At the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans the team of Moretti – Manfredini lasted just 180 minutes finally withdrawing with transmission problems. In September Moretti achieved the team’s first important victory with their 512 S on an international level by taking first place in the Fuji 200 miles at Japan with a two lap lead over Moto Kitano in a Nissan R380 Mk. II.
According to Moretti, Enzo Ferrari’s reactions were always unpredictable, saying, “The race wasn’t valid for the World Championship, but it was still a status success for Ferrari considering that that year Ferrari hadn’t received any great satisfactions with (motor) sports. And yet, after that on my arrival back at Maranello, while I was convinced that I would receive a glorious welcome back all I got from the Drake (Enzo) were a few witty comments. He was more interested to hear all about the oriental women and especially about the legendary Geishas of whom so many folk tales were told.”
Moretti continued, “In fact the old man was like that, take it or leave it. I remember the first time I met him at his office, the room was in semidarkness, and he was wearing big dark glasses, this stately figure peering over at me from behind dark glasses. And while I was there looking at him feeling intimidated, what did he do? He pulled out a handkerchief from his pants pocket, brought it to his mouth to wet it before polishing the glass top of the desk. He was one of a kind.”
The union of Moretti – Ferrari continued on the race track in 1971 with the “M” version of the 512. This was a much better car than the 1970 version, which the gentleman driver from Milan used during a few races with team mate and countryman, Herbert Muller. He then became a car builder himself, which according to him was his only choice at the time.
In 1972 Momo assigned the task of designing two sports cars to the engineer Giorgio Valentini. One was a 2-liter with an Abarth engine and another version, destined for the Inter Series, was mounted with the same V12 5-liter as the Ferrari 512 S. Two cars which were very interesting from a technical point of view, but at the same time very difficult to put together. The end result was that they were too complicated for a private team and too sophisticated.
It was during this time that Moretti gave up car building, going back to GT cars and with a Porsche 911 won the Italian title in Group 4 before immigrating to the USA. There he became a permanent fixture in the IMSA series behind the wheel of the Gran Turismo of Stuttgart.
While racing in America he got the nickname of the “Dartagnan of Porsche” from Mark Raffauf, President of IMSA. This grabbed the attention of the stars and stripes enthusiasts.
His Porsche 935s and the Moby Dick versions with the long white tails were not always amongst the most competitive cars however the team MOMO motor home and pit box always ended up being the most popular meeting point whether it was due to its livery (the red combined with yellow always brings to mind the very Italian Ferrari) or whether it was due to the wonderful person he is remains uncertain.
Apart from being a great gentleman driver and a wise businessman, Moretti is also a good public relations officer for himself, always takes advantage of every occasion to obtain great advertising at low cost. His nosh-ups of spaghetti become memorable occasions and the people present in the Momo team tent at these occasions are people who count, from the most important journalists, photographers and Americans to great champions like Mario Andretti and Hollywood legends like Gene Hackman or Paul Newman with whom Moretti became close friends.
Momo felt that friendships in those days were more genuine, commenting, “In those days nothing was planned and there were no round table meetings. Everything used to happen naturally. If Paul Newman sat eating spaghetti in your motor home (on one occasion the blue eyed diva defined Moretti as “a cook worthy of the Waldorf Astoria”) it was because it was a sure pleasure for him and not only because he was invited or worse yet paid by a sponsor to do so. Those were other times….less technology, less professionalism but with an environment that was definitely more ‘real’ so to speak.”
The races in the US used to take up a large part of Moretti’s time, but now and again the driver from Milan, with the Swiss passport, used to remember his origin and return to the old continent to race. In 1979 he participated at the Giro Automobilistico d’Italia (a sort of rally where the speed trials were held on various tracks in Italy) behind the wheel of his Porsche 935.
After having dominated Formula 1 with Ferrari, Fiat also wanted to put their seal on what was known at the time as “Mille Miglia” (thousand miles) and in order to increase the chances of success, they entrusted their Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbos to Gilles Villenueve and Riccardo Patrese, assisted by rally racing drivers Markku Alen and Walter Rohrl.
As forecast the Lancia Gran Turismos of Chivasso took first and second place in the ranking while the Porsche of Moretti – Schon took third place. Right from the first stages of the race doubts started spreading about whether the two Lancia cars broke the rules by taking the highway to avoid arriving late for a time check.
Moretti thought long and hard before deciding to file a protest, saying, “We had the proof and I told Cesare Fiorio. For our private team it would have been enough to rank second between the two official Lancia cars. I spoke to Cesare Fiorio, sports director of the Fiat Group, about it but he didn’t even want to take my offer into consideration. So, after the triumphant arrival of the two Beta Montecarlo in Turin and the celebrations in Piazza San Carlo, we lodged a formal complaint against them. In the heart of the night we were declared winners of the Giro while the two cars of the Fiat Group were disqualified.”
Moretti continued, “It goes without saying that for some people this was not good news at all and from that moment on and for a long time the name Momo became taboo for the Fiat Group. And as if that wasn’t enough, in that same period we were also at odds with Ferrari or to put it better, with Enzo Ferrari, who still hadn’t forgiven us for having used pictures of the “traitor” Niki Lauda, who had abandoned Maranello in 1977 to go to Brabham, to advertise some of our steering wheels. In fact, Ferrari found it difficult to cope with this betrayal and one day he decided to cancel the supply of steering wheels that were ordered for Formula 1, only to call us back a few years later because our business rivals didn’t meet his expectations.”
So was this whole episode behind us them? Not a chance: a year later, during the 1980 Giro D’Italia , something happened that Gianpiero Moretti suspects was a case of revenge served cold.
“On the eve of the last stage we had a good chance of repeating the success of 1979, but there in Mugello (a race track near Florence, Italy) our engine cut suddenly without any warning sign. Of course this is something that can happen during a race but unfortunately after dismantling the engine we found an abnormal amount of water inside it. The possibility that our car had been tampered with was more than just a suspicion,” said Moretti.
Anyone else would have cursed at this adversity but not the much envied Moretti who left the Giro D’Italia accompanied by his girlfriend at the time, the statuesque Dorothy, who was declared ‘Girl of the Year’ by Penthouse magazine.
How can you not envy someone whose closest friends are Paul Newman, Ermerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti and is in a relationship with a self-confident American model? Many have asked themselves this question but not Mr. Momo who handles all of this so naturally and even after that episode he still continued his travelling back and forth between Europe and the USA like a modern migrant worker, all work and racing.