Monteverdi Hai 450 SS
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The Hai is an enigma
. Having appeared just two-and-a-half years after the first Monteverdi automobile
was initially presented to the general public, it represented Peter Monteverdi's idea of what an out-and-out, uncompromising, 2-seat GT car should be like: brutal, yet svelte; extremely rapid and possessing breathtaking acceleration, yet not forsaking such amenities as air-conditioning, electric windows, heated rear window, and a fully carpeted luggage boot and interior, the latter trimmed in Connolly leather
It was not - and this should be made very clear - ever intended to be a car which was simple to drive and which anyone who had driven fast cars could relax in and feel immediately at home with at speed. The 375 Series of 2- and 4-seat GT cars most adequatly fulfilled that premiss.
The Hai was the simple, straight forward statement of a hard-headed, often cantankerous perfectionist as to what was required to be one of the fastest drivers behind the wheel of an automobile
built to run on public roads, while not sacrificing any of the conveniences that had, by the late 1960's and early 1970's, come to be expected in high-priced GT cars.
The luxury didn't come cheap - with a price of 82,400 Swiss francs. If the Hai was an enigma, the existence of Automobile Monteverdi A.G. was an even greater one. In the post World War 2 period it had often been attempted to build an exclusive GT in the highest performance category, but only rarely had such endeavours been crowned with success.
On the surface, it appeared that success came instantly to Peter Monteverdi who, then aged thirty-seven, had managed to produce what many believed to be the most complete line of high-performance luxury cars. Beside the Hai in the production programme were the 375 S 2-seater, 375 L 2 + 2, 375 C Cabriolet and 375/4 high-performance saloon. All this just four years after the world first heard the name Monteverdi.
The enigma might have been a be a bit simpler to comprehend if you had an insight into the very complex character which sum total of all its facets made up the personality of Peter Monteverdi: artist, engineer and hard-driving businessman. Three of the most-unlikely qualities to combine within one person, and each at ends with the other. The one driving force which kept them tethered together was the desire to build automobiles.
Monteverdi reduced it all to the lowest common denominator by his simple statement: "I always wanted to build cars
." Nothing more - nothing less. He built his first one at the age of seventeen, in 1951: a cycle-winged sports roadster based on the engine and front and rear suspension
of a wrecked, 1939 Fiat 1100. A harbinger of things to come, it was christened "Monteverdi Special". Inheriting the family garage business when only twenty-two, Monteverdi turned it into a first-rate tuning establishment for high-performance machinery while making a name for himself as a competiition driver.
Then, in 1959, he became a constructor in earnest, producing the first ofa series of DKW- and Ford-engined Formula-Junior machines which ultiimately reached the "D" designation and culminated in a Formula-1 car powered, under the then-current, 1.5-litre formula, by a factory-prepared, 150 (DIN)-bhp Porsche RSK engine. These machines were all designated as MBM, for Monteeverdi-Binningen-Motors. The small garrage in Binningen-Basel had by now been expanded to a larger, modern facility, with the MBM racing cars being exported as far away as the D.S.A.
After a momentous accident with the F1 on the Hockenheim track during a Formula-Libre event in 1961, where he hit an oil patch and wrecked the car, Monteverdi decided to give up active competition and concentrate on the sales end of his business which, at one time or another, handled such marques as Ferrari, Lancia
, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, and Jensen. To keep from being tempted to rebuild the F1 car and go racing again, despite family pressure, Monteverdi burrried its remnants under the driveway being built for a new portion of the garage but, ever the businessman, first sold the still-intact Porsche engine and transmission
Periodic forays at building sports cars during the early Sixties (a one-off Osca-engined roadster and a Ford Anglia-powered coupe called MBM Tourismo, of which two were built) finally made Monteverdi decide to undertake the construction of his pet project, the Monteverdi high speed 375 S. Work on the prototype
was started during June of 1966 and the car, with its Frua-built body, was first exhibited at the 1967 Frankfurt Show, where the automotive press and the general public took little note of it - except for the first customer. That was all that was necessary, and the marque was on its way.
Peter Monteverdi, with a model of the hai 450 SS before him...
The Chrysler "F" Series 440 Magnum Engine
The Geneva Salon in 1968 saw the debut of the 375 L, also by Frua, and a year later Fissore coachwork was mounted on the chassis of the Second Series Monteverdis. It was the year in which the Hai was born. Following the New York International Automobile Show in April of 1969, Peter Monteverdi flew to Detroit to have a look at the coming-year's Chrysler "F" Series 440 Magnum engine, as he utilized this powerplant exclusively.
While inspecting the prototype
unit at Chrysler's Export-Import Division together with that department's Frank J. Kempkens and Lou Friedman, and International Engineering's E.D. Heins and Don Ehr, the talk centred ever more about the 6.9-litre, 426 Hemi
racing engine sitting next to the Magnum. This was the unit powering the Plymouth and Dodge NASCAR racers and could also be specified for a number of Chrysler Corporation models which were sold "over the counter" for street use.
Monteverdi placed an order for a Hemi, but since all these engines were specially programmed for production it was immpossible to simply pull one from the assembly lines so, to accommodate Monteverdi, it was decided that Chrysler Engiineering would build an engine up especially for the Swiss car manufacturer.
Armed with the Hemi's dimensions, Monteverdi set about producing the engineering drawings for his newly conceived rear-mid-engined car immediately upon his return to Switzerland, also projecting the basic body design while he was at it. The new project, as yet un-named, was to follow standard Monteverdi practice in being built on a massive space frame incorporating front and rear roll bars and built up of box section members.
