Niels van Roij Design’s 550 Maranello pays homage to the 250 GT Breadvan.

Photo: Inspiration 1
April 18, 2024

There’s something unique and exception about shooting brakes. Turning a coupé into a sports wagon adds a touch of utilitarianism to the innate elegance of the initial bodywork, a sense of the sublime that allows for the transport of shotguns and hunting dogs (at least in the original usage), golf bags, or simply the luggage needed to pursue the notion of grand touring.

To come so close to the automotive ideal should logically tickle the fancy of any manufacturer, but it must be said that shooting brakes are, at most, an anomaly, appearing as sparingly as February 29 on a calendar. Beyond the Volvo P1800 ES, Renault Scimitat GTE, and (perhaps) BMW Z3 Coupé, it’s arguable that, of all marques, Ferrari might be one of the most dedicated producers; the FF and GTC4Lusso are prime examples of the species.

The interest in Ferrari shooting brakes goes back much further, however, to the 1960s and ’70s, an era when coachbuilders were hard at work creating stylish wagons based on Aston Martins, Bentleys, Jaguars, Rolls-Royces, and other exclusive machines. During that period, Luigi Chinetti, Jr. oversaw the creation of two such Ferraris: a Vignale-designed 330 GT 2+2 [“High Style,” FORZA #172] and a Panther West Winds-built Daytona [“Something Different,” FORZA #140]. More recently, Vandenbrink Design of The Netherlands applied the formula to a 612 Scaglietti [“Art and Craft,” FORZA #190], which brings us nicely to the car you see here: the Breadvan Hommage.

Photo: Inspiration 2

Among the coachbuilders to emerge in recent years is Niels van Roij, who has made a speciality of creating bespoke shooting brakes. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, the elegant Dutchman first made a name for his eponymous company by creating one-off Tesla Model S and Rolls-Royce Wraith shooting brakes, although he reversed course with the Adventum Coupé, a sleek two-door take on the four-door Range Rover.

His latest creation is a Ferrari 550 Maranello modified to evoke the legendary 250 GT Breadvan. Turning one of the great Ferraris of the modern era into a shooting brake? That’s an idea that really whets my curiosity.

IN CASE YOU’RE NOT FAMILIAR with the story of the original Breadvan, I’ll summarize it in a few words. [We told the full story in issue #75’s “Flour Power.”—Ed.] In the early 1960s, Enzo Ferrari became angry at customer Count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata, who fielded race cars under his Scuderia Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia banner, and cancelled the nobleman’s order for two 250 GTOs. This prompted Volpi to fight back and try to beat Enzo at his own game, by redesigning a 250 GT SWB with improved mechanicals and more aerodynamic bodywork designed by Drogo. The resulting shape (as seen on page 37), which was developed for a higher top speed rather than hauling cargo, nonetheless inspired the “Breadvan” nickname. After a brief, modestly successful racing career, Volpi drove the car on the street for a few years before selling it.

Photo: Inspiration 3

Sketches explore different shapes for the Breadvan Hommage’s rear end.

In the mid-2010s, van Roij was approached by a client who wanted a modern interpretation of the Breadvan. The designer, who likens his job as a coachbuilder to that of a tailor, describes the creation process as all about meeting the needs and vision of an individual customer.

“Compared to some tuners whose cars are above all demonstrative, we are at the opposite end of the spectrum,” says van Roij. “My customers make a car for themselves, not for others. They want to have a deeper relationship with the object. For most, it’s not so much the final product that’s important but the time spent together co-designing the car, a time that lasts between a year and a half and two and a half years. Even for the most prestigious manufacturers, this kind of intimacy with a client is very difficult to achieve.”

Like the original Breadvan, the modern car would be based on a road-going Ferrari. But which one to choose?

Photo: Inspiration 4

“Customers often come to me with an idea, and I help them to put it into practice,” van Roij continues. “The choice of base car is part of this process, and is often an almost philosophical discussion. To get as close as possible to the spirit of the 250 GT, we needed a model powered by a V12 at the front and equipped with a manual transmission. After years of mid-engined cars, the 550 Maranello was the first modern Ferrari to use this recipe. It’s the short wheelbase of the modern era.”

The next step in the project was to gather as much information as possible about the original Breadvan. For this, van Roij turned to Jean-Louis Bezemer, the Dutch collector who, at the time, owned the largest Ferrari archive in the world.

“We spent days with him, which enabled us to retrace the entire life of the car, and we took the most important elements and transcribed them onto a modern car,” he recalls. “My aim is to refine the original car so that people don’t think it’s been modified. The transition from the basic car must be invisible.”

Photo: Inspiration 5

Niels van Roij (on left) and upholsterer inspect Alcantara-wrapped factory sport seat.

Next, it was time to actually draw the new bodywork. Van Roij starts with what he calls ideation drawings.

“These are very rough, very simple sketches, drawn with a black Bic pen,” he explains. “I’ve done hundreds of them. They’re far from perfect, but they allow you to explore ideas. On some of them, for example, the original lights of the 550 have been kept and you can see that, even though all the body panels have been modified, they are so recognizable that the car still looks like a Maranello.

