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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Etceterini Files Part 2: Golden Arrow, the Moretti that Broke the Bank

The few people who recall the name Moretti appearing on something other than beer probably associate it with some stylish custom bodywork which appeared on modified Fiats in the 1960s and 70s.  This Moretti 2500s Spider from 1963, for example, hit the spot for Henry Manney at Road & Track, perhaps because it looked so much like Giorgetto Giugiaro's one-off Ferrari SWB for Bertone from a year earlier.  Underneath the sinuous curves of the body shell is an enlarged version of Fiat's 6-cylinder 2300 engine.  Earlier, though, Giovanni Moretti designed and built his own sports racers to compete against OSCAs, Stanguellinis and the like, and the expense of this bankrupted his company.  What's left of this period is a handful of almost forgotten cars and the saga of the Frecchia d'Oro, or Golden Arrow...

Moretti started building motorcycles in 1925 and graduated to microcars (before they were called that) in the late 1920s.  After building some electric vehicles during the war, Moretti launched a line of utilitarian small cars with his own 600cc 4-cylinder engine in the late 40s.  The first Moretti to get attention from sports car fans in the USA was the tiny 750 twin cam from the early 50s. Giovanni Michelotti has been credited with the design on the coupe below, from 1953-'54.

There were also spyder versions in both 750cc and 1200cc engine sizes, and these were credited to the same designer…

And there were a handful of slightly larger and very handsome coupes with the 1200 Grand Sport engine.  These could have competed against the then-new Alfa Giulietta Sprint, had Moretti been able to produce them in greater numbers.

Instead of tooling up to produce any of these promising designs in large (or even noticeable) numbers, Moretti decided to produce a sports racer to compete with the OSCAs, Maseratis and (increasingly) Porsches in the 1500cc class.  This was the Frecchia d'Oro, the Golden Arrow from 1956. Like other Morettis, it featured an all-Moretti engine, but this larger unit featured an alloy block, twin ignition with twin distributors, and twin carburetors.  The tubular chassis and the alloy bodywork were also the product of the Moretti shops, an unusual accomplishment in an era when race car bodywork was usually subcontracted to specialists like Scaglietti, Motto or Zagato.  With the exception of the Fiat 1100 transmission, then, this was an all-Moretti Moretti.  Three cars were produced in response to an order from a client in Argentina.  The Argentine client never paid for the first car delivered, and before Moretti could devise a way to repossess a car in faraway Latin America, the deadbeat client added injury to insult by demolishing the car.  The was the last straw for the fragile finances of Moretti, and the second and third Golden Arrows were seized by creditors in a bankruptcy reorganization.  Golden Arrow #2 disappeared in a trade for an Alpine Renault in the late 60s, but car #3 came to the USA in amazingly original condition, and shows up for car shows and vintage races today.  Moretti, reorganized post-bankruptcy, shifted to using Fiat engines entirely by 1960, and focused on providing special bodywork on the small end of the Fiat line, producing a few exceptional cars on the big 6-cylinder Fiats, and one body on a Maserati 3500 chassis.  Moretti continued to build specialist Fiats until 1985, and their nearly 6 decade run marks the Moretti team as champion survivors in the competitive world of etceterini.

Photo IDs and credits:
Top and 4th from top: Moretti 2500s and 1200 Sport (Moretti Automobili)
2nd from top:  Moretti 750 Grand Sport (Coys Auctions + Sports Car Digest)
3rd from top:   Moretti Grand Sport Spyder (www.abarth-germany.de)
Bottom:  Moretti 1500 Frecchia d'Oro (the Williams family,  www. gwandrw.com)

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Etceterini Files Part 1: Ermini

The term "etceterini" is often associated with Fiat-based road racing cars, in two-seater and single-seater format, which appeared in great profusion after WWII and mostly disappeared by the early 1970s, when Fiat purchased Abarth, the biggest producer of etceterini.  They were usually small and lightweight to take advantage of their small (mostly 750cc or 1100 cc) power units, though some cars were built to take larger engines from Fiat, Alfa or Lancia and a few were built with American V8s.  Today's focus is on one of the rarest examples of the etceterini phenomenon: the Ermini, which fitted form to format so well that fiberglass replicas of Erminis likely outnumber originals by more than ten to one, making the arcane, dauntingly scarce Ermini seem exotic and yet oddly familiar all at once.

Pasquale Ermini made cars in such tiny numbers that there were almost as many types of Ermini as there were specimen Erminis.  One thing they apparently all shared was a twin overhead cam head designed and built by Ermini; in the early days this was fitted to a cast iron engine block sourced from Fiat.  During 1952, Ermini engines began to feature their own alloy engine blocks.  Around 1955, in response to competition from the Maserati brothers' OSCA racers,  a new twin-ignition head appeared, designed by Alberto Massimino, also of Maserati (250F) and later of Ferrari (Dino) fame.  There were more Ermini engines than Ermini cars, as some engines were supplied to other race car builders.  The lovely 1390 GT coupe below was bodied by Frua in a style very much echoing their work on the Maserati A6G2000, and was shown at the San Remo Concours in 1954.  The body shell appears as a tight skin over the machinery; note the deft integration of bumper protection with the grille and fog lights.  According to the Ermini website it's the only 1390 GT built, and may also be the only Ermini intended for touring as opposed to racing. 

If any Americans of a certain age remember the Ermini at all, however, it's because Californian Bill Devin used an Ermini sports racer as the model for his series of fiberglass bodies in the 1950s and 60s, forming his molds directly from the alloy Scaglietti body of a Tipo 357.  He offered these bodies as kits for people wanting to streamline the appearance (or just reduce the weight) of their MGs, Triumphs and even VWs.  Many of the resulting kit cars wound up on the race circuits supporting the burgeoning road racing schedule sponsored by the SCCA, and some may have even raced against actual Erminis. The first picture below shows one of only three 1431cc Ermini 357s bodied by Scaglietti from 1955; the second shows a Devin-bodied special from 1957, this one on an MG chassis.  Devin's exercise of artistic license occurred at least three decades before the phrase "intellectual property" became commonplace…

Photo ID & credits:
Top: 1954-55 Ermini 357 Sport 1100 (Ermini Automobili)
2nd:  1954 Ermini 1390 GT (Ermini Automobili)
3rd:   1955 Ermini 357 Sport 1431 (Bonhams)
Bottom:  1957 Devin-MG-Chevy (Wikimedia)