The cars we loved.
Automotive exclusivity is often the goal of the super-rich in their quest to express themselves with a one of a kind automobile. Short of having someone build a custom car just for you, the next best thing is to have a very low volume car that separates you from the off the rack Maybach and Bentleys of the world. The small Swiss manufacturer Monteverdi was no stranger to exclusivity. Peter Monterverdi started his company in 1967. Although Peter had designed boats, a few Fords and the popular Volvo 740, it was with a series of low slung GT cars with American V8 engines that the young company made its first impact. Cars like the Monterverdi 375 were considered some of the most beautifully designed sports cars of the late 60’s early 70’s.
Monterverdi had designed and built a few large sedans with similar sporting profiles of the coupes, but they were not always reliable mechanically (aside from their often outsourced V8 engines). By the late 70’s Monerverdi developed a deal with Mercedes Benz to re-skin one of its then new long wheelbase S Class sedans and market the revised car as a Monterverdi Tiara. The ideal sounded good and was more a winning proposition for Monterverdi than Mercedes. The agreement dictated that Monterverdi could not alter any of the primary mechanical components of the Mercedes. After all, Mercedes had a solid reputation for quality. The Tiara would be barely recognizable as a former SEL 500, but Mercedes did not want to take any chances.
The Tiara was distinguished from the 500 SEL by re-designed front and rear ends. Tiara specific 15 inch wheels added to the subtle distinction. The interior featured a custom designed steering wheel and had a few luxury items added like a TV and voice recorder added, otherwise it looked just like the already loaded Mercedes. The Monterverdi exterior changes were dramatic in that they added angularity to a design that was intended to be more organic via rounded edges. From the rear the Tiara could have been confused for any number of Bentley or Rolls Royce products with tail lamps reminiscent of the Silver Sprit. The front was even more jarring. The severe edges were in sharp contrast to the tubular roundness at the front to the Mercedes. The overall effect was rather Bristol-like in an old world kind of way. The old style quad rounded headlights looked as they could have come from a Monterverdi 70’s era sedan, but was less graceful. The front finders were flattened to better fit with the squared off front end, resulting in a slightly slimmer car than the donor Mercedes.
The external changes were the source of controversy. After the car premiered at the 1981 Geneva Motor Show, critics launched a wave of harsh words, due to the conflicting nature of Bruno Sacco’s more organic design vs. Monterverdi’s angular modifications. It did not help that the Tiara cost nearly double what a stock 500 SEL would have. The Tiara was planned to use a Mercedes 200 hp 3.8 V8 or it’s new 231 hp 5.0.
Unfortunately Monterverdi never got the chance to answer it’s critics or even fulfill advance orders. A Mercedes official who was instrumental in establishing the deal with Peter Monterverdi had died, just before the car was to be publicly unveiled. The death caused Mercedes to lose interest in going forward with its initial agreement with Monterverdi. Only three cars had been built by 1982, even though Monterverdi included the Tiara in its model catalogues as late as 1983/84. Two of the three models are said to be in museums, one in Monterverdi’s own in Binningen Switzerland. The other is thought to be privately owned somewhere in Europe.