Double Swiss failure
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W Summer 2001 issue
- Onyx/Monteverdi - Recipe on how to destroy a fledgling team, by Mattijs Diepraam
Peter Monteverdi, Carel Godin de Beaufort
MBM-Porsche, Ecurie Maarsbergen Porsche 718
X Großer Preis der Solitude (23 July 1961)
Remember those last two appalling outings by the Onyx team before it folded during that hot summer of 1990? We had poor JJ Lehto and Swiss Gregor Foitek struggling with the once promising ORE-1 tubs, failing to qualify for the Hockenheim and Hungaroring races in their blue machines that once wore the proud logos of big-time first-year backers Moneytron and Marlboro.
But then at the end of its debut year Belgian farcical "business man" Jean-Pierre van Rossem whose dubious Moneytron firm had helped Onyx partners Mike Earle and Joe Chamberlain move up from F3000, fell out with the team's founders, the rift causing Earle and Chamberlain to part from their baby in December 1989. It was a sad end to Earle's gradual move up the team management order, a career comprising the running of the highly successful Church Farm F5000 team (which swept the board with Peter Gethin in the first two seasons of the category), the Pygmee F2 team and David Purley's Lec ventures. That was before he set up Onyx Race Engineering in 1979, the firm that would successfully run the works March F2 and F3000 operation from 1983. With Onyx, Stefano Modena took the F3000 title in 1987.
It was in the same year that Earle's F1 plans started to take shape. Paul Shakespeare being the initial backer, Jean-Pierre van Rossem's Moneytron company took a controlling share in early 1989, just weeks before the launch of the Alan Jenkins-designed ORE-1. In the glory days of 30+ entries the Moneytron Onyx team was among the prequalifiers for the first half of the year but when Stefan Johansson (enjoying himself again after a disastrous Ligier season) and/or Bertrand Gachot managed to join the two Brabhams for qualifying proper, they showed good pace, in the second part of the season resulting in a sensational third place for Johansson at Estoril.
That marvelous result was achieved while all was not well between the loud-mouthed van Rossem and the team's founders. Sadly, the major shareholder exercised his rights and Earle and Chamberlain were on the way out before Christmas. Now in control, van Rossem quickly adopted a Hans-Günther Schmid style of management, throwing out all the people that had helped Onyx move forward from its prequalifying first half of the 1989 season to its podium-scoring form in the second half.
Within weeks, however, after failing to secure a Porsche engine deal, van Rossem had lost interest in his new toy and sold on to yet another new owner who happened to be the father-in-law of the team's new second driver and placed the logo of his auto museum on the Onyxes' cockpit sides. Showing the cash-strapped nature of the effort, the cars kept the original Moneytron colour scheme, with the old decals simply replaced by some new ones.
Well, what's that got to do with a picture of an obscure Swiss racing machine in its only competitive outing during the early sixties? The answer is simple, really: the man at the wheel of his own brainchild at the Solitude track is the same man responsible for hitting the final nail into the Onyx coffin almost thirty years later: Peter Monteverdi.
The MBM-Porsche was the second generation of the self-built Swiss racing machines coming from Monteverdi's Basel shop. The first one was a rear-engined Formula Junior car powered by a two-stroke DKW engine tuned by Herr Doktor Mantzel, the second M in MBM, with the B standing for Basel. The MBM-DKW was a small hit in the United States where it was sold as the Machan but it didn't achieve much success.
Such was the selfguidedness of Peter Monteverdi that within the space of one year Mantzel had fallen out with him, leaving the Swiss visionary to team with German tuner/driver Gerhard Mitter, whose name conveniently started with an M as well. In 1961, Monteverdi indeed went alone, renaming MBM to Monteverdi Binningen Motors, Binningen the name of the Basel suburb where the cars were assembled.
Monteverdi's second project was based on the original FJ design, which fitted within the new 1.5-litre F1 rules. The Swiss' idea was to strengthen one of the tub and accommodate it for a brand-new Porsche RSK unit. As the Stuttgart factory was unwilling to sell one such engine to Monteverdi, showing a striking display of long-term entrepreneurship, the Swiss simply bought a complete RSK, disassembled it, tuned to engine to give it about 150bhp and simply stuck it in the back of the MBM. And judging by our picture he put the Porsche wheels on the car as well!
