Monteverdi Is the Coolest Swiss Automaker You’ve Never Heard Of
Many countries have a strong motoring heritage. The UK has iconic brands like Aston Martin, MG, and Brough-Superior. Japan’s given the world everything from Suzuki and Honda bikes to the Autozam AZ-1. France’s cars range from the Citroen 2CV to the original Bugattis. There’s Italy’s Ducati and Ferrari, and muscle cars, Indian, and Harley-Davidson from the US. But other than tuners like Rinspeed and Elektro’s heavy machinery, Switzerland rarely appears on automotive radars outside the Geneva Show and high speeding tickets. However, there once was a Swiss automaker: Monteverdi.
The Monteverdi history
Peter Monteverdi didn’t originally start out as the head of a car company. However, from a young age, he was interested in automotive tech. His dad owned a garage and repaired trucks, while Peter himself worked as a tractor mechanic. After his dad died, Peter took over the business. But, instead of repairing trucks, he established himself as a luxury car importer and mechanic, working with Rolls-Royce, Bentley, BMW, Lancia, and Ferrari.
In his spare time, Monteverdi also designed his own race cars, entering various hill-climb and endurance races. He attempted to break into the international scene but never achieved much success. And after crashing during a non-championship 1961 race, Car Throttle reports, he quit competitions altogether. Instead, in 1964, he established the Monteverdi car company to produce luxury grand-tourers.
Monteverdi’s first and arguably most-successful car was the 2-seat 1967 High-Speed 375S, Classic Driver reports. It was styled by Italian designer Frua and featured a 375-hp 7.2-liter Chrysler V8.
Despite the leather interior and wood trim, the 375 could hit 0-60 in 5.7 seconds, and reach a top speed of 155 mph. That made it faster than the Jaguar E-Type and the contemporary Aston Martin DBS. But it wasn’t cheap: it sold for the modern equivalent of $220,855. Only 100 were sold when production ended in 1976. However, the 375 did evolve somewhat over the years.
Because of a growing interest in more spacious GTs, the 375S was expanded into the Monteverdi 375L 2+2, Hyman Ltd reports. It featured the same 375-hp 7.2-liter Chrysler V8, though Peter Monteverdi himself modified the design. It was built by a different Italian design house, though: Fissore.
This caused rifts between Monteverdi and Frua, which led to the Swiss automaker turning to Fissore exclusively in the 70s. To save costs, by 1971, RM Sotheby’s reports, the Monteverdi 375S and 375L were built using the engine and chassis from the contemporary Dodge Challenger. In addition, by this time there was also a 375S convertible version available.
In the end, though, the 1970s gas crises meant 375 production came to end. However, by then, Monteverdi was moving on to a different, brand-new market segment: luxury SUVs.
The Swiss automaker also made luxury SUVs
In 1976, the term ‘SUV’ was just starting to enter modern parlance, thanks to the presence of the original Range Rover, International Scout, and Jeep Wagoneer. But seeing their rising popularity, Monteverdi wanted in on the action. But, to save costs, instead of developing a brand-new design, the Swiss automaker just based its SUV on the contemporary International Scout II. This isn’t unusual—Honda did the same when it copied the Land Rover Discovery to make its first SUV.
But the resulting Monteverdi Safari, Petrolicious reports, was genuinely luxurious and capable. It came with selectable 4WD, leather upholstery, and power windows. A range of V8s was available, ranging from a 152-hp 5.2-liter V8 to a 305-hp 7.2-liter V8. The 5.2-liter, incidentally, gave the Monteverdi Safari a higher top speed than the Range Rover.
However, the Safari was noticeably more expensive, selling for the equivalent of $46,6300. At the time, the Range Rover sold for the equivalent of $41,300. And despite Monteverdi offering a more basic Sahara model, the Swiss SUV wasn’t particularly successful.
Peter Monteverdi tried to grow his business with other models. However, his propensity to base his cars on existing models handicapped him. For example, in 1982 Monteverdi introduced the Tiara sedan, to compete with the Mercedes S-Class. Only, the Tiara was built on the S-Class platform and powertrain. The biggest differences were the Tiara’s extra horsepower and the fact that it cost twice what the S-Class cost.
Monteverdi also attempted to compete with Ferrari one more time in the 1990s, after Peter had gotten involved with Formula One. The Monteverdi Hai 650 FI attempted to be an F1 car for the road, in the vein of the Jaguar XJ220. And it did use a modified F1 chassis and a detuned 3.5-liter F1 V8. Its 0-60 time was a full second faster than the XJ220’s. However, only 3 were ever built.
But, although Monteverdi isn’t a widely-known brand today, the Swiss automaker does command a measure of respect amongst enthusiasts. A 1972 375L was a finalist in the 2018 Peninsula Best of the Best Awards. Also, Hagerty reports 375 prices are on the rise: today, a good-condition example can sell for $300,000-$500,000. And Bring a Trailer reports a 1981 Safari was going for $59,500 a few years ago.
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