Formula 1, a Swiss Range Rover and a redesigned Mercedes: the story of the forgotten Monteverdi brand

Peter Monteverdi

The emergence of a car brand is usually associated with a personality – the founding father, so to speak. Ferdinand Porsche, Henry Ford, André Citroën, Louis Renault and Louis Chevrolet, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce – in general, in the automotive history of the last century there were many great names, whose names later became world famous car brands. Peter Monteverdi, a Swiss entrepreneur who lived in Basel, followed the same path, albeit not immediately.

A couple of facts from his biography, which largely determined the way of Monteverdi brand development. Rosolino Monteverdi, Peter’s father, was the owner of an automobile repair shop. As can be easily guessed, the “habitat” since childhood defined the range of interests of the young man, who became fond not only of cars, but also of auto racing. First employed at the Saurer truck factory, he became a mechanic for the Swiss racing driver Franz Hammernik at the age of 17 (!).

Understanding of the structure of the car and work in a racing team led to the natural result: young Monteverdi begins to build a car of his own design, using a broken-down FIAT 1100 as a donor. From it Peter borrowed the power unit and the front suspension, but the frame, the body and the rear suspension of the young enthusiast created almost from scratch. The car under the name Monteverdi Special, looking like a funny child of the racing cars of those years, was ready in August 1952.

A couple of years later, due to the death of his father, Peter inherited the family business. The Swiss is already so passionate about racing, that he not only buys a Ferrari Monza 500TRC in 1957, but also gets the status of an official Ferrari dealer in his native country.

Two almost unbelievable facts: Monteverdi became at that time the youngest Ferrari representative in the history of the brand, and he received a proposal for a dealer’s contract personally from Enzo Ferrari, famous for his difficult character.

Win on Sunday and sell on Monday: in three years, Peter has managed to compete in eight dozen different races, using both Ferrari sports cars and Lotus, Renault and even Mercedes-Benz 300SLR cars!

After trading in a couple of Italian brands, Lancia and Ferrari, Monteverdi has been building his own Formula Junior cars, on which he has been able to win several races. Having successfully “shone” in the racing world, Peter begins to sell not only regular cars, but also his own junior cars.

Not stopping at the cars of the younger series, Monteverdi even builds his first car for Formula 1, but the frankly crude car with an engine from Porsche at the German Grand Prix due to a technical problem became uncontrollable, due to which Monteverdi had an accident, receiving many injuries.

From racing back to business

An unexpected turnaround put an end to Monteverdi’s racing career and also had a marked effect on his entrepreneurial strategy. He becomes more active in his own car production, changing the company name from Monteverdi Binningen Mantzel to Monteverdi Binningen Motors. The renamed company creates its own coupe with fiberglass body, which, however, was an upgraded version of the British Heron Europa. MBM Tourismo with frame construction and fiberglass body had a slight difference in front end design and equipment.

Then Monteverdi created another car, but already with an aluminum body on a tubular frame. O.S.C.A. specialists squeezed out incredible for those times 100 horsepower from the working volume of only 1.1 liters, but the car turned out noticeably more expensive than even the Porsche 356, comparing in price with the Jaguar E-Type! Not surprisingly, Monteverdi managed to sell only one roadster.

In the mid-sixties Peter became a real star in the Swiss car business, officially representing in his country such brands as BMW, Rolls-Royce and Bentley. At the same time, due to the poor quality of Ferrari sports cars, he began to have disagreements with Ferrari himself, which developed into an open conflict with the wayward Enzo. It ended not only with the breakdown of the partnership, but also with the creation of another car of his own. Like many other European small-batch sports car manufacturers, Monteverdi decided to buy engines with gearboxes from overseas – they were Chrysler Magnum 440, which with its impressive 7-7.2 liter volume could develop four hundred “horses”. But he entrusted the body design to Pietro Frua – the founder of the Studio Technico Pietro Frua bodybuilding atelier.

That is when the Swiss surname finally becomes the name of his four-wheeled offspring: in 1967, the Monteverdi High Speed 375S Frua two-seater coupe is demonstrated at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Monteverdi – one man and different cars

This was a turning point in the history of the company, because finally the entrepreneur Monteverdi had his own product: a car of frame construction with front independent and rear dependent suspension was driven by the same American engine, with which either a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic was combined. Power steering rack, disc brakes and main gear with lockup were purchased from well-known suppliers, such as ZF and Girling.


Having lengthened the wheelbase by 15 cm, Monteverdi turns the two-door into a four-seat car at the request of customers, and 400 “horses” have allowed the “hot” two-seat modification 400SS to gain the first hundred in only 5.5 seconds, accelerating to 270 (!) km/h.

Monteverdi’s 375S was not slow either, gaining 100 km/h in six seconds and stopping at 250 km/h. Let’s remind that it was the sixties, and there was nothing of electronics and active safety systems in cars.

While doing his own projects, Peter does not forget about the “customization” of other people’s cars. For example, the Monteverdi 2000 GTI was based on the BMW 2000, which Monteverdi has “cheered up” a little technically.

And then there is a conflict between the Swiss and the Italian… Because of the failure of delivery dates and the constant violations of the contract from Frua, Peter switches to another studio – Carrozzeria Fissore, which installed their bodies on the chassis of “Monti”. Due to the fact that Pietro Frua had obtained a court injunction prohibiting the use of his design on the Swiss brand’s cars, the appearance of the car was visibly changed, with a convertible 375S being added to the closed 375S version.