The car became a moderate success in Swiss hill-climbs, its creator himself driving the machine, before Monteverdi daringly decided to enter it in the 1961 Solitude GP, at the doorstep of the Porsche factory, so to speak. Switzerland's first post-war Grand Prix car qualified last and ran for just two laps before retiring with a broken engine - not quite the performance needed to show the mighty Porsche the Swiss finger, one might suspect, although it could also be argued that on the occasion such a gesture will have been entirely appropriate for being dealt a Stuttgart engine that lasts for a couple of laps…
In the picture Monteverdi is leading the private Porsche of Carel Godin de Beaufort, the Dutch aristocrat who became a colourful figure in Grand Prix racing until his death at the 'Ring three years later, shooting his outdated 718 up a tree at Kallenhard, with the driver thrown out.
The MBM-Porsche was planned to race in the German GP later that year but nothing came of it due to a car-wrecking exercise during a Libre race at Hockenheim that almost killed Monteverdi. It did kill his racing career although Monteverdi - always the dreamer - went on to create his own GT car brand while also becoming a collectioneur of supercars from around the world.
Three years after Monteverdi's second short-lived love affair with F1 another Swiss Peter became the second Swiss Grand Prix constructor - and did a much better job of it.
Reader's Why by Alessandro Silva
Peter Monteverdi, a Swiss garage owner from Basel, was a good hillclimb and sportscar driver, who raced many different cars, among them a very difficult Ferrari 750 Monza.
In 1959 he built a front engined FJ car, quickly substitued the following year by a rear-engined one. The cars were powered by a 3-cyl DKW unit tuned by German specialist Mantzel and were called MBM for Monteverdi-Basel-Mantzel. Driven by its builder it gained fifth place in the 1960 Monza Lottery GP, amidst some praise from the Italian press, so a small series of cars was produced and sold in the USA. The few remained in Europe scored small successes in local hill-clmbs. In truth it was not a good car and the DKW Mantzel engine was inferior to the DKW tuned by Gerhard Mitter, so that this last took the place of the former on some cars and MBM stood then for Monteverdi-Basel-Mitter. By the end of the year, though, the name of the small racing shop had become Monteverdi-Binningen-Motors!
This writer has found in his archives the technical specifications for the MBM FJ that were kept for some - now unexplicable - reason and they are at disposal, if somebody is interested. As we shall see, Monteverdi had, in 1961, his first ephemere stint at F1 racing. As his garage and BMW dealership was thriving in the late 60s, Monteverdi decided to build his own GT car: the 375 Monteverdi. Peter designed its chassis and had it powered by a 7.2 L Chrysler V8 engine. It was a massive design, but it was sometime beautifully bodied by some of the best Italian coachbuilders. A sporty 400 model and an intriguing looking 4-door saloon were also in the catalogue.
As a direct competitor to the Lamborghini Miura, the mid-engined 450 was also shown in 1971. A brutish looking car, it had nonetheless some charm.
The oil crisis gave a severe blow to Monteverdi's enterprise even though his cars were still nominally in production around 1975. He then renovated his production with a FWD of strict Land-Rover derivation, and, around 1985, he build a new luxurious saloon: the Tiara based on Mercedes Benz mechanicals.
But the racing demon was always bugging Peter, now an old gentleman that had collected a number of interesting old cars. In 1990 he rescued from the hands of a Belgian shady entrepreneur the Onyx team in connection with young Swiss driver Foitek. The combination had dismal results and lasted only for few races: hindered by the accumulated debt, the team was discontinued.
Peter's second try at F1 had followed by 29 years his first: in 1961, Peter decided to put a Porsche 1.5L engine in one of his FJ cars with allonged and strengthened chassis. Porsche was duly inquired about purchasing one of their tuned F1 RSK engines, but flatly refused to sell. Peter took then the obvious shortcut: he bought a brand new RSK, took the engine off, had it tuned and put it on his car.
After some hillclimb success, the team was ready for the Solitude race and they also put down an entry for the German GP. On the beautiful and awe-inspiring Solitude track, Monteverdi qualified his car last, behind even Bussinello's de Tomaso-Alfa, and his race lasted two laps. On its way to the Nürburgring, the team stopped at Hockenheim for a minor meeting, where Peter wrote off the car in a very nasty accident. It was the end for the 1961 MBM F1. Somebody says [M. Lawrence] that the remains of the car were buried (!?).
The car in the background is Godin de Beaufort's private Porsche 718. The personality and the achievements of the flamboyant Dutch nobleman have been extensively delt with in these pages. The Dutchman did not finish this race that was taken by Ireland's Lotus, a near photo-finish from the works Porsches of Bonnier and Gurney.