Sub5Zero Fantasy Collection: Monteverdi Hai 450 SS
It seems like in the 1960s and early ‘70s, you couldn’t have swung a dead cat-shaped bong without hitting a limited-production American V8-powered European exotic. Certainly the Ford-powered DeTomaso Pantera and Mangusta are pretty well known, and many car cognoscenti are familiar with Bizzarrini’s voluptuous, Chevy Small Block-motivated 5300GT Strada.
But what about fans of Mopar powertrains? Sure, the lovely Facel Vegas featured Chrysler mills, but they fall much closer to the relaxed grand tourer end of the spectrum than they do the raucous sports car end. No, we’re looking for something that has the engine in the middle, a wedgey shape and a devil-may-care attitude. Something like…the 1970 Monteverdi Hai 450 SS.
Now before you start making witty remarks in LOLspeak, know that Hai is the German word for “shark.” The Hai 450 SS was the fastest and wildest road car built by Swiss racer and entrepreneur Peter Monteverdi up to that point. The chassis looked a bit crude (as it was fabricated from steel square tubing), but was actually fairly sophisticated, featuring double wishbone suspension at the front and a trick vertical DeDion tube/Watts linkage setup in the rear. The chassis was wrapped with a low slung steel body penned by Trevor Fiore of the Italian styling house Fissore. One of Fiore’s other assignments around this time was a successor to the Alpine A310 which never reached production and, when looking at the rear ¾ views of the A310 and the Hai, it’s easy to believe that project may have influenced the Hai’s lines.
And what of the powertrain, you ask? Monteverdi initially planned to use the latest evolution of the 440 cubic inch (7.2L) Magnum V8, known internally as the “F” Series; an earlier version of the 440-powered the Monteverdi High Speed 375 series. But, as the story goes, Peter Monteverdi saw a 426 cubic inch (7.0L) Hemi sitting on a stand at Chrysler’s Export-Import Division offices and decided he wanted to use it instead. Fitted with two four-barrel carburetors and air conditioning (the latter not offered on Hemi-powered Plymouth and Dodge production models), the engine was rated at 450hp (hence the “450” in the model’s name) and 490 lb.-ft of torque. It was paired with a ZF-sourced 5-speed manual transaxle, which was by far the most popular gearbox among independent mid-engine sports car builders during that period.
Consider all of the above, plus factor in a claimed curb weight of 2,750 lb., and it should be no surprise that the Hai’s performance was very, very good for the period (and is still quite respectable today). Tests showed it would sprint to 60 mph from a standstill in about 4.9 seconds, while top speed was nearly 180 mph with a tall enough final drive ratio fitted. Driving a Hai at over a buck-seventy is surely an entertaining experience, not least of all because you have the legendary “Elephant Motor” booming away next to you. What? The Hai was designed with a fairly short 100.3-inch wheelbase, and because the occupants, engine and most of the transmission all have to fit within it, something had to give; the result is a large, leather-upholstered bulge between the seatbacks to provide room for the front of the Hemi (You can see how it looks with the seats and engine cover removed below.).
So, if you had to venture a guess, how many Hais were made? 100? 50? Try two: the magenta-hued original seen here, and a second red example, which featured a slightly longer wheelbase, trim changes and other tweaks that warranted a name change to Hai 450 GTS. The other 47 that Monteverdi planned to build did not come to fruition, though two replicas were built by the factory from spare parts in the early ‘90s; both of those cars currently reside in the company museum in Basel. Why didn’t the Hai reach full production? Well, for starters, the Hai cost $27,000 brand new, which was about the same price as a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. Which one do you think most people in that income bracket would have rather had? Another factor, though it might not have been known at the time, was that 1971 would be the last year for the 426 Street Hemi.
It’s said that the stars that burn brightest burn out the earliest. The Monteverdi Hai was certainly a bright star in what we consider the first golden age of supercars, but it never got the chance to shine alongside the likes of the Ferrari Daytona and the Lamborghini Miura. It’s unlikely it would have had a huge influence on the genre even if all 49 examples were built (though we can almost picture Chrysler giving Hais to some of its most successful factory racing drivers like Richard Petty and Ronnie Sox), but even if the initial 450 SS had been the only one built, it would not have changed the fact that the Hai is an outrageous car with an equally outrageous engine and can put up outrageous numbers. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why we’re parking it in our dream garage.