4-Car Rare Estates

Estates are cool. Estates are hip. Estates, so the pundits tell us, are the next big thing, set to usurp the bloated MPV as the middle class lifestyle vehicle of choice. Not just any old estate mind. 21st century estate must be trim and athletic, have the right badge and exude all the right healthy life style values. Voluminous carrying capacity is a mere side issue with this new strain of sporty life style estates, aimed squarely at thirty something types in denim shirts who want a car that looks as composed in the office carpark as it does with a couple of mountain bikes on the roof.
In the fifties, sixties and early seventies we used to know where we stood with estates. They were nothing to do with happy smiley people and their happy, smiley offspring enjoying their ‘Leisure time’. Estates – European estates that is – were either austere and basic (they came thatched and half-timbered or were nothing more sophisticated than vans with the side panels sniped out) or they were posh and hand made, produced by a cottage industry of coachbuilders. The English did this especially well, with firms like Friary, Farnham and Crayford producing specialist load carriers based on mainstream big saloons expensively and in small numbers. The manufacturers were happy to farm the work out because the volumes weren’t big enough for them to make money out of.
Rare estates is something of a loose brief embracing some truly exotic examples of the breed – like the Aston DB5 – and some which are ostensibly humdrum but, in their way, are no less fascinating like the Austin 3 litre. Some are one-offs that deserved a better fate – the Lancia Oligiata is a prime example – others were produced in a small series and probably got no better than they deserved.

1. 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Shooting Break
Sir David Brown built a dozen DB5 estate cars for himself and his landed gentry mates to use when pursuing country sports on their private estates. The story goes that in September 1965 DB called a board meeting and brought his Labrador dog. He plonked him on the boardroom table and said ‘build me something he can sit in’. Coachbuilders Harold Rafdord of Hammersmith, West London, converted the cars. His men simply took tinsnips to the Astons alloy roof and blended in a new panel that extended backwards to a one piece rear door, hinged across the roof.
The suspension was firmed-up at the back but otherwise the cars were mechanically stock, non-Vantage DB5s running triple SU’s.
Vantage or not these were the fastest load carriers in the world in their day, not that a DB5 shooting brake ever carried ‘loads’ as such: a pair of cocked Purdey’s, some dead game and an old copy of Country life were the heaviest items these cars would ever have to haul.
Curiously the last DB5 Shooting Brakes were not delivered until May 1967, by which time the DB6 had been in production for almost 2 years.

2. 1982 Lynx Eventer
The job of building an ultimate up-market shooting break that would be a worthy successor to the Aston eventually fell to Jaguar specialists Lynx who, in 1982, came up with the XJ-S Eventer.
The ugly buttresses of the factory coupe swapped at last for a long graceful roof and an exquisitely shaped tapering rear side window styled by Chris Keith Lucas of Lynx. Pininfarina couldn’t have done it better and the car struck an immediate cord not only with the country house set. Rather than being an impractical 2+2 the XJ-S was now a useful four seater, with much better over-the-shoulder vision. It was such an obvious conversion you can only wonder why Jaguar didn’t do it themselves.
The Eventers werebuilt on a custom made jig. A pressed-out ripple-free one-piece roof was added and the rear bulkhead was moved back, giving an extra 3.5 inches of legroom in the rear.
On the early cars the tailgate was adapted from the Citroen Ami Estate’s, which must be rarer in the UK now than an Eventer. As well as having a tendency towards rot they also featured exposed hinges, which weren’t quite the thing on such an up-market machine. Around 65 Eventers were built, 47 right hand drive and 16 left hookers, all but three V12s. Poalo Gucci put his name to a special version of the Eventer that must rate as the ultimate in flash: semi precious stones around the gear shift which had a solid silver knob, fitted suitcases, a leather bound logbook and solid silver ignition keys. Hmmm, tasty.
The price? £100,000 in 1990, although the car remained a one-off after the Gucci family lawyers claimed that Poalo Gucci had no right to use his name to endorse the product.

3. 1963 Vanden Plas 3 Litre  Estate
When you’ve got a large estate then a large estate is always useful, which is why H.M the Queen ordered this ‘countryman’ conversion on a Vanden Plas 3 litre saloon in 1963. With its split tail gate, folding seats and big load area it was perfect for a trip down to stables at Balmoral, which was where this car, finished in bottle green, saw the most use. An automatic with grey leather it had special attachments for fitting angling equipment to the roof. Only one other 3 litre Countryman appears to have been made for Sir Leonard Lord, the boss of BMC.
The Queen put in another order in 1966 for a 4 Litre R version but, rumour has it, this was written-off by one of the Royals at Balmoral and now languishes in a secret location. But does the 3-litre still exist? We’d love to know….

4. 1980 Jaguar Avon Stevens Estate
Avon – who more famously built a drophead versions of Jaguars Series II XJ Coupe – turned the graceful Series III XJ into an estate in the early eighties. The top of the body from B-post back was removed and the upper part of the tail gate was from a Renault 5. It would have set you back £6500 on top of the price of an XJ saloon and looked rather hearse-like the rear but was, allegedly, beautifully made. Certainly second-hand examples of the handful that were built are snapped-up quickly. The rear seats didn’t fold totally flat and the fuel tanks intruded into the load space so practicality was limited.
Much more interesting was the MkII County estate.  In the late fifties Jaguar works drivers Duncan Hamilton and Mike Hawthorn hatched the idea of producing an estate version of the Jaguar 3.4 saloon. They brought in racing artist Roy Nockholds to advise on the styling but before any cars were built Hawthorn was killed in a car accident and the project was halted. When the MkII Jaguar was announced in 1959 the idea gained new impetus and a single car was built by the coachbuilders Jones Brothers, based on the 3.8 litre version of the new MkII. Jaguar acquired the car and used it as a service barge following the works race and rally cars around Europe. It was a surprisingly harmonious looking vehicle which was sold into the trade in the sixties and ended up in America in the late seventies. It has now been restored (very unsympathetically considering its historic importance with vulgar modern seats and the like) and lives in Holland.

