A Look At The Swiss Car Industry. The What????

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

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?

Not THAT 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.

" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="540" height="326" allowfullscreen="true">

Join the conversation
3 of 17 comments
  • Kristjan Ambroz Kristjan Ambroz on Nov 30, 2010

    For a short while there were also Bucher Duro's for the military and other 'rough' applications but I believe those are no longer produced, either. It was a very light truck, more in the size category of a Hummer H1 (actually a bit longer and much narrower but probably in the same weight class), a sort of Unimog lite.

    • Khamsin Khamsin on Nov 30, 2010

      The Duros are still being built, but Bucher sold the production to Mowag (another Swiss manufacturer) which is itself now owned by General Dynamics.

  • Khamsin Khamsin on Nov 30, 2010

    FWIW, Switzerland had a number of renowned coachbuilders in the past, such as Graber, Beutler (specializing in Porsches and VWs), and Worblaufen. Gangloff, famous for its work on Bugattis, is also a Swiss company, although it is its Colmar (France) branch which was in charge of Bugatti.

  • Spookiness I can see revising requirements for newer vehicles, like 3 years, but not for older. I live in a state with safety inspections next to a state without, within a common metro-area commute "shed." Besides the fact that the non-inspection state has a lot of criminals to begin with, they're poorer, less educated, have a lot of paper-tag shady dealers, very lax law enforcement of any kind, and not much of a culture of car maintenance. It's all of their janky hoopties dead or burning on the side of the road every mile that farks up the commute for the rest of us. Having a car inspected just once a year is a minimal price of civilization, and at least is some basic defense against some of the brake-less, rusted-out heaps that show up on YouTubes "Just Rolled In."
  • Pippin Republicans Senators - "We refuse to support your nomination because you don't have a background in traffic safety! That's the priority!"Biden nominates someone with a background in traffic safetyRepublican Senators - "This new nominee is totally unacceptable! They're in favor of new regulations to improve traffic safety! We need big government out of (men's) lives!"
  • David S. 4.4L Twin turbo, thanks BMW!
  • Ajla "a brake upgrade"Unless you are racing it I doubt that is needed. Stopping from 85mph with 700hp isn't much more taxing than stopping from 85mph with 400hp. And the F-150's brakes are already capable of stopping with a 9000lb trailer.
  • MaintenanceCosts Great, a clumsy truck that can go faster without any commensurate upgrades in stopping or turning ability. I'll look out for these in a ditch near me in the near future.