Monteverdi – The Swiss Car Maker You’ve Never Heard Of


monteverdi

Over the years, the EU exempt country of Switzerland has always had their own little way of doing things that other governments don’t really bother with.

For example, 60% of the country’s electricity comes from renewable energy sources, and they produce cheese naturally in the hills, rather than on controlled farms.

It’s a fascinating, off-the-grid type of place.  Which is probably why Steve McQueen tried to jump a motorcycle over there, while trying to flee Germany.

However, 40-50 odd years ago, there was a small Swiss firm that actually followed the trends of everybody else.  That firm was called Monteverdi.

And coming up now, is a small history lesson of that wrongfully forgotten car brand.

 

The Pitiful Beginnings

monteverdi
Not a successful racer, but Peter wasn’t giving up!

The company’s founder; Peter Monteverdi, was a salesman and importer for fast and prestige cars in Switzerland.

He was responsible for importing anything from Ferraris and Maseratis, even to Bentleys and Rollers.  And he made big money, as a result.

So much so, that Peter decided to build (and drive) an F1 car in 1961, called the MBM (Monteverdi Basel Motoren).  But this car was by NO means reliable…

monteverdi
Shame really, because Monteverdi made some great road cars afterwords!

Even though it used a Porsche flat-4 engine, the car was retired due to an engine failure after just two laps of the 1961 Solitude Grand Prix (not even a championship race…)

The car was also written off after an accident at Hockenheim, which denied Monteverdi an entry into the German Grand Prix.

Things it seemed, looked dim.  But in 1967, things were about to look up!

 

The GT Road Cars

monteverdi
Pretty, isn’t it? It’s a good job that the Italians were in charge of design!

50 years ago this year, Monteverdi had decided he wanted to make proper road cars.  And so, he set up a new factory in Basel, Switzerland and asked for help.

The recipe was simple; get the Italians to design it, and combine that with a burbly American V8 engine.

The result was the Monteverdi High Speed 375 S (pictured above), which was designed by Pietro Fura and had a 7.2 litre, 375bhp Chrysler V8 under the bonnet.

However, just after around 12 examples were built until 1969, the friendship between Monteverdi and Fura had collapsed.

monteverdi
This is the AC 428, which obviously stood out from the Cobras and Bristols.

Fura had kept one Monteverdi design (whereas the Swiss had kept the other for later use) which was used on the early 375, but eventually decided to sell it off to British car maker; AC, where it was then sold as the one off 428.

In order to keep going, the Swiss had to find another body specialist.  And Carrozzeria Fissore was the answer!

 

The New 375 Range

monteverdi
Same running gear, but different body. You could argue that this Monteverdi is more ’70s.

The High Speed 375 was then redesigned by Fissore, and yet despite this, the car still looked absolutely stunning!

And since it still used Chrysler’s 440 Magnum, it could hit 60 in under 7 seconds and go onto a top speed of 161mph. Pretty quick, even by today’s standards!

The 2+2 coupe was Monteverdi’s standard offering, but other body styles came along as well.

Chief among which, was the 375/4- a four-door saloon version built to rival the likes of the Jaguar XJ or the Maserati Quattroporte.

There was even a convertible variant called the 375 C, which had a different body style, originally created (but changed a bit) by Fura.

monteverdi
Just 30 of these four-door 375/4s were ever made, probably because Mercedes were the kings at luxury cars…
monteverdi
The left-field alternative to the Ferrari Daytona Spyder, the 375 C.

And if that wasn’t enough, Monteverdi also developed two other cars which were loosely based off the Fura-bodied cars.  Remember the 375 S from 1967?

That car was the main inspiration for the extremely rare Berlinetta, which differed from the ’60s car due to the rear end being modified, and rear lights from a Triumph TR-6.

There was even a convertible version of that!  Which remained as a one off called the Palm Beach (which didn’t go on sale…)

Overall, Monteverdi’s 375 range had sold well in Europe, as well as the Middle East!  People it seemed, had really loved this Swiss-made car.  I certainly do!

monteverdi
This is the Berlinetta. They effectively face-lifted it for 1974.
monteverdi
They even made this stunning prototype, called the Hai 450S! Which proved the Swiss could also do sports cars.

 

The Era Of Decline

monteverdi
The stagnation of Monteverdi is almost as tragic as Love Island’s fan-base.

From 1976, Monteverdi decided to stop making big, thirsty, expensive supercars.  And in an attempt to get more money rolling in, had resorted to mildly changing other cars…

The Sahara was their first car of their new style, and it was a barely changed International Harvester Scout (SUV made in America).

The body was changed up by Fissore and the interior may have been spiced up, but it’s fair to say that Monteverdi had gone from glorious, to pointless.

monteverdi
The Sierra was basically a Plymouth Volare with a modified Italian body.

In order to compete with the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes W123, Monteverdi had even resorted to re-styling a Plymouth Volare and stuffing a 5.2 litre V8 into it.

The mechanics of the car had remained barely changed, but it used Fiat headlights, taillights came from a Renault 12.

The Swiss maker also made a tragic convertible version, which was based off a Dodge Diplomat.

But that wasn’t their worst offender…

 

The Swiss S-Class

monteverdi
The Tiara was one of Monteverdi’s final cars.
monteverdi
Rear lights came from the Peugeot 505 saloon. What a pity!

At one point in the early 1980s, Peter Monteverdi must’ve thought; “If we can’t compete against Mercedes, why don’t we just use one as a base?”

And that’s exactly what happened with the Monteverdi Tiara.  It was a W126 re-badged and re-priced… at 185,000 Swiss Francs!  Making it one of the most expensive cars of the time.

The interior remained the same as the Merc as well, it was just the steering wheel and dials which were changed.

But whilst Monteverdi were barely changing the Range Rover, in 1984, the company went bust.

The factory in Basel was then converted into a museum in 1985, and you can still go and visit it today.

 

An Attempted Return

monteverdi
Still a failure, but a nice try to get back on track.

In 1992, Monteverdi (still licensed due to the museum) tried to re-enter the road car scene with this one off supercar, the Hai 650 F1.

However, with other supercars such as the XJ220 and the F40 dominating the scene, the forgotten Monteverdi remained a prototype and sits in the museum to this day.

That wasn’t all though, the firm tried to go back to their F1 roots in 1990 by collaborating with the Onyx F1 team.

Unfortunately though, the team only survived 10/16 races in the season.  Which was the final chapter for Monteverdi, before eventually closing down for good.

The only remains of this Swiss brand, is that museum in Basel.

 

So There We Are

monteverdi
The High Speed 375 L is just so lovable!

Be honest, did you think that the only Swiss cars were those mad Rinspeeds?

Many people have either forgotten, or simply don’t know what Monteverdi is.  In their heyday, the firm were really serious rivals for the likes of Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar and even Mercedes.

Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed the article!

Thank you for reading 🙂

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