Driving a dog-friendly British-built estate version of Teslaâ€™s fast electric car
Some folk say that all the best ideas begin in pubs. Thereâ€™s no empirical evidence for that, but this Tesla Model SÂ Shooting Brake is real enough â€“Â and the eureka moment for it happened at The Bird in Hand near Hethel in Norfolk when Dorian Hindmarsh, managing director of Dereham-based coachbuilding company Qwest, was having a lunchtime progress meeting with a couple of colleagues.
â€œPhil, who had just bought aÂ Model S P90D, said he had nowhere to carry his dogs,â€ says Hindmarsh. â€œSo Jim said, why donâ€™t you make it an estate car? Roll on 18 months and thereâ€™s one sitting outside.â€
The Phil in question, Qwest director and labradoodle owner Phil Hayton, bravely agreed to the plan of turning his Model S into the worldâ€™s first battery-electric estate. Tech guru Jim Router enthusiastically signed up to it as engineering director. With huge experience working for McLaren,Â Lotus, TWR on the JaguarÂ Le MansÂ racers and Riversimple on its newÂ Rasa hydrogen car,Â Router reckoned it would be â€œa doddleâ€ to do the conversion.
It turned out to be a bit more challenging, of course. â€œWe had to try to design the changes so they were repeatable,â€ says Router. â€œItâ€™s no good just cutting into it; we had to leave all major structural parts there so the crumple zones are unaffected.â€
Hindmarsh nods. â€œOther companies sometimes cut into the first car and work it out as they go,â€ he says. â€œWe had the car laser-scanned so Jim could create a full 3D digital model before any work began.â€
Three designs were created. One had the tailgate split in the D-pillar; a second had a fully-split tailgate; and the third is the car youâ€™re looking at here. A 1:10 scale model with an interchangeable back end was made so that Hayton could play with it for a while to help them decide on the best option.
Once the decision had been made, the team asked Tesla for approval. Hindmarsh praises Elon Muskâ€™s company for its â€œvery supportiveâ€ stance. Their main condition was that no modifications should be made to either crash structure or electronics. For that reason, the original Tesla C-pillars remain under the estateâ€™s new rear end, hidden by tinted glass. All the new bodywork is made from carbonfibre, cutting 12kg from the Model Sâ€™s overall weight despite the increased acreage of panelling.
As many of the new materials as possible were locally sourced, including the interior fabric from a local Norfolk trimmer, which fits in seamlessly with the Teslaâ€™s standard materials. â€œAside from the Pilkington glass rear screen, which was an off-the-shelf product, pretty much everything weâ€™ve added to the car is bespoke,â€ says Hindmarsh. â€œBut we made sure that the new parts can be readily sourced again and theyâ€™re all E-marked.â€
The Shooting Brake can offer up to 7.4ft of clear luggage space, plus more rear head room and proper space for two adults in the boot when the Tesla option box for rearmost seats is ticked.
A quick drive reveals no obvious impact on the Model S experience. It rides, handles and blurs the horizon in just the same way, with no additional noises.
The only downside is the estimated Â£70,000 cost of the conversion. Thatâ€™s more than the cost of a newÂ Model S 75D, but with only thirty Shooting Brakes on the production plan you will be buying into exclusivity as well as extraordinary practicality.
The Shooting Brake will be making a debut at theÂ London motor show,Â but thereâ€™s already been significant interest. â€œThis is a car for people who want to be different, for people who want to be part of future,â€ says Hindmarsh. â€œI can imagine our car looking as at home in Knightsbridge as it does on the country roads of Norfolk.â€
Labradoodle Ted certainly looks at home in the back. He sits there all the time weâ€™re talking and taking pictures, and only hops out when itâ€™s time for the test drive. What price do you put on your dogâ€™s happiness?