This Swiss Safari May Be the First Super SUV


Switzerland’s short-lived supercar maker Monteverdi is best-known for its High Speed series of coupes and sedans, but the company also pioneered the idea of a high-performance, luxury all-terrain explorer with its Safari.

In 1976, at a time when the most potent Range Rover made do with a 3.5-liter V-8 mustering just 132 horses, the Safari came with a choice of Chrysler V-8s from 5.2-liters to 7.2-liters in capacity and upwards of 300 horsepower.

Underneath a body built by Carozzeria Fissore was the running gear from the International Harvester Scout, giving the Safari the capability to tackle the rugged mountain tracks of the Swiss Alps in style, thanks to a switchable four-wheel drive system.

Inside the Safari outclassed its British rival with luxuries including air conditioning, optional leather trim, electric windows and power locks. Buyers could also specify a sunroof, a TV, and even a fridge as well as winch for more serious off-road excursions.

Monteverdi Safari 7

The Sahara was originally priced from 39,000 Swiss Francs (around $81,000 in today’s money) making it significantly more spendy than a Range Rover, yet it still became Monterverdi’s best-selling model, with over 100 examples built. Remember—this was long before the likes of Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini and Ferrari turned their attentions to the 4×4 sector.

If the idea of owning such a special machine appeals to you then you’re in luck, as a 1978 Sahara is about to go to auction in its native Switzerland.

The shiny silver Sahara was delivered to its first keeper in the Canton of Bern where it was cherished for more than 40 years. Since 2021 it has been cared for by a collector after being purchased from Monterverdi specialist Andreas Wüst who only added a few digits to the 20,000 km (12,427 miles) shown on its odometer.

Powered by the mid-range 5.7-liter V-8 mated to an automatic transmission it is in excellent original condition and clearly still quite capable of major mountain climbing. Offered for sale by Bonhams at its Cheserex auction in Switzerland on June 30, the Safari is estimated to sell for 90-110,000 Swiss Francs or $101,000-$123,000.

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    This particular example is equipped with the IH 345, not one of the Chrysler power plants, so yeah I want it. It is amazing how extensive the modifications were with a lot of sheet metal work making it a fixed roof and disguising much of the stock sheet metal. They even went through the trouble of hiding the wipers and redoing the cowl vent intake to get rid of the visible vents in front of the windshield.

    This was and the Midas conversions are things that the Scout Business Unit cited in their plea to save the Unit and the Scout. They accurately predicted a coming SUV boom and how it would replace the sedan and sedan based wagons, and that there was a big, mostly untapped at the time, market specifically for Luxury SUVs.

    The fact that Monteverdi used the Chrysler 318 also factored into those plans for a 1981 Scout. IH didn’t have the money to bring the SV family up to the 81 emissions standards so one of the plans was to use an certified automobile engine from another mfg. The 318 and slant 6 were the front runners for gas power. IH already had a relationship with Chrysler purchasing the custom cased 727 and the CN33 for a number of years. They also sold Chrysler the MV series of engines for the last of their MD trucks. They did build a number of prototypes for testing with the 318 and slant 6. I’d be surprised if they didn’t dig up a Monteverdi to check how they fitted the 318.

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