The first automotive shooting brakes were manufactured 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. The term was used in Britain interchangeably with estate car from the 1930s, but has not been in general use for many years and has been more or less superseded by the latter term.
Since the 1960s, the term has evolved, describing cars combining elements of both station wagon and coupé body styles, both with or without reference to the historical usage for shooting parties. During the 1960s and early 1970s, several high end European manufacturers produced two-door shooting brake versions of their sports cars. Following a hiatus from the mid 1970s until the early 2010s, the shooting-brake body style reappeared with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake and then the 2017 Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo.
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.
1900s to 1950s
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.
1960s to 1990s
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.
Other cars combining elements of a wagon and coupé have been described but were never formally marketed as shooting brakes, including the Reliant Scimitar GTE (1968–1975) and the Volvo P1800 ES (1972–1973).
2000s to present
Mostly dormant since the mid 1970s, the shooting brake term 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.
Several other cars have been described by journalists as shooting brakes, including the 1998 BMW Z3 Coupé (and associated M Coupé model), 2005 Dodge Magnum Station Wagon, 2006 Renault Altica concept car, 2008 Mini Clubman, 2011 Fisker Surf concept car and 2011 Ferrari FF.
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".
- "A cross between an estate and a coupé".
- "Essentially a two-door station wagon".
- 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".
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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...
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