Quite the mouthful isn’t it? Intermeccanica Murena 429 GT. That’s fourteen syllables. It’s a long name, but then it’s a long car too. A bit of an oddball, the 429 GT was marketed as ‘the fastest wagon in the world’ upon release and was a bold combination of sleek Italian sports car design mixed with tough American underpinnings – kind of like a New York style pizza in that respect: part Italy, part USA, but all tasty. Unfortunately the sauce was too rich for most people’s blood though, as we’ll discover. But that’s enough pizza metaphors for now, let’s talk about the car.
Debuting at the New York Motor Show in 1969 it caused quite the stir with its arresting styling courtesy of Italian car maker Intermeccanica, and a 7.0-litre V8 engine pinched from the Ford Thunderbird supplying the motion lotion. Unfortunately this apparent ‘made for each other’ combination was not enough to secure any sort of longevity for the big 429 GT and after just a handful were built it faded, rather rapidly, into automotive obscurity.
The car was the brainchild of American Murena Motors head honcho Joseph Vos and fellow enthusiast Charles Schwendler. They wanted to build a fast, stylish, luxury estate car and for all intents and purposes they succeeded. It is visually stunning, there’s no denying that, and the Ford V8 produced enough power to get the car to 60mph in 7.5 seconds via a three-speed automatic gearbox, which wasn’t exactly slow considering the bulk of the thing, but unfortunately a rather exaggerated price tag of $15,000 combined with those divisive, pineapple-on-pizza looks (OK, one more) meant that the car’s fate had been sealed early doors. Sources vary on the total number of cars built; some say ten while others claim eleven but either way it wasn’t a lot and that makes the Intermeccanica Murena 429 GT an incredibly rare beast.
Although Vos and Schwendler came up with the original idea they didn’t actually build the car themselves. Construction was handed over to Italian automobile manufacturer Intermeccanica, a Turin-based firm founded by Hungarian born Canadian Frank Reisner whose initial modus operandi was the production of tuning kits for various European car makers. By the time our dynamic duo from New York arrived on the scene with their wacky wagon idea however, Intermeccanica had expanded its operations into developing and building full-blown sports cars like the Apollo GT and so they were now in a position to take on the 429 GT project and were hopeful of positive sales numbers. Sadly though, this was not to be the case.
Each Intermeccanica Murena 429 GT was coach-built in Turin and at over 5 metres long used a hell of a lot of steel. Built as a luxury shooting brake the interior was suitably plush too, with leather bucket seats all round, electric windows, air conditioning and even a mini bar. There was ample space for four adults with plenty of leg room but all of that gubbins makes for a heavy car and the Murena weighed in at over 1700kgs. It’s a good job it had such a whopping engine in the form of that big-block V8 that was pushing out 360bhp to the rear wheels as well as 480 lb-ft of torque, providing impressive performance for such a large, weighty car. It also came equipped with Girling disc brakes at all four corners so the car stopped as well as it went. Despite this somewhat sporty nature the suspension was set up more for comfort with independent wishbones up front and a live axle configuration at the back so the ride was more relaxed than racy.
Because the car borrowed the powerplant and drivetrain from the Ford Thunderbird, mechanically it’s a robust and simple affair and so any parts and repair costs here shouldn’t be too extortionate. Unfortunately, due to its hand-built body, trim panels and interior pieces will be incredibly hard to come by and the all-steel body also makes the Murena particularly susceptible to rot. Although not particularly involving to drive with its boat-like handling the Intermeccanica Murena 429 GT is more of an art installation on wheels. It accomplished exactly what it was built to do, which was to be an exclusive, luxury wagon that looked good and could hustle at the same time. Mission accomplished then, the only thing it didn’t manage was actually, you know, sales.
We love cars like the Intermeccanica Murena 429 GT here at Car & Classic – those one-offs that were built solely because someone had a desire to build it, not because there was a gap in the market or to fulfil some kind of contractual obligation. Just an idea for a car that came to fruition because of someone’s vision, determination and love and sadly that kind of thing doesn’t happen very often any more. Yes there is a greater risk attached to such passion projects but there is also greater reward and whether commercially successful or not us car fans get treated to these wonderful machines. Despite invariably being at odds with the norm or trends of the time it cannot be denied that these cars enhance the rich tapestry of the automotive landscape which would be distinctly more barren without them.
The Intermeccanica Murena 429 GT is an unusual, exceptionally rare car with striking looks and a strong V8 engine that proudly treads the same path as other American-powered, Italian beauties like the De Tomaso Pantera and Iso Grifo. A genuine head-turner that you’ll likely never get to witness in the flesh, sadly. We want to see more loud and proud cars with such individuality like the Murena, so long may people continue to put fruit on their pizzas.