MISSED OP­POR­TU­NITY

Im­pec­ca­bly styled, in­side and out, it’s not just rar­ity that breeds de­sire in the case of the gor­geous Moretti 2300S

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS RICHARD HE­SEL­TINE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TONY BAKER

Richard He­sel­tine drives a true uni­corn: the fab­u­lous Fiat-based Moretti 2300S

He dis­plays ev­ery tooth he still pos­sesses, the sun glint­ing off his hair­less pate like the re­frac­tion from a di­a­mond. Our new friend can­not help but pass com­ment, en­quir­ing as to the ori­gins of the glam­orous rag­top be­ing ma­noeu­vred into place be­fore him. Let­ting on that it’s a 1963 Moretti 2300S elic­its a re­ac­tion, just not one of recog­ni­tion. He raises a bushy eye­brow, smiles blankly and nods be­fore walk­ing away, only for an­other in­quisi­tor to si­dle up and take his place. It has been like this all morn­ing.

No, it isn’t a Maserati. No, it doesn’t have a V12. Yes, Moretti is a type of beer. Your jaw un­clenches only long enough for you to won­der openly why we’re pho­tograph­ing it in a layby in deep­est, dark­est Sur­rey; one that is ap­par­ently best avoided af­ter dark un­less you en­joy peep­ing though steamed-up car win­dows of an evening.

All of which is a world away from the im­ages the Moretti con­jures in your mind’s eye; ones that flicker be­fore you like a slide show. It’s a coach­built ex­otic that screams La Dolce Vita, that brings to mind a star of the sil­ver screen with a bomb­shell in the pas­sen­ger seat, or a boot­strap in­dus­tri­al­ist on a ro­man­tic assig­na­tion above the Ital­ian Lakes with his mistress. Or a… Well, you get the idea. This car fires your imag­i­na­tion long be­fore you get be­hind the wheel. It looks sen­sa­tional. Be­neath the ve­neer of artistry, how­ever, it is es­sen­tially a gussied-up Fiat.

None of which mat­ters. Moretti strad­dled the line be­tween car­rozze­ria and car man­u­fac­turer, and nowhere is that more ap­par­ent than with the 2300S, which was among the high­lights of a back-story not ex­actly lack­ing in mile­stones. Mar­que founder Gio­vanni Moretti was noth­ing if not am­bi­tious, that’s for sure. Born in Reg­gio Emilia in 1904, he re­ceived an early ground­ing in all things me­chan­i­cal fol­low­ing the death of his fa­ther just eight years later. He sup­ported his fam­ily by toil­ing away in his un­cle’s work­shop prior to join­ing air­craft firm Reg­giane. Then, in 1920, he took a train ride to Turin to take up a po­si­tion at the Ladetto mo­tor­cy­cle fac­tory. He quickly rose through the ranks to be­come the com­pany’s chief en­gi­neer be­fore go­ing it alone and con­struct­ing the first Moretti mo­tor­cy­cle in 1926. He fol­lowed through with a se­ries of small, three-wheeler lor­ries that fea­tured CM en­gines, then moved on to pro­duc­ing a skimpy cy­cle­car that re­mained unique.

Scroll for­ward to the early 1940s, and Moretti brought var­i­ous elec­tric com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles to mar­ket. He also at­tempted to in­tro­duce a bat­tery-pow­ered sa­loon car, but it failed to find favour. Un­daunted, a new pro­to­type with an in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine was al­ready on the draw­ing board, the tiny Moretti Cita 600 be­ing un­veiled at the 1949 Turin show. This twin­cylin­der de­vice failed to take flight, but it did lead to a raft of spin-offs. The only ones that caught the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion were the four­cylin­der 600 and 750 mod­els, which spawned sa­loon, con­vert­ible and es­tate-car vari­ants. The lat­ter strain found some level of fame, if only at home, af­ter a brace of works en­tries fin­ished first and se­cond in the 1100cc class of the 16,000km 1952 Al­giers to Cape Town Rally. A spe­cial twin-over­head-cam en­gine was also pro­duced, which went on to find suc­cess in sports-car rac­ing and sin­gle-seater ap­pli­ca­tions. This same unit – with

a 1.2-litre dis­place­ment – also found its way into an achingly pretty, Gio­vanni Mich­e­lotti-styled coupé that was sold pri­mar­ily in the US, where it was a pro­lific win­ner trackside.

But there was a prob­lem, in that the profit mar­gin on these cars was slen­der at best, and man­u­fac­ture of in-house en­gines was all but over by 1960. Dress­ing main­stream fod­der clearly rep­re­sented the fu­ture. In 1960, Fab­brica Au­to­mo­bili Moretti of­fered its own take on ev­ery model in the Fiat line-up. It also dab­bled in For­mula Ju­nior sin­gle-seaters with a de­sign by Aquilino Branca. The firm soon re­plen­ished its cof­fers thanks to strong sales of its vans and small trucks based on the Fiat 600 Mul­ti­pla, be­fore cre­at­ing a halo prod­uct: the 2300S.

