50 years of Monteverdi: The last car manufacturer in Switzerland

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The foresight of the last Swiss car manufacturer

50 years of Monteverdi: The last car manufacturer in Switzerland-Autoquartett

Racing driver and designer, esthete and self-taught: Peter Monteverdi with the High Speed ​​375 S.

Source: Monteverdi AG

Peter Monteverdi wanted to combine the comfort of British luxury cars with the elegance of Italian sports cars. That couldn’t go well for long – even if he was ahead of its time with a model

L.body, timeless elegance, without any frills. A sculpture pressed into sheet metal. Plus a powerful V8 engine. With the Hai 450 GTS, Peter Monteverdi created a super sports car in a class of its own in 1970. The top ace of every car quartet. Never heard of it?

Peter Monteverdi was the last car manufacturer in Switzerland: racing driver and constructor, designer and entrepreneur, esthete and self-taught. Exactly 50 years ago he founded Automobile Monteverdi AG, in Binningen near Basel he built eight models and a few prototypes until 1982. His concept: to combine powerful V8 engines with the elegance of Italian sports cars and the comfort of British luxury cars.

At that time, small manufacturers could still develop their vehicles without any special regulations. “Monteverdi had a special position among luxury and sports cars,” says Tobias Ullrich, Vice President of the Monteverdi Club in Binningen. "Not only as the last Swiss series manufacturer, but also through the positioning of the models at the highest level in terms of equipment, individuality and performance."

The driving experience of a Monteverdi can best be described using the bestseller High Speed ​​375 L. "The almost 50-year-old construction still impresses with its low seating position," says Tobias Ullrich. “When you accelerate vigorously, your gaze wanders over the never-ending bonnet to the sky. In addition, there is the tremendous power of the 7.2 liter engine even at low engine speeds, accompanied by the powerful and sonorous soundscape of the V8. A feeling of sporty luxury without compromise that is far removed from today’s vehicles. "

Peter Monteverdi wanted the best of everything

The country of manufacture of the brand is of central importance for Ullrich, as it is associated with properties such as quality, reliability and the highest level of competence. "At the end of the sixties it was Peter Monteverdi’s goal to combine the respective core competencies that were realized by the various competitors at the top of what was feasible," says the Vice President. “In terms of sportiness and dynamism, he didn’t want to lag behind Ferrari or Lamborghini. In terms of comfort, quality and equipment, he took measurements from Rolls-Royce or the Mercedes-Benz 600. "

50 years of Monteverdi: The last car manufacturer in Switzerland-Ferrari

Sporty luxury without compromise: Monteverdi High Speed ​​375 C.

Source: PPR / Verkehrshaus

You could also put it this way: Monteverdi wanted the best of everything. With new vehicle concepts such as the luxury SUV Safari, the Swiss man also looked to new customers and markets – and was at least 20 years ahead of his time.

Peter Monteverdi, born in 1934, came into contact with cars from an early age. His father Rosolino Monteverdi runs a repair shop for cars and trucks. At the age of 16, the offspring built an old Fiat Balilla with a self-constructed chassis and body. After finishing school, he began training as a mechanic at a tractor and truck manufacturer.

When his father died in 1954, 20-year-old Peter took over the business and converted it into a Basel hotspot for luxury and racing cars. In his free time he races, mostly against the stopwatch on the mountain, but also on circuits. In 1957 he took part in twelve races in his private Ferrari, and in the following years he competed around 80 more times, with vehicles from Gordini, Lotus and Mercedes, among others. He tests a Maserati Formula 1 racing car and considers competing in the premier class, but decides against it.

At the age of 23 he is the youngest Ferrari importer in the world

In addition, he tinkers and tries and develops his own racing car, which he finally calls MBM – Monteverdi Binningen Motors. However, the car is not very convincing from a technical point of view. In 1961, the Swiss competed in two races, including the Hockenheimring, where he had a serious accident. He then withdrew from motorsport and devoted himself entirely to his own developments.

Thanks to its contacts in motorsport, Monteverdi has been selling Ferraris since 1957 – and at the age of 23 is the youngest Ferrari importer in the world. He is expanding the range of brands in his workshop and is also adding Bentley, BMW, Lancia and Jensen to the range. Surrounded by all the beautiful shapes and powerful engines, the young man dreams of his own vehicles.

When it comes to the break with Ferrari, Monteverdi starts planning his own sports car. Two years later, his first car is at the IAA in Frankfurt: The High Speed ​​375 S. Monteverdi’s interpretation of a luxurious super sports car delights the public. The crown of the family coat of arms is emblazoned above the name as a logo.

50 years of Monteverdi: The last car manufacturer in Switzerland-Monteverdi

Adorable shape: the Monteverdi Hai 450 SS was only built twice

Source: PPR / Verkehrshaus

The first Monteverdi has a hefty 375 SAE horsepower – at a time when a Porsche 911 only has 160 hp and even a Lamborghini Miura cannot exceed 350 hp. It has a sleek body by the Italian designer Pietro Frua, the tubular frame comes from Switzerland, it is assembled at Fissore in Savigliano, the engine comes from the USA: the Swiss relies on a robust 7.2-liter V8 from Chrysler. The coupe costs around 70,000 marks. At the same time, the company is offering a 2 + 2-seater with more space, which is technically the same as the 375 S..

