“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.
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.
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.)
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.
Will you be in a mild climate? Winter? What is the nearest town/village? I will need directions to get there! After 3 months there you should get to know others in order to string together other house (castle?) sitting boondoggles. Great way to spend your golden (silver?) years.
Shipwreck, the town we’re near tops out at about 1,100 desperate souls. We intend to befriend every one. As for nearby towns there are a few in the 30,000 population category, which should allow me to quaff a pint without sitting on the same barstool I sat on the day before.
Chris Flavin said:
Tom, not only do you provide alternatives to retirement, you share obscure pieces of information . I never heard of a “shooting brake”, and now I will always look at a station wagon type vehicle in a whole new light. Happy travels.
That’s one of the joys of the Internet, Chris: when a man says we’re welcome to use his shooting brake, all we have to do is Google it. One article leads to another and pretty soon you know everything there’s to know about shooting brakes, or a million other topics that cross your path.
Linda Brunet said:
How interesting! I really love the learning experience! I will never look at a “station wagon” the same way!
Linda, station wagons were originally used to take passengers to and from railway stations. And the bodies sheathed in wood — the “woodies”? It was so the shooters could conveniently affix the birds from the hunt to the side of the vehicle and photograph their bounty.
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