“We decided very quickly with the customer to change the headlights, especially as they didn’t leave us enough room for the ‘nostrils’ on the hood, which very characteristic of the 1962 car,” he adds. “These drawings also enabled us to define the angle of the rear section, to see how much we could push in one direction or the other. For example, if you tilted it forward, it looked like a shooting brake but not at all like the Breadvan. The only thing we literally copied from the original car was the angle of that rear panel, as none of our attempts worked! The design drawings help the customer to understand this.”

Photo: Inspiration 6

ONCE THE DESIGN had been finalized, a more precise version was created on a computer. After this, the shape was created directly on the car. A structure holding a four-inch-thick layer was assembled on top of the donor 550, then the clay was shaped in three dimensions. This stage enabled the car’s surfaces to be worked as closely as possible, so that bodyman Bas van Roomen knew exactly how to shape the metal.

“A car is a complex, three-dimensional sculpture, which has to look right from all angles and under different light,” van Roij notes. “Like sketching, the clay modeling process is iterative; the Breadvan Hommage was reshaped many times to get it spot on. After establishing the correct proportions, the search for sophistication in the surfacing started: finding the right subtleties for transitions from one element to another. It includes the exterior ‘graphics,’ like the richly sculpted air vents on the fenders.”

Beyond the bodywork, there are the little details “that can make or break a car,” says van Roij. Consider the passenger compartment; when I open the door, the blue seats, like those on Ferrari’s racing cars of the time, visually leap out, contrasting with the otherwise black interior.

Photo: Inspiration 7

Bas van Roomen shaped new bodywork from alumimum sheet.

“We could have just fitted two Recaros, but our donor was equipped with a very rare factory option: carbon-fiber bucket seats,” he says. “Rather than do away with them, we decided to dismantle them completely, and redo the foams, which are more sculpted, and the upholstery.”

The client also wanted to change the switches, which, as with so many Ferraris from the 1990s, had become sticky. So van Roij jumped at the chance to rethink all of the interior accessories, replacing them with hand-made aluminum parts: gauges, air vents, rocker switches, etc. The door panels were redesigned with the same period-inspired quilted leather that covers the central tunnel, as well as a hand-hammered aluminum element that has been left unfinished to evoke the work of the coachbuilder; it will take on a patina over time. The door handle was replaced with a simple cord.

This exquisite sense of detail is reflected in the company’s logos, which are neither stickers nor simple metal badges, but enamelled pieces made by hand.

Photo: Inspiration 8

“For me, they show what the work of a coachbuilder is all about,” says van Roij. “The car may not be as perfect as a mass-produced model, because it is entirely hand-made.”

Readers may have noticed that the Breadvan Hommage bears no markings identifying it as a Ferrari. There are legal reasons for this, but van Roij notes it is also in the spirit of the original.

“The 1962 Breadvan was not a Ferrari, either; it was an automotive insult to Enzo Ferrari!” he says “It wasn’t the ‘Ferrari Breadvan,’ it was just the ‘Breadvan,’ and it made no reference to the manufacturer.”

Photo: Inspiration 9

Certainly, a full-on automobile maker couldn’t get away with the clock face van Roji chose. Look closely and you’ll see it reads Che importa, Italian for “It doesn’t matter.”

That’s a strong statement about the spirit of the car, but don’t ask its creator how much it cost. Beyond the obvious (as in, if you have to ask…), there are so many variables involved that the actual number is of little value.

“Even if we assembled a second Breadvan—which won’t happen—simply with a different color and interior, the price could change considerably,” explains van Roij. “Painting a car like this takes weeks, if not months, of work. The painter has to cover the whole car with a tiny layer of putty to get a perfect finish, then sand it by hand, and only then start applying the different coats of paint. We came up with eight specific shades of red that are exclusive to this car. Just imagine that, after the eight tests, the customer was still not satisfied! Giving a final price, even to the customer, is almost impossible. At best, it will always be an estimate.”

Photo: Inspiration 10

Intriguingly, the coachbuilder’s own car is an old Volvo 940 with 456,000 kilometers on the clock. It’s his first car, which he bought as a student, and he intends to keep it.

“I sometimes drive it to visit my customers, and it always sparks off a good conversation,” he says. “It’s a part of me, and I always ask my customers to show me who they are, which isn’t always easy because they’ve learned to protect themselves. When I let my guard down with the Volvo, people are more at ease with me.”

It’s a fascinating insight into van Roij’s method, and perhaps even the new age of coachbuilding. Where the Italian carrozzerie of the 1950s and ’60s created beautiful cars, today, perhaps, the coachbuilders’ art also soothes clients’ souls, releasing dreams buried somewhere in the subconscious. Or maybe that’s just the magic of the shooting brake.

Also from Issue 214

  • Creating the SF90 XX
  • 599 GTB Fiorano
  • Tifosi: All Things Italian
  • Mondial Buyer's Guide
  • Photographer Neill Bruce interview
  • F1: Smooth Operation
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