This article is a description of one of the few Swiss car makers: Monteverdi. The marque was formally founded by Peter Monteverdi in 1967 after he turned the family business, a car dealership, into a specialist manufacturer.
Prior to founding the manufacturing company, Monteverdi had been building specials for road and racing which included MBM (Monteverdi Binnigen Motors) go-karts, Formula Junior cars (powered by Ford Anglia and DKW engines) and the first Swiss Formula 1 car in 1961 – quite a feat because the Swiss had banned motor sport after the infamous 1955 Le Mans 24-Hour race when a car flipped into the crowd killing many spectators. The F1 car was powered by a Porsche motor.
Monteverdi started creating vehicles in 1951 with the Monteverdi Special based on FIAT 1100 components. Monteverdi had taken over the family business and turned it into a tuning house with the original business continuing as a dealership of luxury cars to maintain revenue. He was a big motor sport fan and raced his own designs until a big accident in the Formula 1 car forced him off the track.
However it was 10 years later that the first MBM road car appeared: the MBM Tourismo, a 2 door coupe powered by the Ford Anglia engine. The Tourismo had a classic 1960s feel and looked similar to MGs, Lotus and TVRs from the same period, however only two were built and it convinced Monteverdi to build his dream car: named the 375S High Speed.
The formula had been used before: create a strong chassis, buy a large American V8 and commission an Italian design shop to provide a swoopy, sexy body. So Monteverdi designed the chassis, did a deal with Chrysler for their V8 and Torqueflite gearbox combination (think Jensen, a competitor) and he commissioned Pietro Frua to give him a sexy coupe design. The V8 was either a 7 or 7.2 litre and you could order a ZF manual box if you wanted one.
Frua had been also contracted by AC to design the 428, a coupe version of the Cobra and also the Maserati Mistral. All three designs were released at the same time and they all share similar design cues. The 375S also had similar design cues to the Aston Martin DBS. Frua also provided a 2+2 design called the 2000GTi, which was based on BMW 2000Ti running gear, however it was never put into production.
The S was replaced by a slightly restyled 375L in 1969 just after the relationship between Monteverdi and Frua collapsed. Carrozzeria Fissore was then commissioned to design a revised 375S and they also added the 375C, a convertible version. Jay Leno has one and he calls it “a Road Runner that went to college”! The range was then completed with the 375/4, a 4 door and 5 seater version. These cars were defined as super luxury and were very low volume. In 1972 the 375L became the Berlinetta and the 375C was restyled and renamed the Palm Beach.
Monteverdi was clearly wanting to target the Italian supercars and during the early 1970s produced a number of prototypes called the Hai 450. Hai is German for Shark and the cars looked like the offspring of a one night stand between a Ferrari 365 Daytona and a Maserati Merak. Like the 375s the prototypes were powered by the Chrysler engine tuned to 450hp, this time mid mounted so that the swoopy body could be added on top. It appears that only four were ever built.
The oil crisis of 1973 hit the low volume manufacturers hard and made Monteverdi think about the future. Clearly the oil sheikhs were controlling the industry with their ability to define the amount of oil on the market. So the company hit on a new idea: make luxury 4WDs and target the Middle East.
The first was the Sahara, an International Scout with a grille similar to the 375 and extra goodies on board. The sister car also based on the Scout was the Safari. Monteverdi slotted in the Chrysler engine for better power and torque. For low volume luxury cars, the Sahara and Safari were good money spinners especially with wealthy Arabs. When the International reached the end of its life, Monteverdi took a Range Rover and added more luxury, selling that as the replacement.
The concept of a donor car was also seen in the Sierra, based on the Plymouth Volare. This came in four door, convertible and wagon variants and like the Scout based cars used different panels to create a new style on the same chassis. When the Volare ceased production, Monteverdi tried to emulate the car as the Tiara, this time using a Mercedes-Benz S Class as the donor. Car production ended in 1984 and the factory and sales office were converted into a museum dedicated to the marque.
Monteverdi returned to Formula 1 for the 1990 season by buying the Onyx team and renaming it Monteverdi-Onyx. The number two driver at Onyx was Gregor Foitek, a young Swiss driver. When the original founders were forced out of Onyx, Foitek introduced the team to his father-in-law – one Peter Monteverdi. The team lasted about 10 races before closing up and to commemorate the team, they also built the Hai 650 F1. Basically this was a road car based on the F1 chassis with a 650hp motor. Only three were built and none were sold.
Peter Monteverdi died in 1998 and he remains one of the few successful Swiss auto engineers and manufacturers. Sadly in 2016 the museum was forced to close permanently and the collection can now be seen in Lucerne at the Swiss Museum of Transport.