Money, cars, betrayal, and a hint of megalomania: only sex is missing to make the story of the Monteverdi High Speed 375 a perfect Hollywood scenario. This elegant and powerful Swiss GT, with Italian dress and American engineering, only attracted a hundred customers from 1968 and 1976. Faced with production difficulties, the oil crisis, prohibitive costs and a punishing exchange rate, the Monteverdi High Speed 375 did not enjoy the same success as the Jensen Interceptor, while employing a similar strategy.
Our story begins in Basel, in the 1950s. In 1956, the young Peter Monteverdi took over his father’s garage, which then represented the Jensen, Lancia, Rolls-Royce and Bentley brands in Switzerland. He was barely 22 years old at the time. Dynamic, a real car enthusiast, and race driver in his spare time, he managed to convince Enzo Ferrari to distribute his cars in the Swiss Confederation. He also took over distribution of the BMW brand and built up a solid financial foundation which enabled him to think big in the early 1960s.
Create a Swiss GT
In addition to his commercial activities, Peter Monteverdi prided himself on creating cars, first and foremost racing cars, but also small coupés. But like Ferruccio Lamborghini who created his own brand in 1963 after a dispute with Enzo Ferrari, Peter Monteverdi took advantage of a quarrel with the ‘Commendatore’ to consider branching out on his own. The experiences of Facel Vega, of Jensen (that he distributed), and that of Iso Rivolta, allowed him to believe that the alliance of a powerful engine, simple to maintain and mass produced (therefore inexpensive) of American origin on a European chassis, and coated with a stylish Italian body, formed the big automotive bet of the 1960s.
His project took shape in 1965: Monteverdi embarked on the design of a steel tubular chassis associated with advanced suspensions and a De Dion rear axle. The 4 wheel independent suspension was fitted with disc brakes. For the bodywork, Peter Monteverdi called upon an Italian master in the field, Pietro Frua. He delivered a very classic, but balanced sketch, with false airs of the Maserati Ghibli. The Monteverdi High Speed 375S was presented in September 1967 at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
From Frua to Fissore
Despite a somewhat conservative style, the 375S, a strict two-seater with a front engine layout (therefore very pushed back in the engine compartment), met with critical acclaim and success, confirming Peter Monteverdi’s idea of launching production, especially since he saw potential demand for a 2 + 2 version to be called the 375L, and displayed shortly after, in Geneva in March 1968, also designed by Frua. Under the hood, there was a Chrysler 440ci V8 (7.2 liters) developing 375 horsepower in the standard version, matched with either the TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic or the ZF 5-speed transmission.
The the production process of the Monteverdi was a bit complicated. The chassis was subcontracted out in Basel and then equipped with the engine and suspensions. The rolling chassis were then sent to Turin to receive their steel bodywork, fittings and interiors before returning the Monteverdi factory in Basel. In addition to the extra costs associated with these logistics, Monteverdi was faced with the limited production capacity of Frua, capable of only producing a dozen cars in the first 6 months! Monteverdi was forced to break the contract with Frua and award it to Fissore. Yet some mystery remains in terms of what really transpired between Monteverdi and Frua. Monteverdi wanted to have a free hand to produces the 375S and 375L quietly at Fissore without modifying anything. Pietro Frua however appeared to have imposed significant styling changes to these cars in order for them to leave. In any event it appeared to have come at significant costs for Monteverdi.
Fissore gave the 375S a complete overhaul, changing stern and bow, while the 375L saw its profile considerably modified. This new 375L was presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1969 with production finally commencing on a slightly faster pace, even if it remained not much faster than that of a snail. The 375S, was not be marketed until 1970. That same year, Monteverdi presented the 375/4, a 4-door version derived from the 375L. A year later, the range was completed with a convertible called the 375C based on the 375S. In early 1972, the 375S was restyled to become the Berlinetta GT while the 375C became the Palm Beach.
Despite this extended range, the Monteverdi High Speed 375 would remain confidential in terms of marketing and market share. Production ran in total with only 12 of the 375S “Frua”, 1 prototype 375L from the same bodybuilder, 66 copies of the 375L “Fissore”, 6 copies of the 375S “Fissore”, between 13 and 28 copies of 375 / 4 (the figures vary but it seems that the number 13 is closest to the truth), 2 examples of the 375C (one of which remained at the factory) and probably a handful of Berlinetta and Palm Beach; in all between 100 and 130 units produced between 1967 and 1976. Suffice to say that the cars are rare. In the meantime, Monteverdi changed its tune by developing more ‘modest’ sedans, like the Sierra and the Tiara, and luxury 4×4s like the Safari, the Sahara and the Range Rover Monteverdi-Fissore. The Swiss brand eventually went bankrupt in 1984.
Today, the Monteverdi High Speed 375 is worth more for its rarity than for its mechanical nobility. Less known than the Jensen or the Iso-Rivolta, it cultivates a certain ‘one-off’ aspect, as well as, it must be said, a snobbery that somehow makes it particularly desirable to some collectors, especially since its classic styling has aged well. Beyond that, do not expect high performance: weighing in at 1,645 kg, it certainly distils sensations thanks to its large engine, but is not in the least bit agile. Oh and braking requires a good bit of‘anticipation’ in order to bring this Swiss beauty to a stop.
- Audi 100 C1: the rings go upmarket
- De Tomaso Deauville: a match for Jaguar
- Vincent’s Bentley T2: her name is Maeva
Translation credit : Daniel Patrick Brooks