If it’s true that the English prize eccentricity over conformity, then David Maughan’s E3 wagon should be quite the treasure indeed. It’s certainly odd, a 1974 BMW sedan with an Austin Maxi tailgate grafted onto its extended roof.
It isn’t a pretty car, but what it lacks in elegance it makes up for in rarity: Around 10 such “estate cars” are believed to have been built, each done at the request of a private U.K. owner. The cars were commissioned by BMW’s London distributorship to satisfy the British craving for powerful, luxurious station wagons, a market BMW itself wouldn’t address until 1991 when it finally produced a Touring version of its E34 5 Series.
“We have a thing for fast estates,” Maughan says, using the British parlance for what we in the U.S. call a station wagon. “It continues to this day with the M5 Touring, Audi RS4/5 and Mercedes AMG Estates. My theory is that there is a perverse fun to be had driving a quick estate, complete with family, dog, etc. and knowing that you can out-drag and out-run many more ‘sporty’ vehicles. That whole ‘understated power’ thing appeals to us on so many levels.”
His E3 certainly has plenty of power, at least by 1970s standards. Its 2,985cc M30 six-cylinder with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection put out a claimed 200 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque from the factory, enough to propel the 3,168-lb. 3.0 Si from zero to 62 mph in just 8.5 seconds. That was fairly brisk in the day, and the car still feels amply powerful when I drive it near Chicago, where it’s been undergoing a full restoration at The Werk Shop in Libertyville, Illinois. These M30 engines are smooth, and their progressive power delivery suits this aristocratic vehicle perfectly.
Its steering is nice if slightly lazy, with good feedback from the front tires, and its brakes are excellent, but this is no sports car, even in the E3 context. Its chassis isn’t particularly rigid, and it exhibits quite a bit of cowl shake over bumps. Converting the sedan into an estate meant losing the rear bulkhead in favor of an open cargo area, and some of the E3’s stiffness and handling balance seems to have been lost as a result. It’s not bad, but you can definitely feel the lack of structural rigidity, along with the weight that was added at the rear when BMW’s U.K. distributor (and Langley Motors of Surbiton, Surrey, which handled customer orders) enlisted Crayford Engineering of Westerham, Kent to alter the bodywork of its flagship sedan.
Paying the price for cutting costs
“It’s speculation, but Crayford most likely underbid to get the job,” says The Werk Shop’s David Masi, who supervised the restoration. “Their original sheet metal work in the rear greenhouse, especially at the roof, was average by the standard of the time in England, which means pretty poor.”