Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Leonardo's Moretti

Over lunch on our recent Tail of the Dragon trip, Hotshoe Wannabe told me about his Uncle Leonard. Leonard provided the yeast that made Hotshoe's automotive bread rise.  Hotshoe got rides in Alfas before Pilote knew what they were.

Leonard had a liberated spirit.  He was a Purchasing Agent for Ford in the glory days of the '50's and 60's.  He was also an Italian car freak--which certainly made him stand-out in Detroit in those days.  He owned two Alfa Giuliettas before he bought his Moretti Gran Sport.  And a Hillman and another Moretti.  When I went to work for a steel distribution firm in Cleveland in 1972, I asked if the United Steel Workers would take hammers to my Datsun 510 in the employee parking lot.  It was not an idle question.  (They didn't, and imported cars became commonplace in the lot as the '70's wore on.)  So I asked Hotshoe if Leonard, fifteen years earlier, had anxieties about his Italian Jobs in the Ford lot.  He looked at me with an expression that said "You just don't get my Uncle Leonard."

Moretti was famous for making the major components in his cars, including the Gran Sport's jewel of a 750 c.c. engine.  Most Italian specialist carmakers used a lot of Fiat parts, some of which they modified, or even started with a Fiat platform.  Think Abarth.  Leonard decided it would be fun to autocross his Gran Sport.  But he also thought it needed some major upgrades to be enough fun.  So he replaced its 750 c.c. engine with a 1.3 liter Alfa.  This took the horsepower from 71 to 90--a 30% increase.  (Leonard may have been an Italian car freak, but his solution to the power problem was straight out of American hot-rodding.)  He had 1-inch spacers made in the Ford machine shop that did GT 40 parts, which allowed him to replace the Moretti's stock 15 X 4 inch wheels with wide 13 inch Halibrand mags.

Leonard, and his cars, fell on hard times.  Eventually, Hotshoe restored the Moretti.  He was sad to learn that its irreplaceable stock wheels, rusting in the back yard, were binned by a family member who "cleaned the place up" while Leonard was in the hospital.  The Halibrand mags were also corroded beyond saving.

After he restored it, Hotshoe took the Moretti to autocrosses and car shows for a few years.  At 1200 lbs. (13 lbs. per horsepower) it was a hoot to drive and the Michelotti body drew crowds.  The tiny car was hard to get into and out of, but once inside there was plenty of room even for a 6-footer.  He took it to Road America once and discovered that, at higher speeds, the quarter-elliptic springs at all four corners made the handling and ride lively to the point of instability.  Eventually he sold the car.  He's heard that it is now back in Europe, fully restored to original Moretti 750 Gran Sport specification: engine, wheels, and all.

As we paid for lunch and walked out of the diner in Robbinsville, Hotshoe and I agreed that his Uncle Leonard had been misnamed.  He should have been called Leonardo.  Leonardo Bigblock.

Leonardo's Moretti as received by Hotshoe: Alfa engine, revised hubs and spacers for Halibrand magnesium wheels.
But as is clear from the picture, the car had seen better days.  The color was a faded dark blue.

One-of-a-kind. This pic shows the Moretti in mid-restoration by Hotshoe.  The 1.3 liter Alfa engine is a "Testa Rossa,"
with Hotshoe-rebuilt internals.  The hub spacer/adapters were retained because, luckily, Chevy Vega steel wheels fit
and resembled the original Moretti wheels as closely as anything likely to be found in the States in the 1980's. 

 C'est finis: Hotshoe's tribute to Leonard, and Giovanni Moretti.  He repainted it Italian Racing Red.  Its competition
number was the year of its manufacture.


Wannabe Hotshoe said...

Yo Pilote.......You did my uncle (and me) proud! Thanks.

Pilote Ancien said...

Glad you liked the post. Wish I'd had a chance to meet Leonard in his heyday--a "different drummer" kinda guy!

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