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    What’s in your Garage? We meet a man with a passion for rare BMW-E3 models that have been converted to estates. Mike Taylor traces the fascinating story behind the handcrafted E3 estates and one man’s passion for owning the ultimate version Photography: Mike Taylor /// #BMW-3.0Si-Touring-E3 /// #BMW-3.0Si-E9 /// #BMW-E9-Touring /// #BMW-3.0Si-Estate /// #BMW-E3-Wagon

    David Maughan is a car guy, drawn unreservedly to the lines and engineering of German cars – BMW and Porsche in particular. “When I saw my first #BMW-E3 it blew me away,” David enthuses. Apparently, his mother claimed his fascination for cars came from the fact that while she was pregnant with David she also took her driving test, a gene thing, perhaps. Later, aged 17, he was given £50 to buy a car. “Like most youngsters my passion was for speed, but I ended up buying a Mini 850,” he continues. “Later, while my father was driving a BMC 1800 ‘Land Crab’, I saw one of the very first 2500 E3s in the UK. Later, the 1972 TV series Man at the Top featured a BMW 3.0Si, some of the filming being done outside our home in West London. It was a clever marketing ploy by BMW UK to promote the car as a top drawer executive saloon.” For David, at least, it had the desired effect.

    Sometime later Classic & Sportscar magazine featured a 3.0Si tested against an equivalent Mercedes, motor-noter Martin Buckley proclaiming the BMW to be the preferred machine. When the car then came up for sale at a BMW specialist in East Sussex David bought it without hesitation; he still has it. David’s introduction to BMW E3 Estate cars came in 1994 through an advertisement. “The car was reckoned to be the Team Alpina tow car,” says David. “While I can’t vouch for that I can say that its first owner was King Constantine of Greece. The opportunity was too good to miss. Sadly, when I went to collect it the car was a mess. The spare wheel well, the floor, the interior; it was too far gone. But it did launch me on my quest for an E3 Estate.”

    The story behind these unusual cars could be said to have started by the salvation of the company by Dr Herbert Quandt in 1959 and the programme to rejuvenate BMW models. The BMW Board was joined by Paul Hofmeister who focused the range on reaching a niche market while driving up exports. Before long BMW was successfully combining exclusivity with competition charisma. The 700 Series and the larger Neue Klasse saloons could be seen on events such as the Monte Carlo Rally and the Saloon Car Championships rounds. Meanwhile, the company’s competition department, set up in the main factory, was developing Formula 2 cars using, first, a Lola chassis powered by a highly modified M10 engine. Privateers and outside companies like Alpina and Schnitzer were compounding competition successes. Toward the end of the decade, to transport the cars from circuit-to-circuit BMW’s competition workshops arranged for three estate cars to be built based on the recently-launched E3. Meanwhile a small workshop for the rally department was set up at Pension Preußenstraße in Leipzig.

    The first E3s were the 2500 and the 2800 saloons arriving in the UK in time for the 1969 sales year, the larger engined model benefitting from an improved trim level. Both power units shared the same design – a chain-driven overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine. Its smooth running was the result of seven main bearings. Carburetion was provided by two twin-choke Solex/Zeniths feeding a cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers. Transmission was either a four-speed manual ‘box or a three-speed automatic, both well suited to the engine’s characteristics. Suspension utilised MacPherson struts at the front and independent trailing arms at the rear. On release the E3s set a new benchmark for top end luxury performance cars aimed at senior executives who enjoyed driving themselves. After the near-collapse of the company less than ten years before, the range was an astonishing achievement. Yet, there was more to come; a #M30 / #M30B30 3.0-litre car followed soon after drawing breath through carburettor induction while the flagship fuel injected 3.0Si followed in 1971. As tested by Autocar, with a 0-60 time of 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 131mph this version was truly a breathtakingly quick car for its day.

    However, it was the 3.0-litre versions that provided the platform for the competition estates, known around the factory as Kombis. Three estates were built. In the cockpit only the front seats were fitted with a grill behind to prevent tools and spares from flying forward in the event of heavy braking. In the rear was a flat panelled area which would be turned into a sleeping facility when the mechanics stopped for the night. A substantial roof rack was added taking spare wheels and tyres. The rear side windows were perspex while the tailgates are thought to have come from the Ford Taunus, adapted by seam welding it to the upright section of the bootlid complete with lock; overall, it was a very neat job.

    Over their five year career the Kombis were used as tow vehicles for both racing and rallying, ex-team mechanics recalling long hauls between rallies such as the Acropolis, the 1000 Lakes and the Monte Carlo. On one occasion a car was so over-laden that the alloy wheels, which were retrospectively fitted from the 3.0Si, cracked and collapsed. Significantly, as workhorses they proved ideal transport. Yet, BMW’s marketing team had no feelings or favouritism for the estate theme in their mainstream model line-up; if there was a hunting, shooting or fishing fraternity in Germany it was not considered worthy of satisfying their demands with a suitable vehicle; the three Kombis remained unique.

    From the outset BMW’s sales structure in the UK was an autonomous operation. By 1969 BMW Concessionaires (GB) Ltd was operated by Peter Beaumont, Raymond Playfoot and Peter Samuelson as an independent company owned by investment organisation (now part of the Inchcape group) Tozer, Kemsley, Milbourn Ltd. The 1960s was a period of consolidation for the BMW marque in the UK, with dealers being established around the country and 1788 cars were sold during 1969. In 1970 the numbers sold leapt to 3028, a trend which would multiply several times over during the decade.

