It is 1967 and Dave, a young engineer at GM South Africa and Italian car enthusiast is the owner of an immaculate Fiat 500, absolutely stock but fitted with 135 Michelin X’s (as opposed to 125’s), a spot light and a set of serious Fiamme air horns which, when activated, produced 18 wheeler sound but I suspect slowed the car down.
On the advice of a friend he was informed of a car of Italian origin out at the salt pans in Port Elizabeth and which was apparently fitted with a really small overhead cam engine. Duly interested, we went to view the rusted wreck which had been there for quite some time. Why anyone would want to store a car on a Salt pan I would not know and in this case the salt had done its job, the body of this particular machine completely rotted…but…. the mechanicals looked to be in reasonable condition. It was at this point that he established that car was a Moretti.
It did not take long for Dave’s Italian connections to determine that this was in fact a very rare Moretti 750 fitted with the single OHC version of that engine. Moretti, a small Italian manufacturer with strong ties to Fiat had started making cars shortly after the war and produced a number of sedan and sports cars using various version of their 750cc engine, which surprisingly was available in both SOHC and Twin Cam form. It did not take long for the penny to drop and, after the required negotiation, the ‘salt pan 750’ was earmarked for fitment to the 500.
I had met Dave some years before and whilst he was in his early years at GM engineering, I was in my first year of training in the Service division, also at the General . The strong common bond of petrolheads finds its own level and soon I was involved in the fascinating project. This was my very first exposure to the world of modding cars as a ‘green behind the ears’ enthusiast. As a learning experience one could not have found better, Dave’s Dad was a foreman in the bodyshop at GM and a skilled artisan, an expert in sheetmetal and welding…..Dave…. not only a good engineer, but a perfectionist . That combination led to some fun times but as is always the case when seeking the best outcome; the end result was well worth the effort.
I watched, helped and learnt as the machine progressed with three major tasks happening simultaneously. Radiator fitting at the front, Engine installation requiring clutch and bell housing mods, the fabrication of an engine X member and finally that magnificent paint job. The engine was stripped, found to be fundamentally sound and rebuilt using new parts but otherwise left unmodified. There were naturally a bagful of other jobs to be done such as electrics, piping to the front mounted rad, suspension mods and instrumentation. Dave’s persistence and attention to detail the driving force in the process.
We discussed the drivetrain and whether the Gearbox, final drive and sideshafts would hold up to the extra power. Dave being ever pragmatic reasoned that keeping the drivetrain stock would identify a weak spot which he rightly nominated as the external wheel hub universal joint and sideshaft combination. This first line of failure would prevent more serious failures of internal components. His intentions were never to drag race the car but to rather enjoy the outcome and run the machine with any limitation there might be….and that is the way it turned out.
Here it is: