WAG­ONS ON A ROLL

Classy load-lug­gers for the mid­dle classes from Tri­umph, Fiat and Volvo

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS AN­DREW ROBERTS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TONY BAKER

For a long-term en­thu­si­ast of both ’60s cul­ture and fine es­tate cars, this group is a dream come true. You can just imag­ine a go-ahead chap – it was more likely to have been a ‘chap’ circa 1967 – some­where near Wey­bridge com­pil­ing a short­list of pres­ti­gious sta­tion wag­ons that of­fered com­fort and a rea­son­able de­gree of per­for­mance, while also re­flect­ing his sta­tus as the sharpest man­age­ment ac­coun­tant south of the Thames. And, be­ing a Con­ti­nen­tal-minded sort of a gent – he once read Len Deighton’s Ac­tion Cook Book – he’s even pre­pared to con­sider one of those ‘for­eign jobs’, such as a Fiat 2300 Fa­mil­iare or a Volvo 221, as well as a Tri­umph 2000.

The 2300 is the rarest of our trio, de­spite Fiat be­ing one of the few over­seas car man­u­fac­tur­ers to of­fer a full range of cars to Bri­tish mo­torists dur­ing the 1960s; Iain Salmon’s 1967 model is be­lieved to be the only one on the road in the UK. When Turin was plan­ning a re­place­ment for the 1950-’59 1400/1900 range, it was aim­ing at a car that would com­bine bour­geois pro­pri­ety with a dy­namic ap­pear­ance, a ve­hi­cle that was suited to au­tostrada and town use alike. The coach­work was un­der­stated, com­bin­ing a con­tem­po­rary look that wasn’t overly flam­boy­ant with fins that de­noted a new Fiat that was at least par­tially aimed at the US mar­ket.

The orig­i­nal 1800 and 2100 mod­els made their de­but in 1959, the lat­ter pow­ered by a straight-six, fol­lowed a few months later by the Fa­mil­iare. In 1961, the 2100 was re­placed by the quad-head­lamp 2300, which fea­tured an Aure­lio Lam­predi-de­signed en­gine with an alu­minium cylin­der head. Back then, Fiat’s Lon­don dealer was Jack Barclay, so any­one wish­ing to ar­range a test drive could en­joy the so­cial ca­chet of di­alling ‘May­fair 7444’. That same year came the 2300S flag­ship, but to­day the wagon is a far more ex­clu­sive sight. From a 2018 per­spec­tive, a Fiat 2300 is not so much chic as down­right glam­orous; it also has the air of be­ing trans­port for a gang of en­emy agents in an Ital­ian B-film or an In­cor­po­rated Tele­vi­sion Com­pany se­ries.

The Fa­mil­iare marked quite a de­par­ture for Fiat, be­ing its first large sta­tion wagon to de­lib­er­ately tar­get the af­flu­ent leisure mar­ket. Gio­vanni Agnelli, the firm’s play­boy pres­i­dent,

used a 2300 for his golf­ing trips and a ‘Fiat Wagon’ would be equally at home out­side the Con­necti­cut villa of an up-and-com­ing cor­po­rate lawyer. In 1963, Mo­tor re­garded the Fa­mil­iare as ‘smooth, quiet, fast, ex­trav­a­gantly equipped and metic­u­lously fin­ished’, and the Fiat does seem rather too svelte for mere work­horse du­ties. The pol­ished fin­ish of the load com­part­ment’s slat­ted floor sug­gests the world of the ex­clu­sive club­house rather than the build­ing site. The pas­sen­ger area strikes a bal­ance be­tween the lux­u­ri­ous and the prac­ti­cal, with sep­a­rate re­clin­ing back­rests on the front bench, warn­ing lamps on the lead­ing edges of the doors and even a hand throt­tle – it is never a wise idea to con­fuse the lat­ter with the choke.

From 1966 on­wards, the 2300 be­came the first Fiat to be of­fered with a fully au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and the Borg-warner ’box is per­fectly matched to the 2.3-litre en­gine. Nat­u­rally, the se­lec­tor is mounted on the steer­ing col­umn, which is en­tirely in keep­ing with a car that makes a de­light­ful long-dis­tance cruiser. With disc brakes on all four wheels and that re­fined en­gine note, there’s an air of unas­sum­ing but gen­uine so­phis­ti­ca­tion that cars cost­ing thou­sands more would strug­gle to match. Fiat claimed, with­out un­due mod­esty, that the 2300 was ‘a no­ble ve­hi­cle for city or open road’ with per­for­mance that ‘fills you with en­thu­si­asm’. Hear­ing the soft purr of the straight-six mo­tor as the nee­dle ef­fort­lessly moves across the strip speedome­ter is enough to bear out those claims.

