14 multi-seat family estates with retro appeal

by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
27 September 2022 5 min read
14 multi-seat family estates with retro appeal
Photo: Renault

Every generation has a seven-seater. If you grew up in the 1970s or early ’80s, you may have travelled in the third row of an estate car, most likely facing the car behind. A child of the 1990s or turn of the millennium would have enjoyed the space of an MPV, while today’s kids are lording it up in a seven-seat SUV. The MPV has had its day, deemed too uncool for the school run by modern parents.

We could spend the next few minutes trying to convince you that a retro people carrier would enhance your credibility at the school gate. That a Renault Espace, Toyota Space Cruiser or Pontiac Trans Sport would make you daddy (and mummy) cool. But while we’re sure our editor James Mills would love to relive his salad days in an original Espace, we reckon a family wagon is where it’s at.

Here are 14 multi-seat wagons for your growing brood.

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Volvo 240 Estate

Volvo 240 GL
Photo: Volvo

It was one of the most middle-class cars of the 1970s and early ’80s. The Volvo 240 Estate, formerly the 245, was a staple of the stockbroker belt: a car rarely seen without a pair of green wellies and a Golden Retriever in the boot. Unless, of course, the mamma och pappa had the foresight to fit a rear-facing child seat, which could be folded down under the boot floor. Goldie would be forced to stay at home as the kids grabbed the best seats in the house. Hands up if you loved travelling in the boot…

Austin 3 Litre Estate by Crayford

Austin 3 Litre Estate

Crayford converted 11 Austin 3 Litre saloons into large estate cars and the result looked like something built by Coleman Milne. It didn’t look like an estate car to die for. It was, however, Britain’s only nine-seater estate car, although this claim is based on three or four children squeezing onto a removable bench seat in the boot. The conversion cost around £600, which is roughly £6000 in today’s money. That’s in addition to the price of the car. We have a soft spot for the big Austin, but we suspect your kids wouldn’t be seen dead in the Crayford conversion.

Land Rover 110

Land Rover 110 CSW
Photo: Land Rover

The problem with many modern seven-seat SUVs is the lack of space in the third row. Anyone taller than Ronnie Corbett requires the skills of a contortionist before spending any time back there. Things were very different in the Land Rover 110, which could seat up to 12 people in, er, comfort. Land Rover called it “the most rugged personnel carrier in the business”, so it was ideal for dressing your kids in camo and turning the school run into a special ops mission. 

Renault 21 Savanna

Renault 21 Savanna
Photo: Renault

Renault, with more than a little help from Matra, pioneered the concept of the people carrier in Europe, but not everyone was willing to embrace the Espace and its many imitators. For the MPV doubters, Renault offered the 21 Savanna Family, an estate car with seven forward-facing seats. “We’re not talking about seven ‘at a pinch’ either,’ said Renault. “In the Savanna, everyone travels in real style and genuine comfort – thanks not only to its spacious and airy interior, but to seating which is correctly designed and upholstered in soft yet hard-wearing Longchamp Velour.” A real rarity on today’s roads, this is one we’d welcome at the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional.

Citroën CX Familiale

Citroen CX
Photo: Magic Car Pics

Why settle for seven seats when you can have eight? It’s hard to imagine a more comfortable way of crossing a continent than in the back of a Citroën CX Familiale, where ‘guests’ will enjoy an experience rivalled only by travelling first classic with Air France. It’s all thanks to the hydropneumatic suspension, anti-dive geometry and contoured seats, which combine to make this one of the smoothest-riding cars on the road, even today. As Citroën said: “Even a marathon run in a CX takes on the character of a Sunday afternoon spin.”

Seat 1500 Familiar

Seat 1500
Photo: Spanish Coches / Wikipedia

If the wagon version of the Seat 1500 looks, er, familiar, it’s because it was based on the Fiat 2300 Familiare. The 1500 Familiar, and the standard 1500 saloon, was a car for the great and the good of Spanish society, including politicians, company directors and those who could afford a chauffeur. Taxi drivers also appreciated the strengths of the 1500, not least the ability to carry six people – three in the back and three in the front. It’s much cooler than an Alhambra or Tarraco.

