too much boot for a saloon? Not enough for a wagon? These babies have got back – just maybe a little less back than the rest of the wagons rolling through this month’s theme. Much as I love full-on wagons, I’ve always been a fan of cut-down estates (and drive one myself) – the predominantly two-door sports estates and outright shooting brakes that bridge the gap between coupé and wagon. Fast on the inside, fast-looking on the outside.
So I wanted to take this opportunity to look at some of the demi-wagons that I’ve come across over the years, cars that are hovering on the periphery of the estate scene.
Chopping stuff off is difficult enough – look at the number of convertible versions of cars around today that look like someone has just taken a chainsaw to the roof. Or one-off specials that have gone… wrong.
Adding stuff is even more tough, which is perhaps why the most committed builders and coach-builders of this world relish the challenge.
Driving a two-seater sportscar is all very well, but even the most committed driver needs… stuff. At least a spare pair of pants (in both the US and British way). Taking a saloon or sportscar and pumping up the back is no new thing – the shooting brake phenomenon is as old as the car itself. Older, it turns out.
The first thing that hit me was… I’d never even thought about the origin of the term! It’s one of those names I’d just accepted without question. First used in the 19th century, predictably shooting brake turns out to be a literal compound of two things: shooting and horses. ‘Brakes’ were small horse-drawn carriages; add a bunch of aristocrats armed to the teeth with hunting rifles and you got the original shooting brakes.
Replace the horse with horsepower, and bingo: there’s your modern shooting brake.
Manufacturers have come up with some beautiful straight-up production examples over the years, like the Volvo P1800ES of the early ’70s – for which the Raketen prototype was quite something.
Then there are the hot wagons, like the Savage Cortina, with tuners powering-up innocuous mid-size estates. But first let’s take a look at some examples of bespoke coach-building.Don’t Spare The Horses
Easily the most impressive shooting brake I’ve seen is the DP Motorsports 944 Cargo, created by the team who helped create the brutal Porsche 935 K3 Group 5 racer and then went on to make increasingly crazy slant-nose 911 Turbo conversions for the road and track.
After the success of the 935, DP were looking for new projects. They’d created a wide-body kit for the 944, but then decided to take it a step further: how about making one into an estate? Working from the chopped rear of a scrapped VW Passat Variant, they mated it to a 944 to test the concept before refining the idea using a clay model.
The result is so natural looking that you wonder how it was never picked by the factory (though Porsche did later test out a 928). The lines are just perfect, with the slight rise of the rear fender line matching the tapering roofline to create a classic shooting brake tail.
Everything was bespoke, with a completely new roof section and glass. The rear was chopped down, bisecting the tail-lights to create a flat deck – but so cleanly done that you’d never really know until the tail-gate is lifted.
DP used the automatic closing mechanism from a Mercedes 124T, and moved the spare wheel into a new side panel to create a huge amount of space in the back, adding storage compartments where there was any useable recess.
Eight were constructed in period to order, in different colour combinations. This one has retained its original interior but has seen some modern tuning parts added, like the drilled disks and the continuation-line forged 18-inch Fuchs rims.
An unfinished ninth car was taken on by Patrick Zimmerman, son of DP’s founder Ekkehard, as a personal project. By his own words, it was so long ago that DP built the Cargos that they’d forgotten how to do it, so building a new Cargo allowed them to relearn the process. There’s now a surprisingly inexpensive conversion kit available, if you happen to have a 944 lying about.
Most importantly, it still looks fast. There’s nothing sleeper about the DP Cargo. You can get stuff to places, and get it there quick.
Aston Martin have a long history of being used for shooting brakes, starting off with a DB5 created by coach-builders Radford. 12 DB5s built in 1965, selling for the twice the average UK house price of the time… I think the DB6 version here is a cleaner machine, looking less like there’s been a shed (if a very expensive shed) welded on the back. To me it’s got a more coherent shape, helped by the lip of the flat Kamm tail meeting the tail-gate and the curving side glass profile.
These are super rare beasts. Just three DB6 Shooting Brakes were crafted by FLM Panelcraft in the late ’60s, and this particular DB6 has history to go with its exclusivity as it was owned by Formula 1 and sportscar driver Innes Ireland. He had his Aston converted from a regular coupé into a shooting brake – after all, why sell your treasured motor when you could keep the heart of the car and fit all your race gear in the back?
Aston Martin Works completed a ground-up restoration of the super coupé back to the original condition, and when I saw the car it had that intoxicating new-old car smell. Oil – of both the engine and wood varieties – and wool. It almost makes you want to wear tweed.