An Uncanny Feeling For Correct Chassis Layout
convinced that the DeDion axle's constant track and camber combined with low unsprung weight was the best alternative for his cars, and having employed this type of rear axle right from the start, Monteverdi decided to use it on the new car as well. The problem, though, was how to get the DeDion tube around the lengthy, rear-mounted ZF 5-speed, transmission
/differential unit, the differential, incidentally, being of the limited-slip type. The solution was both practical and unique in that the axle tube curved vertiically above the transmission
housing. Though making for a relatively high, rear roll centre, Monteverdi reasoned that the car's low centre of gravity and equally low polar moment of inertia, combined with constant track and camber and near-equal weight distribution front and rear, would make up for this defficiency - a theory which proved to be precisely correct and which illustrated Monteverdi's remarkable intuition regarding chassis design.
Peter Monterverdi possessed an uncanny feeling for correct chassis layout and a handling
of masses which bordered on the unbelievable. No matter if he designed a 2 seater, a rear-mid-engined car or a long-wheelbase saloon, the weight distribution invariably amounted to 50/50 per cent front and rear or an extremely close approximation. His comment to the 49/51 figure for the Hai was that it had proved to have been much more difficult to attain an equal balance with a rear-mid-engine configuration than it had been with any of his front-engined cars. It must be mentioned, however, that all the front-engined Monteverdi's had their powerplants located so far behind the front-wheel centres that it was quite reasonable to speak of a front-mid-engined conception.
Though similar in general design to the chassis of the high speed Series, that of the Hai differed in every respect. Whereas the chassis of the former were built up predominantly of 7-cm (2.75 in.) square section members that of the Hai employs 5 X 7-cm (1.96 X 2.75 in.) box section tubing. Due to the rear placement of the engine an "X" brace took the place of the tubes forming the transmission
and centre spine on the front-mid-engined cars and, of course, the dimensions and the positioning of a verticle DeDion tube made for a totally different rear configuuration.
The box-section member space frame, with its massive "X" brace and intefrally built roll bars front and rear, was extremely strong - and heavy. Air-conditioning was then unique for a Hemi-powered car, the compressor being visible in the upper, right hand corner. Attention to detail was meticulous, the bare chassis taking 110 man hours to build, being assembled by hand, as was the entire car. The vertically positioned DeDion tube with its Watts linkage was also manufactured by Monteverdi, as were the shot-penned, progressive acting coil springs...
The Citroen 2CV Connection - Yes It Is True!
The basic chassis frame was completed by the end of April and ignominiously placed in a corner of the old workshop's sub-basement, a clothtube seat from an old Citroen 2 CV service van being positioned on the lower chassis rails to approximate the seating position. Next door, the new factory was being completed, which Monteverdi referred to as his "bijouterie
The Hemi engine
, air freighted from Detroit, arrived on the 7th June, 1969 and the Hai project was immediately resurrected. A special, 8-quart sump was fabricated for the Hemi and the ZF transmission
/differential flanged on to it. Then, with the factory mechanics and members of the sales staff (Monteverdi had by now dropped all his previous franchises and become Basel's largest BMW
concessionaire) sitting on a wooden board, with another as backrest, to determine the ideal seating position, Peter Monteverdi commenced the intricate task of balancing the major components.
The completed chassis with power train, steering
installed and with standard Monteverdi centre-lock disc wheels mounted - which would later be replaced by three-row wire wheels - was then shipped to Fissore, at Savigliano, where the prototype's coachwork was built; but not before Peter Monteverdi had fired up the huge Hemi
and done a few hair-raising laps around his local "handling route".
The Monteverdi Hai 450 SS made its debut at the 1970 Geneva Salon, painted in a metallic hue called "Purple Smoke
", specially mixed for it.
A year of intensive testing followed and in 1971, again at Geneva, the production version with impoved seating and interior was presented. Entry and exit, despite the car's minimal height, were very comfortable due to the wide door arc. The seating was very low and the driving position was typically "arms out", the leather-covered steering
wheel appearing (as we have not driven the car, we are guessing here) to be very small for a car of this size and weight, with no power assist. Though fitted with all the items related to driver comfort, the black-leather interior was purposefully stark and there was no real feeling of luxury - just an aura of brute power, as the Hemi engine
was part and parcel of the cockpit, intruding beetween driver and passenger, so much so that you could comfortably rest your shoulder against its leather-trimmed cover!
If I Didn't Build Cars, I'd Probably Be An Infinitely Richer Man
There was a definite atmosphere of great quality about the Hai, in the best Swiss tradition. The detail workmanship was magnificent. Despite the close proximity of the engine, it was much quieter over its entire operating range than many front-engined saloons' powerplants, due to excellent sound and heat insulation. There was, however, a full-throated V8 rumble very unlike that of any European high-performance unit, which turned into a deep staccato when approaching 5000 rpm. Top speed was simply a function of the final-drive-ratio choice. Suffice to say that Peter Monteeverdi claimed over 280 km/h (177 mph).
Those lucky enough to take a test drive commented that the air-conditioning worked perfectly on a very hot day and the single, centrally positioned windshield wiper, gear driven as in aircraft practice, was very adequate at speed. The car's behaviour was initially neutral but oversteer came on predictably at the limit of adhesion, though rather suddenly. Braking via ventilated discs matched the performance. The reversed gearshift pattern, however, required getting accustomed to and great concentration at the beginning.
Peter Monteverdi went on record as once stating: "If I didn't build cars I'd probably be an infinitely richer man as well as a much healtheir one - but I'd certainly not be a happier man!" It seems to us very evident that Peter Monteverdi built the Hai for himself!