Gianpiero Moretti – Witness to the Times

By Paolo D’Alessio and edited by Louis Galanos

Gianpiero Moretti is the last real “gentleman driver” of our times. During his 37-year career he took part in hundreds of races and drove over 40 different types of cars creating a long-lasting bond between himself and Porsche as well as Ferrari with whom he lived some unforgettable moments of his career as racing driver and businessman.

This is how Mister Momo, as he is now known, recalls those days and speaks about them, saying, “I have observed the Audi and Peugeot cars that have raced this year at Sebring: beautiful cars indeed, a spectacular fusion of technology and aerodynamics, but there is no comparison to my Ferrari 512 S of 1970!”

So says Gianpiero Moretti, the last gentleman driver whose name is forever linked to two legends of high calibre in worldwide motor racing namely, Ferrari and Porsche.

For decades he was an ambassador for Italy in the world (even though he has a Swiss passport) for the Italian way of living, Italian cars, Italian culture and the cult of beauty.

Today, at the threshold of 70 spring seasons and having hung up his helmet a dozen years ago, Moretti watches the racing world that was his world for four decades with the same passion. He knows he has left his mark in history as well as unforgettable memories with those who knew him or worked with him. He knows he played an essential role in the races which, in those days, were more important than Formula 1 today, but he has no regrets towards the racing environment that, over these last years, has changed so dramatically.

His career began long ago in 1961, when he first got into the driver’s seat of a Lancia Appia Zagato to race both on track and in the uphill races. The then-political-science student at the University of Pavia showed how good he was at the steering wheel of a race car. He caught the attention of ASA builder, Giotto Bizzarrini, who even asked him to become their official driver for uphill races. However, nothing ever came of this offer mostly because he had two souls, that of racing driver and that of businessman.

Even though he belonged to a high-class Milan bourgeoisie family, Moretti didn’t want to be financially dependent on his family and so, right from the beginning of the sixties, he started work building steering wheels for racing competitions. The insight that he had to reduce the diameter of the steering wheel and make the hand grip more ergonomic soon turned his part-time job into a real business.

The height of this transformation took place in 1964 when Enzo Ferrari, in person, ordered a leather steering wheel to be mounted on John Surtees’ 158 F1. “I started working with Ferrari,” recalls Moretti, “thanks to Eugenio Dragoni, then sports director of Cavallino, to build a leather steering wheel for the Formula 1 single seater. The steering wheel turned out to be a huge success and to top it off, John Surtees won the world title in 1964 using that steering wheel. From that moment on he became the official supplier of the steering wheels that Enzo Ferrari mounted on his cars. “The Drake* (Enzo Ferrari) was a person of habit who wanted only wooden steering wheels with small handgrips.”

1964 Ferrari 158 Formula One
Cockpit of John Surteee's Ferrari 158 before the 1964 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

In 1966 the business underwent a drastic change when Moretti founded MOMO Sas (the first two letters stand for “Moretti” while the second two letters stand for “Monza”) which became to all intents and purposes the official supplier to Casa di Maranello. The Drake, who already understood the importance of “Made in Italy” at the time, decided to replace all the old English Les Leston steering wheels with the new national product. Soon the young Milanese company started supplying Dino, and other Gran Turismos of Cavallino. Trips to Maranello become ever more frequent and it was during those years that a friendship developed with Piero Lardi, who years later became known as Piero Lardi Ferrari. It is a friendship that continues today.

Gianpiero Moretti and Piero Ferrari
Gianpiero Moretti and Piero Lardi, who years later became known as Piero Lardi Ferrari. Photo provided by Paolo D’Alessio

All racing drivers share the same deep passion for the ‘reds of Maranello’ but this dream only came true in 1970 when Ferrari started work on the 512 S two-seater prototype. In order to participate at the World Sportscar Championship, Casa di Maranello had to produce at least 25 models: some were used at the Scuderia modenese while others were sold privately. And it was with one of these 5-liter monsters that Giampiero Moretti made his worldwide debut at races that count.

Moretti speaks frankly of his experience at the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona, “Only now do I realize how reckless and irresponsible we were back then: before participating at the Daytona 24-hour race in team with my friend Corrado Manfredini I had done a mere three laps of the Modena race circuit at the wheel of the Ferrari 512 S. This being the minimum necessary to verify that everything is in working order but surely not enough to prepare oneself for such a hard race. We had no more time and even if we were behind on preparation we decided to head for Daytona anyway taking along only three mechanics. Luckily, once we arrived there, the guys from Ferrari gave us a hand. However, we learned the hard way what it meant to participate in a 24-hour race.”

Manfredini – Moretti Ferrari 512S that raced at Daytona in 1970.
Manfredini – Moretti Ferrari 512S that raced at Daytona in 1970. Photo provided by Paolo D’Alessio
Gianpiero Moretti at the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona
Gianpiero Moretti at the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. Photo provided by Paolo D’Alessio
Manfredini – Moretti Ferrari 512S that raced at Daytona in 1970.
Manfredini – Moretti Ferrari 512S that raced at Daytona in 1970. Photo provided by Paolo D’Alessio

As it was logically expected, the adventure of the pair Manfredini – Moretti with the Ferrari number 30 ended long before the conclusion of the race due to problems with the suspension. After this debacle at Daytona the team, with their 512 S, skipped the 12-hour race at Sebring as well as the 1000 kms at Brands Hatch in order to prepare themselves better for the race at Monza.

However this race literally risked going up in flames when during a private test a fire seriously damaged the prototype. By working day and night the men of the Scuderia Picchio managed to put the prototype together again and at the race in Monza Moretti finished in ninth place before the Jurgen Neuhaus – Helmut Kelleners Porsche 917 K. It was an accomplishment almost as important as the birth of his first child one day earlier.

Moretti remembers the Ferrari 512 fondly, “That was a great car, potentially better than the Porsche 917. It’s just a pity that is was not that reliable and the frame was a bit too ‘loose’ but I am sure that if Ferrari had developed it like they should have instead of throwing themselves body and soul into building the 3-litre two seater (312P), it would have given us great satisfaction.”

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Show Comments (9)

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  1. Moretti was “value added” when included in the line-up. Always great cars (even if not always prepared, as specified….) and a gentleman driver with professional talent. Enjoyed the article.

  2. I always wondered about Moretti and MOMO, and now my questions have been answered.
    Thank you for this fine article regarding this personality that gave a human touch to racing; the human touch that seems to be lacking nowdays.

  3. Lou,
    Very nice job of editing a very interesting article by Paolo D’Alessio about Gianpiero Moretti. Gianpiero Moretti’s cars were always some of the best-looking at the races they ran in. That could be because Paolo was the graphics designer on some of them, including the 1998 Daytona winner. There’s a reasaon for the existence of the phrase “Italian style”! I’m honored to have been able to contribute a pair of photos since P D’A had many to choose from (the side view of the 512S is mine, too). Like many others from that era, I’ve wondered how different things might have been had Ferrari put a little effort into developing the 512S and 512M.

  4. Yes; definitely “the last real gentleman driver of our times”. I enjoyed the article that included a number of details that are often lost in time. Like Enzo Ferrari
    who pulls “… out a handkerchief from his pants pocket, brought it to his mouth to wet it before polishing the glass top of the desk.”

  5. Giampiero Moretti passed away yesterday. We will miss the red yellow MOMO car on the tracks in the old glorious days.

  6. Does anyone have an address for Gianpiero Moretti? I would love to write him a letter and haven’t a clue how to contact him. This was a fascinating article for sure and a real legendary figure. Regards, Major William Brown