Cars and their stories

The Shooting Brake: Performance station wagon?


What is a shooting brake?

It’s the anglicizing of the French break de chasse. A break is a wagon designed to break in new horses or train them as teams for larger carriages.  De chasse translates from French to “the hunt”. The first reference to a shooting break is in a newspaper review of The Edinburgh Motor Show in 1908. These were horseless variations of the depot hack, which found additional uses besides being a transport for passengers and their luggage to the local train depot, or a wagon to take them to and from the station, hence station wagon.

Since most of the first automobiles were purchased by those with more than a few pounds sterling in their pockets, owners used them to shuttle large parties around their estate (yep, that’s where the British term for station wagon came from) and especially during the exciting chase of hunting parties!

Before the automobile would be available to the everyday man through the efforts of the Austin 7 and the Model T, gents would show off their Brass Era cars. Little did they know that the luxury of a sportsman’s vehicle, the spaciousness of the passenger area, and the peppiness of the engine required to haul the addition of all the party’s equipment would be the envy of motorists for decades.

Shooting brakes in the Golden Era

During the 1930s the passenger compartments of automobiles, especially wagons, would be built with wood. This was a costly endeavor and was reflected in the automobile’s price and prestige. As steel body sedans and coupes became popular the trend would change, and Plymouth would introduce the first all-steel body Suburban in 1951. The interesting part, it was a two door station wagon. Four dour sedan and station wagons still were being built and sold (with wood), but the first all-steel body station wagon would be a two-door? Coincidence? Perhaps, but Chevrolet followed suit with its two door station wagon, the 1955 Nomad. Surf culture and pop tunes would also revive “the woodie” during this era.

Perhaps the shooting brake category wasn’t as revived in 1950s America as it was in 1960s Europe. Station wagons were still being made with two and four doors alike, but when tuners and one-off designers start taking performance coupes and converting them to station wagons, something is up. Check out the gallery for examples.

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Defining a Shooting Brake

So what constitutes a shooting brake in today’s modern car categories? To be honest, we need to go back to the originals to pick out the distinguishing features.


A shooting brake originally had a bench seat up front making room for the driver and gamekeeper who led the hunting party; everyone else sat in the back. This makes the obvious distinction of the “two door’s only” requirement. The originals were advertised 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.” Here is our more disputed requirement. The shooting brake must have ample leg room for a second row of seats and further cargo room; “Seating and Storage”. 3-door hatchbacks fall short in this category.

This was also a gentleman’s vehicle. It would require the finest materials and “Luxury” to stand out from today’s blue collar station wagon.

SkeletonBreakFinally, shooting brakes should be light weight. A brake was a wagon for training horses. It would be light and simple like a skeleton wagon with a few add-ons to get them used to working together and pulling something behind them. It would also be led by a team of horses. A light wagon with a lot of horses means “Power and Performance.”

A station wagon with two doors, ample seating and storage, luxury, power, and performance.

Modern Shooting Brakes

Modern performance station wagons labeled as shooting brakes don’t always follow the defining characteristics, but they are fine machines. Perhaps that’s why no one gets what it means to be a “Shooting Brake” or pays too much attention to antiquated labels. See if you can pick out the shooting brakes from the performance wagons in the slide show below.

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