Our next car is the most com­monly en­coun­tered, tes­ta­ment to its dura­bil­ity and its im­pact on Euro­pean mid­dle-class mo­tor­ing for over five decades. The 221 was not the firm’s first es­tate car – that hon­our goes to the 1953 Duett – but it was the first Volvo wagon based on a saloon rather than a light com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle. Known as the Ama­zon in its home­land, the saloon was launched in ’56, with UK im­ports com­menc­ing in ’58; four years later, Volvo proudly an­nounced ‘an ex­clu­sive es­tate car, de­signed for Euro­pean con­di­tions’ that would be shown for the first time at the Stock­holm Mo­tor Show. From the B-pil­lar for­wards the wagon was iden­ti­cal to the saloon, but the roof was strength­ened and the rear side doors were unique to the load-lug­ger.

The price of the Ama­zon es­tate meant that it oc­cu­pied a rather dif­fer­ent sec­tor of the mar­ket

to the Duett, so the older model re­mained in pro­duc­tion. The 221 rapidly be­came de rigueur for the am­bi­tious Swedish pro­fes­sional, and was also the first of an ex­ten­sive line of Volvo wag­ons to win favour in the most re­spectable of cir­cles. Im­ports started in ’63, and Au­to­car re­garded the Ama­zon as ‘a chunky prac­ti­cal car, well-equipped in plain fash­ion’. By the mid­dle of the decade, Volvo es­tates were be­ing used by an­tique deal­ers and gentle­man farm­ers alike, while 221s were also seen in the drive­ways of haute sub­ur­bia.

Like the saloon, the 221 es­tate (although they were never badged as such) was first pow­ered by the 1.8-litre B18 en­gine, gain­ing servo-as­sisted front disc brakes in 1964. This 1968 ex­am­ple has a later B20 2-litre unit that, when com­bined with over­drive, makes the Volvo ideal for tow­ing a car­a­van, ac­cord­ing to own­ers Jayne and Si­mon Gill. Of course, com­par­a­tively few Bri­tish Volvo driv­ers of the 1960s would have been in­ter­ested in ap­pear­ing con­tem­po­rary, for although the Ama­zon’s styling was not as time-locked as a Vaux­hall Cresta PA, it cer­tainly did not seem es­pe­cially up-to-the-minute by the late ’60s. If the Tri­umph was the car for the young pro­fes­sional and the Fiat for a Kingston by­pass ver­sion of La Dolce Vita, the Volvo looked as though it hailed from the pre­vi­ous decade – but this was part of its ap­peal. Af­ter all, true qual­ity is above the mere va­garies of fash­ion.

Bet­ter still, the Volvo be­longs to­gether with the Z-se­ries MG Mag­nette and the Borg­ward Is­abella in an ex­clu­sive club of ‘De­signs whose abil­i­ties be­lie their age’. The Ama­zon steers, stops, cor­ners and gen­er­ally be­haves in a man­ner that can lead you to be­lieve that you are pi­lot­ing a much younger car, with the dash­board and the thick wind­screen pil­lars as re­minders of its ’50s ori­gins. The body is re­plete with clever de­tails such as the lum­bar-sup­port ad­justers on the front seats, the in­te­gral steps on the rear over­rid­ers so that the owner can ad­just a roof-rack with ease, and the hinged back num­ber­plate so that it can re­main vis­i­ble if the bot­tom half of the tail­gate is low­ered. The 221 is by far the most ver­sa­tile mem­ber of this line-up, for un­like the Fiat and the Tri­umph – both of which are too smart to carry any­thing less than Gucci suit­cases – the 221’s hard-wear­ing lug­gage com­part­ment is ready to ac­com­mo­date hay bales or crates of Dres­den china with equal aplomb.

Fi­nally, we have the Tri­umph, and your ini­tial im­pres­sion is just how small it is by mod­ern stan­dards. The 2000 al­ways seems a sub­stan­tial ve­hi­cle, but it is in fact not much longer than a mod­ern Vaux­hall As­tra – in­deed, each of th­ese cars mea­sures less than 15ft in length. The Volvo and the Fiat both have an ex­ten­sively elon­gated roofline, but the 2000’s slop­ing tail an­tic­i­pates the forth­com­ing Saab 99 Combi or the Audi 100 Avant. John Kelly’s ex­ten­sively re­stored, and now very rare, 1967 ex­am­ple is a re­minder that the Tri­umph was as much a very stylish five­door saloon as a prac­ti­cal es­tate car.

