For the model year 1988, BMW gave us their first estate car with the stylish and taut 3-series Touring. But long before that, various coachbuilders had similar aspirations on the Bavarians behalf.
Before every car manufacturer committed to having multiple estates based on various saloons on their program, these practical loadluggers were usually created by coachbuilders. Many were somewhat compromised in the looks department as an extended roof was grafted onto a saloon, often resulting in awkward angles around the C-pillar and newly created D-pillar. Even so, they’re all endearing examples of a coachbuilt niche which with time evolved into a massive market segment. A wide variety of saloons were converted in this manner, and just like some Mercedes-Benz fintails, Ford Zodiacs and many others, BMWs were no exception.
In September 1961, BMW launched their life-saving Neue Klasse at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and approximately a year later the BMW 1500 entered production. The medium-sized saloon was an immediate success, and remained popular with the buying public through ever increasing engine sizes and not least a facelift for the 2-litre version introduced for the ’66 model year. The Neue Klasse even spawned the smaller 02-series and not least the stylish 2000CS which itself later morphed into the popular 6-cylinder E9 coupé. But before all of that happened, a few Neue Klasse saloons were converted into estates by a few choice coachbuilders.
There is sadly very little readily available information on these early BMW estates – probably partially due to their scarcity and furthermore as a result of them being built by small coachbuilders which are now no longer. However, it seems widely acknowledged that the first was in fact commissioned to be built by Baur in Stuttgart by BMW themselves. It’s believed that two examples were built based on the BMW 1500, and that they were both utilised by BMW as service support vehicles at various rallies and races in period such as the 1964 Tour Auto where the homologation special BMW 1800 TiSA took part.
The Baur conversion was quite a thorough one as they went to the trouble of removing the saloon’s C-pillar and creating a new and very narrow one for the estate. A new window frame for the rear doors was fabricated, the roofline was rather resolved as well, and a new D-pillar followed the rake of the rear panel. The wide tailgate was also made to open all the way down to the rear bumper enabling easy access to the large loading area. However, when it came to finding a suitable rear window for the large tailgate, there’s no denying that Baur let the whole design down miserably by using a window which is simply much too small. As such, it’s really quite a handsome design as long as it isn’t viewed from behind. Regardless of looks though, this is surely the ultimate accessory if you’re lucky enough to have an original BMW 1800 TiSA parked in your garage! Good luck finding one though…
Next up was Belgian coachbuilder Jacques Coune, who is nowadays probably best known for his own rendition of a coupé MGB with his MGB Berlinette. He created much more than that though, and had even previously built another Bavarian estate using the little rear-engined BMW 700 Luxus. This time around though, he concentrated his creativity on a BMW 1800, and his Neue Klasse estate was presented in 1966. Coune decided to leave the saloons C-pillar in place for his estate and equally use the rear doors unchanged, and at least to my eyes, this really does the overall design no favours at all. The join in the roof where it was extended was rather clumsily executed too. To his credit though, he managed to find a rear window for the tailgate which looked much better integrated than that used by Baur. I have thus far been unable to determine how many were built by Coune, but it might very well have just been the one unique car. I wonder whether it might still be stowed away at the very back of some dusty Belgian barn?
The next and third Neue Klasse estate to see the light of day is arguably the best resolved of them all. It was a joint venture between the French BMW distributor and the well established French coachbuilder Pichon & Parat, who at this point in their history found themselves in some financial difficulty and were scrambling for business. A such, working with a company as reputable as BMW offered them some credibility.
Just like Baur in Stuttgart, the Frenchmen too were highly accomplished coachbuilders and didn’t cut any corners. The BMW saloon’s C-pillar was removed entirely and a new one created. New window frames were manufactured for the rear doors and the roofline didn’t have any ungainly creases in it where it was extended backwards. And while the tailgate wasn’t quite as tall as the one on the Baur, it did instead have a rear window which complimented the rest of the design, making the Pichon & Parat easily the most elegant of the Neue Klasse estates. BMW subsequently commissioned Pichon & Parat to build a limited series of estates based on either the BMW 1800 or BMW 2000, and to be available from 1967. Oddly, the 2000 variant compromised functionality by sticking with the larger horisontal rear lights rather than using the upright lights from the 1800. Both were however hugely expensive at approximately double the price of a Peugeot 404 Break and this would have no doubt limited their chances. It is unknown how many were manufactured, but one source seems to believe it might have been as many as 30 to 40 estates.
Last but not least, we can’t talk of Neue Klasse estates without mentioning Monsieur Massot of Garage de la Victoire. Just to be clear, Massot is not a coachbuilder, but rather a French BMW specialist. His Neue Klasse estate also wasn’t created as a new car, but instead from an accident damaged secondhand BMW 1800 which came through his workshop at some point. It’s also not the prettiest of creations with rear side windows from a Peugeot 404 Break and a less than perfect roofline. In all honesty, it doesn’t entirely deserve mention with the Baur, Coune and Pichon & Parat, but among enthusiasts of classic BMW’s it’s such a well-known car that I’ll make an exception and grant it a bit of column space nonetheless.
When the Neue Klasse saloon bowed out in 1972, other Bavarians needed to step up to take its place as a worthy estate candidate. Initially it was the grand 6-cylinder BMW E3 saloon. History repeated itself as BMW commissioned Baur to build them a couple of cars for their works racing team, but others followed. Yet, that is of course another story which is worthy of its own article some other day…