Featured: Brief And Beautiful, These Are Our Favorite 'Breadvan' Race Cars

Brief And Beautiful, These Are Our Favorite ‘Breadvan’ Race Cars

By Colm Murphy
January 11, 2018

From Kammbacks to camionettes, shooting brakes to breadvans, there has always been an alternate school of thought when it comes to racing aerodynamics, an undercurrent of car designers who swear by a boxy tail.

It was Wunibald Kamm, a German aerodynamicist, who is credited with first discovering that a smoothly contoured front end, when combined with a gently raked roofline ending in a flattened vertical tailgate, will provide and the most efficient real world shape for a car. From the 1930s the “Kammback” became a largely seasonal trend in automotive design, enjoying particular success amongst the Citroëns of 1970s. Though the wagons and brakes that came later were suited many needs in one form, the design was also proven on the race track.

Ferrari 250 GT Drogo Breadvan

It has been well documented that Enzo Ferrari was a difficult character to spend much professional time around, to say the least. In 1961, a number of Ferrari’s top people were removed from the company following an ultimatum of sorts. Many of them banded together to form Automobili Turismo e Sport, or ATS, intended to rival their former employer.

ATS was partially funded by Count Giovanni Volpi, who himself owned the Scuderia Serenissima racing team. When Volpi attempted to purchase two of Ferrari’s homologated 250 GTOs for his racing team, Enzo blocked the sale, furious that Volpi had in a sense poached some of his most talented engineers. Undeterred, Volpi enlisted the ex-Ferrari engineer Giotto Bizzarrini to modify a secondhand 250 GT SWB he had purchased from fellow privateer racer Olivier Gendebien.

Bizzarrini and his colleague Piero Drogo were tasked with elevating the lesser 250 GT to the standard of the GTO factory racecar, so they went about developing a new body which lowered the profile of the car and elongated it with a rectilinear tail end, truncated by a sharp vertical drop.

The unusual silhouette caused a stir, with French press dubbing it “La Camionette” (the little truck), however it was a group of British motorsport journalists who drew the unflattering comparison with a breadvan, and thus the term we know it by today was coined. The Breadvan quickly silenced its critics though, wasting no time overtaking rivals from the Ferrari works team at its debut outing, the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans. While it managed to climb to 7th overall, it failed to finish after a driveshaft failure ended its race. Provenance aside, the Breadvan’s bold profile had set an interesting precedent in racing aerodynamics.

Iso Rivolta Breadvan

This car may appear nigh identical to the 250 GT Breadvan above, and that is because, cosmetically speaking, it is essentially an exact replica. Giotto Bizzarrini at this point had joined forces with Italian manufacturer Iso under his freelance firm to work on some of their most well-known road and race cars like the Rivoltas and Grifos. The grand tourer known as the Rivolta, which was propelled by the brute force of a 5.7-liter Chevrolet engine, sat in in stark contrast to the 3-liter V12s that powered the 250 GT.

Bizzarrini and Drogo decided that their body would fit neatly on the running gear of the Rivolta as well though, and thus the Breadvan lived on, albeit to the beat of a very different drum.

Lotus 11 GT Breadvan

Lotus is known for producing some of racing’s greatest giantkillers with their often less powerful but lightweight designs and novel chassis. Colin Chapman was also fascinated by Volpi’s Frankenstein Ferrari and its sudden cosmetic surgery, and decided to apply a similar principle to his versatile Lotus 11 platform.

And so the Lotus 11 GT Breadvan was born, which despite its tiny four-cylinder Coventry Climax engine, put many of its rivals to shame. Thought lost for 50 years, the Breadvan 11 was recently resurrected by Twyman Racing, and proved at the 72nd Goodwood Members’ Meeting that it still possesses some of those early Lotus giant-killing personality traits, coming second in its class and beating a number of Ferraris in the process. 

Citroën SM Daunat

One of the distinctive characteristics of Robert Opron’s iconic Citroën SM design was its Kammtail. The tapering profile terminating abruptly in a sharp vertical drop set the SM apart from its peers while updating the more rigid look of the rooflines of the cars above.

Frédérique Daunat decided to exploit the SM’s Maserati-built V6 as well as its unique suspension design and take it rally racing. A coachbuilder by trade, Daunat felt the stock car’s aerodynamic approach didn’t go far enough for his liking. He set about shortening the wheelbase of the car and squaring off the rear end, creating a Citroën breadvan more true to the original concept. The experiment paid off too, with the butchered SM coming in 3rd place in the 1972 Rally of Portugal, and 5th & 6th in the 1973 Bandama Rally. Daunat’s design was also used in a special one-off for tire manufacturer Michelin to be used for testing and development.

Honorable Mention: Volvo 850 Wagon

The true breadvan trend had largely come and gone in the ‘60s, however there was a more recent resurgence of the same principles.

In the 1990s, Volvo was looking for an edge in the hotly contested British Touring Car Championship. Bound, of course, by the requirement for the race car to be based on a production car, Volvo realized they already had a breadvan-style body waiting for them in their roadcar lineup: though the load-lugging 850 wagon was not the most sporting car on the street aside from the T-5R and the 850R special models, it did have the right bone structure.

This led to Volvo commissioning the seasoned British outfit Tom Walkinshaw Racing to race-prep a pair of estate cars. While many of their competitors were bemused at the Swedes and their boxy entrants, the 850s proved very capable in the hands of Rickard Rydell and Jan Lammers. While they failed to achieve a podium finish in their only season (’94), they managed a 5th place and also managed to wipe the smirks from the faces of their rivals. In fact, they famously teased their opponents by embracing the image of the estate car and placing a stuffed dog in the back of the 850 on the parade laps.

While the wagon’s aerodynamics did provide a small advantage over the saloon, there’s a reason more racing cars are not station wagons, and this was more of a PR effort meant to dispel the stuffy image of the family station wagon. Changes in aerodynamic regulations for the subsequent season meant the wagons lost any of their competitive edge due to the allowance of new wings on the backs of saloon cars, and thus TWR returned to the saloon body for the Volvo 850 race cars to come.


Image sources:
Ferrari: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Iso: 1-4, 5
Lotus: 1, 2, 3, 4
Citroën: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Volvo: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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AWhitejeff dejosephMatthew Lange Recent comment authors
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C4RK….c’mon people

Jeff DeJoseph

forgot the j-car…??

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

I thought the Iso Rivolta Breadvan was a replica of the Ferrari built in the 80’s? I remember it regularly turing up for sale in the magazine classified with a very vague history that didn’t seem to stand up to much scrutiny.