If you needed an idea of how the Tri­umph mar­que had es­tab­lished it­self as the Bri­tish equiv­a­lent of Alfa Romeo or Lan­cia by the ’60s, just take a glance at the 2000. It is nearly im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that just two years sep­a­rate the last Stan­dard Van­guard Lux­ury Six sta­tion wag­ons from the first of th­ese Tri­umph es­tates, so dif­fer­ent are their im­ages. The cars share an en­gine, but while the Stan­dard al­ways car­ried over­tones of Na­tional Ser­vice and cups of tea in a Lyons Cor­ner House, the Tri­umph was clearly a ma­chine for the mo­tor­way age

The 2000 Es­tate was orig­i­nally planned along­side the saloon, but wouldn’t ap­pear un­til two years af­ter the four-door’s un­veil­ing at the 1963 Lon­don Mo­tor Show. One chal­lenge for Tri­umph was to en­sure that the Mich­e­lotti lines were not marred for the sta­tion wagon. Saloon bod­ies were despatched from Pressed Steel of Swin­don to Car­bod­ies in Coven­try, and the fuel tank was re­lo­cated to ac­com­mo­date the load bay. The rear sus­pen­sion was up­rated and the re­sult was a model that cre­ated its own niche. When the Tri­umph es­tate made its de­but, the Hum­ber Hawk had a four-cylin­der en­gine and a mid­dle-aged look, while the Ford Zo­diac MKIII Farn­ham and the Martin Wal­ter-bod­ied Vaux­hall Cresta PB were both larger and self­con­sciously transat­lantic. The Ford Cor­sair Es­tate was closer in size to the Tri­umph but, cru­cially, lacked that ‘ex­ec­u­tive’ am­bi­ence.

As with all post-1966 2000 Mk1s, there is an im­proved dash­board with a clock and fresh-air vents (ap­par­ently de­signed to cool the front oc­cu­pants’ kneecaps), while the seats are up­hol­stered in leather. The cabin seam­lessly blends the ethos of an air­craft cock­pit with an MD’S of­fice, and one charm­ing – if im­prac­ti­cal – de­tail is the way the wood ve­neer con­tin­ues into the load bay. The 2000’s sus­pen­sion and steer­ing pro­vide an ex­cel­lent bal­ance be­tween a GT and busi­ness trans­port, while there is space to con­vey two or three clients on the rear bench.

The ethos of the Tri­umph is best il­lus­trated by the com­mer­cials for Na­tional Petrol, in which ‘get­away peo­ple’ would cruise along the beach and act in a swing­ing man­ner. That’s the as­pi­ra­tional world of the 2000 Es­tate: while the re­al­ity may be a busi­ness trip to an Uxbridge build­ing site, with the silky 2-litre straight-six a Tri­umph driver could en­vis­age be­com­ing a ju­nior mem­ber of the jet set. In the words of Ley­land’s 1966 cam­paign, this was an ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary com­bi­na­tion of aes­thetic and func­tional val­ues’.

The Ama­zon was dis­con­tin­ued in ’69, hav­ing been sup­ple­mented by the 145 two years ear­lier, while the Tri­umph was re­placed by the long­nosed Mk2 in the same year. The Fiat ceased pro­duc­tion in ’68 leav­ing no real suc­ces­sor, the 130 never be­ing of­fi­cially of­fered as a five-door.

Each mem­ber of this group would have rep­re­sented tremen­dous value 50 years ago, and so in­di­vid­ual are they in ap­peal that you’d re­ally need to pur­chase all three. On week­days, the Tri­umph is ideal for speed­ing to­wards the next project de­signed to ruin the Lon­don sky­line, sav­ing the Volvo for week­end vis­its to gymkhanas, ig­nor­ing the oc­ca­sional grum­ble from re­tired colonels about a lack of pa­tri­o­tism.

That leaves the Fiat, the per­fect es­tate car for mo­tor­ing along the Dorset coast on a sum­mer even­ing, lis­ten­ing to Paul Mau­riat per­form­ing Love is Blue. I’ve craved the full-scale ver­sion ever since I first saw the Dinky model of the ‘2300 Sta­tion Wagon’, and af­ter this en­counter that am­bi­tion has only in­ten­si­fied.

‘The Volvo and Fiat have elon­gated rooflines, but the Tri­umph’s slop­ing tail hints at the forth­com­ing Saab Combi or Audi Avant’

Thanks to Ama­zon Cars (www.ama­zon­cars.co.uk); Alan Chat­ter­ton and the Tri­umph 2000 2500 2.5 Regis­ter (www.tri­umph2000reg­is­ter.co.uk); Fly­ing Club Con­ing­ton (www.aerolease.co.uk)

164

From top: the 2300 is the most ex­otic-look­ing of our trio; sim­ple in­te­rior has an in­nate glam­our; auto ’box suits the Fiat’s char­ac­ter; stylish lined load bay

From top: Ama­zon has a ’50s flavour, but feels sur­pris­ingly mod­ern to drive; ra­tio­nal, er­gonomic cabin; 121 badg­ing shared with saloon; huge boot

From top: Tri­umph feels more agile than its looks sug­gest; swoopy dash; over­drive gives long legs; 2000 is the only car here with a one-piece tail­gate

The 2000 ap­pears petite in this com­pany, and of­fers a more overtly sport­ing driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence than its Con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion

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