Un­veiled at the Novem­ber 1962 Turin Mo­tor Show, the daz­zling range-top­per was penned by Mich­e­lotti and based on a Fiat 2300 plat­form. This brave new world was sharply styled, if per­haps not cut­ting-edge, and fur­ther vari­ants in­evitably fol­lowed, of the mix ’n’ match va­ri­ety. Some edi­tions fea­tured stan­dard Fiat run­ning gear and pressed-steel rims rather than wire wheels. Lightly restyled four-seater open and closed edi­tions boasted straighter belt­lines and squared-off rear body­work, as here. In 2500SS form, the donor car’s straight-six en­gine was bored out to 2458cc (from 2279cc), its mak­ers claim­ing a power out­put of 135bhp. That, and a top speed of 130mph. What’s more, it cost only Lire75,000 (about £800 in to­day’s money) more than the Ghia-styled Fiat 2300S Coupé.

‘Our’ cabri­o­let is one of only two known sur­vivors, the other liv­ing in The Nether­lands, while a sin­gle two-seater Spi­der ex­ists in derelict con­di­tion in Malta. This leads you to sus­pect that pro­duc­tion of all kinds didn’t amount to much; it prob­a­bly didn’t even stretch into dou­ble fig­ures. How it came to be in Blighty re­mains un­recorded, but it landed in 1967 and stayed with one owner for 39 years. Its cur­rent keeper, Paul de Tur­ris of DTR Euro­pean Sports Cars, in­vested – rather ap­pro­pri­ately – around 2300 hours over seven years restor­ing the Moretti.

“I first saw the car in 2006,” he says. “It had had nu­mer­ous and var­ied re­pairs to all the lower

‘It is breath­tak­ing, the styling echo­ing ev­ery­thing from BMW 507 to Fer­rari 250; it’s hard not to stare at this car without drool­ing’

sec­tions, and had clearly been in­volved in an al­ter­ca­tion at some point. It had lost most of the cor­rect shap­ing along with the front bumper. It started, but that was about it. I made an of­fer, but the owner wanted to auc­tion it and the car was sold to a chap on the south coast. I con­tacted him re­peat­edly over the fol­low­ing five years in an at­tempt to buy it, but without suc­cess. In the mean­time, he dis­man­tled the car and re­moved var­i­ous pan­els for fu­ture re­place­ment but got no fur­ther. We even­tu­ally agreed on what I thought was a lot of money, and the deal was done.

“The Moretti came to our work­shop in March 2011 and we set about strip­ping the car to a bare shell then gar­net-blasted what was left. The dam­aged front pan­els were re­made cor­rectly by us­ing the off­side one as an in­verted pat­tern. This, it turned out, was not how Moretti built it. The pan­els were not re­motely sym­met­ri­cal, or even sim­i­lar from one side to the other. Typ­i­cally of coach­built cars, the doors are a dif­fer­ent length. We put about 1000 hours into the met­al­work and re­shap­ing the body, and took the sills apart to put a lit­tle more strength into the cen­tre sec­tion be­cause we were con­cerned that, due to the size of the car, there would be too much give in the mid­dle. Door skins were re­made, and we fash­ioned the front bumper, which ac­counted for around 100 hours. The chrome fixed nose sec­tions were the ref­er­ence point and we built it back from there. The me­chan­i­cals were all Fiat 2300S, so were not too dif­fi­cult to work on. We light­ened and bal­anced the bot­tom end of the en­gine and ev­ery­thing else was re­newed. The in­te­rior was re­built from pho­tos, although we took the lib­erty of re­plac­ing the orig­i­nal vinyl with seven hides’ worth of Scot­tish leather.”

The re­sults are spec­tac­u­lar. It is breath­tak­ing, the frontal styling echo­ing ev­ery­thing from the BMW 507 to the Fer­rari 250GT SWB Ber­tone Spe­ciale, but without look­ing like a di­rect crib. It’s also hand­some in pro­file, and free from much in the way of ex­tra­ne­ous tin­sel. Only the vast rear over­hang lets the side down, the cropped tail of the two-seater Spi­der vari­ant be­ing more at­trac­tive. Even so, it’s hard not to stare at this beau­ti­ful car without drool­ing.

This con­tin­ues in­side. Much comes from the Fiat 2300S, not least door fur­ni­ture and the pas­sen­ger grab­han­dle. The dash­board is log­i­cal, and the gauges are easy to read be­hind the vast tiller. It’s oh-so com­fort­able, too. No re­view of an Ital­ian car in a Bri­tish mo­tor­ing ti­tle was once com­plete without ref­er­ence to a long-arms, short-legs driv­ing stance; the ‘ape-like’ cliché. There isn’t even a trace of that here. Noth­ing is a reach away, and the seats of­fer de­cent back­side an­chor­age. It’s all very swanky and oh-so stylish.

