New Cars: BMW 325i Estate

Return of the Touring?

There has long existed a tradition of converting saloons into estate cars. One thinks of such as the Martin Walker Vauxhall conversions, the estate versions of the Aston Martin DBS and, more recently, the stunning Lynx Eventer based on the Jaguar XJS. Now a Dutch company, Luchjenbroers of Emmen, has turned its attention to the BMW 3 series and we recently were able to drive the first rhd version made.

It’s not a cheap conversion, you’d be looking at over £10,000 plus the BMW of your choice for the level of trim of the test car. You would, however, be receiving a BBS body kit, BBS 15″ alloy wheels, low profile tyres, an electric sunroof, tinted glass, rear wiper and rear spoiler. You’d also be buying a fairly distinctive motor car which creates a lot of interest wherever it goes.

The British agent is Raymond Amos who saw one, loved it and placed an order for himself. Raymond doesn’t expect to handle many orders, perhaps a dozen a year, but he reckons that there will be a small number of people who, like himself, are BMW enthusiasts who can use the extra luggage capacity. He happens to be the head of a successful electronics company and his involvement with the project is based on his enthusiasm for cars rather than as a hard-nosed business venture.

With its BBS additions the car is certainly an eye-catcher and you find yourself having to answer questions on it from the chap alongside you in a traffic jam. It’s also a well-finished car, both cosmetically and structurally, but it does fall below Munich standards in one or two details.

There is only a single pneumatic strut to hold up the tailgate and it tires of the job after about half a minute. Later cars, we’re told, will have two struts. The tailgate spoiler looks good, but is far too flexible to be much else than a cosmetic addition. The rear wiper is a necessity because the altered aerodynamics means that the tailgate window attracts rain and dirt but on the car tested, it operated at far too fast a speed, it was not possible to activate the washer at the same time as the wiper and the car cries out for an intermittent rear wipe.

It has not been possible to achieve a rear opening without a bottom lip and it is at the same height as the average hatchback. There is a panel in the middle of the rear seat which is specially to accommodate skis. The floor pan of the luggage compartment is flat though the rear seat when folded forward presents a shallow angle to the horizontal.

On the road, the car naturally possesses all the virtues and the shortcomings of whichever 3-series BMW is used as a basis. Compensatory stiffening has clearly been competently done for the car seems to have lost none of its stiffness. Noise levels are low too, wind noise may even be slightly lower than the standard saloon but there is some boom from the rear suspension when encountering uneven road surfaces.

The test car was fitted with BMW’s sports seats, (and very good they are too) and the optional limited slip differential and sports suspension kit. It did not have power assisted steering and didn’t need it with the larger wheels and low profile tyres. My guess is that assisted steering would detract from what was a very pleasant combination of lightness and feel.

The optional sports suspension kit made the car feel more taut than the standard rnodel, though at some sacrifice in ride. Even on a trunk road like the three lane section of the A3, the steering could be nervous.  In wet conditions, the whole car felt light and it was easy to break away the rear wheels, but that’s down to BMW.

Luchjenbroers’ sales literature calls its ‘Sports Comb,’ the ‘Return of the Touring’, BMW’s small sporting estate of a few years ago To my mind, this conversion is a far more handsome creation than that car. Its niche in the market must be a very small one but the fact that Luchjenbroers is expanding into larger premises to meet demand indicates that it does have its place. Part of the car’s attraction anyway is its rarity, the test car was only the fourth completed.

Further details: Raymond Amos, Weircliffe International Ltd., Weircliffe, Exwick, Exeter, Devon EX4 2AG. Telephone: 0392 72132. — M.L.