Let’s get one thing straight, and that’s the definition of ‘shooting brake’. Forget what today’s automotive marketers tell you, a five-door wagon with a sloping roofline is not a shooting brake. We’re lookin’ at you Mercedes.
No, a shooting brake is a three-door station wagon, with two doors at the side for people and a tailgate at the back for stuff.
So now that we have that straight, a short history lesson of the shooting brake.
The term ‘shooting brake’ originated in the UK in the 1890s and referred specifically to a horse-drawn cart, designed specifically to carry a hunting – or shooting – party, their equipment and any spoils of the hunt.
With the advent of the new-fangled automobile, British carmakers soon started offering ‘shooting brakes’ as part of their ranges, described in one car magazine of the day, The Commercial Motor, as having “seats for eight persons as well as the driver, whilst four guns and a large supply of cartridges, provisions baskets and a good bag can be carried”.
By the 1930, the term Estate was starting to appear, and the ‘shooting brake’ gradually withdrew from public life.
But, it enjoyed a resurgence in the 1960s, this time dedicated coachbuilders turning their hand to converting production vehicles into three-door wagons, sometimes to devastatingly dramatic effect.
Today, it’s become a marketing buzzword, many manufacturers using the term shooting brake to describe any regular five-door station wagon with a sloping roofline. But, in the spirit of the original, we’re choosing to ignore them.
Here then, in no particular order, are 10 of the coolest shooting brakes ever. Some are bespoke one-off concepts, others low-volume production cars. Others still, mass-market vehicles that defied the prevailing trends of the day. But, whatever their provenance, all are as cool as all get out.
And, to the regular CarAdvice commenter who has been decrying a certain Honda omission from our previous lists about wagons, buckle in.
Callaway Corvette AeroWagen
Let’s start with a ridiculous idea, but one that just look so freakin’ cool, it’s hard to ignore. Famed Corvette tuning house, Callaway, first released renders of a shooting brake concept based on the C7 generation Corvette back in 2013. It wasn’t an attention-seeking ploy, however, designed to elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at motor shows.
Instead, Callaway’s design was the start of something else, and by 2017, the Corvette specialists could turn your bog standard C7 Corvette into a different kind of beast.
For a not entirely unreasonable US$16,995 (AUD$23,365) Callaway transformed your two-seater coupe into a… two-seater shooting brake.
The question that must be asked, though, is why? The AeroWagen didn’t offer more seats, nor was cargo capacity greatly increased while the donor car’s targa roof was retained. And the answer? Because it looks awesome. And that’s enough for us.
Aston Martin Virage Shooting Brake
Unveiled to the public at the 1992 Geneva Auto Salon, the Aston Martin Virage Shooting Brake was intended to be a series production model from the British brand. Customers could opt for either a complete car or have their existing Virage coupe converted by Aston Martin. The complete car had a price tag of £165,000 (AUD$300,000) making it the most expensive Aston at the time.
Under the bonnet, Aston’s 5.3-litre V8 provided motivation. Its 246kW and 475Nm, sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox, look slim by today’s standards. Still, the Virage Shooting Brake was good for a top speed of 245km/h, not too shabby considering its 1980kg weight.
Unlike the Callaway AeroWagen, the Virage Shooting Brake actually added some practicality, with room for four passengers and all their stuff in the cargo area. The first Shooting Brake to be produced by the factory, it wasn’t exactly a success. Exact production numbers are unknown but various experts of the British manufacturer cite no more than six were ever produced. Of those, four were conversions to existing customer cars while the two prototypes remain the only ground-up bespoke builds from the factory.
Five were finished in the classic Aston Martin British Racing Green while a single example was painted in Dubonnet Rosso.
Aston also built a five-door estate based on the Virage, called the Lagonda Virage Shooting Brake. Just two examples were made, based on the equally rare Lagonda Virage Saloon, a four-door version of the coupe.
Lancia Beta HPE
“Buy the bonnet for the sport and the boot for the estate,” proclaimed Lancia’s advertising material for the Beta HPE, a two-door estate version of the charming little Lancia Beta Coupe.