    With this growth rate and the freedom to pursue their own marketing strategy a plan was conceived to offer an estate version of the E3, encouraged no doubt by the Kombis, which would have been seen around the international race and rally venues. A specification was drawn up, which included extending the roof, fitting a tailgate and retrimming the boot area. To make the package more attractive the client brochure offered several extras including a sunroof, a dog guard, a rubber mat covering the load area and a tow bar. The introduction of the Rover P6 Estate called the ‘Estoura’ in 1969, built by FLM Panelcraft and tested by Autocar, will have influenced the BMW UK concessionaires still further in their notion to introduce an estate version of the E3.

    FLM Panelcraft had been founded in the early 1950s. Based in Battersea, South London, FLM took its initials from the company founders, Messrs Fry, Lee and McNally, employing craftsmen from the declining coachbuilding industry, most notably James Young. They began by restoring and converting prewar Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. The company then embarked on a series of estate car conversions of contemporary upmarket saloons, part of this work being under sub-contract to another well known coachbuilding specialist, Crayford, based in Westerham, Kent whose name was already linked to turning BMC and Ford saloons into convertibles.

    Sadly, it’s clear today that these Panelcraft Estates were built down to a price using pop-rivets for joining the roof’s sections, lead loaded and covered with vinyl, panels being positioned over existing bodywork with no attempt at rust proofing. Having adapted the bodyshell the work of trimming was passed to Crayford, H R Owen or Hurst Park Motors, which would account for the subtle differences between the cars. From David’s experience the conversions carried out on BMW E3s also suffered from poor workmanship: “When I went to collect my first E3 estate I could see that the trim was incredibly crudely done; the conversion was mostly based on removing the rear scuttle, adding the roof and adapting the seat fixings with a bit of carpet. I was very disappointed. However, I took the view that there were probably more so it was eventually scrapped.”

    David’s second estate was supplied originally by Shirley’s of Croydon, South London. “Judging by the registration details I think the dealers gave the owner a copy of the brochure and he had it converted later, in 1981,” continues David. “I bought it in 1995 and again it was in a very sorry state. At the time I was talking to a restorer in Ireland and I was persuaded to send them the BMW and they did all the strip-out work. It had a metal sunroof and when we took the vinyl off we found that where the additional estate roof section met the original panel it had been leadfilled and pop-riveted. We ended up putting a complete new roof on and respraying it Polaris silver.

    But I began to realise it could never be restored to the quality I wanted and the project stalled.” But, David was still not done. In 2001 he saw another E3 estate for sale and decided, no matter what its condition, he would buy it to produce patterns. “For example the glass in the rear was specially cut. It, too, was crated up and sent off to the Ireland. Again, we took everything off worth saving and then the car was scrapped.”

    It was some years later when David read about a company who specialised in high end BMW restorations based just outside Chicago called ‘The Werk Shop’. “I knew it would prepare the car to the quality I wanted so, in 2008 it was placed in a container and sent over.”

    With the car unloaded the Chicago team began to evaluate the true measure of the task they’d been given. The predicament was whether to restore it to Panelcraft’s standards, or to undertake a thorough job. In the event David chose the latter route. Three doors, a rear wing panel and the inner and outer sills were all replaced while the tailgate required considerable fettling. But it was the interior trim which posed the conundrum. Not to be disappointed with the end result, David specified blue leather seats with matching quality carpeting.

    David found his fourth Estate car while browsing through eBay. “In 1973 Anton Hille, the UK concessionaires MD, formed a team with Tony Lanfranchi as competition/team manager and four competition 3.0Si saloons were built by Mathwall Engineering. Three were entered in the 1973 Avon Tour of Great Britain. The drivers were Roger Bell,Tony Lanfranchi and Mike Woolley. The team was based in West London and they used an E3 estate as a tow car. Those who remember the car recall it was a 3.0SA in white with a blue roof. The guys in Chicago said buy it, so in 2008 that went off to the States as well.”

    Today, David’s beloved E3, (his second in chronological order of purchase) is back in the UK with a little detailing yet to be done, and is in the capable hands of Barney Halse at Classic Heroes. “Through lots of research I know of nine-ten E3 Estates, which includes a recently discovered car in the West Country.”

    So, does the car live up to David’s exacting standards? “The drivetrain has been rebuilt and all the suspension components replaced,” he replies. “Overall, it’s covered around 60 miles, long enough for me to become acquainted with its strengths and foibles. E3 saloons were only blessed with average torsional rigidity for the day so converting one into an estate leads to greater flexing, which you can feel when it’s driven over our potholed B-roads or uneven surfaces. I may have a removable strutbrace fitted linking the twin rear suspension turrets. Other than that I’m very pleased with the result.”

    As for the Kombis, in #1974 they were disposed of and replaced by larger transporters more suited to the task. Only one has survived. The last of the trio to be built was actually bought by one of the BMW mechanics who had driven it in haste from event to event. He rebuilt it, the task including a complete body strip and respray in BMW’s competitions livery of white and sea blue. It was then sold to a UK-based #BMW specialist.

    The estate conversion could be ordered when new or even at a later date.

    THANKS TO: #David-Maughan , Alex Elliott, Barney Halse, John Castle, #BMW-UK and Jean Kittel for their help with this article.

    This is David’s second E3 estate that’s been restored and resprayed Polaris silver. All the mechanicals have been rebuilt, too.
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