Driving a dog-friendly British-built estate version of Tesla’s fast electric car
Some folk say that all the best ideas begin in pubs. There’s no empirical evidence for that, but this Tesla Model S Shooting Brake is real enough – 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.
“Phil, who had just bought a Model S P90D, said he had nowhere to carry his dogs,” says Hindmarsh. “So Jim said, why don’t you make it an estate car? Roll on 18 months and there’s one sitting outside.”
The Phil in question, Qwest director and labradoodle owner Phil Hayton, bravely agreed to the plan of turning his Model S into the world’s first battery-electric estate. Tech guru Jim Router enthusiastically signed up to it as engineering director. With huge experience working for McLaren, Lotus, TWR on the Jaguar Le Mans racers and Riversimple on its new Rasa hydrogen car, Router reckoned it would be “a doddle” to do the conversion.
It turned out to be a bit more challenging, of course. “We had to try to design the changes so they were repeatable,” says Router. “It’s no good just cutting into it; we had to leave all major structural parts there so the crumple zones are unaffected.”
Hindmarsh nods. “Other companies sometimes cut into the first car and work it out as they go,” he says. “We had the car laser-scanned so Jim could create a full 3D digital model before any work began.”
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 you’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 Musk’s company for its “very supportive” 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 estate’s new rear end, hidden by tinted glass. All the new bodywork is made from carbonfibre, cutting 12kg from the Model S’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 Tesla’s standard materials. “Aside from the Pilkington glass rear screen, which was an off-the-shelf product, pretty much everything we’ve added to the car is bespoke,” says Hindmarsh. “But we made sure that the new parts can be readily sourced again and they’re all E-marked.”
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 £70,000 cost of the conversion. That’s more than the cost of a new 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 the London motor show, but there’s already been significant interest. “This is a car for people who want to be different, for people who want to be part of future,” says Hindmarsh. “I can imagine our car looking as at home in Knightsbridge as it does on the country roads of Norfolk.”
Labradoodle Ted certainly looks at home in the back. He sits there all the time we’re talking and taking pictures, and only hops out when it’s time for the test drive. What price do you put on your dog’s happiness?