So what on earth is one meant to do when the latest crop of hot Italian sixties GT’s are too low for you to comfortably get in. Well, you get Michelotti to build you your very own Grand Tourer the way you want it – naturally…
It was Anders’ Prime Find Maserati Indy last week which reminded me of this fabulous one-off coupé which I encountered at Retro Classics in Stuttgart back in 2016. The opening lines above are in fact precisely what led to the creation of this magnificent Michelotti coupé, as a wealthy and successful entrepreneur from Padova required something which wasn’t available on the market at the time.
While not wanting to sound big-headed, I honestly feel that my many years as a passionate classic car enthusiast has given me quite a broad knowledge base on the subject. I’ve also always been particularly taken with the rare and obscure. As such, I’ve obviously always been drawn to them, and one of the absolute highlights of Retro Classics 2015 – one which I still value to this day – was meeting a classic which I had never previously seen or heard of: the Meccanica Maniero 4700GT.
Granted, that has of course happened before. Sometimes it comes down to the rarity you’re faced with being somewhat less than well-resolved, and therefore never getting beyond that single example. But this one genuinely surprised me! To my eyes, it is an exceptionally handsome design. So much so, that it is pretty much how I would have asked an Italian carozzerria to design and construct my own special GT. I mean, if I had been born in 1967. And had the financial means. And wanted to ensure that I had something which no one else had. Yet despite this, only this one example was ever produced. The word “unique” must be one of the most misused words in the dictionary, but when it comes to the Maniero 4700GT, it is for once an appropriate term to use.
The story goes that the successful entrepreneur had grown tired and disillusioned with his Italian GT cars. He had owned several, and if memory serves me right, the last one – and thus the one which proved to be the final straw – was a Maserati. All of which led him to approach Michelotti and ask him to build him a GT car which was a little taller than the others. And that’s precisely what Michelotti did…
Throughout the sixties, Michelotti was a right whirlwind of design. Here was a man who was actually responsible for sketching many of the designs to leave his designhouse. So when someone says “Michelotti design”, there’s a much greater chance that he in fact led the pencil himself than there is with many of his competitors such as Pininfarina. He naturally did employ other designers within his design company, but he was famous for coming up with ideas of his own and complete designs within no time, and then even developing them into real and fully-functioning prototypes in very short time.
The same happened on this occasion. However, Michelotti did take a shortcut by applying the newly designed body to an already fully developed car. As I spotted the “4700” badge and already knew of the first owners previous Maserati ownership, I naturally (well, naturally for a nerd…) presumed it was based on a Maserati chassis with their fabulous V8. Yet, to my surprise that was not the case at all. Instead the delicious Maniero came to be by utilising the complete drivetrain, suspension, steering and even parts of the interior from a Ford Mustang. Luckily they went for the High Power 285hp engine, so the performance shouldn’t be lacking.
And frankly, one can hardly claim that the design is lacking either. Michelotti went with quite a modern and sharp look, but combined it with a pinch of subdued conventional style by refraining from the use of retractable headlights as used on the latest trendsetters like the Miura and Ghibli. There’s also a traditional coke-bottle swage line and even chromed wire wheels, but overall the design was still very much up to date in 1967, looking athletically elegant in its vibrant light blue metallic. Perhaps the only ever so slight exception is the roofline: While Michelotti was a hugely talented designer, he was no magician. If a coupé needs easy access to the cabin, there’s simply no other way to achieve this than by making the roofline unnaturally tall. Even so, as the Meccanica Maniero 4700GT stood displayed there at Retro Classics, it was awfully difficult not to get rather excited.
It’s of course pretty obvious to everyone that there are some significant colour differences to some of the panels, but there’s an explanation to that as well. The car was hastily finished for the 1967 exhibition in Geneva where it was presented beautifully in the darkest of the two blue shades. But when the owner took delivery of the car, he quickly found that the tyres would scrape against the arches whenever the suspension was compressed. And so his new Maniero was sent back to Michelotti. They made a few adjustments to the arches, but still weren’t entirely sure that it was enough, so as a temporary measure they merely gave the arches a quick blow-over in a blue which didn’t actually match the original paint.
The difference is quite noticeable in the pictures above from respectively Geneva in 1967 and Stuttgart in 2016: The wheel arches a both cut higher into the wing and also more flared. Which alterations were made to the bonnet is less clear, but it has the same lighter shade of blue as the wings do. Amusingly, that quick blow-over was never corrected with a proper paintjob in the correct shade. Instead the owner drove his new coupé as it is now displayed, but judging from its current unrestored condition, he probably didn’t put many miles on it. I seriously doubt that Michelotti would have spent much time and effort rustproofing the elegant Maniero, yet short of those colour differences on certain panels, the car still presents in excellent condition today – 50 years later.
However, I’m not sure I fully understood the chronological side of the story as the friendly and enthusiastic curator enlightened me. Something seems slightly out of place. In 1967 the Geneva Auto Salon was in March – just like it is every year. If the successful entrepreneur complained about his Maserati, there would have been three options: Sebring, Mexico or Ghibli. The Mexico is 136 cm tall and has remarkable access to the cabin for a GT car. The Sebring is 130 cm tall and thereby still one of the taller GT cars to come out of sixties Italy. The Ghibli however is only a very limiting 116 cm tall, so I presume it must have been this Maserati which the entrepreneur was unhappy with.
But the Ghibli debuted in Torino in 1966 – in November! It just seems like a very short amount of time to design and build a new GT coupé – even for Michelotti. And especially considering that the new Ghibli owner would necessarily have to own his Maserati for a while before getting that annoyed with having to crawl in and out of the driver’s seat.
So perhaps the story is just a little too good to be true? But I comfort myself knowing that the car isn’t. It was stunning, and it was very much real. I was deeply fascinated by it, and I still am. No mention of price; this is all about rarity.
ViaRETRO-bonusinformation: At the Geneva Salon in 1967, another elegant GT with sensible access to the cabin was introduced: The FIAT Dino coupé measuring 129cm in height. Simply buying a Dino would naturally have been an easier solution for the Italian entrepreneur, but as this was a Bertone design, he obviously couldn’t possibly have known it was about to be launched. Of course, he could have also just stuck with an ordinary and stock Mustang which measures all of 130cm in height.