Top 10 classic car shooting brakes

From Elanbulance to Eventer, limited-run estate specials can be as stylish as they are practical – even if that doesn’t always translate to sales success...

Pontiac Kammback

General Motors had been kicking around ideas for an F-body ‘wagon’ for the better part of a decade before the Pontiac Kammback was unveiled at the 1978 Chicago Auto Show. You won’t ever read about this in any marque history, but the car’s signature rear-end treatment was a direct crib of a Ferrari 365 GTB/4-based one-off built by Surrey’s Panther Westwinds for Italian-American Luigi Chinetti Jr.

A mock-up was created in 1977, before two Pontiacs were dispatched to Italy to be converted by legendary styling house Pininfarina. One was a regular Firebird, the other a Trans Am edition. The latter was unveiled in Chicago the following year.

AutoClassics fact: One of the prototypes made a cameo appearance in The Rockford Files TV show.

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Hexagon ‘Elanbulance’

Of all the many ‘shooting brake’ conversions, perhaps the most improbable load-lugger was this Elan-based device conceived by car dealer and sometime F1 team principal, Paul Michaels. He had a Lotus concession and wanted something that could accommodate his young children and his dog.

Renowned glassfibre expert Specialised Mouldings, a firm steeped in motor sport, was tasked with realising his ideas, and the ‘Elanbulance’ came on line in 1971. The conversion added £895 to the £1895 list price for a regular Elan Sprint, but, despite plenty of media coverage, only two cars went under the knife. Both still exist, one of them in France.

AutoClassics fact: Hexagon followed through by offering rag-top conversions for the Elan +2.

Intermeccanica Mustang

The Intermeccanica Mustang was built in 1965 at the behest of J Walter Thompson, which was New York’s largest advertising agency. The firm held the account for the Ford Motor Company and the ’Stang wagon was primarily conceived with the aim of earning further column inches for the original Pony Car.

JWT approached stylist Robert Cumberford to pen this brave new world, and a bone-stock ’65 notchback Mustang was delivered to Construzione Automobili Intermeccanica in Turin for the makeover. The prototype was so well finished that it looked for all the world like a production car. It even made the cover of Car & Driver magazine, but a degree of not-invented-here enmity appeared to have stopped Ford from embracing it.

AutoClassics fact: Intermeccanica converted third-generation Mustangs into convertibles long before the factory did.

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Murena 429GT

This intriguing curio was conceived by Charlie Schwendler, whose father Bill was co-founder of the Grumann Aircraft Engineering Corporation, and marketing consultant, Joe Vos. They wanted something fast that could also accommodate their kit on skiing holidays, and roped in Intermeccancia to realise their vision.

By the time the prototype had been completed and displayed at the 1969 New York Auto Show, the scheme had changed out of all recognition to the point that the 429GT was set to go into series production. With a list price of $14,950, at a time when a bargain-bucket Ford Pinto cost $1919, the Murena was egregiously expensive, and accordingly sales were slow. As few as ten were made.

AutoClassics fact: The Murena was named after a particularly ferocious type of eel indigenous to Sardinia.

Lynx Eventer

Among the most desirable shooting brakes of them all, the Eventer was produced by Lynx Engineering, a firm better known for its exacting Jaguar replicas. It had already beaten the factory to the punch by producing a full convertible version of the XJ-S, and followed through in 1981 with this handsome machine.

Each build took 14 weeks, in part due to the complexity of the conversion: all bodywork aft of the bulkhead was altered, the suspension stiffened, and the fuel tank relocated. The tailgate, meanwhile, was robbed, in part, from a Citroën Ami… Around 67 were made, one wearing Gucci badging inline with an aborted marketing tie-in deal.

AutoClassics fact: Lynx also mooted an XK8-based shooting brake, but it stayed in model form only.

Reliant Scimitar GTE

This much-loved sporting estate car was hugely influential. Nevertheless, the board at Reliant took some persuading that there was a market for it. Rooted in the Triplex GTS (Glazing Test Special) show car, which in turn was derived from the Scimitar GT coupé, the GTE was the work of Czech-born designer Tom Karen.

It caused a furore when released in 1970, with some arbiters of beauty praising the boldness of its outline, while others couldn’t get their heads around the rising waistline or the size of the rear screen. Variations on the theme remained in production to 1986, the GTE being revived by the ill-starred Middlebridge concern two years later.

AutoClassics fact: Bertone produced a shooting brake concept for Reliant in the early 1980s, but it remained a mock-up.

Volvo P1800ES

This attractive ’wagon was derived from the Italianate P1800 coupé, the redesign being the work of Volvo’s own styling chief Jan Wilsgaard after a rival bid by ex-Ghia man Sergio Coggiola was rejected. Introduced in 1972, the model’s signature feature was its frameless, all-glass tailgate – a styling cue that has since been revived on several models, most recently the C40.

For all its good looks, the ES had a relatively short life, with production ending only two years after just over 8000 cars had been made. The concept was too good to die, however, and Volvo followed through with the 480ES a decade later.

AutoClassics fact: The P1800ES was nicknamed Fiskbilen (The Fish Van) in its homeland.

Lancia Beta HPE

Variously referred to as the High Performance Estate, and High Performance Executive, this underrated Lancia was introduced in 1975 and remained in production for nine years. Distinct from many other production models, the HPE was styled internally – albeit with input from freelance collaborator Pietro Castagnero.

It was offered with a variety of four-cylinder, twin-cam units, but the most desirable model was the end-of-the-line, supercharged, 2-litre Volumex VX edition. More than 70,000 HPEs were made, but Lancia never followed through with a replacement.

AutoClassics fact: Pininfarina produced an estate version of the Gamma coupé, but sadly it remained unique.

Radford Aston Martin DB5/DB6

This factory-sanctioned conversion by Harold Radford (Coachbuilders) Ltd set the standard for all subsequent shooting brakes. The London firm already had form when it came to producing such cars, not least with its assorted Bentley-based offerings, but this was something else entirely due to the complexity of the donor Aston DB5’s ‘Superleggera’ method of construction.

A latticework of extra steel was added to support the roof, with Radford insisting that ‘…the world’s fastest dual-purpose vehicle’ was as rigid as the regular GT car. Twelve were made – four in left-hand drive configuration – along with six ostensibly similar DB6-based ‘wagons’, and they are now among the most highly prized Astons of them all.

AutoClassics fact: FLM Panelcraft of Putney also built a one-off DBS-based shooting brake.

Crayford Tracer

Commissioned by Page Motors of Epsom, this Triumph TR7-based shooting brake was the work of Crayford Engineering, a firm that was once well known for its convertible and estate-car conversions. In addition to the revised rear bodywork, the car featured fold-down rear seats, making it a (notional) 2+2.

The intention had been to make the car in volume to be sold exclusively through Page Motors, but, despite several show appearances and mentions in the specialist press, no orders were taken. The Tracer was possibly undone by the fact that it had little in the way of carrying capacity, even relative to the donor car. The one and only Tracer still exists, and is rumoured to be in Switzerland.

AutoClassics fact: Among the many Crayford estate-car conversions, the most glamorous was the one-off Condor based on a Mercedes-Benz 450SLC.

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