Going The Distance

Editorial

Many of the terms we use in connection with cars are in fact older than the internal combustion engine, but the new Ferrari FF has me thinking about a couple in particular. The first of these is "shooting brake". A shooting brake used to be a large carriage that would carry the whole aristocratic hunting party and their equipment into the woods, something like the Holland & Holland Overfinch Range Rover. Now it's used for the half-coupe-half-station-wagons in the style of the FF.

Definitions change and the modern definition is the more common vehicle now. Not even die hard language purists get too worked about what sort of vehicle we call a shooting brake, but somewhat more difficult to pin down is "grand touring". This is a much more common term, not to mention older and with a far richer history. It dates back to a time when the wealthy sons of European (although mostly British) nobility would take trips through Europe, taking in art, architecture and history along the way.

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These tours were considered an important part of the processes of coming of age for members of the ruling class. The shortest grand tours would last several months, and it was normal for them to take years. Obviously, it's fairly difficult to compare the sort of coaches used for 17th century grand tours to anything we have today, but a large chauffeur-driven limousine like the Rolls-Royce Phantom would probably be the closest thing to an actual grand touring automobile, since touring princes always traveled with servants. We would never call a Phantom a GT car though, as this definition has also changed.

People who travel with servants travel by private jet these days, so a grand touring car doesn't need to be big. Today's GT cars are generally front-engine, two-door, and offer varying levels of cabin refinement. People tend to pay quite a bit of money for GT cars like the Aston Martin DB9 or the Ferrari 599, and it is reasonable for them to expect these cars to offer up large amounts of power in return. The problem that often befalls GT cars is that when you have something with two doors and a lot of power there is often a tendency for automakers to treat them as though they are simply larger sports cars.

Luggage space and creature comforts are often sacrificed in the name of performance, and the whole niche keeps edging further from what touring really means. I love driving fast as much as the next red-blooded American, but it is important to remember that the real purpose of a GT car is as a road trip vehicle. Not for family roadtrips (nobody wants a GT minivan) but luxurious trips for one or two people. Bentley got this idea exactly right with the Continental GT, the levels of speed, comfort and practicality are just what they should be for the kind of luxury road trip that is the modern version of a grand tour.

This is why I think Ferrari did a good thing with the FF. Without imitating anyone else, they have brought us a car that truly deserves to called a Gran Tourismo.

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