Back in the day of the Model T if you wanted something special to drive you had a custom coachbuilder create your dream. The Battistini is just such a car, built on an early six-cylinder Buick chassis and registered as a 1922 model. The body was built in the early twenties by William Moal in Oakland California. William Moal was French by birth, and apprenticed in Brittany as a wheelwright. He came to California early in the century and opened a shop in downtown Oakland called Auto Metal Works. Moal specialized in building custom radiators, but he also did a little coach building and racecar fabrication. Apparently Moal and his craftsmen built the Battistini along with as many as four more roadsters -- series customs they were called. In addition to the Battistini, a nearly identical twin called the Green Hornet still exists. The Green Hornet is currently in Australia. Legend has it that a third roadster might have been built for Oakland's Fageol bus and truck making family. William Moal was the grandfather of Steve Moal, owner of Moal's Body Shop in Oakland; so the acorn hasn't fallen far from the oak. Steve's shop produces prize-winning hot rods and custom cars. Steve Moal doubts that the series of roadsters was built on spec. The roaster that we now call the Battistini was apparently ordered and paid for by John "Mondo" Battistini. His surname appears on the car's handsome, winged, cloisonn radiator badge. According to Violet Battistini, Mondo's 86-year-old widow, her husband drove the car as everyday transportation for at least 15 years and supposedly also race it. He surely wooed Violet in it. Mondo passed away in 1973. Mondo Battistini was born in San Francisco in 1901. His father, Giovanni, was a baker, and his mother came from a wealthy shoe-manufacturing family in Italy. After the 1906 earthquake, the Battistini family moved to Stockton, California. Mondo, according to Violet Battistini, was a man of many callings. In the early 1920's he made his living selling subscriptions to Il Sole, a local Italian-language newspaper. Mondo apparently even owned shares in Il Sole. He would drive his roadster out to the homes of Italian farmers in the area, chat with them, and eventually sell them a subscription. His car was a conversation piece and, as such, an asset. Mondo, who stood about 5-foot-6, came to be known as the fellow in the custom lavender roadster that looked like a Mercer or a Kissel. One legend, perhaps true, is that Mondo was challenged to a race by two Stockton farmers, both of whom owned Mercers. The idea was to see whose car could make it from Stockton to Los Angeles and back in the shortest time. This race took place in 1920'2s, when roads down the San Joaquin Valley and over the Grapevine were mostly unpaved and passed through dozens of small farm communities. On the return trip, supposedly, both Mercers went out with engine trouble, but the Battistini, thanks to its stout Buick drive train, sailed home the winner. Violet remembers Mondo also placing second on the county-fair oval at the Raisin Festival in Fresno one year. The car was painted yellow at that time. Mondo's best friend, Angelo Catto, would frequently drive the Battistini, and on one occasion he burned up the engine because no one had bothered to check the oil. Cato also introduced Violet to Mondo via the car when he (Catto) drove it to the confectionery shop where she worked. She was 18 at the time--this was 1929 or 1930 and she admired the car. It was lavender by then, a color chosen because it was the same as movie actor Francis X. Bushman's Rolls Royce. The next evening, Mondo drove over to the confectionery and asked Violet if she would like to go for a ride. Violet's "yes" marked the beginning of a six-year courtship. She often wore lavender skirts and sweaters when she rode around with Mondo. Mondo moved from selling subscriptions to buying and fixing up houses around Stockton. He usually bought them for unpaid taxes. Eventually Mondo also became a foundry man and worked during World War II at the Monarch Foundry in Stockton. The Battistini contains several impressive aluminum castings, which might have been created during Mondo's foundry sessions. The large step plates seem to be custom castings, as is the instrument panel. The dashboard has a polished brass insert behind a fitted, beveled expanse of glass--quite unusual for the 1920's. The gauges do seem to come from that era. Another oddity is the double fuel tank. The actual tank is under the rear deck, but there is also the original Buick tank at the very rear of the frame. The Buick tank has a large, round opening, with a threaded cap that screws in place. Legend has it that this tank was used transport booze during Prohibition. Bottles just barely fit through the hole, and no revenuer would be tempted to look inside the tank even if he saw the side plug. Mondo drove the Battistini until tires and gasoline became hard to get during World War II. At that point, he parked the car in the backyard of one of his houses and threw a tarp over it. After the war, Mondo offered the car to a friend, Virgil Bianchini. He told Virgil that if he would get the car out of his backyard, he could have it for free. Virgil, a hobbyist who now owns several collectible vehicles, had to decline. He had no room for the car at that time. The roadster gained local notoriety when the police chased a robbery suspect into the backyard in the late 1950's. The robber tried to hide under the car, but the family dog raised such a ruckus that the police soon flushed the suspect out. This incident was apparently reported in the Stockton newspaper, perhaps with a photograph, and that is what brought the car to Jerry Largin's attention. After looking the Battistini over, Largin badgered Mondo until he agreed to sell it to him. The Largins, though, seem to have don little to the roadster; because it was still lavender and in much the same condition as when Mondo drove it. The Battistini chassis is pure Buick; solid axles, leaf springs all around--semi-elliptic longitudinal front springs, cantilever longitudinal rear springs, and friction shocks at all four corners. This combination gives a surprisingly good ride--smooth and not at all choppy. Buick offered two engines and three wheel bases for 1922; a 170-c.i.d., ohv four on a 109-inch chassis and the six on 118 -- and 124-inch, ladder --type frame with five crossmenbers. The Battistini is powered by the 242 c.i.d six which produces 60 HP. In constructing the body, Moal used almost no wood at all, which was unusual for the time; all panels are steel except the cowl, which is sheet aluminum. The workmanship, especially such details as the recesses for the two side mounts and the pressed-in moldings surrounding the cockpit. Fenders,

Year:  1980 or older
Miles:  20 000 - 24 999
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