Car designations explained: the European influence

Car designations explained: the European influence

There’s nothing like using the motherland’s terminology to make your car sound like it’s got more class. Of course, you’ll never drive an Aston Martin Black Pudding, but harking back to the gentlemanly days can give a marque some extra kudos.

Shooting-brake (or shooting-break, depending on which country you’re in)

In the 1800s and through to the early 1900s a brake was a type of open-topped horse-drawn carriage of any size designed for hunting. It was designed to carry the driver and a gamekeeper at the front and several sportsmen with guns in the back. Dogs, guns and game were carried alongside in raks. While this sounds like it could have morphed into a mafia-style limo, it’s more commonly used to describe a station wagon, or estate-type of car.

Aston Martin are particularly fond of the term (DB5, DB6, Virage, Vantage, Lagonda and DBS all had the term applied), and it’s been resurrected recently by Audi for a couple of concept cars. Ferrari, Porsche, Volvo, Bentley and even Lamborghini have produced concepts or production cars. Although, anyone trying to shoot a pheasant while hanging out of the side of a Lamborghini would need heat-guided missiles.

Many of the concepts started to look like stylistic hearses. has a number of images.

Drophead coupe (or drophead coupe)

Basically, it’s a convertible (or cabriolet in British English). The name applies to both cars with a retractable hardtop roof, or a soft folding top. The concept behind a ‘convertible’ was that you could ‘convert’ your open-topped car into one that had a roof. British manufacturers tend to use the designation with Aston Martin (DB2/4 Drophead Coupe), Bentley (Arnage Drophead Coupe) and Daimler Double-Six 50 Sport Corsica Drophead Coupe). Rolls-Royce released its 2008 Phantom Drophead Coupe at the January 2007 Detroit North American International Auto Show.

Fixed head coupe

It’s the opposite of a drophead coupe. A coupe with a fixed roof, the term was mainly used by British manufacturers such as Jaguar (e.g. XK150, E-Type) well as Rolls-Royce (e.g. Corniche), Aston Martin (e.g. DB3S), TVR (e.g. Tasmin 280i), and Bentley (e.g. Mark VI Park Ward).


Standing for Grand Tourer (or Gran Turismo in Italian), GT means it’s a high performance car with the comforts required for long distance driving. They’re usually larger and heavier than sports cars and mostly have their engine at the front. While outright power and acceleration of GT cars can match some sports cars, softer suspension and a heavier body often means on the track they’re left in the dust. Examples include pretty much the whole Aston Martin range, Ferrari 599 GTB, Jaguar XJS, Maserati GranTurismo, and the Mercedes SLR McLaren. The Porsche Carrera GT is not really a GT car — more of a supercar or hypercar.

So, as long as it sells cars, car manufacturers will continue to evoke the images of a halcyon yesteryear.

Words Darren Cottingham

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