Missing prestige

Initially the entrepreneur wanted his creation to be produced entirely in French territory, but during its development he had to rely on components and professionals from other countries.

Create a prestige car than can compete with the most famous marques of the time, giving back a prominent place in the exclusive market in your own country. That was the goal of Jean Tastevin (1919 – 2016), French entrepreneur, president and CEO of the Compagnie Française des Produits Metallurgiques, who, in 1967, started on the design of his car, creating a division within his factory in Balbigny, near St. Etienne. The new luxury marque was called Monica, in honour of his wife, Monique.

Initially the entrepreneur wanted his creation to be produced entirely in French territory, but during its development he had to rely on components and professionals from other countries. Chris Lawrence (1933 – 2011) and his company, LawrenceTune, were first on the list, originally contacted for their interesting developments of the Standard-Triumph engine, which it was originally thought might be fitted to the new French sports car. The agreement between Tastevin and the English engineer went beyond the mere supply of engines, though, and the latter also took care of the construction of the first car’s chassis, comprising a central tunnel of steel tubes to which were added two long boxes in the same material, which contributed towards the structural stiffness.

As for the suspension, at the front vertically mounted coil-over damper units were operated by swing arms with wishbone lower arms whilst at the rear a De Dion systems with coil springs and a Panhard rod were used. During the development phase the Monica’s design changed from a sporty two-seater to a luxurious four-door saloon, this change pushing Lawrence to find an alternative to his engine, which would be too noisy for such a prestigious car. So Ted Martin, who was making a 3-litre V8 for racing cars at that time, was approached for his engine, which was considered to be ideal for use in the new French flagship due to its characteristics and power,.

Meanwhile the first prototype took shape, but was discarded for being not original enough; indeed it was clearly inspired by Panhards, especially around the front. The second prototype was more streamlined and sporting, pointing the designers in the right direction. Tudor Rascanu (1934 – 1970), former sales manager at Vignale, also came on board to help and added an extra touch of style to the Monica with a more aerodynamic front end, characterised by retractable headlights; these features were also used on the third prototype, which had its steel body constructed by Carrozzeria Vignale but, despite the significant improvements made, Tastevin wanted his car to look even better.

The study and construction of further prototypes continued and Lawrence was asked to look for other companies who could supply the bodywork, including the British manufacturer Jensen, although the best solution was offered by Airflow Streamline, a company based in Luton, Bedfordshire which specialised in the production of aluminium cabs for trucks. In 1970 there was a setback: Rascanu died and the project stalled whilst a replacement who could complete the designs was sought. David Coward, illustrator for Autocar magazine, was identified as the right figure to take over the late Rascanu’s project and, starting from the latter’s drawings, he lowered the lines of the windows and with a few targeted retouches made the car even more appealing and modern.

With this phase of the Monica’s design complete, the engine problem remained to be solved, since the Martin V8, despite various improvements, was still unreliable. Hence Tastevin decided to rely on the American Chrysler Corp for the supply of a 5600 cc V8 engine (hence the name Monica 560). The definitive Monica was presented in 1974 at the Paris Show, but the car’s life only continued until 1975, when, after fewer than 10 productions cars had been built, Tastevin decided to abandon the car and sold all the designs and prototypes to Ligier, who never resumed its production.

Thus ended the dream of the French entrepreneur, brought about for various reasons including the oil crisis of the 1970s which decimated the demand for cars with big engines, and also the car’s high price, which helped to drive away buyers who, for a very similar amount of money, could buy a very prestigious Rolls-Royce with far more history and class than Monica could ever compete with.

In 1976 came the news of a possible revival of the project by Robert Jankel (1938 – 2005), founder of the British car manufacturer Panther Westwinds, but that never actually left the ground and the Monica project came to a final full stop.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

Copyright © Cars Forgotten Stories. All rights reserved.


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