You know what, I would pay £200.000 for it. We let Classic Cars reader Jon Driver live like a rock star for a day, turning him loose in his dream drive – a Dino 246 GT. Words: Adam Towler. Photography: Rory Game.
It’s a good old bus,’ says Drive-My reader Jon Driver with a grin, and while a Ferrari Dino 246 GT might not usually be referred to in such a manner, it’s obvious that phrase is meant as a compliment.
We’re standing on a freezing disused airfield in north-west England. It’s not the most glamorous of locations, but the Dino radiates charm and beauty in a mesmerising manner: more than enough to warm our hearts, if not our ears and fingers. The Dino’s aura, belying its diminutive size, is something that’s tricky to put into words, but you know it when you feel it, and right now we’re really starting to feel it.
What makes this dream drive even more interesting than usual is that our reader is a Ferrari owner, and moreover owns the model that effectively replaced the 246 GT in the Ferrari ranks: the 308 GT4, initially marketed under the Dino badge as the 246 had been. Today will be fascinating, if nothing else to see whether it meets his expectations – and if it can justify the enormous price premium over the 308 GT4 in the current marketplace.
Our reader Jon has owned an eclectic group of cars, including a period with a Lamborghini Urraco. ‘I’ve always been interested in Sixties and Seventies sports cars and supercars,’ he says, ‘although I started off with Ford Escort MkII RS2000s – I thought I was Bodie and Doyle. I always dreamed about Lotus Esprits, and then had a number of them. I believe in living for the day: you’re only here once. I’ve had 25-30 cars over the years.’
It really embodies the time – it’s the type of car to drive to Saint-Tropez
When it comes to the Dino, Jon’s influences go back to the TV series The Persuaders (where one of the lead characters, played by Tony Curtis, drove a Dino) and via another passion of his – rock music. ‘Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey and Cozy Powell all had them.’
It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but it really is a small car – the kind you feel you can wrap your arms around and pick up. ‘It’s a petite, usuable supercar,’ says Jon, studying it closely. ‘It’s all about the curves – it’s an iconic shape, but it’s doesn’t look intimidating like a Daytona. It really embodies the time – it’s the type of car to drive to Saint-Tropez.’
A delicate little lever opens the door and then you thread your body down low into the cabin: yes, it’s snug in here, but the surprise for me is just how accommodating it is given the dainty overall dimensions. Although the laidback steering wheel is a bit of a stretch for both Jon and I, we have enough headroom and our knees are far from jammed under our chins. No Dino left the factory with headlamp fairings: they were added by Maranello Concessionaires.
‘For a little fella it bombed along nicely, quicker than I thought it would be – much quicker’
The overall finish of the cabin is simple: the dash top is covered in a suede-like material known as ‘mouse fur’, and the ventilation sliders are arranged haphazardly in the centre of the dashboard. The switchgear is rudimentary, but as tools of the trade the small, simple Nardi steering wheel and the open-gate shifting mechanism – complete with chrome ball atop wand-like lever – have yet to be bettered for looks.
Nevertheless, Jon isn’t terribly impressed, and says earnestly, ‘I’m not sure I’d pay £200,000 for this. That’s a lot of dollar — I think I’d buy a Boxer for half that. I can’t believe how basic it is inside, it doesn’t feel as comfy as mine.’ Perhaps that’s our big question for today: can a sports car built in relatively large numbers, and one that’s more about making you feel like you’re going fast than actually going fast, really be worth so much money?
Our reader didn’t expect the 246 to be so pliant
This car belongs to a man whose love for the Dino runs deep – he should be able to provide some pointers. John Sykes has owned one since the age of 21, and he currently has three GTs. It’s a car in stark contrast to those of his day job, running Triumph specialist TR Bitz, but as he says, ‘It’s the car I’ve always wanted, and although I’ve sold a few over the years I’ve kept this one – I’ve had it 28 years now. People don’t hate you for driving it, and I’ve seen people even walk past a genuine 250 GTO to say how much they like the car.’ This Dino effect then, it’s a powerful force… But how did it feel handing someone else the keys? ‘It was nice to be on the outside looking in for a change; there’s not a straight line on it.’
Fairly soon the 246 is swooping through some narrow Cheshire lanes, delivering an aria spat from quad tailpipes jutting from the cut-off tail. Yes, I know, we’re perilously close to careering into car magazine cliches here, but it’s at times like these that I realise all those road tests of old Ferraris weren’t exaggerating. Jon looks relaxed. Far from sweating at the value of the car, he seems to be enjoying his time behind the wheel. ‘It’s really easy to drive, I wasn’t expecting that,’ he shouts over the din of the little V6 idling busily away as we pause for a moment.