‘HPE’ stood for High Performance Estate and while its 1600cc (74kW) and 1800cc (81kW) engines offered meagre outputs, its reputation was built on a well-balanced chassis and dynamic handling abilities.
Borrowing the floorpan from the larger saloon and the front end from the delicious Beta coupe, the HPE received an engine upgrade to 2.0-litres which upped power to 88kW. By the end of its lifecycle, it features a 2.0-litre supercharged inline four-cylinder with a decent 99kW on tap.
By the time Lancia pulled the plug on the Beta range in 1984, some 71,000 HPEs had been built and sold. It was replaced in Lancia’s range by the utterly charmless Prisma, the beginning of a slow decline into obscurity for the once great Italian marque which today manufactures exactly one model, the Ypsilon.
Porsche 924 DP Cargo
Another coachbuilt special, this time by famed German Porsche tuning house, DP Motorsport who thought it would be fun to take a regular Porsche 924, upgrade the drivetrain to 924 Turbo spec, and graft on the flat roof from a Volkswagen Passat wagon to create load-lugging Porker.
DP Motorsport’s conversion began by removing the original rear section of the roof, welding in a new spaceframe before grafting on the roof of the donor Passat, although with reshaped pillars and tailgate to make it look more Porsche-y and less Passat-y.
Under the bonnet, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder from the 924 Turbo was good for 125kW while inside, the 2+2 layout of the coupe gave way to a far more practical five-seat layout, affording second row passengers genuine comfort. Plus, the added space in the cargo area afforded some load-lugging ability.
Weird? Undoubtedly. But, it’s also charming in its own special way.
Just nine were built, some with the wider body of the Porsche 944. It wasn’t cheap either, with US$30,000 (AUD$41,000) needed back in 1986 just for the conversion, bring your own Porsche 924.
Examples pop up occasionally for sale, most recently a UK-owned DP Cargo asking for £30,000 (AUD$54,000) in 2019. As one of only nine ever made, that’s not a huge amount for something so exclusive.
Honda Accord Aerodeck
The Honda Accord Aerodeck is “the vehicle which transcends the hatchback”, proclaimed Honda of its new creation in 1986. And fair enough too. Looking in profile like a stretched hatchback, the Accord Aerodeck’s remains a timeless design.
Elegant proportions married to pop-up headlights and comfortable seating for four, all while being capable of lugging a decent amount of gear, is the perfect formula for a shooting brake. No wonder then, British mag Autocar boldly stated the Aerodeck “comes closer to perfection than most vehicles”, when it was launched in 1986.
Under the bonnet, Honda offered a choice of either a carburetted 2.0-litre inline four with 79kW or a more powerful fuel-injected version with 90kW.
Sadly, Australia didn’t get the Aerodeck, a model only sold into Japan, Europe and, strangely, New Zealand, while the US market received a five-door version only. Not, a shooting brake, then.
For us, though, it’s the three-door version that ticked all the boxes, its design easily standing the test of time.
Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Shooting Brake
Bob Gittleman wanted something a little different from his 1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. After all, why tootle around in a bog-standard Pininfarina-designed Daytona when you have the resources to do something like this.
So in 1975, enlisting the help of UK coachbuilding firm Panther Westwinds, Gittleman set about turning his grand tourer into a one-off shooting brake.
The project took two years to complete – and allegedly cost the equivalent of four brand new Daytonas in 1975 – and the result is simply stunning, arguably the ultimate incarnation of a shooting brake.
Its party trick – other than the bog-standard 4.4-litre Ferrari V12 lurking on that long sculpted bonnet – is undoubtedly the glass gullwing windows providing access to the cargo area. No traditional tailgate for this beauty.
It might seem somewhat sacrilegious to turn one of just 1285 Ferrari Daytonas ever made (this particular car is #805) into something so unusual, but we’re glad Mr Gittleman did.
Volvo 1800 ES
The Volvo P1800 coupe was already a classic by the time the Swedish manufacturer decided to apply the shooting brake formula to its little two-door sports car.
