Home » A Look At Some Of The Strangest Coachbuilt Cars, And How I’d Design A Coachbuilt Tesla

A Look At Some Of The Strangest Coachbuilt Cars, And How I’d Design A Coachbuilt Tesla

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One area of carmaking that has all but disappeared is the coachbuilt, bespoke car. Special bodywork handcrafted onto existing cars, either in short production runs or unique one-of-a-kind specials for the crème or society where just any old fancy car from a top-drawer marque just wasn’t good enough.

With today’s safety systems, endless digital content, and complex structures, you can’t just chop up a car like you could back in the day. There was once a cottage industry where tiny firms, often in barns or under the arches of stone bridges in Britain, would turn rather pedestrian cars into something more special. Artisans at places like Park Ward and Hooper made luxury vehicles like Rolls-Royces into unique creations for when money was no object for the well-heeled buyer. One of the most famous examples might be the ‘bustle back’ Hooper sedans with the body shape later copied by the notorious (but possibly misjudged) 1980 Cadillac Seville.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom
Seville
Beverly Hills Car Club, Cincinnati Classics

A revival of the Hooper firm even made custom coupes out of Rolls Royce sedans when the factory had no interest in pursuing the bodystyle.

Hooper Coupe
Silverstone Auctions

 

There were many other coachbuilders like this in nations across the world. On some occasions, the basis for these artisans’ work was rather unexpected.

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Making A Faberge Egg Out Of Mr. Potato Head

The art of specialized coachwork continued into the seventies and eighties at tiny builders in Switzerland. Peter Monteverdi had a small firm that made a few from-scratch cars powered by Chrysler Hemis; the machines were quite impressive, primarily the exotic mid-engined Hai and the lovely High Speed grand touring car.

Hai
Gooding & Co, RM Sotheby’s

 

However, Monteverdi knew that he needed an expanded line of cars to truly be successful, and starting from nothing takes a lot of effort. The solution that Monteverdi devised was to modify existing automobiles with new body panels and bespoke interiors. This seemed like a sound idea at first, but the cars this coachbuilder chose as the basis of their creations might have made you scratch your head.

For example, a mid-sized luxury sedan seems like a good volume seller for an high-end concern, right? The Monteverdi Sierra was this little company’s entry into this market; it’s a rather-attractive-for-the-time V8 powered saloon. What did Monteverdi use as a basis for the Sierra? A Mercedes? A BMW 5 series with a small block Chevy? No, he chose something far more proletarian, and kind of awful actually.

Sierra
Monteverdi, Bring A Trailer, Raleigh Classics

 

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Take a close look those window frames on the Sierra. Of all the cars on the planet Monteverdi could have chosen from to start with, they selected a Plymouth Volare, the car Lee Iacocca said ‘simply wasn’t well made’ and the most recalled model in automotive history at the time (until the 1980 GM X-Car came along). Imagine the hours that went into handcrafting this crisp-edged upscale-looking sedan with the leaf spring axle mechanicals and ill-sealing doors of a rehashed Dodge Dart. Surprisingly, Monteverdi sold something like 20 of them. At least it didn’t have a Slant 6 (taillight savants- identify those rear light clusters in the comments!)

Lest you think it was a fluke, Monteverdi went all-in and made one or two convertible Sierra conversions from Volare coupes (though some sources say Dodge Diplomat..same thing):

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Monteverdi

 

Monteverdi even jumped into the upscale SUV market way before anyone else did with the Safari, a competitor to the then-rather-new Range Rover. Again, a rather nice looking machine, and one that was actually quite capable off road, if a bit crude. There’s a reason for that; below the skin of the Safari is the legendary but agricultural International Harvester Scout imported from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Truly a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (again, which of you Taillight Torchinskis can spot those admittedly modified taillights?).

Sahara2
Lemacc, Worldwide Vintage Autos

 

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By far one of the strangest of Monteverdi’s creations might have been when the company tried to hit that large luxury sedan market with a model called the Tiara. Unfortunately, here they did the opposite of the Sierra and Safari and defaced an inherently pretty and refined car. The starting point of the Tiara was a W126 Mercedes S Class, arguably one of the nicest looking Mercedes of all time. After the boxy and even tail fin equipped three-pointed-star sedans of the sixties and seventies, the W126 was a revelation at its 1980 debut. This big Benz looked as if it had been designed by an Italian guy, because it was; a masterpiece of Bruno Sacco’s reign as design chief during the golden era of Mercedes cost-is-no-object quality and safety.

126 Benz
Modern Classic Car Co.

It would be hard to improve on this design, and Monteverdi did not in any uncertain terms come close to doing that. To make the Tiara, the coachbuilder added angular new nose and tail sections to the Benz which were totally at odds with the elegant original car. With round sealed-beam looking headlights flanking a rather featureless grille, if you painted it pink it would look a bit like Homer Simpson’s car. The thing totally defies all logic, especially the fact that they actually made two of them.

Monteverdi Tiara Ml 2
wikipedia/ Matthias v.d.Elbe

 

I don’t know who the market for vehicles like these Monteverdis would be, but I can see a possible way that this might make sense in a small way today.

“Good Car, But Not Expensive Enough”

In neighborhoods where the top two percent of earners live, it appears that every other car is a Tesla. Despite the influx of new luxury electric cars, buyers of upper tax brackets seem to still flock to the Model S as a go-to EV sedan.

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Tesla Model S
Cars & Bids

It has to be difficult for some of these poor people to even find their car in a parking lot when there’s no valet around. Tesla fit and finish has never been considered their strongest suit, and many find the interiors not up to the standards of a six-figure car. Also, Telsa doesn’t offer something like Porsche Exclusive where you can add whale skin leather (or whatever) shift knobs or paint-to-sample colors to more than double the base price of a car and make it unique.

Regardless of Elon Musk tweets and self-driving failures, the now-decade-old Model S is still a fundamentally good car that wouldn’t hurt from a bit of primping to make competitive with quarter-million-dollar rides. Maybe we could trick out a coachbuilt Tesla to give the rich a way to stand out from the unwashed masses? What if Peter Monteverdi’s siblings revived the old company in Switzerland to do just that?

Here’s what we’ll do to make a Monteverdi Caraibes (French for Caribbean). The lack of a two door coupe or convertible in a luxury brand as a halo vehicle is a bit inexcusable, so Monteverdi will slice the roof off of Model S, weld up the rear doors and make longer front ones, adding roll down rear quarter windows of course. The former hatchback parts would be used to make a trunk lid. A double-layered soft top and blingy rims will make you the envy of anyone on Rodeo drive.

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tsportline

Even though it’s totally unnecessary on an EV, the Monteverdi Caraibes would have a rather Aston-looking fake radiator opening that echoes earlier Monteverdi car noses. Odd as it sounds, remember that the early versions of the Model S had a fake grille in the form of a black finished panel, and honestly in many ways it looked better than the current ones (I especially dislike some of the lower level Teslas where they were designed to look as if there’s space for a grille and they forgot to add it).

Tesla Model S 01 Q
Tesla

The headlights on the Monteverdi custom, incidentally, would be something like Ford Explorer or BMW X3 units with the tops cut off by the overlapping handcrafted bonnet, sort of like how Lamborghini did with Nissan Z32 300ZX headlamps. In fact, Lamborghini also had little trim pieces to cover up the NISSAN markings on the lights. This is what you need to do with low production cars where you’ll never, ever be able to afford to tool up for certain parts.

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Z32
RM Sotheby’s, Cars and Bids

Her’s another fun example of that make-whatever-is-available-work by small automotive industries. In the seventies, a bespoke coach builder called Wood & Pickett wanted a custom grille for its wood-and-leather clad Mini conversions, but of course lacked the means to make one from scratch. Apparently, somebody found the grille off of a mid-sized Vauxhall Victor and cut it down fit. I mean, it’s actually rather convincing!

Vauxhall Mini
Hampson Auctions,wikimedia/Riley

Back to our Tesla-based coachbuilt convertible. In the rear, there’s modified full-width lights, and the finished product would be covered in many coats of hand rubbed acrylic enamel with multiple layers of clear.

Cig Cozy Gallery 11917py3 Pearl White Tesla Model S Plaid 21 Inch Tesla Aftermarket Arachnid Style Forged Tssf Brush Satin Clear Paint Brake Calipers 3 Xxl Copy
tsportline

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The inside of the Model S is the area where the most work can go to make a Monteverdi Caraibes. Your ‘vegan leather’ can go right into the landfill and be replaced by extremely un-vegan hides on almost all surfaces, set off by plenty of painstakingly finished woodgrains. In back, there’s a center console featuring a refrigerator and a chilled water dispenser. Individual business-class-section fold-out trays are provided for each passenger, and video monitors in the backs of the headrest can connect to your devices. Note that front and rear seating areas will each get a Patek Phillipe timepiece. In all, there’s nothing that a Rolls or Bentley buyer would be missing (other than the need to visit gas stations).

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Odd as this idea seems, I think the Caraibes might have a lot of merit for the uber rich that want a high dollar EV and don’t to wait for the offerings of the top-drawer brands. Mechanically, the Model S might still be a better and more resolved car than some of those yet-to-be-released super luxury models anyway; it just needs the exclusive features and hand-built bodywork to step it up.

Maybe Monteverdi could strike again?

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Ron888
Ron888
1 year ago

Interesting article Mr(?) Bishop!Some really interesting vehicles here.
I cant believe how crap the Tiara looks.From the best of the west to russian low-level officials car in one go.What a dog.
Others worth mentioning: The Range Rover twin, not bad at all.
The Diablo’s lights somehow look much better than on the 300ZX, even though they’re less well integrated.
And i’d forgotten how good a model S looks.So much better than the stomped front on the 3.
As for the Montiverdi Caraibes?Kinda meh i’m sorry to say.I think the extremely basic grill holds it back.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
1 year ago

You forgot to include Sbarro, the coachbuilder renowned for the highest degree of Swiss avant-garde eccentricity insanity inspired caused by the delirium from listening to the cuckoo clocks and yodelling all day long while eating Swiss cheese and chocolate.

Sbarro Function Car based on extremely bloated Cadillac Eldorado: http://www.diseno-art.com/encyclopedia/strange_vehicles/sbarro-function-car.html

Sbarro Windhound (mishmash of different car parts): https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2021/10/rare-rides-the-1978-sbarro-windhound-a-luxury-suv-of-6-9-litres/

Sbarro Turbot Rhino (no idea what it’s based on): http://sbarro.phcalvet.fr/voitures/turbotraction/turbot_rhino1.html

And so forth…

GertVAG
GertVAG
1 year ago

The rear taillights of the Monteverdi Safari look like Peugeot 504 wagon lights to me.

Last edited 1 year ago by GertVAG
GertVAG
GertVAG
1 year ago
Reply to  GertVAG

Also, love the point this story makes: we kept hearing about skateboard design of several EVs making bespoke models possible. I sincerely hope we will be seeing more of this with OEMs from now on. Especially as tooling can be outsourced easily.

Beceen
Beceen
1 year ago

The sierra tails seem to come from Volvo 142?

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 year ago

> taillight savants- identify those rear light clusters in the comments

Jetta?

> suv taillights

Simca 1100? Renault 5?

Last edited 1 year ago by Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
SkyRise
SkyRise
1 year ago

If I wanted a well built version of the Model S that stood out and had a nice interior, I would just buy a Lucid.

The rear proportion isn’t perfect, but the payoff is rear seat headroom, which the Model S definitely doesn’t have.

Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
1 year ago

Personally, I prefer the “hint of a grille” Model Ss like the one mid-article over the early full fake grille ones or the current no grille ones. Not that I want a Tesla for many, many reasons. Nor could I afford one regardless.

I’ve seen a few coachwork Ss over the years. As someone who prefers two doors in spite of the numerous downsides, this fixes… the styling side of things, at the very least.

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

One of us! One of us! Those Botoxed foreheads on the front of those Teslas just look like designer laziness. Bling it up, give it some jewelry.

Pisco Sour
Pisco Sour
1 year ago

The Tiara looks like something a dictator from a fictional foreign country from a spy movie would be driven in.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

I’ve always wondered if there wasn’t a market for luxuey GT style aftermarket conversions of like the Mustang or Challenger – swap out the carpets and headliner for wool, add polished burl walnut across the dash and door caps, recover the seats in top quality leather with contrast piping and cover the plastic dash and center console with the same material. Line the interior with Dynamat, stick a numbered plaque on the dash, and maybe do special rims and an reworked grille on the outside and sell it under some dead old brand, like Gilbern or Gordon Keeble or something

Mick Molte
Mick Molte
1 year ago

I’m getting strong Subaru SVX vibes from the Tesla, especially from the back.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mick Molte
AlienProbe
AlienProbe
1 year ago

The Lutteral Comahue is my most favorite coach built car. A Grail car to me if it can be called that.

P Hans
P Hans
1 year ago

There is room for improvement in the Tesla styling dept, but Im not a fan of faux anything, especially in design. The faux grill on the white Model S is awful, but I do like the black convertible roof

Last edited 1 year ago by P Hans
Sklooner
Sklooner
1 year ago

I’m gonna get some flattened beer cans and coachbuild a Changli

AlienProbe
AlienProbe
1 year ago
Reply to  Sklooner

Please flatten them with a chainsaw for authentic hand-built flare a’la chef Torchinsky.

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
1 year ago

Here’s an idea for Autopian Merch you should day-dream up… I’m shocked that there’s not a “lipstick” sticker to stick on the front of the model 3 / Y for sale (in my exhaustive 1.5 minutes spent searching for one). You should design one and sell it here.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

This is a nice clean design. As a convertible lover, I support this 100%.

However, those fancy pants rear seat passengers are going to have to climb like monkeys to get in that (beautiful) back seat. Then they’ll get buffeted by the wind (clutches pearls)! I’d love to see a 4 door version of this, preferably with suicide doors…

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 year ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

I was just about to type the same thing. Put suicides on this design, and you will have created a modern slab sided Lincoln of the mid to late 60’s.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
1 year ago

So, a cut price but more expensive Rolls Seraph then? Fits the Montverdi model nicely.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

Tesla doesn’t need a new coach builder, just new car builder.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Fit and finish on the cheapest Toyota has always been better than a number of six figure cars.

Vee
Vee
1 year ago

I think you would be better off using something a little bit… Stranger… As the headlights. To call back to the original Monteverdi quads, I’d pair the headlights from the current Fiat 500 with off the shelf LED replacement sealed beams where the 500 lights are on the outside. And to really make it something weird, you could get some aluminum CNC’d to make a plate along the bottom of the door’s flat spot with the Monteverdi logo engraved into it, and get a side-spear that gets interrupted by the wheel openings before wrapping around the front underneath the headlights and ending in a point to suggest an old-school chromed bumper. In the center of the front you could have a piece of aluminum with depressions in an octagonal grid painted black to harken back to a grille and to hold the sensor array.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
1 year ago

Lest you think it was a fluke, Monteverdi went all-in and made one or two convertible Sierra conversions from Volare coupes (though some sources say Dodge Diplomat..same thing)

Uhh, wasn’t the companion Dodge the Dodge Aspen? That’s the car I learned to drive in. The Diplomat was at least one size larger than the Volare/Aspen twins. Other than the failed Mercedes coachbuild I find the Monteverdis to be rather nice and it’s exactly the type of bizarre thing I might wish to own.

As for the updated Monteverdi design I find it rather clean and attractive. I like what you’ve done with the Tesla design.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
1 year ago

Hasn’t the whole “EV skateboard” thing been a discussion amongst those saying that there is a new coachbuilding scene around the corner? I assume all safety requirements have killed that?

I like this idea of a convertible Model S. It doesn’t need a grill though, that would make it “uncool” for Tesla people. Even the wealthy wouldn’t go for it.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 year ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I get that you were trying to evoke Montes of olde, but I think you could go in a different direction and still honor the parts bin raiding. The most obvious would be to use Lucid Air lighting. But that might be too similar to its competition. Rivian lights would open opportunities for uniqueness without being derivative of the direct competition, especially if rotated 90deg. If there was a need for a lower-cost option, I’m sure you could do something interesting with Hyundai Tucson lights.

Also, instead/in addition to the ragtop, how about incorporating the Model X’s falcon doors into a hardtop coupe with full-length doors, ala the Lamborghini Marzal? That would get the 0.2%’ers to cash in an NFT or two for a neo-Monte!

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