When you think about the Swiss auto industry, one thing usually comes to mind:
“What Swiss car industry?”
They nearly had one. The “Swatch Car” was pioneered by Swiss swatch-watchmaker Nicolas Hayek. It was killed by Ferdinand Piech, 5 seconds after he took the helm as CEO of Volkswagen. The Austrian Piech graduated at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH) in mechanical engineering, but even that didn’t keep him from exterminating the little Swiss critter at Volkswagen to save his own Lupo 3L (which also died.) Hayek turned to Daimler, the Swatch car became the Smart, Daimler took over, the Swiss car industry remained a dream.
But then, aren’t we forgetting Monteverdi?
Peter Monteverdi was a Swiss car nut. He built his first car – dubbed the “Monteverdi Special” – at age 16. It was approved as roadworthy by the picky Swiss authorities two years later – just in time for Monteverdi being old enough to drive his own own car.
With his first car being a custom model, Monteverdi quickly developed a taste for rare and expensive specimens. In 1957 he imported Ferraris to Switzerland, later he became Swiss importer for a stable of luxury cars, including Rolls-Royce and Bentley. In 1967, he started his own super luxury car company. In the 1970s, Monteverdi was right up there with De Tomaso, Jensen, and Bizzarini, all likewise mostly forgotten today.
The various energy crises of the 1970s had their effect on exotic cars. Monteverdi turned to a new target group: Oil sheiks. He invented the super-luxury off-road car. The Monteverdi Safari, based on an International Harvester Scout, was a hit in the Middle East – especially in the bullet-proof version. But a few sheiks can’t sustain a car company – unless you are Daimler, Porsche, or GM, and they invest in you. 1984, Monteverdi closed its doors in Basel, Switzerland. As far as I know, and I worked for a Swiss company for many years, Monteverdi was the last car company in Switzerland.
Who was the second to last Swiss car company? You won’t believe it: It was General Motors. GM Suisse had its heydays in 1969, when they built a staggering 18,265 units in their factory in Biel. GM Suisse closed its doors in 1975. The Berner Zeitung called GM Suisse “the one and only Swiss car brand.” But they were wrong. And who knows, maybe there are other Swiss carmakers. You never know what the Swiss are hiding in their tunnels.
A “merci, vielmals” to Robert.Walter for the tip. Sorry for the small video. Everything is small in Switzerland. Except for the mountains. And some banks.