Finally, it’s time for me to drive. I’m surprised by how easy it is to get comfortable, and note with a grin the shapely, almost pornographic front wings as they rise and fall in the extremities of my forward vision. They are the Dino driver’s gunsights for the road ahead, but also a constant reminder that I’m driving something beautiful. The view aft is equally inspiring, framed by those delicate roof buttresses.
Jon was smiling when he jumped out, so I can’t wait to ask him if he’d changed his mind from his initial lukewarm reaction. And yet right now I need to concentrate: there’s an open-gate gearshift to master, and a 41-year-old Italian temptress to try and coerce into doing what I want.
I need not have worried. The gearlever requires a considerate hand to drop into first, but other than that it couldn’t be any easier: everything about the car is precise and uniformly weighted so that driving it becomes second nature very quickly – I can see now why Jon was immediately at home. However, it’s the engine that really dominates the experience, dazzling with its willingness to rev and serving up a soundtrack that has every single hair on the back of my neck rigid with attention.
John lowers the passenger side window, all the better to hear the hungry induction of the Weber carburettors, and I’m soon driving along laughing away to myself. The steering is a close second in appeal, possessing real precision and fabulous feedback from the road surface beneath the front wheels: yes it does weight up when you apply lock, but it never loses that delicate sense of cohesion, and it’s all very manageable.
Dinos were built without Ferrari badges, so dealers and owners added them instead.
The Dino is a car that asks for, and benefits from, a light touch by the driver, and while it’s undeniable that there are many modern hot hatchbacks that could leave it gasping in a straight line, so the rewards of driving it are vastly beyond the reach of most cars. My mind is drawn back to something John had said earlier, ‘It’s the sensory experience, it makes you feel like you’re going fast.’
All too soon it’s time to hand the keys back. Rarely can I remember aching so intently to keep driving. Let me see, might make France by midnight, quick stop overnight, then on to the Alps… hmmm, I wonder if the owner’s up for that…
Jon and I exchange knowing glances – I can see he feels it too. ‘What surprised me was how easy the car was to drive, and how agile too,’ he says. ‘It’s clear and crisp in its responses. In fact, it’s probably easier to drive than mine. It’s not at all the Stone Age experience I was expecting, because I feel like I’m a part of the car when I’m driving it, like it has been built around me.’
Then he pauses and frowns before continuing. The frightening part was not having any wing mirrors, which was scary in a £200,000 car. I couldn’t see anything.
It felt more compact than mine,’ he adds. ‘With the engine right behind you – it’s just six inches behind your ear – it allowed the rasp of the exhaust to come through. It’s more distant in my 308.’
I ask him about the performance. ‘For a little fella it bombed along nicely, quicker than I thought it would be – much quicker.’ He has a point, and it reminds me that the thick end of 200bhp was still a commanding figure back in 1973.
‘You know what,’ says Jon, pausing momentarily for thought and then smiling in resignation, ‘I would pay £200,000 for it. When I first saw it on the airstrip it looked so small, like a little bug, and I thought how can it be worth that sort of money? But for all the reasons above it is worth it, and there’s no other car you can drive down the road and get the reaction you get in this one. It’s like art too: the art of the motor industry is the modern art of our times.
‘Given £200,000 to spend on a new Ferrari or one of these, I’d go for the Dino: there’s no electronic trickery, it’s a raw, in-your-face sports car, and I suspect it would be easier to maintain.’ With the same budget, I think I’d buy one too, Jon.
Thanks to John Sykes of TR Bitz (trbitz.com, 01925 756000) for the Dino 246 GT and John Greatorex of Ferrari specialist GT-Cars Ltd (gtcarslimited.co.uk, 01925 262800).
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ORIGINS OF THE FERRARI V6
On track: the joy of V6
While the Dino 246 didn’t have much of a racing career, its powerplant was evolved from the track – and later dominated rallying.
‘The Dino name came from Ferrari’s heir Alfredino, who died young before it was finished’
It was a long road for the V6 engine from inception to finally appearing in a production car, and it may not have happened at all had it not been for the demands of homologation in the racing world. It was designed by ex-Alfa and Lancia engineer Vittorio Jano, and named after Enzo Ferrari’s son Alfredino, who died young before it was finished.
The engine was conceived for Formula 2 racing, and also pressed into service for the odd Formula 1 event, but the first sports car it powered was the 196 S for 1958, soon joined by the larger-capacity 246 S and 296 S, all nimble front-engined racers. At this stage there were two V6s: a 60-degree engine and a 65-degree unit, the wider V developed so that there was room for straight inlet pipes for more power.
Dinos started with a 2.0-litre V6 in the 206 GT, growing to 2.4 litres in the 246 GT.