5. 1967 Rover P6 Estate
Rovers advanced ‘P6’ 2000 saloon was always a little short on luggage space so the Panelcraft converted estates were a sensible enough idea. Around 160 were built between 1969 and 1975, mostly based on the more powerful V8 engined 3500 model and sold exclusively by two London based Rover dealers who could carry out the £700 conversion on either a new P6 or your existing car. The Panelcraft estates were approved by Rover who agreed to honour original warranties. The roof of the car – badged the Estoura – was made in aluminium to save weight while the rear door utilised part of the original saloon bootlid. The rear seats were thinner backed than the original so that they could be folded to give a flat loading space. The fuel tank was now under the floor for the same reason. There was talk of an factory built SD1 based estate and, in fact two prototypes were produced – one for evaluation and one for BL chairman Michael Edwards to use as his personal transport. Both survive in museum collections.

6. 1966 Mercedes ‘Fintail’ estate
Today estates are a staple part of Mercedes mid-sized range but, in the sixties – and indeed throughout most of the seventies – estate versions of Benz saloons were built by outside firms. Initially companies Binz and Miesen built ambulances and the occasional civilian estate car on  190/190D and 200/200D ‘Fintail’ rolling chassis supplied by Mercedes. Then, in 1966, the Belgian company IMA introduced the Universal which could be ordered through Mercedes dealers and was built to a less utilitarian specification than the earlier estate models. It had 15 inch wheels (bigger than the saloon) and featured self-levelling rear suspension and could be had with a split-folding rear seat and additional bench seat in the load bay that could be folded away. The ‘Fintail’ range was discontinued in 1968 and it would be another ten years before Mercedes would offer its factory built ‘T’ series estates on the W123 platform.

7. Austin 3 litre Estate
Underdeveloped and poorly marketed the Austin 3 litre was a prestige flagship that shared its 3 litre straight-six engine with the MGC and its central body tub with the BMC 1800 but with a stretched nose and tail and rear wheel drive. Over-weight and under-powered – even the manual overdrive version could barely struggle to 100mph – buyers didn’t perceive it as a significantly more prestigious car than the cheaper and equally spacious front drive ‘landcrab’ 1800. So in a sense the estate version – of which only 11 were built – was really the only 3 litre with any credibility. Here at least was a useful load-hauler that was certainly one of the biggest in its class. The self-levelling suspension was of some theoretical value too, although it was rather unreliable: you had to remember to load the car up with the engine running if you wanted to avoid a sagging rear end. Crayford’s conversion doubled the price of the car but was factory approved. The rear door was pilfered from BMC’s Austin/Morris 1100 Countryman. Most of the cars built have now been banger-raced to destruction but three are said to survive if you fancy one…

8. Jensen GT
This was Jensens answer to the trendy Reliant Scimitar GTE although it was too late to market to take on the cheaper foreign competition effectively. Certainly the GT was a more interesting car than the unlovely Jensen Healey roadster (the Healey name was dropped after Donald Healey fell out with Jensen) on which it was based. That said the under pinnings were much the same, with a spectre of unreliability hanging over the Lotus designed (but under developed) 2 litre twin-cam engine that powered it. In fact the engine was sorted by the time the unlucky GT emerged and you can’t help thinking that in happier times the car with its plush cabin, useful load space, five-speed gearbox and 120mph performance, would have been a modest success. Sadly, with the fuel crisis affecting sales of its thirsty Interceptor models the Jensen went into liquidation in 1975 and only 473 GT’s were produced.

9 Lancia Gamma Olgiata
The Olgiata was an attempt by Pininfarina to revive the fortunes of Lancias flawed Gamma range which had been plagued by technical troubles from its introduction in 1976. Based on the beautiful Coupe version the Olgiata did the rounds of the motorshows in 1983. Handsome and well balanced it was intended to be a more up-market interpretation of the Beta HPE and it may have extended the life of Lancias flagship 2.5 litre models if it had been taken up. Trouble was the Gammas fate was already sealed in 1983 when production of the saloon ceased. The one-off Olgiata then gathered dust in storage for ten years before being sold to a European collector in the mid nineties when the Pininfarina museum decided it needed to make some space.

10. 1963 Alfa Giulia Colli Estate
The Milan coachbuilders Carrozzeria Colli (1932-73) will be best-remembered for Giulia Super estate cars they produced in the mid sixties. Just 16 were built: the majority were for the Italian Police and Army while the remaining examples as service barges by European Alfa Dealer Team racers in Belgium, France and of course Italy who at that time were campaigning GTA and GTAm’s. Out of the 16 most had their rear side windows panelled in and all had folding rear seats and a proper lift-up tailgate. Most used stock running gear  – a 1600cc twin cam engine with a five-speed gearbox – but at least one had the lustier 1750 engine and bigger brakes from the V8 engined Montreal coupe. Two right hookers came to UK to be used by dealers. One is currently being restored for a Japanese estate car collector (he runs an Estate car museum in Japan!) but the other has long since been destroyed. There was a factory Alfasud estate car in the seventies but there would be know Europe-wide Alfa estate until the advent of the 33 in the eighties.

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