Excluding the Facel Vega, France did not build many luxury cars in the 3 decades after World War 2, mainly because of a car-taxation policy which legislated heavily against any vehicle with an engine of 2.8 liters or more. The Monica was a rare...and all too short lived exception.
The Monica was the brainchild of Jean Tastevin, proprietor of a company called Compagnie Francaise des Produits Metallurgiques, which specialised in building railway rolling stock. In 1967, Tastevin foresaw that the demand for railway wagons would gradually ease off, so he began to look around for alternatives to occupy his factory at Balbigny, near Lyon.
Being a motoring enthusiast, he decided to build a sports car and, by sheer coincidence, he read a report in a French motoring magazine about the British Racing Car Show in London which mentioned a highly tuned engine being produced by Chris Lawrence. Lawrence was, at that time, well known in British motor-racing circles for his very fast Morgan sports cars which were powered by tuned Triumph engines, and at the Racing Car Show he had exhibited a 2.6-liter version giving a claimed 150 bhp.
This engine seemed ideal to Tastevin as it would be adequately powerful for a sports car, yet still be below the French 2.8-liter taxation limit. Tastevin eventually established contact with Lawrence and asked him if he could supply 500 engines a year, but Lawrence knew that this was a very tall order for his small workshops. It was soon evident that Tastevin had no clear idea of the design of the car, so Lawrence persuaded the Frenchman to let him carry out the complete design of the car.
Switching from a Sports Car to Luxury Saloon
The initial plan was for a two-seater sports car powered by the Triumph engine but, by 1968, Lawrence had convinced Tastevin that a better market lay in the luxury-saloon-car field, so the emphasis was switched from the sports car to a bigger four-door four-seater. The Triumph engine was not suitable for this car, so Lawrence decided to use the Martin V8, a 3-liter engine which had been used almost entirely in motor racing.
However, there were many problems involved in persuading this engine to run reliably, something it had frequently failed to do in its racing days, and much time was lost in finding someone to make it work properly. The chassis design was quite advanced, featuring a semi-space-frame construction of square-section steel tubes, with built up sheet-steel structures to take the front and rear suspension and the scuttle area; the front sub frame was bolted on similar to that of the Jaguar E-type.
The production Monica, powered by a Chrusler 5.9 liter V8.
Additional chassis stiffness was imparted by the sheet-steel side box members which contained the fuel tanks, but these had to be re-sited later because of European safety legislation. The front suspension utilised a pair of vertically mounted coil spring/damper units, operated by large rocking-arm upper wishbones, while conventional lower wishbones were fitted. One stipulation made by Tastevin was that the car should run very straight at speed on bumpy French roads, so a de Dion rear axle was specified for the rear suspension, location being by radius arms and a Panhard rod, with coil springs as the suspending medium.
The differential was taken from the Rover 3500
, using a crown wheel and pinion made by Hewland, but a novel refinement was the addition of a nosepiece giving the choice of two axle ratios, the idea being to use a low axle ratio around town and to change to the high-geared one for fast cruising; a lever arrangement in the cockpit allowed the axle ratio to be changed while on the move. The German ZF 5-speed gearbox was specified, rack-and-pinion steering was fitted and braking was by 12 in ventilated Girling discs at the front and 10 in non-ventilated discs at the rear of the car.
The body went through many changes of design, the prototype mostly being made in aluminum, but it was finally decided to build the body in steel with final assembly being undertaken at the Balbigny factory. Several years were lost in sorting out the body design and in attempting to obtain reliability from the Martin engine. Production was about to begin in 1972, but Tastevin deeided that the Martin engine was not good enough and he rapidly switched to the US built Chrysler V8 engine and three-speed automatic gearbox used by several other exotic-car builders. However, for the strong-armed type, the ZF five-speed box was still available.
Lawrence engineered the new installation and tested the car quickly, a small pilot production line getting under way in 1973. By 1974, the Monica (named after Tastevin's wife, Monique), was finally in full production at no more than one or two cars a week, priced in Britain at around £14,000, making it one of the more expensive cars available in Britain. Just twelve months and 38 cars later, CFPM abandoned the Monica project, feeling that it was diversifying its resources and facilities over too wide a field and fearing the uncertainty of the Monica's appeal during the worsening fuel crisis.
Like the ill-fated Gordon-Keeble, the Monica had been a promising concept but was thwarted by circumstances and the whims of a narrow specialist market. With body tooling facilities in Italy and chassis tooling held by Ligier in France there were rumblings that the Monica might yet be revived - it wasn't.
Also see: Monica 560 Review (AUS Edition)