Axon's Automotive Anorak – Estates in a state

13th February 2018
Gary Axon

Is it just me, or do most modern estate car variants tend to look more stylish and desirable than the traditional three-box saloons on which they are based? 


In recent years, many car brands – the premium German marques in particular – have successfully turned their styling flair up to the max when it comes to producing a great looking estate version of a sometimes-unremarkable saloon car. When the Avant, Touring or Sportbreak moniker is added to a more versatile five-door model with fold-down rear seats, for example, the car itself is invariably sleeker, more dynamic, and a more accomplished design. 

Estates loaded with the kid’s paraphernalia, push bikes, space hoppers, Labrador dogs, ski gear, antiques, bags of recycling, garden waste and so on have long been a common sight on our roads. Disappointingly though, just when the style of estate cars has matured to such an advance and satisfying level, the market for traditional saloon-based wagons is declining, with SUVs and crossovers now stealing sales from these practical, versatile and stylish, load lugers.

Time was not too long ago that the estate derivatives of many popular saloon cars looked as if they had been designed and developed as afterthoughts, with poorly conceived and executed ‘box’ sections tacked on the back of the three-box saloon base, with seemingly little care or thought for aesthetics.

Today’s graceful ‘lifestyle’ estates, as created so well by Audi, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Mazda, and many others, are leagues ahead of the functional but frumpy station wagons of old, such as the boxy Morris Oxford ‘Farina’, Volvo 700-Series, Austin Allegro and Toyota Crown.

Eight especially unfortunate-looking estates from these less refined days, when function ruled over form, follow on here, with one or two personal choice that might just raise the odd eyebrow or 20! 


1 Volvo 145/200-Series

Volvo. Arguably the European master of building practical estate cars, which it has been making since the first PV saloon-based Duett was introduced 65 years ago in 1953. 

Volvo’s most famous and long-lived estate, the 145-200-Series, was built from 1966 to 1993, and beloved by dog owners, antique dealers, school run Mums, plus Margo and Jerry from the popular 1970s BBC sitcom The Good Life. They have all been drivers and enthusiasts for one of these popular, classic ‘boxy but good’ large Volvo estate cars.

As this model was so key to Volvo’s reputation and success, it is almost unforgivable that the Swedish vehicle maker could get away for 27 years with using the same rear passenger side doors for the 145/245 estate car is it did for its four-door saloon 144/244 series.

This krona-pinching cost saving measure on an expensive estate was not only decidedly cheapskate, but also detracted from the Volvo’s styling, with the saloon’s drooping door frames at odds with the estate’s stretched, straight-lined boxy design. Urgh!


2 1960 Rambler Classic/Six Cross Country

Although it’s unlikely that the sedan version of this large, oh-so-American station wagon would have won many beauty prizes, Rambler’s Classic and Six Cross Country estate models were particularly hideous, with their awkward rear window design and odd roof and side window line that sagged immediately aft of where the sedan’s original roof panel ended. A clear case of an afterthought estate to offend all sensibilities.


3 Citroën BX

After Citroen’s stylish, ultra-modern GS and CX Break wagon models, the estate version of the popular Bertone-designed BX hatchback was something of a let down.

Modified and built by outside contractors Heuliez, the Citroën BX estate suffered the same fate as the afore-mentioned Volvo 145/245, with the rear side doors of the standard model retained for cost-saving reasons on the Break. This not only compromised the Citroen’s design, but also resulted in a steeply-raked rear tailgate, which mirrored the ‘fastback’ C-pillar line of the regular BX, cutting savagely into the model’s useable load space in the process.


4 Tofas Kartal

The Tofas Kartal is the little-known facelift derivative of the Fiat 131 Mirafiori-based Tofas 131 Murat estate, made in Turkey. For reasons unknown, rather than use Fiat’s existing and nicely-balanced 131 Mirafiori estate bodyshell, the Turkish maker chose to adapt its own, locally-conceived wagon body, grafted onto the rear of the 131 saloon, with laughable results; the raised rear side glass failing to follow the flow of the car’s roof, and the whole thing looking ‘stuck on.’


5 1962 Dodge Lancer Station Wagon/Plymouth Valiant V-200 SW

As we’ve already seen from the ghastly Rambler Cross Country, 1960 was not a good year for North American station wagon design. Under the guidance of Chrysler’s controversial design director, Virgil Exner, the distinctive (ie ugly) 1960 Dodge Lancer 880 and ’61 Dodge Seneca Station Wagons (plus the badge-engineered Plymouth Valiant sibling) were already aesthetically-challenged, especially in their updated 1962 Model Year form. The disjointed lines of the wagon’s rear end were totally at odds with the very busy bulging body panels from the base sedan, making for one of the most gruesome estate cars ever made.


6 1996 Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable

In its regular three-box sedan form, the 1996 Ford Taurus and its more upscale Mercury Topaz twin were remarkably stylish and avant-garde saloons by the Detroit standards of the day. 

All very encouraging, until the blue oval looped in the daring station wagon derivative, with its awkward scalloped side panels and odd rear side windows wrecking the harmonious lines of the sedans, to become a poorly-balanced station wagon. On the plus side, though, the cargo space was enormous! 


7 Fiat Tempra SW

With its split Range Rover-esque tailgate and practical raised roof line, on paper the Station Wagon version of the 1990s Fiat Tempra berlina had a lot in its favour. The reality in the metal, however, was rather less convincing.

The Fiat’s upright, truncated tail certainly made the Tempra one of the more practical estates in its class, but the strange mismatch of the sharply raked C-pillar, plus that raised roof, made this Italian contender look more like an ambulance than the ‘must-have’ lifestyle accessory the Italians had hoped for. 


8 Ladbrook Avon Jaguar XJ Estate:

The tapered tail of a 1970s Jaguar XJ saloon was never going to lend itself easily to an estate car shape, which is one reason why the Coventry marque never offered such a derivative itself. 

However, to plug a very small market niche for an up-market estate car, Warwickshire coachbuilder Labrook Avon developed a tricky and expensive estate conversion for the acclaimed Jaguar saloon, adapting a 1970s Renault 5 tailgate with odd-shaped rear side windows and dual fuel flaps mounted halfway up the D-pillars. The messy end result was marginally more versatile than the original XJ, but nowhere near as fully resolved and desirable. 

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  • Citroen

  • Rambler

  • Dodge

  • Tofas

  • Fiat

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