Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The Compagnie Francaise Des Produits Metallurgiques
The Monica 560 was designed on a clean sheet of drawing paper and was built-up from a completely bare workshop floor. It was the brainchild of one of France's top industrial magnates - Jean Tastevin, who wanted to give his country a real prestige car - something France had lacked since the demise of the Facel Vega
which was never really successful.
At the time Jean Tastevin was Chairman and Managing Director of the Compagnie Francaise Des Produits Metallurgiques, whose factory produced around 25 percent of all specialised rolling stock then used on the railways of Europe. The factory exported 80 percent of its production and, in addition to selling the rolling stock, ran a large rental fleet of them - also operating throughout Europe.
However Tastevin's was also a keen motorist. He had owned or at least driven just about every prestige car in the world, and when he set his sights on creating a new luxury marque, he was driving a Jaguar
. When interviewed about the new 560 he claimed that he had always regretted having to shop outside his country for a car he considered worthy of driving. He believed, with some justification, that most Frenchman were patriotic and would sooner drive a French luxury car than an imported car.
Tastevin set out to create a new luxury marque in 1967
- when he set aside a section of his factory at Balgigny (near St. Etienne on the western slopes of the Rhone Valley) and cordoned it off. He, amassed a staff of designers, stylists and engineers. Working in absolute secrecy, he produced a prototype of his dream machine. Even in its early stages, the car showed the potential to bring back the great days when famous French makes such as Delage
were sought by motoring enthusiasts around the world.
Made In France
Naming the new marque after his wife, Tastevin always had modest ambitions for his car - he had hoped to build and sell around 400 cars per year. Despite this modest marketing goal, Tastevin refused to make use of any existing machinery or equipment. Perhaps the most unusual thing about Monica was that, unlike so many other small run supercars from the 1970s and 1980s, the 560 used its own engine. Facel Vega
used US engines, the Citroen SM
was powered by a Maserati
engine, the DeTomaso Mangusta
used a Ford V8, the Iso Griffo
used both Ford and GM V8's and the brilliant Monterverdi's
used Chrysler V8s.
Ted Martin and Chris Lawrence
But none of these were good enough for Tastevin, who wanted every part of his new car to be built in France. Unfortunately he was unable to find a sufficiently competent engine designer in his own country, so he commissioned an English expert, Ted Martin, to develop Monica's power plant. Another Englishman - Chris Lawrence - was also engaged to fabricate the first prototype of the car, but this was chiefly to ensure that no-one would be aware of the French origin of the project in case a prototype was spotted. And spotted it was. Three prototypes were built in England in 1968
and spies of the French fortnightly motoring magazine L'auto Journal followed one of them from Brands Hatch to Sap. Here Tastevin's ruse paid off, as even these astute spotters were thrown off the scent.
The French journalists dismissed the unusual-looking car as just another of the many specially-built English machines, especially when they noted its engine carried the brand name Martin - at thei time Martin commanded a high reputation as a small scale high performance engineer whose work was often seen under the bonnets of Deep-Sandersons and Ford Escort derivations. For these early prototypes, Martin developed a 2.8 litre V8 with twin belt-driven overhead cams developing 250 bhp for a car weighing 1070kg (2360lb). In its final production version, the Monica's V8 grew to 3.5 litres and was designed with two overhead cams per bank, although its output remained at 250bhp at 5800rpm. This was probably because Martin wanted to maintain the same power output but be able to do this at lower revs than with the original 2.81 itre engine.
The maximum torque came in at 4000rpm, but the torque curve was remarkably flat between 2500 and 5000rpm, which made the handful of people lucky enough to get behind the wheel realise that the sweet V8 was incredibly tractable. The reported maximum speed was 240 kph (150 mph). While the design of Monica's engine was inspired from Britain, its bodywork
drew its inspiration from Italy.
Styling was done mainly by a former workshop manager from the Vignale
Equipe, with the Italian stylist Vignale
himself as chief adviser. The sections were made in Turin and sent to Tastevin's Balbigny plant for assembly, but it was always the intention to manufacture these at the French factory - so that it could understandably maintain its "Made in France" moniker.
The Monica measured 490cm (16ft 0.5in.). This was the same length as the Mercedes 280, but 9cm longer than the Jaguar XJ6 and 15cm longer than Fiat's then new prestige model, the 130. The roomy and rakish body featured four doors and a vast luggage capacity - characteristics considered essential by Monica's creator. The interior finish was likewise very luxurious - with leather for the upholstery and walnut woodwork for the dash both being imported from Britain. Air-conditioning
was standard kit.
The idea was to distribute the Monica's through some 20-25 concessionaires, all to be specialists in luxury vehicles. But very few ever got to see the car - only 8 production cars (as well as 22 prototypes) were completed before the factory closed in 1974, a victim of the 1973
oil crisis. A plan by Panther Westwinds
to resume production in England was announced in March 1975
but never implemented.