Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Shooting Brake

1908 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Shooting Brake

“We have a thirteen-year-old Peugeot shooting brake, which you’re welcome to use.” That was John, of Jackie and John, the people in France with the homestead we’re looking after starting next month.

I didn’t want to appear too dense (especially when the man was offering the use of what seemed to be his car), so I responded, “That’s great! We’ll take good care of it!”

Whatever it is.

Model T Ford, circa 1911

Model T Ford, circa 1911

In the dawn of the Twentieth Century, when cars and horses shared the road, most cars were Model T Fords, weighing about 1200 pounds. Their light weight made them a poor choice for breaking horses – something which was often done behind an automobile, both for convenience and to familiarize the horses with cars. Cars with heavier chassis were used for that, cars that at least outweighed the horse. These cars were known as “breaks.”

We’re halfway there.

A 1935 Derby Bentley shooting brake

A 1935 Derby Bentley shooting brake

Model T’s were owned by common folk, but breaks – which were often hand-built rather than mass produced – were more commonly owned by sporting chaps from the idle classes who enjoyed the hunt – you know, guns, dogs, and tally-ho’s. They would engage coachbuilders to build a fine automobile (from a break chassis) that could transport the guns, the dogs, and the hunting party in deserved distinction, properly protected from the elements.

Model T’s started with a crank; breaks started with a chauffeur.

Are you ready? Here it comes: These cars became known as “shooting brakes.” (How did a “break” become a “brake”? No one seems to know.) A shooting brake, then, was a car built on a heavy chassis, with plenty of enclosed space behind the driver for the mutts and the matériel. Today in the US, we would probably call them station wagons, but Brits like John still call them shooting brakes. (See update below.)

A 2001 Peugeot 406 brake, identical to John's

A 2001 Peugeot 406 shooting brake, similar to John’s

So John’s shooting brake as thirteen-year-old Peugeot station wagon. John has asked us to pay its insurance for three months, and in turn it’s ours. Perfect! Life in the French countryside could be a life of seclusion, but with a car – a shooting brake no less – we’re emancipated, liberated, free to roam!

We promise not to call it “the car,” or “the Peugeot, ” or, mon dieu, “the wagon.” Hereinafter it shall be known as “the brake.”

Round up the mongrels, Louise! I’ll chill the Cliquot.


John wrote a few days after this post was published to correct me: “The French still use the word brake to describe our sort of car. That’s how it’s mentioned on the official documents. Brits would call it an estate, or estate car.” Thanks, John! I stand corrected.