Almost every model of Aston Martin has spawned a custom shooting brake variant, through the V8 and Virage models and even including the angular wedge Lagonda of the ’80s. Back in 2013 Italian coach builders Bertone created the Jet 2 as homage to the original Aston Martin DB4 Jet the firm built in 1961.
This time the base was a Vanquish V12. A short run based on the Rapide followed, but this one-off was the personal car of Bertone’s president, Lilli.
This one is less visually bespoke, but then it’s worth noting because of the badge on the nose and the aural memory that still echoes around my head when I look at this car. The Brabus B50, based on the Merc CLS shooting brake: 620hp of estate-pounding insanity.
Lowered and hardened up, as you’d expect with any Brabus mecha-car, it’s the fearsome noise of the bi-turbo V8 and the shocking torque that defines the B50 as a staggering barely-sleeper, cut-down wagon that you only wake up if you dare…
The crazy thing was that my experience of the B50 was limited to being ferried around the Brabus campus in one, but even a couple of hundred yards was enough to get an idea of the Space Shuttle levels of acceleration.
Back to Britain, Rovers have been another marque often picked out for the estate treatment – 160 P6 estates were built by FLM Panelcraft, who also made the DB6, with tacit factory blessing from Rover themselves.
As ever with conversions rather than straight tune-ups, there’s an awful lot of work that has to go on underneath the skin to produce a successful result. In the Rover’s case, the fuel tank had to be completely redesigned to lie flat under the new boot floor. The majority of conversions were the big 3.5-litre V8 models. Rover created a handful of prototype shooting brake versions of the big SD1 coupé that followed, which was a rather more svelte thing than the slab rear of the P6, though they never went into production.Pushing The Limits
Once you start looking into obscure extensions into the wagon world, the more crazy stuff emerges. The Jaguar XJS Lynx Eventer I’d heard of, but a Triumph TR7? Actually quite nice! A Mustang? Italian coach-builder Intermeccanica built this concept – but this was a time when the Blue Oval wasn’t kindly disposed towards the Italian automotive world… But the less said about the Renault 5 six-wheeler, perhaps the better.
Racing estates are few and far between – the full-on Volvo 850 estate campaigned in the British Touring Car Championship was the last sensible entrant until last year’s Honda Civic Tourer, here handily putting itself sideways for a better camera angle.
Going back to 1962 there is another example of a bespoke racing high-back machine – the Ferrari 250 GT SWB shooting brake designed by Bizzarrini, nicknamed the Breadvan.
Converted from a coupé, the body for this one-off was created by Piero Drogo, who was responsible for several other low-drag Ferrari racing cars. The roofline was even lower than a standard 250, and the tail cut off dramatically to give an aerodynamically efficient Kamm-style rear. It raced at the Le Mans 24 Hours in ’62, and out-paced factory 250s almost every time it raced – which is still does today.
Ferrari’s contemporary FF is the closest the company have come in the recent era to creating a shooting brake in their own right, but there have been a surprising number of third-party builds over the years.
Pininfarina adapted their 456 for a limited run of shooting brakes in the ’90s, and a wood-bedecked 330 was created by Vignale in ’68. But this 365/4 Daytona is the one that stands out. The name Luigi Chinetti is intrinsically linked with Ferrari – he founded the famous NART racing team in the US – and the family name also crops up on a number of Ferrari shooting brakes. This awesome machine was actually built in 1975 to a Chinetti design in the UK (influenced by the Volvo Raketen prototype), with a unique feature on an already unique car being that the rear deck was accessed via gullwing doors rather than a traditional tail-gate.
Into the modern era the popularity for shooting brakes hasn’t waned. Callway’s Aerowagon (top left) is based on the new Corvette C7; Touring Superleggera created a Bentley Flying Star (top right) a couple of years back and Zagato an Aston Martin Virage in 2014; the Maserati Touring Bellagio Fastback (bottom left) is the work of Carrozzeria Touring.
To finish up, a couple more cars which are maybe on the edge. For instance, you could think of the Lotus Elite of the mid-’70s as a mini shooting brake – though then you could consider the Lamborghini Espada and even Citroën SM in the same category. Too much coupé, not enough wagon?
Similarly, Reliant’s V6 Scimitar followed a shooting brake form, with an overt sportscar nose married to a tapering estate-style tail.
Reliant’s Kitten could be said to take that compact coupé/wagon thing even further. Especially when you consider this one is Cosworth-powered! Okay, I admit I’m now really pushing the limits!
So that Citroën. Just a fastback coupé, or a rocket-age shooting brake from the future? Where’s the cut-off between estate and coupé, and what other cars do you think fit in this category?