Giovanni Moretti made his name with racing engines for motorcycles. Following World War II, he began making small automobiles, the first powered by his own vertical twin-cylinder engine. In 1950, he developed a 4-cylinder overhead-cam engine, in both 600-cc and 750-cc sizes. Built on a backbone chassis, it was a lively package and available in several body styles.
Morettis achieved significant competition success, particularly those fitted with the twin-cam version of the 750 engine. Bodies came from the likes of Zagato and Michelotti, and included coupes, spiders, barchettas, and berlinettas. Particularly attractive was the Michelotti berlinetta, which was perfectly proportioned, despite its diminutive size.
The first of some 10 750 Gran Sport Berlinettas imported by Ernie McAfee, the legendary California Italian-car guru and sports-car racer, it was exported by the late Raymond Milo to the Netherlands in 2005. Following a painstaking nut-and-bolt restoration, the car returned to the United States several years ago. Finished in its correct original colors of red and black, this fine Moretti has black leather seats and gray carpeting. The engine, originally from the GS Barchetta chassis 1294, has been completely rebuilt and nicely detailed. It runs perfectly, and the car drives and performs virtually as-new.
|Vehicle:||1953 Moretti 750 Gran Sport Berlinetta|
|Original List Price:||$4,200|
|Tune Up Cost:||$375|
|Chassis Number Location:||Engine bulkhead on plate|
|Engine Number Location:||Bottom left side of block|
This car, Lot 122, sold for $174,720, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Auctions Villa Erba sale at Cernobbio, ITA, on May 25, 2013.
True confession time: I loved this car. I always have. I lusted for it in the worst way and considered raiding my retirement fund to buy it. My affection had been so openly displayed when it was previewed at the RM Amelia Island sale in March, the RM crew was certain that they at least had an underbidder for the car and that it would surely be sold. It did sell, but not to me. I didn’t even lift my paddle.
What set Moretti apart from the scrum of small-bore race-car manufacturers was that he was the creator of an original engine, unlike the many long-standing Fiat tuners.
Nevertheless, like his rivals, his company peaked in the early to mid-1950s. This was a time when the racing scene was such that wealthy — and sometimes gifted — amateurs could compete with some success in circuit racing, distance rallies, road races and hillclimbs in a bewildering array of small-displacement specials, “Fiat elaborata” or modified sedans and miniature GT cars.
The prime of the true Etceterini was from 1946 to 1957. With the end of the “proper” Mille Miglia, the air seemed to come out of the balloon. While Moretti did not have an ending as debased as Siata with the Vignale Spring, he also turned to tuning Fiats. Many of Moretti’s last offerings had some of the desperate air of Ford’s late Ghia models. Like their competitor Siata, Moretti soldiered on through the 1960s and onwards, expiring with a Fiat Uno-based Turbo in 1989.
A small, fast winner
Motive power for the 750 Gran Sport was a high-revving, lively twin-cam engine with dual Weber carburetors. It is recorded that nearly 100 chassis numbers for the model were listed for the FIA, although it has been written that perhaps 20 or so coupes were actually built, along with an unknown number of spiders. The cars had a good record in competition. Ernie McAfee in California loved the cars and probably sold more of them than anyone in the world. They were quite costly, at $4,200 in 1953. There were many more glamorous and powerful alternatives at that price point — but few with the panache of the 750 Gran Sport.
The cars weighed approximately 1,100 pounds or a bit less, so the 71 horsepower from the 750-cc engine punches substantially above its weight class. Driving one of these cars is far more entertaining than a reading of the specs on the page might suggest.
I’ve always been a small-bore guy. For me, traveling at 9/10ths in an under-1-liter car is every bit as exciting at moving along at 6/10s in a 170-mph 12-cylinder GT. It’s true that you have to pay more attention to what you’re doing, as if you get into a tough situation, you can’t power your way out if your foot is already buried in the firewall.
Nevertheless, these cars were quite successful in class competition in their time, and they provide more than adequate entertainment today. In addition, the looks are simply stunning.
A tough fit
It’s very difficult to make a very small car look good — and until you see it in the flesh, you’ll have no idea how truly tiny this car is. But it has lots of room inside — if your thighs fit under the steering wheel. But I didn’t fit, and I would have had to replace the lovely steering wheel with a smaller-diameter one in order to shift, accelerate and turn it at the same time. It was a good excuse to leave my retirement account alone. The new owner is an SCMer who sold a car from his collection a few lots earlier in the sale for seven figures. I knew I didn’t stand a chance bidding against him, so I was off the hook.
This example was restored to a very good standard, painted and trimmed well, with well-fitted body panels. The car appeared to show evidence of recent mechanical upkeep. That there was no visible mounting hardware for license plates also indicated the use for which the car was intended.
Although the catalog implies that this is the very car that Road & Track tested, discussion among marque experts indicates that solid proof of that may be lacking. Its print fame notwithstanding, any ready-to-run Moretti Gran Sport with a correct engine is a valuable proposition.
YouTube has a video shot from rabid Etceterino Alex Vazeos’ Moretti 750 GS (search for “Moretti” and “Villa d’Este”) as he is about to drive through the reviewing line at the 2012 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. The racket inside the car as it idles is deafening — a clear indication of the less-than-refined nature of this pint-sized GT. While its body promises sophistication and elegance, it’s very much a pure competition tool.
A small pool of enthusiasts
You have to be brave and committed to spend three days with little sleep in a Moretti on the Mille Miglia. Imagine a week inside the chaos during a Colorado Grand or New England 1000. If I owned one, I would most likely sacrifice originality for a bit more upholstery and sound deadening, as this one had.
In its lifetime, our subject car has crossed the Atlantic five times. RM sold this car in 2010 at their Monaco sale for $205,178. It clearly brought rather less, just about minus 15% in dollars, but minus 11% in euros in three years. I don’t think it’s a reflection on the car, which to my eyes appeared a bit better in person this year than it did in photos in 2010.
It had been on offer in the private market for €140,000 ($181,146) so while the seller received a bit less, the market price was about right. Why didn’t it bring more? The particular charms of a car such as this, which must be explained wherever you go, have a relatively small pool of enthusiasts. I’m pleased to count myself among them. ?
(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)