Beauty and the Bargain. Can champion of the underdog James Elliott make a case for the unloved Ferrari Dino 308GT4 against its illustrious 246GT predecessor? Photography Tony Baker.
‘It is difficult to imagine that the 1960s car could drive better than its offspring, yet it does… marginally’
Surely these two Dinos have nothing in common beyond their names? Not true. Both were groundbreaking for Ferrari – so much so that they were a brand of their own – and both were initially spurned by marque devotees for turning on their head the traditions and values of the Prancing Horse. One of them has been rehabilitated to a degree, but not to the extent that current values rival those of its V12 contemporaries. The other, while undeniably enjoying an enthusiastic fanbase, still languishes as the cheapest Ferrari of all with the exception of its successor, the Mondial.
‘Even Maranello touted the Dino as “almost a Ferrari”, a lofty dismissal that seems ridiculous today’
So what were their crimes? The 246GT, pretty as a picture though it is, had the ‘wrong’ engine, with a mere six cylinders forming the vee. Not only that, but this cuckoo engine was also in the wrong place: behind the driver. Worse still, it was transversely mounted. This was all terribly un-Ferrari and unacceptable.
The 308GT4 also pushed the envelope. No sooner had buyers just about got their heads around the whole mid-engined thing than they then had to come to terms with a V8, the favoured format of American muscle, the very antithesis of Ferrari’s engineering mantra. The engine might have been pardoned in time, but it would seem that the styling was given a life sentence. The only Maranello car since the coachbuilt era to be penned by Bertone – and its detractors delight in citing this car as the reason why none has been since – its radical, origami lines were just too much of a departure from curves for many people to stomach.
Clockwise, from left: snug cabin with offset pedals; gorgeous Pininfarina lines work best on hard-top GT; V6 jewel upped from 1987 to 2418cc for iron-block 246 of ’69; nimble balance makes Dino rewarding on a B-road; no Ferrari branding for Maranello’s new baby; delicate Cromodora alloys.
Yet a rocky reception isn’t all that connects them. They are genuine rivals, on the road if not on the forecourt. Admittedly, no one with the wherewithal to splash out on a 246 is likely to be swayed by this article into instead buying a 308 and pocketing the rest, nor will anyone in the market for the latter remortgage to the tune of £130,000 and plump for the former.
But is the GT4 really only a 10th of the machine that the 246GT is? Could it be that those who buy the overlooked 2+2 are getting a driver’s car that is almost on a par with its vastly more expensive sibling? The two have a lot in common apart from breaking the mould, after all: their productions overlapped; they sold in near-identical numbers; their dimensions are surprisingly similar; they get to 60mph within half a second of each other; they top out within 4mph of each other; and both were frowned upon by Il Commendatore Enzo Ferrari.
‘Running on its tiptoes, the gt4 dives into the apex and breezes around sweepers with the poise of Yohan Blake’
The 246 came first, of course. Branded Dino – after Enzo’s late son and to consciously distinguish it from ‘proper’, 12-cylinder Ferraris – it was intended to be a low(er) cost sports car. Even Maranello touted it as ‘almost a Ferrari’, a lofty dismissal that seems ridiculous today, but which serves to emphasise the Dino’s birth-pains.
After Pininfarina’s prototype 206 was a hit at the Turin show in 1966, it went into production the following year, its alloy skin mainly built by Scaglietti. The steel-bodied 246 (with a larger, iron-block V6) followed two years later. When the Dino was laid to rest in 1974, it had more than justified its existence: the self-appointed arbiters of Ferrari values may not have liked it, but everyone else did and it sold in record numbers.
Clockwise, from above: ‘star’ alloys would become a Ferrari constant through the ’80s; stylish dash fronts surprisingly roomy cabin; Dino name returns; GT4 was first production Ferrari since ’53 to not be styled by Pininfarina; V8 engine and four seats squeezed into 2.55m wheelbase.
It was joined by its controversial 2+2 stablemate at the Paris Salon in October 1973, and that car was built for seven years, in 1976 being judged to have earned its spurs enough to actually wear a Ferrari badge. Marcello Gandini clearly didn’t have to do a lot of rubbing out when comparing his drawings for the 308GT4 and the earlier Lamborghini Urraco, and that put Ferrari’s nose out of joint, just as Pininfarina was fuming at having been snubbed in the first place. The chassis was a stretched version of the 246’s tubular steel arrangement, and it also carried over its elder brother’s other advanced (for Ferrari) features, notably four-wheel disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering.
Engine aside, the two Dinos share much mechanically, the four-Weber-fed quad-cam V8’s power advantage over the triple-Weber V6 even wiping out the 246’s weight advantage.
This could be a far closer contest than you think. Maybe not in the looks department, though, where the low, lithe, curvaceous sports-racer stance of the 246 has rightly earned it aesthetic immortality. Like all of the most iconic classics, its shape is utterly seductive. The GT4 couldn’t be more different, but it has aged well. Those crisp, clean lines are understated, and it’s not as pointy as you might remember it. There is also a wonderful symmetry to the shape, especially in profile, thanks to the wealth of angular glass and thin pillars. Distinctive it may be, but it is genuinely attractive, too. Don’t forget that it is a 2+2 – compare it to the uncomfortable silhouette of the Mondial if you need to be convinced of what an accomplished piece of packaging this was.
The battle of the interiors is a lot closer. The 246 is more sparse: a trio of stalks takes care of most of the functions and the seats and headrests are still in plastic in this 1972 car – a real rarity these days, just like its working 8-Track player.
