Shooting-brake is a term for car body style, which originated in the 1890s as a horse-drawn wagon used to transport shooting parties with their equipment and game. Since the 1960s, the term has been used for cars which combine elements of station wagon and coupé body styles, sometimes with references to the historical usage for shooting parties.
In Britain, the term has been used interchangeably with estate car (station wagon) since the 1930s.
The first automobile versions of shooting brakes were produced in the early 1900s in the United Kingdom. The vehicle style became popular in England during the 1920s and 1930s, and was produced by vehicle manufacturers or as conversions by coachbuilders. During the 1960s and early 1970s, several high end European manufacturers produced two-door shooting brake versions of their sports cars. The body style was then largely dormant for several decades, until Mercedes-Benz released a shooting brake model 2012, followed by Porsche in 2018.
A horse-drawn shooting brake in 1903 (photo from the New York Fish and Game Commission)
Like many early automotive body styles, the shooting brake was originally a type of horse-drawn vehicle. A brake was originally a chassis hooked to spirited horses to "break" them; however the etymology of the term is unknown. It is possible that the word 'brake' has its origins in the Dutch word 'brik' which means 'cart' or 'carriage'. The term brake later became broader in definition, being used for wagons in general.
The shooting brake, which began in England in the 1890s, was a wagon (more specifically a type of wagonette) designed to transport hunting spoils, gun racks and ammunition on shooting trips.
In the early 1900s, the Scottish Albion Motors began producing shooting brake models, described in the weekly magazine 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."
The 1912 Hudson Model 33 was described in England as a shooting brake, on the basis that "...it was also used to carry the beaters to and from the location of the shoot, and for bringing back the game shot".
Early[when?] motorized safari vehicles were described as shooting brakes with no windows or doors. "Instead roll-down canvas curtains were buttoned to the roof in the case of bad weather. These cars were heavy and comfortable in good weather and allowed quick and silent exit as no shooting was permitted from the vehicles."
During the 1920s and 1930s, shooting brake vehicles were popular in England, and were produced as shooting brakes from the factory or converted by coachbuilders. The term "estate car" began to be used instead of shooting brake, as the use of the vehicle expanded from just shooting parties to other domestic uses including ferrying guests and their luggage to and from railway stations.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, several high end European manufacturers produced two-door shooting brake versions of their sports cars, including the 1960 Sunbeam Alpine Shooting Brake and 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Shooting Brake. The 1966 Sunbeam Alpine was a limited-production three-door variant of its two-door open sports car with leather interior and walnut trim, selling at a price double its open counterpart and marketed as a shooting brake. The Aston Martin DB5, DB6 and DBS shooting brakes were custom manufactured by coachbuilder Harold Radford from 1965 to 1967.
In 1992, Aston Martin manufactured in-house a limited production shooting brake variant of its Virage/Vantage.
After laying mostly dormant since the mid 1970s, the shooting brake body style appeared in 2004 with the Chevrolet Nomad concept car. The following year, the Audi Shooting Brake concept car was revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show.
The first production model shooting brake of the 21st century was the 2012 Mercedes Benz CLS-Class Shooting Brake (X218), which was previewed as the Shooting Brake concept car at Auto China. This model has four (passenger) doors, which is at odds with some definitions of a shooting brake as being a two-door car. In 2015, Mercedes-Benz added the smaller CLA-Class four-door shooting brake to the model range.
There is no universally agreed definition of a shooting brake, however the common themes are the coupé and station wagon body styles, and the historical usage of the vehicle for hunting trips. Descriptions of the body style include:
"A sleek wagon with two doors and sports-car panache, its image entangled with European aristocracy, fox hunts and baying hounds".
An interchangeable term for estate car (station wagon). In France, a station wagon is marketed as a break, once having been called a break de chasse, which translates as "hunting break".
A body style with "a very interesting profile. It makes use of the road space it covers a little better than a normal coupé, and also helps the rear person with headroom... The occasional use of the rear seat means you can do one of these cars, even if such a wagon lacks the everyday practicality of four doors."
A vehicle conceived "to take gentlemen on the hunt with their firearms and dogs... and "although [its] glory days came before World War II, and it has faded from the scene in recent decades, the body style is showing signs of a renaissance" (as of 2006). "The most famous shooting brakes had custom two-door bodies fitted to the chassis of pedigreed cars".
^ abAutomobile quarterly, 22 (1), Princeton Institute for Historic Research, 1984, p. 1931, If milord had it in mind to do a bit of hunting, he and his guns would then be transported to the shooting site in a "brake" (the English term originally applied to horse-drawn wagons). Being somewhat logical, the British determined that if a brake was used for shooting purposes it might well be named "shooting brake." However, the term fell into common parlance and eventually became a generic label...
^1. A large carriage-frame (having two or four wheels) with no body, used for breaking in young horses. 1831 J. C. Loudon Encycl. Agric. (ed. 2) 1002 The training of coach-horses commences with‥driving in a brake or four-wheeled frame. 1865 Derby Mercury 1 Mar., A horse-breaker's drag, or brake, with two horses harnessed to it. Etymology uncertain. Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press 2011.
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