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The four-wheel-drive classic off-roader. It intrigues me, but does anyone actually need such a car in their life? What would its purpose be and how would you use it?

I have often been drawn to the notion of owning a classic off-roader of some sort. I’m not entirely sure why or for what, nor am I sure which make and model I would go for. Maybe that’s why I haven’t bought one yet? But the peculiar little Steyr Puch Haflinger which Dave presented us to for last Saturday’s Prime Find reignited all of these thoughts. Amusing as the little Austrian is, I’m pretty sure that won’t be my first four-wheel-drive classic car. But what then?

Maybe I need something with more luxury and more exclusivity? I have after all grown accustomed to my Jaguar XJ12 and my Mercedes-Benz 450SLC. For the counterpoint to the Haflinger, maybe all I need to do is jump across the border from Austria and into neighboring Switzerland? Hmmm… a Monteverdi perhaps…

Monteverdi Safari in its natural elements, anno 1978: Boxy and practical…

Mention Monteverdi and most people will think of the flamboyant Hai 450SS – as do I. A fabulous sportscar and a fabulous story too. The only problem was; it didn’t sell – at all. In comparison, the Monteverdi High Speed managed somewhat better, but still not in numbers which were ever going to scare the competition. After several years of this, Monteverdi stopped production of these bespoke GT’s and supercars, and instead entered a new market: Off-roaders!

…but also rather unadventurous compared to the brands previous escapades, which had their own chassis and not least huge ambitions.

It may seem somewhat grotesque and most certainly a massive step backwards, but at least when viewed with commercial eyes, Monteverdi got it right. While hardly qualifying as mass-produced, the Safari quickly became Monteverdi’s best selling model, just as it became one of the world’s first luxury off-roaders. I can’t help but feel that Monteverdi were well ahead of their time with this transformation from sportscar manufacturer to mainstream SUV manufacturer. Just look at what Porsche did approximately 25 years later, followed more recently by both Maserati and Lamborghini.

Now, Monteverdi were never known for creating technically sophisticated cars, and that’s even more true when it comes to the Safari. It was based on the second generation of the International Harvester Scout, which was introduced in 1971 and as such a precursor to the SUV craze which was to follow. Monteverdi simply adopted the complete chassis with drivetrain, drum brakes and all, and had it clad with a Fissore designed body lending it an aire of sophistication and Italian style. This cocktail was then marketed at a seriously bumped-up price to Europeans and especially Arabs who weren’t too worried about the excessive fuel consumption of 25 liters/100km or 10 mpg (according to the test conducted by Auto, Motor und Sports in 1978).

The sheer definition of seventies excess: A Monteverdi Safari with a High Speed being towed behind it.

Ultimately though, I’ll pass on the Monteverdi Safari too. There’s just a bit too much The Emperor’s New Clothes about this fairytale. My personal conclusion is that the world apparently wants to be deceived. The Safari adds nothing to the Scout II which it is based upon, it’s not particularly good looking either, and it was even more expensive than the period Range Rover. If I’m to be perfectly honest, I would rather have the original International Harvester Scout, which at least isn’t the slightest bit pretentious and no doubt a better off-roader for it.

Do you own a classic off-roader, or have you thus far settled with dreaming of one like I have? Would yours be a Haflinger, a Safari, a Scout or perhaps something entirely different? And finally, the question which really interests me: What would you use your classic off-roader for?


7 Responses

  1. GTeglman

    @ claus-ebberfeld, Any dreams of a classic off-roader I leave for my better half.
    The day when the dream becomes a nightmare is the day where”she who must obeyed” demands that the next classic car in the household must be an off-roader so she can tow the horse and trailer in style.

    I love my wife, but I’m not particularly fond of horses and hunting. It’s a money pit that could easily cover all the expenses of an exotic Italian classic, so the last time the
    subject was up for debate, I suggested a Lada Niva to keep expenses to a minimum…- that did not go down well.

  2. Anders Bilidt

    I have thus far never owned an offroader of any type, but I must confess that I would like to. Naturally though, it would have to be a classic offroader!
    I actually quite like the styling of the Safari, and there’s no denying that it would be pretty cool having a Monteverdi (of any type!) parked outside my house. But that said, like you @claus-ebberfeld, I would much rather have the International Harvester Scout II upon which it is based. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for them, and it’s probably only a Land Cruiser FJ55 which ranks higher with me…

  3. Peter

    Well, I am not sure that my winter classic car deserves to be called an off-roader but at least it is equipped with four wheel drive: A first generation Fiat Panda 4×4. It’s a great car for urban use (two or four wheel drive) and we receive many thumbs-up, especially from the younger generations. Anyway, the four wheel drive has not really been in use due to the lack of snow the last couple of years. But I am really hoping for mountains of snow this year!

  4. YrHmblHst

    The Haybinder on which the Monteverdi is based isnt a bad vehicle atall; however, parts are getting to be a bit of an issue. You can keep it running forever, but trim bits may be a bit of a challenge…tho simple compared to the bespoke Monteverdi pieces I imagine.
    Obviously, as has been stated before, I love my Jeep XJ [and would like an LJ some day] , but i have had a craving for an original [classic, round headlight] Range Rover since well before they became available in the Colonies. Though every time I get ready to pull the trigger on one, I read up, and reliability issues/parts costs and such have kept me from it so far.
    Were I like you guys and money wasnt an issue, a 69 – 72 Blazer would be my choice hands down for this type of vehicle. No question. Early Blazers rule. early broncos are neat and absolutely NUTS money for some reason, but they are a bit skaty at speed, especially when lifted, and just not as nice as the Blazer. have had several friends with both bitd and have driven them when they were ‘just cool old [sorta] trucks ‘ and we werent too worried about investment; the Blazer takes it hands down.
    If money REALLY isnt an issue and you are serious about being able togo anywhere, a Unimog hasta be the choice. When I get rich and famous, Im gonna have a Unimog with a radio box; painting it northwoods camo and gonna make a lift kit for it just because i can. the epitome of cool…

  5. Claus Ebberfeld

    The Lada Niva, @gteglman – yes, THAT would be great! But it fact I mentioned it for MY wife, and I recognize the reaction you describe with YOUR wife…but maybe that’s just because the Niva is a Man’s car?!?

  6. GTeglman

    @claus-ebberfeld, I find the Lada Niva to be a charming and rugged little off-roader, and very much a Man’s car. I tried to argue that the simplicity is in fact the Niva’s
    ultimate sophistication, but my wife said I was talking rubbish.
    To be honest I actually do not know if the Niva can tow a full size horse and trailer, but even so, I’m sure that the lady of the house is dreaming of nothing less than a 1970′ Range Rover “Classic”…

  7. Dave Leadbetter

    Monteverdi always seemed to succeed in the difficult task of creating “boutique “ cars that were less desirable than the models they were based upon, which when you consider it is quite an achievement. I’m glad they exist but have no desire to own such a thing. Probably the only creation that made sense was the four door Range Rover which could be bought directly through Land Rover dealers for a few years before the factory version made its debut.

    However, the reference to my Halflinger article surely prompts the essential question; how many soldiers are required to lift a Monteverdi Safari out of boggy ground? That must be the benchmark by which we judge all 4x4s from now on.


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