For 1961 the V6 really came of age, not least because the F1 regulations for that year demanded a reduction in capacity to 1.5 litres. Ferrari had the perfect engine in the little V6, and swept to championship glory with Phil Hill at the wheel of the gorgeous ‘sharknose’ F156.
At the same time Ferrari also began the year with a bold new sports car racer, the 246 SP, which also featured a mid-engined layout and a 2.0-litre version of the wider- angle V6, and among its successes was outright victory in the Targa Florio road race that year. For the following year Ferrari launched a revised 196 SP and the 286 SP, the latter using a big-bore version of the 60-degree engine, although the days of the large V6s were numbered.
In 1965 the Dino family returned with the new 206 SP, an ultra-light, hill-climb car that used a 65-degree 2.0-litre V6, but the Dino was about to go mainstream. Forthcoming F2 regulations for 1967 required any engine to have notched up a minimum of 500 units in road cars. This would be beyond Ferrari’s capability, so a plan was hatched with Fiat to create a family of Dino-engined road cars. On the track this was followed by the pretty 206 S of 1966, a 2.0-litre mid-engined racer with a clear stylistic link to the later road cars, and intended for battle with the 2.0-litre Porsche sports cars such as the 904/6 and 906 Carrera 6.
The Dino road car achieved only minor competition success, but the engine was far from finished in motor sport. Ferrari became part of Fiat in 1969, which led to the engine finding its way into a new Lancia concept car designed for rallying – the Stratos. In this guise it would dominate rallying, winning the World Championship in 1974, 1975 and 1976 – and with developments such as four-valve cylinder heads power outputs rose. There was also a turbo Stratos for circuit racing, but it competed without much success.
1965: Ferrari Dino 206 GT SPECIALE
Built on a Ferrari 206 P chassis and styled by Pininfarina designer Aldo Brovarone, the Speciale debuted at the Paris Salon and set a design direction seen in production Dinos.
1968: Ferrari Dino 206 GT
The production 206 GT was built over a period of nine months in 1968; about 150 were made, readily identifiable by an exposed chrome fuel filler cap on the left-hand side.
1969: Ferrari Dino 246 GT L
The 246 GT debuted at the Turin Show late in 1969. It had a steel body clothing a 2419cc V6 producing 195bhp, now with an iron block. The wheelbase was also lengthened by 60mm.
1971: Ferrari Dino 246 GT M AND E
Detail changes: five-bolt wheels, 30mm wider rear track and ATE brakes for the M series. E series has 40DCNF/13 Weber carburettors and bumpers extending into grille mouth.
1972: Ferrari Dino 246 GTS
An open-top Dino joins the range (losing the rear side windows). ‘Chairs and Flares’ option means wider wheels requiring wheelarch extensions and Daytona-style seats.
|Car||Ferrari Dino 246GT 1971|
|Sold/number built||1969-1974/2732 (plus 1180 GTSs)|
|Construction||tubular steel chassis with steel body and aluminium bonnet|
|Wheelbase||7ft 8 1/4in (2343mm)|
|Overall width||5ft 7in (1702mm)|
|Ground clearance (unladen)||5in|
|Front headroom (seat uncompressed)||–|
|Rear headroom (seat uncompressed)||–|
|Front legroom (seat forward/back)||–|
|Overall length||13ft 10 3/4in (4235mm)|
|Overall height (unladen)||3ft 9in (1143mm)|
|Front shoulder room||–|
|Rear shoulder room||–|
|Rear legroom (seat forward/back)||–|
|Weight (in lbs kerb)
|Steering||Rack and pinion|
|Turns (lock to lock)
|Brakes||Discs front and rear|
|Main bearings (number)
|Valve gear layout||dohc-per-bank|
|Ignition||Marelli capacitor discharge|
Three Weber 40 DCN
|Capacity (cc)||2418 (148 cu. in.)|
|Power (net bhp/rpm)
||195bhp at 7600rpm|
|Torque (net lb ft/rpm)
||166lb/ft at 5500rpm|
||five-speed maual all synchromesh|
|Top gear mph per 1000rpm||–|
|Final drive ratio
|Clutch : Make:
|spring single plate||–|
|Wheels and Tyres|
|Wheels (type and size)||6 1/2×14 Cromodora alloys|
|Tyres (type and size)||205/70 VR14s|
|Replenishment & Lubrication|
|Type of oil||10W/40|
|Engine sump capacity (pints)||–|
|Engine oil change interval (miles)||–|
|Gearbox and final drive capacity (pints)||–|
|Gearbox capacity (pints)||–|
|Final drive capacity (pints)
|Number of lights||–|
|Braking (Actual stopping distance in feet)|
|Driven carefully (mpg)||19|
|From standstill to mph. in seconds|
|Max speed||148mph (max speed in test)|
|Price new (1971, USA)||$13,500|
|Cost new (1973, GB)||£5485|