Released in 1971, the 1800ES featured an extended roofline and a glass hatchback, arguably years ahead of its time.
No changes were made to the drivetrain, the same 2.0-litre inline four found under the bonnet as in the coupe. Power was rated at 93kW.
Inside, the backseats folded to create a flat loading area, space which Volvo claimed “increased luggage capacity to provide extra space for golfing or hunting equipment”.
Produced for just two years, just over 8000 Volvo 1800ES rolled off the line by the time all 1800 production was wound up in 1973. In contrast, nearly 40,000 P1800 coupes had been produced between 1961-73.
You’ll need around AUD$65,000 today to land yourself a pristine example of Volvo’s classic shooting brake.
Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato
I mean, just look at it. It’s gorgeous, no matter the angle. It’s also rare, with just 99 examples ever made. A collaboration between Aston Martin and Italian styling house Zagato, the Shooting Brake completed the line-up of Zagato-designed Vanquishes including a Coupe, a Speedster and a Volante. Arguably, it’s the Shooting Brake that’s the most resolved in terms of design.
Packaging the Vanquish into an estate provided some headaches for Aston’s engineers. Having a fuel tank in the back, fine for a coupe or convertible, wasn’t going to cut it in a load-lugger. After all, who wants a fuel tank eating into the available space for golf clubs and hunting gear?
The solution? The front-end of the car is all Vanquish, the rear-end all Rapide, Aston’s four-door super sedan.
Under the bonnet, a 6.0-litre V12 with 440kW helps propel the Shooting Brake from standstill to 100km/h in just 3.5 seconds. Not too shabby.
But, before you get too excited about embarking on a Griswalds-style touring holiday of Europe with all the family in tow, the Shooting Brake remains strictly a two-seater. You’ll need over a million of our dollarbucks if you want one.
Look, we know it’s not the prettiest of the shooting brake breed, but the Saab 95 earns its place on this list for its sheer longevity. In production from 1959-78, the 95 started life as a seven-seater, the third row two rearward facing seats for little kidlets.
That third row was dropped in 1976, turning the Saab into a five-seater. But, what it never had in its long life, was a second set of doors, the 95 a true three-door its entire production run.
It started life with a tiny 841cc two-stroke inline three-cylinder engine under the bonnet before graduating to a more powerful 1.5-litre Ford-sourced V4 in 1967.
Despite its awkward appearance, the 95 was regarded in the day as agile and a joy to drive. And thanks to Saab’s aeronautical background, the 95 enjoyed a low drag coefficient, making it surprisingly quick for the time.
Also available as a panel van, the Saab 95 has today found popularity with restomodders, its striking if unconventional design the perfect canvas for some cool tuning and styling tweaks.
Volvo 480 ES
The spiritual successor to the Volvo 1800ES, the Volvo 480 ES made its debut at Geneva in 1986. A three-door ‘sports wagon’ in Volvo speak, the 480 was the first production car from the Swedish brand with a front-wheel drive platform.
Its wedge-shaped design, replete with period-correct pop-up headlights, pointed to an exciting future for the Swedish carmaker. Sure, it looked more like a conventional hatchback, but Volvo called it an 'estate', so here we are.
Inside, the digital age beckoned, Volvo keen to spruik its ‘electronic information centre’, aka trip meter providing average fuel consumption, average speed, range and even external ambient temperature, standard fare today in today’s car but heady stuff for the time.
A Renault-sourced 1,7-litre engine with 80kW helped move the 480 from 0-100km/h in nine seconds while top speed was rated at 190km/h. The addition of a 480 Turbo to the range in 1988 saw outputs improve to 88kW.
In all, 76,375 Volvo 480s were produced between 1986 and the end of its life in 1995. When the end of the line for the 480 was announced in ’95, British magazine CAR wrote of the 480’s light weight and agile handling: “This meant there was some danger of a sporty steer – pretty radical from a company that considered having fun at the wheel as acceptable as seducing a nun.”
It was succeeded in 2006 by the altogether less inspiring Volvo C30.
Did we miss anything this time around? As always let us know in the comments below.
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