By on November 28, 2010

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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

17 Comments on “A Look At The Swiss Car Industry. The What????...”

  • avatar

    Monteverdi 375s are the exemplar of both GT cars and hybrids; they have beautifully sleek coupe bodies and big Chrysler V8s. I’m glad to see someone talking about them!

  • avatar

    There was a car called the Monica,also Chrysler powered, in about the same time period.

  • avatar

    Saurer is gone, too (

  • avatar

    Rinspeed are still going strong:

  • avatar

    that is easily one of the most regal and beautifully 70s designed cars ever
    there’s nothing there superfluous
    people like bangle do well to look at this as a study model

    • 0 avatar

      “that is easily one of the most regal and beautifully 70 s designed cars ever”

      Damning by faint praise…

    • 0 avatar

      Gang-bangling of (sort of) classic auto style is one of the worst crimes in the recent history of auto industry. Others unfortunately started to ape and now so many cars look like grown-up tonka toys designed in asylum.
      Monteverdis are just as beautiful as any contemporary Italian exotics, but were actually capable of being used as a car, not just as a good-looking tow truck-propelled fragility.

  • avatar

    Some other Swiss car connections:

    Excelsior: 1896-1919
    Enzmann: 1950’s and 1960’s
    Sauber Motorsport
    The turbocharger was invented by Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi.
    ILMOR race engines.

    Regarding Saurer:
    Declining sales in the early 1980s saw the two leading Swiss truck makers, Saurer and FBW (Franz Brozincevic & Cie of Wetzikon, Switzerland), forming a joint organization called Nutzfahrzeuggesellschaft Arbon & Wetzikon, proceeding with motorbuses and trolleybuses production under the NAW brand, while the last Saurer-badged truck sold in the open market was delivered in 1983. Four years later, in 1987, a model 10DM supplied to the Swiss Army meant the very last Saurer truck produced in history.  In 1982 Daimler-Benz had acquired a major shareholding in NAW and soon took full control; and in a short time dropped Saurer, Berna and FBW brands.  Eventually NAW went into liquidation in early 2003.

    Edit: Why is my comment “awaiting moderation”? It is not like I typed shit, shitty, or some little potty word like that… is it all the embeded links to Wikipedia?

  • avatar

    Btw, I was once, guess 1995 or so, sitting in Business Class from Zurich to the US, next to some GM big-shot … somehow, we talked about the Smart, and how VW dropped it and that Daimler had picked it up … he told me that GM had been approached by Hayek and after looking at the concept didn’t think it would fly and decided to pass on it … and he kind of laughed saying “first VW, now Daimler think they will find success there… good luck” … btw, my company bid to make a key component on the Smart car (and “won” the business), the annual sales IIRC was supposed to be 220k pc/yr, but never really exceeded 150k pc/yr (even when they added the roadster to try to fill the line in Hambach, France.)

  • avatar

    Although built in Spain and France, the latter half of the Hispano-Suiza’s name paid homage to its Swiss designer, Marc Birkigt.

  • avatar

    Long time lurker here. Finally a subject on which I feel I can contribute something useful.
    As a matter of fact, GM was not the only one of the Big 3 to run a Swiss assembly plant, Chrysler also had one from 1948 to 1972. Some 14’000 Plymouth Valiants were built here.
    As for true homegrown companies, the most renowned one in its time was probably Piccard & Pictet of Geneva trading under the name of Pic-Pic. Their heyday was around WWI and they went bust in 1920. Other early 20th century brands include Turicum and Martini. If you are into this sort of thing and happen to visit western Switzerland, don’t miss the permanent exhibition in the basement of the Fondation Gianadda in Martigny. Not hidden in a tunnel but close…
    One Swiss car company surviving to this day is Sbarro, although I believe they only build prototypes these days and have moved part of their activities to France. Their most famous car is probably the BMW 328 replica built from 1974 onwards and also exported to the US.

  • avatar

    Monteverdi also made the first four door Range Rovers to be sold through the official dealer network in 1980-82 before the factory tooled up their own design. For the nitpickers, I am aware that FLM Panelcraft and others did aftermarket conversion in the 70s but they were not cataloged models.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • 28-Cars-Later: Ignorance must be bliss.
  • slavuta: “why should we support Putin?” Why do you feel that you support Putin? We’re free country...
  • slavuta: I think, a lot would be different. sure. Presidents must stop listening to the press.
  • slavuta: “most Americans are not that anxious to be part of a dictatorship” I came to America to be a...
  • slavuta: Jeff, I know only enough to imagine what is going on. But let me throw this at you from Q: Why...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber