Even the most level-headed of car companies can be brought down by forces outside its control. The risk of this generally decreases over time, as the company has a chance to grow and expand…but when's the last time you've seen an independent car company enter production with a viable business model in the last, oh, 30 years? Tesla? The "new" General Motors?
By all accounts, the Monica 560 is a great super luxurious French sedan, on the same level as standard fare from Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Maserati, and Mercedes-Benz—but more sporting, like rivals that included the Iso Fidia and Aston Martin Lagonda. Thirty Monicas were made, and likely its face-less look is what kept the well-heeled buyers away.
I can't think of any other reason to not covet this car. French industrialist Jean Tastevin's company, according to ranwhenparked.net, built and rented train cars across Europe—as many as 25% of the cars in use, in fact. So with a stable business and some money in his pocket, what better idea to have then to resurrect the great French GT car?
With Facel Vega and Bugatti long gone by the '70s, Tastevin's vision for the car was largely similar to its kin: V8 engine, comfortable, sporting chassis, and unparalleled long-legged performance. Tastevin needed a visionary young engineer to build the car, and he turned to Chris Lawrence. In The Guardian's obituary, it's stated:
"There was a brief foray into Formula 1 in the new three-litre formula in 1966 with a Ferrari-engined Cooper and a twin Mini-engined Deep Sanderson, but it was the Monica project, an exotic luxury saloon car built for a French industrialist, Jean Tastevin, that would come to define the second half of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s for Chris.
"Chris designed the entire car, which was named after the patron's wife, Monique. The convoluted development process generated 25 prototypes as the Monica's luxury ambitions and weight increased. Chris, creating the car with his team in a large railway arch in Chiswick, made frequent trips to France, squabbling with Tastevin's French engineers as tensions grew about the Monica being "too English".
"The finished Monica of 1974 was a graceful, refined and sophisticated 150 mph vehicle and a remarkable effort for a man who had very little experience of luxury road cars. Its only true shortcoming was mistiming; in the wake of the oil crisis, the market for thirsty, expensive cars had collapsed; in the end, only 10 true Monica production cars were built in France. Bernie Ecclestone, then a car dealer, bought the last three at less than half-price."
Priced initially far above many of its contemporaries and on par with the very best—the only luxury car more expensive for 1974 was a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, at 165,000 francs. The Monica 560 was prices at 164,000 francs. Slumming it in a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL cost a paltry 104,000 francs.
But I bet all you're wondering is if Ecclestone still has one—or all—of the three he once bought for a song.
What I'm wondering is if Tastevin was one of the more ambitious of startups: the car was named after his wife, it had originally been designed around a bespoke, belt-driven ex-F1 V8 engine, and some 22 prototypes were completed before production began. The concern he started in 1967 lasted until early in 1975.
To say the Monica is unsuccessful is to miss the point: it's apparently a pretty good car. The business side of things, however, needed some work. In roughly seven years, this company built about 30 vehicles, around 10 of which were production models…with at least three sold at a significant loss. Some say as many as 17 production cars were made, but in my mind that makes its situation even more hopeless: how could the company not find buyers?
Oh, right, I almost forgot: Would you be willing to wait in line for fuel with your brand-new Monica 560?