Axon's Automotive Anorak: '70s dreams with Monteverdi at Geneva

24th March 2017
Gary Axon

The distinctive bass thrum of a powerful V8 motor pulling up outside my parents’ bungalow was enough to set my bedroom windows rattling, and for me to run down the hall to rush outside and eagerly discover what sort of car could possibly be making such an agreeable din. I was not disappointed, to put it mildly…


A long, low and indecently elegant coupe sat idling outside my parents’ drive, with my elder brother’s latest girlfriend sat in the front passenger seat. I wasn’t sure what this astonishingly alluring car was at the time, but as she stepped out, the driver (her father) beckoned me in for a very quick blast around the block. I was instantly hooked, with my favourite new vehicle as a car-crazy eight-year-old changing from the previous Citroen SM, to this new, clearly expensive and fast ‘mystery’ machine.

Looking vaguely like a contemporary Aston Martin or Jensen, but far more stylish, it turned out that my Brother’s girlfriend’s father worked for the official British importer of this amazing V8 grand tourer. Sadly, my brother split with his girlfriend soon afterwards, so I never got to see this amazing car again, until last week at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show! 

The car in question was the stunning, and undeservedly unknown and under-rated Monteverdi 375 L, the beautiful Swiss grand tourer, styled by Frua and built by Fissore in Italy, and powered by the same basic but effective Chrysler V8 engine that I enjoyed in my own Bristol 411 S3 decades later.

I was unexpectedly reacquainted with the 375 L at this year’s Geneva Salon last week, with this true 1970s classic seemingly displayed in the wrong place, surrounded by the shiny new cars one traditionally expects to see at this annual motor show.

I hadn’t even noticed the large ceiling-mounted Monteverdi banner at the Geneva Palexpo exhibition hall, so stumbling across the long-defunct Swiss brand’s dedicated stand was a very pleasant surprise, to say the least. A glorious pale metallic silver-blue 375 L shared exhibition space with five other examples of the exclusive Basel marque’s sporting machinery, including the first ‘official’ Monteverdi model, the evocatively-named 375 S High Speed, as well as the exceptionally rare mid-engine HAI.


The reason why Switzerland’s finest post-war car maker had valuable stand space at this year’s Geneva Salon is not entirely clear. Logically, this prime exhibition stand was given over to Monteverdi to celebrate the marque’s 50th anniversary, as well as promote the recent relocation of the dedicated Monteverdi museum. In truth, I suspect that the Monteverdi display space was organised at the eleventh hour as Tesla pulled out of exhibiting at the Geneva Salon at very short notice.

The half-dozen Monteverdis on display consisted on the original 375 High Speed, as mentioned, as well as the gorgeous 375 L coupe, plus its rare 375 High Speed C coupe and Palm Beach cabriolet siblings. The 1971 HAI was joined by its early 1990s attempt at a Monteverdi revival, this similarly mid-engined HAI 650 F1 of 1992, plus an example of the versatile Safari, a pioneering 1977 take on a luxury SUV, based around an International Harvester Scout 4x4.

This exclusive Swiss luxury GT maker was founded in 1967 by Peter Monteverdi, at the time the world’s youngest Ferrari dealer, based in Basle. A notoriously difficult character to deal with, Monteverdi had previously dabbled with building his own low-volume sports cars, some based around the early 1960s Heron, and badged as MBM. 

After a run-in with Enzo Ferrari – just like Ferruccio Lamborghini before him – Peter Monteverdi ended his relationship with the Maranello marque and set about making his own high speed, luxury GT cars under his own name.

The first Frua-styled ‘High Speed’ coupe series ran from 1967 until 1970, powered by Chrysler’s ubiquitous 7.2-litre V8, producing a whooping 375 bhp, quite something 50 years ago. In 1970 the Frua High Speed models were facelifted by Fissore with a lengthened and better-balanced fastback tail, such as the 375 L I’ve been lusting after since being an impressionable age. These models survived until 1976, with only a handful of examples made.


The mid-engined HAI joined the High Speed models in 1971, with this model quickly gaining a reputation to be almost undriveable, due to its extreme power in a short wheelbase, with the loud and hot engine placed between the driver and passenger.

In 1976 Monteverdi took a change of direction, with the luxury High Speed GTs replaced by the equally luxurious, but more fuel-efficient, S-models, consisting of the Safari and Sahara 4x4 SUVs, plus the Plymouth Volare-based Sierra exclusive saloon and estate.

These continued until Monteverdi production ended in 1984, when he shifted business direction again, moving to well-executed conversions to existing vehicles, including the Subaru 1600, Ford Granada II, and the first official Land Rover-approved four-door version of the Range Rover. As this ‘Monteverdi Design’ business fizzled out, Peter Monteverdi focused on establishing his own motor museum, and briefly flirting with re-introducing the marque once more in 1990, including the all-new HAI 650 F1 prototype – as currently on display at Geneva, plus a failed 10-race only foray into the glamorous world of Formula 1 racing with the Monteverdi Onyx team in 1990.

Peter Monteverdi himself passed away at a young 64-years of age in July 1998, bringing to an end the short but glorious motoring career of this briefly shining Swiss star; a worthy exhibit at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show.

  • Geneva 2017

  • Monteverdi

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