A taste of what might have been. Impeccably styled, inside and out, it’s not just rarity that breeds desire in the case of the gorgeous Moretti 2300S. Words Richard Heseltine. Photography Tony Baker.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY 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 coach-built 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 twin-cylinder 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 four-cylinder 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 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 250 GT 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.
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 tear-away, but you assume as much. The real shame is that Moretti didn’t follow through and produce further exotica. Save a one-off, Maserati 3500 GT-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-’1971.
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)
‘It is breathtaking, the styling echoing everything from BMW 507 to Ferrari 250; it’s hard not to stare at this car without drooling’
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.
‘Between 3500 and 5000rpm, it gets into its stride and sounds superb; a deep growl spliced with faint induction roar’
Clockwise from main: 2300S is more laid-back cruiser than true sports car; gorgeous Michelotti-styled lines; Moretti’s offering was certainly varied; it’s a tragedy that so few of these beauties were built, and survivors are scarce today.