As a second coup, Monteverdi presents the gorgeously shaped mid-engine coupe Hai 450 SS. The super sports car costs 95,000 marks. At that time a Ferrari 365 GTB / 4 was already available for 68,600 marks. However, only two of them are made, and later two more replicas. A car that contributes significantly to the creation of legends.

An off-road vehicle becomes the brand’s bestseller

The following year, Monteverdi goes one step further and shows its interpretation of a sporty and luxurious sedan. An American 7.2-liter V8 is used again under the sleek sheet metal of the 375/4. After the first oil crisis, Monteverdi looked around for new markets and showed an astonishing foresight. With the Safari, he is building a luxury off-road vehicle based on the International Harvester Scout, but more comfortable and elegant than a Range Rover – again with a V8 engine, albeit only with a 5.7 liter displacement and 165 hp.

In 1978 he pushes the stripped-down version Sahara onto the market. Until the end, the Safari remains the brand’s best-selling model – an early forerunner of today’s SUV boom. "Ultimately, Monteverdi has always aimed to offer the best possible combination of comfort and performance in the respective segment," says Tobias Ullrich.

50 years of Monteverdi: The last car manufacturer in Switzerland-Switzerland

Serious competition for the Range Rover: Monteverdi Safari

Source: PPR / Verkehrshaus

Monteverdi developed the Sierra as the successor to the 375 series. The car is smaller, lighter and cheaper than its predecessor. Unlike the fast sports cars, the new model is aimed at customers for whom comfort and luxury are more important than performance and speed. It is based on a Chrysler sedan, which is only modified with add-on parts and a higher-quality interior. But the car fails with the customers: Only a few copies are sold.

In addition, Monteverdi developed an off-road vehicle for the Swiss military and, after years of testing, was awarded the contract. The company Saurer selected for production went bankrupt shortly before the start, and the order was canceled. In addition to the cars, the Swiss man also manufactures a yacht under the “Monteverdi Design” label and refines a number of models for Toyota and Subaru. Watches, jewelry and fashion are also produced.

His cars are unforgettable

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Swiss tried again with a copy of the Hai 450 GTS. At the same time he took over the British Formula 1 racing team Onyx, which he ran unsuccessfully for six months. According to its own information, the Swiss automobile manufacturer sells a total of around 3,000 vehicles and employs up to 50 people. Peter Monteverdi is only 64 years old. In 1998 he died in his native Binningen. He was an idealist, a man with visions, a doer who believed in his dreams.

50 years of Monteverdi: The last car manufacturer in Switzerland-Chrysler

Unsuccessful comeback attempt: The Monteverdi Hai 650F1 was sold six times by 1994

Source: PPR / Verkehrshaus

However, not an easy person either: Interpersonal he was considered difficult, at times even as a despot. The noble sports cars, off-road vehicles and limousines have lost none of their fascination to this day. His cars remain unforgettable and are an important part of Switzerland’s industrial heritage. Tobias Ullrich from the Monteverdi Club make you indulge yourself again and again: "It is still a pleasure today without restrictions to cover long, winding stretches in the comfortable seats and the light-flooded, leather-scented interior of a well-tended Monteverdi."

After production was discontinued, the Monteverdi factory was converted into a museum, which has now been closed. In April, a large part of the vehicle collection moved from Binningen to Lucerne in the Swiss Museum of Transport, where the brand was given its own floor. Every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., valuable sports, touring and off-road vehicles belonging to the former racing driver can be viewed on the first floor.

3 thoughts on “50 years of Monteverdi: The last car manufacturer in Switzerland”

  1. Safari and Sahara were tin cans with American technology. Ugly and significantly more expensive than the Range Rover two-door. However, Monteverdi built the first Range Rover four-door.
    Whether it was all such a great design is, in my opinion, also the question. If you put the corresponding Lamborghini Miura / Hai or Ghibli / High Speed ​​next to it, then it shows who has built true classics.

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  2. Monteverdi tried what Aston Martin succeeded: to build a luxury sports car.
    He had to struggle with not insignificant problems: Aston Martin had the wonderful DB5, for example, he had a fat but basically unsporting US V8 and he was a newcomer.
    It takes money, time, connections and patience. But that doesn’t always help either – see Bitter or DeLorean.

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  3. As a German, you grow up with a fundamental disrespect for American automotive engineering. That is a shame, and completely inappropriate until at least the 1970s. Before the arrival of the Mercedes 600, German vehicles were generally poorly performing and not designed for comfort.
    I am therefore not entirely clear what they have built on the Chrysler V8, Monteverdi mainly Big Block Hemi, in any form "unsporting" should be (details e.g. at http://www.allpar.com/cars/adopted/misc/monteverdi-hai.html). Among others, Facel (FR) and Jensen (UK) used Mopar, i.e. Chrysler engines with the best effect.
    Monteverdis seem to have been good investments over the last few years (see Bonhams and Hyman) – there is currently one via Hemmings for USD 300K. Nothing for me, more like a Chrysler Imperial until mid-1960s.

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