Audi S6 Avant

Audi S6 Avant
Photo: Audi

The original Audi S6, essentially an evolution of the C4 100, was available with a choice of engines: a 2.2-litre five-cylinder turbocharged motor and a 4.2-litre V8. In Avant guise, the 2.2-litre version could sprint to 62mph in around seven seconds, while the V8 could do it in just six. Good figures, even by today’s standards. Just imagine how cool your parents must have been if they ticked the box for the optional rear-facing seats in the boot. And how many kids waved a subtle goodbye to the driver behind when their dad (it was always dads misbehaving, right?) floored the throttle?

Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry
Photo: Toyota

Yes, that’s the Toyota Camry with the dual rear wipers. And, yes, it was available with a pair of rear-facing child seats. Just imagine spending your formative years in the back of a car with two rear wipers and rear-facing seats. You’d be a hero of #WeirdCarTwitter.

Saab 95

Saab 95
Photo: Saab

If the look on their faces is anything to go by, travelling in the third row of a Saab 95 wasn’t all that. Whoever was in the driver’s seat might have been having a better time however, with either an inline-three two-stroke or later, a Ford-derived V4 to play with – plus a column gearshift.

Mercedes-Benz W123 estate

Mercedes S123
Photo: Mercedes-Benz

In fairness to the Swedish children in the previous photo, they were probably waiting for the arrival of the Mercedes-Benz W123, which spawned the company’s first estate car. Internally, it was known as the ‘S’ for Stationswagen, but the public knew it as the ‘T’ for Tourism and Transport. A rear-facing bench was optional, but the surroundings looked more palatial than in the back of the Saab 95. Self-levelling rear suspension meant that sick bags weren’t required, even after a visit to a Happy Eater.

Peugeot 505 Family

Peugeot 505
Photo: Peugeot

The 505 was Peugeot’s last rear-wheel drive car, but we suspect this was of little interest to the children who travelled in the back of a 505 Family. Like the Renault 21 Savanna and Citroën CX Familiale, all eight occupants faced forward in the big Pug, but what made the experience even more special was the fact that the seats were covered in tweed. Not leather, not velour, but luxurious tweed. Feel free to bite your fist if you feel the need for tweed.

Matra Rancho

Matra Rancho
Photo: Matra

Meet the godfather of the modern crossover. Designed to appeal to those who fancied a Range Rover but neither needed nor could afford a four-wheel drive system, the Rancho was a lifestyle vehicle before the lifestyle vehicle was a thing. A car designed for venturing no further off-road than a dropped kerb. Please admire the split tailgate and optional rear bench.

Montego Countryman

Montego Countryman
Photo: Rover

Back in the day, you didn’t require a fancy SUV to enjoy the great outdoors. “If you’re looking for an estate that can handle a family day out at the country show, or a picnic at a nature reserve as effortlessly as a trip to the supermarket. Which looks a million dollars. And costs a lot less. Then take your place at the leather-bound steering wheel of the new Montego Countryman estate,” was the brochure’s opening gambit. Not convinced? The interior was trimmed in tweed and velour. Good grief.

Ford LTD Country Squire

Ford LTD
Photo: Ford / Free Library of Philadelphia

We’d love to know what Euro NCAP would make of some of the features available in Ford station wagons of the 1970s. Please admire the dual facing rear seats and recreational table of the LTD Country Squire. From a time when we didn’t think twice about sticking 10 people in an estate car. Still want that Dacia Jogger? Actually, we do, but that’s another story… 

Read more

London Concours gallery: Concepts and JDM classics shine in the City
A Matter of A Pinion: The Citroen CX
The Classic Car Boot Sale

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  • Senko says:

    Great article , just reading your interesting ranking from Argentina. Let me tell you perhaps you forgotten it but one of the most lovely Brit’s estate cars was the Hillman Avenger wagon which we Argies had the pleasure to own it since it was also assembled in Buenos Aires’ facilities factory first by Chrysler , later by Volkswagen until year 1990 with an incredible nice lifting rebadged as Volkswagen Rural 1,8 . Sure the Sunbeam-Hillman Avenger Estate Car wasn’t the most volume’s capacity loading vehicle, but it had such a good solid body construction , plus it had a design’s style that makes it so distincted from all other estates-cars .

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