Monica 560 - how not to sell luxury cars

Before World War II there was no shortage of French luxury cars. Companies such as Bugatti, Delahaye,Talbot-Lago, and Delage sold well with the help of coachbuilders such as Chapron, Saoutchik, and Franay creating superb bodies for their cars. After the war however a new age of shortages began, with government taxation discouraging the purchase of anything other than the most basic motorcar. Facel Vega manufactured limousines for a brief period but thanks to the French horsepower tax they had to export most of their production of the Facel Vega HK500 V8 GT(estimated at just 490) and by 1964 that business was dead. It was perhaps a very brave decision by railway engineer Jean Tastevin to build a new French luxury car.

Tastevin ran a successful business manufacturing mining and railway equipment but he was interested in cars and wanted to diversify his business. So, in 1966 he started to plan his new venture. Since he knew little about car manufacture he decided to team up with Chris Lawrence, a racing car driver and motor engineer, who had designed a 2.6 litre version of a Standard 10 engine producing a claimed 182 bhp. Tastevin asked Lawrence if he could produce 250 engines a year for him, and eventually let him design the car, to be called the Monica after his wife.

Designing the car became one enormous problem. Lawrence came to the conclusion that the Standard 10 engine was too rough running for a luxury car, and it was likely to be discontinued anyway so he persuaded Tastevin to opt for one designed by a friend of his, Ted Martin, instead. Rolls-Royce first indicated that they would be happy to produce these engines but they landed a big defence contract and so bowed out. Another potential manufacturer, Coventry Victor, agreed to take the job on but they went bankrupt after producing just 18 engines. Lawrence started to build the engines himself but technical problems including blown head gaskets and delayed deliveries of castings caused further problems.

Tastevin then turn to Chrysler in the United States, who agreed to supply their 5.6 litre V8 engine. Unfortunately this proved unreliable and considerable modifications were necessary. In the meanwhile numerous bodywork changes were made.

It is hardly surprising that between 1966 and 1973, when the Monica 560 made it's debut at the Geneva auto show, no less than 22 hand made prototypes had been built!

Finally, after a delay of seven years, the car seemed to be ready for production. However, there was an oil crisis. Sales of big, heavy, fuel guzzling cars collapsed. The Monica was up for sale for just a fraction less than the price of the much better-known Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and in October 1974 Tastevin announced that he was pulling out of the project after just eight cars were reputed to have been finished.

The Tastevins kept three cars for their own use, and five were sold to car dealer Bernie Ecclestone. Around 30 uncompleted cars were sold to French racing driver Guy Ligier but it seems that these were never finished off and other attempts to resume production have come to nothing.

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