‘Be­tween 3500 and 5000rpm, it gets into its stride and sounds su­perb; a deep growl spliced with faint in­duc­tion roar’

It’s with a tinge of an­tic­i­pa­tion that you fire up the ‘six’. Yes, there’s none of the theatre you get with more thor­ough­bred fare of the pe­riod, but that’s no bad thing. The Fiat unit is more re­fined than you might imag­ine, too. It’s also rel­a­tively un­com­pli­cated, the only im­ped­i­ment to progress at low speeds be­ing the steer­ing. Hal­cyon turns to hellish when ma­noeu­vring be­cause the unas­sisted sys­tem feels beyond heavy, to the point that you cuss a blue streak. That, and sweat. Once on the move, how­ever, it light­ens.

This isn’t a par­tic­u­larly sport­ing car – and Moretti’s per­for­mance fig­ures were al­ways fan­ci­ful – but it’s far from slow. Be­tween 3500 and 5000rpm, it gets into its stride and sounds su­perb; a deep growl spliced with faint in­duc­tion roar. The long, slen­der gear­lever doesn’t in­spire racy changes, and there’s no room for tac­til­ity when shift­ing from se­cond to third in par­tic­u­lar, but the four-speed ’box isn’t pon­der­ous. The 2300S is bet­ter over bumps than most modern cars we can think of, and there are no creaks or groans through the struc­ture. Prior ex­pe­ri­ence of coach­built cars of this ilk leads you to ex­pect a de­gree of flop­pi­ness, but that isn’t the case here. As for han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, it’s hard to tell given our ur­ban test route, but the Moretti doesn’t do any­thing un­to­ward when driven with a lit­tle gusto. This is more boule­vardier than back-road tear­away, but you as­sume as much.

The real shame is that Moretti didn’t fol­low through and pro­duce fur­ther ex­ot­ica. Save a one­off, Maserati 3500Gt-based ma­chine, it didn’t cre­ate any­thing quite so daz­zling in later years. A re­turn to al­ter­na­tive power sources with the Elet­trica (a Fiat 500 loaded to the gun­wales with bat­ter­ies) bombed. Rather more suc­cess­ful was the range of cars based on Fiat 850 run­ning gear. Pro­duc­tion be­gan in 1964, with Mich­e­lotti again em­ployed to pen their out­lines. How­ever, the de­sign de­ity’s un­der­study, Dany Brawand, was taken on that same year to run Moretti’s new styling de­part­ment, the Swiss con­ceiv­ing a se­ries of baby GTS based on Fiat 850 Sport plat­forms that sold well from 1967-’71.

By the dawn of the 1980s, Moretti had been re­duced to per­form­ing chop-top con­ver­sions on the Panda, Uno and Ritmo (Strada) mod­els. It didn’t help that ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers were by then bring­ing pro­duc­tion of niche ve­hi­cles in-house, and this was true of Fiat. The writ­ing was on the wall, and se­cond-gen­er­a­tion prin­ci­pals Ser­gio and Gianni Moretti ended all car-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties in 1984. The firm con­tin­ued to op­er­ate in the com­mer­cial-ve­hi­cle arena, be­fore sell­ing to ri­val Scioneri in the early ’90s. The name­plate is cur­rently owned by a Dutch­man; don’t bet against it be­ing re­heated.

Moretti isn’t a mar­que that re­sounds with most en­thu­si­asts, but it does if your tastes stretch to low-vol­ume Ital­ian ma­chin­ery. This 2300S was the jewel of its decades-long Fiat era and re­mains highly de­sir­able. It hasn’t lost its power to trans­port you to a world of beau­ti­ful peo­ple do­ing beau­ti­ful things. Sadly, the on-off rain and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sunny spells dur­ing our shoot en­sure that the pilot looks more like a damp dog than a ’60s play­boy. Nev­er­the­less, not even re­peat drench­ings can dampen the Wal­ter Mitty-like reverie, which speaks vol­umes. Buckle up. Re­lax. En­joy the fan­tasy.

Thanks to Paul de Tur­ris and DTR Euro­pean Sports Cars (www.dtr­sports.com)

Clock­wise from above: Fiat’s sweet and re­fined straight-six sounds great on song; the coach­builder’s styling is well re­solved and the roof folds away neatly; bright red leather re­places the orig­i­nal vinyl in the Moretti’s com­fort­able and stylish re­trimmed cabin

Clock­wise from main: 2300S is more laid-back cruiser than true sports car; gor­geous Mich­e­lot­tistyled lines; Moretti’s of­fer­ing was cer­tainly var­ied; it’s a tragedy that so few of these beau­ties were built, and sur­vivors are scarce to­day

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