The announcement of the Jaguar XF Sportbrake at the Geneva Motor Show last week stirred some response from me. The name is a variant on the "shooting brake," wood-paneled wagons used as hunting cars on major British estates like, you know, Downton Abbey. Remember the crew shooting pheasants? Well, they often did that from Rolls-Royces especially set up for the purpose.
I am a longtime lover of station wagons, and currently own a vintage Volvo in that configuration, but have also had Plymouth Valiants and other forms. I've been doing some research on biodiesel, and came across a wagon I'd dearly love to convert to run that fuel — a 1960 Mercedes 190D that was converted to shooting brake status ("Kombi") by the German coachbuilder Binz. Very few are known, but the Boise, Idaho example just sold on eBay for $15,201 was the second I'd seen. The other was 20 years ago in a barn on a Connecticut farm whose main crop appeared to be rotting Mercedes carcasses. The fellow wouldn't sell.
OK, picture the car pictured above with a two-tone blue paint scheme, restored with a Greasecar conversion kit so it could run straight vegetable oil. Now that would be a ride you wouldn't see every day. I owned a 1959 Mercedes 220S that was similar to this car, and it's the vehicle I most regret selling.
Like most suburban kids, I was raised in station wagons, but by the time I came around the wood was fake. The Ford Country Squire was a mainstay of Connecticut towns like Westport, and I vividly remember being taken to the beach in the "wayback" of neighbors' cars.
The wagon was a somehow benign precursor of the sport-utility vehicle and the minivan. It was car-based and nobody had yet seen any reason for such cars to have all-wheel-drive, so fuel economy and performance wasn't much changed from the sedan version. If you wanted to move around whole Cub Packs there wasn't much else on the market.
SUVs nearly killed the market for wagons — they were suddenly uncool. But the good news is that they're coming back, not only with this Sportbrake but also with such established sellers as the BMW 5-Series Touring and the Audi A6 and Allroad. I like the idea that the wagon is acquiring a sporty image, because it will make them cool again.
The Sportbrake, based on the existing XF sedan, has either a four-liter 2.2-liter or V6 three-liter diesel engine, which means it may never see American shores. Other features include rear self-leveling air suspension, an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a micro-hybrid start-stop system. There's an "integral ski-hatch," so you have an idea of the market for the car. It's only Jaguar's second "estate car" in 90 years, the first being a version of the X-Type.
But wasn't there an E-Type wagon (or maybe it was a hearse) in Harold and Maude? It gets wrecked at the end of the movie, but maybe in real life it's still out there somewhere, carrying on the tradition.
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