According to some automotive historians, at this point Monteverdi was at the peak of his automotive career. This is attributed to the release of a new model, the Hai 450SS coupe with a base engine.

The design remained the same (tubular frame), but Peter managed to get for a novelty is almost a real race engine, used in cars NASCAR series. The price, however, turned out to be exorbitant, so the car with a 425-horsepower motor and rich equipment could accelerate up to 4.9 seconds in a hundred, but the market never took off.

And again an unexpected turn: an executive sedan High Speed 375/4 appears in the “model range” of the brand, which, despite the reduced to 340 hp engine power, still accelerated up to 250 km/h.

The four doors were appreciated by the rich and pampered. But the car as they say has not come to court in its native Switzerland.

Because of the many options (including radio and TV!) and luxury finishes car loved nouveau riche in Asia and the Middle East, which allowed the company to build almost three dozen cars instead of the usual two or three pieces. Peter, however, had high hopes for this particular car, believing that it would be driven by the nomenclature elite of his native Switzerland, but alas…

Then Peter was constantly tweaking his own one-off creations, releasing them on a shorter base and changing the color from show to show, but another steep “turn aside” in the development of the model range is associated with the fuel crisis in 1974.

Берлинетта – очередное укороченное купе

The seven-liter engines did not go well with it, so sales of cars from dozens of copies became quite sporadic.

Custos are his everything

As a result, in 1976, Peter Monteverdi had to give up the idea of producing his own cars. But not cars at all, since he directed all his efforts to the forgotten theme – reworkings of other people’s works. The idea of a luxury SUV, successfully realized by British Land Rover at that time, fascinated the Swiss so much that he decided to create his own Range – though with units of International Harvester Scout II. The result was Monteverdi Safari with 5,2-liter Chrysler engine, and in Switzerland they removed all unnecessary things from the “source” car using then “hodgepodge” of details from Peugeot, BMW, and even FIAT. Visually the car something imperceptibly reminded British Range Rover, however resemblance to the car was only conceptual, and cars “charged” with motors with working volume over five liters exceeded its primitive analog by an order of magnitude.

Irrepressible Monteverdi did not stop and created its next car, but based on Dodge Aspen, now already passenger car, and the car body was updated not in Italy, but already in native Swiss (or more precisely – in Basel) area. Monteverdi Sierra with an engine capacity of 5.2-5.9 liters could put the meter at 200 km/h – not so impressive compared with the coupe of its own design, but still not bad.

By the end of the seventies, the Safari SUVs have an engine change: instead of the Chrysler engine, there is a 5.7-liter International unit, to which the “top” adds another 305-horsepower 7.2-liter engine. As a result, the model becomes the fastest and most powerful SUV of its time (albeit in small series), but up to any significant sales have not come.

Peter, meanwhile, tried to make more affordable (and multi-door) vehicles under the Safari name, and also prepared cars for the military, not only with the usual units already familiar to him International, but also with Nissan diesel. Alas, it did not work out: the Swiss government, which was the main prospective customer, was not inspired by the project, and the company-contractor Adolph Saurer AG was bought by Mercedes, actively promoting at the time its own military off-road – Geländewagen.

Monteverdi was not discouraged and began tuning real Rangey, turning them by hundreds (!) into five-door, and until 1982, the company still managed to keep in its lineup more affordable Safari, Sahara and Sierra.

…To which it added a five-door based on the Range Rover

Brilliant Ending

Despite all the luxury-racing twists and turns that have happened to the Monteverdi brand over two decades, its next custom was not only very bright, but also its last. Peter took the newest Mercedes W126 as a basis for the car called Tiara, not afraid to break into the design of Bruno Sacco. Already in the spring of 1982 in Geneva, Monteverdi presented his cars based on the 380 SEL and 500 SEL with an upgraded exterior.

The Swiss were not afraid to use lighting equipment from the “plebeian” Alfa Romeo and Peugeot, and the details of interior decoration should turn the former Mercedes into something similar to the British Rolls.

And even in price: at the time of its appearance the Tiara was priced at 172,000 Swiss francs, and a year later it was 15,000 francs more expensive, i.e. it had to be paid twice (!) as much as the original version of the “one hundred and twenty-sixth”. It is not surprising that only three copies were made on the basis of the Five Hundred, two of which (black and gray) have settled in museums, and the green one even “surfaced” a few years ago on the expanses of the Internet.


The Tiara is the nail in the coffin of Monteverdi, becoming not only the least successful in market terms, but also simply the last car of the Swiss brand, and the production plant in Basel in the mid-eighties becomes a museum.

As for Peter, then one of his “daughters” called Monteverdi Design has “designed” a few more prototypes of cars, and also took up the creation of watches and even yachts. Well, Peter, whose fortune by that time was still measured in millions of dollars, remembers that once he was engaged in racing and acquires Onyx Racing team, which for a number of reasons only managed to create a Monteverdi Onyx ORE-2 car.

Then came Monteverdi’s last gasp as a car manufacturer in the form of the Hai 650 F1 prototype on a racing chassis.

In 1995, Peter finally gave up the automobile theme, and three years later he died in his native Basel. This was the end of the life of the Swissman, thanks to whom his country can rightfully be considered a small, but full-fledged automotive power.


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