They are stylish yet comfortable, though, and the bank of dials fronting the expanse of dash is impressive. It is also more spacious than you might imagine, so you never feel cramped.
The same is true of the GT4, not least because of that extra wheelbase, though there is a fraction less room in the footwell. Even those rear jump-seats are just about usable – I survived a 40-mile run in the back after our photoshoot with no major discomfort. But what swings it for the GT4 is one of the best dashboards you’ll find in any classic. From the driver’s seat you feel like Dan Dare en route to Saturn, the major dials dead in front of you in the brushed-aluminium facia, the ancillary items thoughtfully angled towards you. It is a very lovely place to be.
Fire it up and the V8 in the rear rumbles only semi-obtrusively, most of the noise channeled through a quartet of tailpipes. It is loud enough for you to hear the taut bongo-beat of the 3-litre engine, though, so far removed from the lazy V8s that the world had grown accustomed to.
There is nothing un-Ferrari about the gearbox. Dip the slightly heavy clutch and the long lever offers hefty, positive yet quick changes through the five fingers of that trademark open gate, before you press the organ throttle to feed those gurgling Webers and canter off again.
The steering is a delight: light and pin-sharp, with just the right amount of weight and feedback through the spindly Momo wheel. Its directness is complemented by the superb handling, the far-from-heavy GT4 running on its tiptoes, diving into apices like a sprinter and breezing around sweepers with the poise of Yohan Blake. It is powerful and graceful.
The biggest surprise comes from the ride. Pleasantly soft and cosseting until you push it hard, this junior supercar is nonetheless tight and wallow-free when you want it to respond.
Like all mid-engined cars, its bite is extreme and immediate if you’re indelicate, but treat it with respect and you get plenty of gently sliding warning long before the limits are breached.
The 308’s youth may help it slightly against its family rival, because it is difficult to imagine that the 1960s car can drive better. Yet it does… marginally. The ride is firmer, which has its benefits, but the clutch is lighter and the steering even sweeter. The gearbox feels pretty similar, even though the lever is higher yet further from the driver in a right-hooker. Because you seem to sit so much lower in the 246, and the already compact car shrinks around you in a way that betters even the GT4, you are more at one with the road, feeling every nuance as you gaze out between those steeply arched front wings to pick your line. Where the more practical GT4 is a mesmerisingly good sports car for a 2+2, there are no such caveats with the 246: it is just a sports car, plain and simple. And a marvellous one at that. Yes, it could be more powerful, but a bigger engine would upset its remarkable balance and deprive it of some of its delightful nimbleness.
The original Dino is a bit special. It seems contrary to suggest that something rocketing towards £150k and beyond is good value, but the 246 is. In its league of Ferraris, just as the GT4 in its own, it is ridiculously undervalued. Its ethos may oppose that of the Daytona, but so does its personality, and it is none the worse for it.
The GT4 may not quite live up to its progenitor, but it gets as close as just about anything else. So, a gem that drives almost as nicely as the iconic 246 for a 10th of the price? Not only the most unfairly underrated Ferrari, but possibly the most unappreciated of all classic cars.
Thanks to Elias and Helen Elia at Autofficina: 020 8391 0002; autofficina.co.uk
“246 prices have been rising by about 20% a year. At the moment they are £115-200,000.
They are being bought by people who understand investment. That’s not to say they aren’t enthusiasts, but they also expect a return. Often, they see the car as fine art, so buy it for the same reasons.
“I own a 308GT4 and think it’s brilliant. Not everyone feels that way, though. Those who see what I see in it tend to be designers and others who are retro-orientated and like its period looks. Prices are on the up, but you can still get one for £15k; the difference is that demand has pushed up values for the best, and £30,000 isn’t uncommon now.
“With both, the first thing to check for is corrosion because the steel was Russian and is ‘delicate’. The biggest problems with engines tend to be caused by the people who work on them. The sodium-filled valves on some 246s can be tricky, so it’s essential to find someone who really understands them.
Find that person, sort any problems caused by previous mechanics and you should be fine. I know of plenty that are in regular use, but that I only see once a year for a service.”
Hampton’s first classic was a Triumph Herald, and his more recent run has included a Jensen Interceptor, Ferrari 412GT and, for the past couple of years, this 308GT4. He is somewhat smitten: “As with all Ferraris, you have to buy the best one that there is for your long-term sanity and financial well-being. This one did 6000 miles in my first full year of ownership, including a trip to the Le Mans Classic.
“When I bought it, you could see that it was a solid car that needed a refresh, and credit to the vendor Simon Furlonger, who did all of the work within the agreed price even though it turned out to be rather more than anticipated.
“I absolutely adore it. People ask why I have ‘traded down’ from the 412, but I don’t see it like that: I always wanted one and it’s lived up to all my expectations. Everyone is missing a trick.”
The year 2005 was a good one for Hutchinson, during which he bought not just this Dino, but also a 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS, now sadly gone. As may the Dino be soon. It was technically for sale when Hutchinson came on our shoot, but even as he left he was muttering that he couldn’t part with the three-owner car.
“It was my dream car, all stemming from watching The Persuaders as a child,” he says. “It has been amazing and I’ve had to do nothing major to it.” Refurbished in 1991 and repainted in its original Azzurro Dino – possibly the only right-hand-drive example in this colour – it was on display in the Haynes Motor Museum in 2010 and has covered only 50,000 miles.
Hutchinson adds: “The previous owner had it for more than 30 years. I was ‘interviewed’ to see if I would be allowed to buy it!”
|Car||Ferrari Dino 246GT||Ferrari Dino 308GT4|
1969-’74/2732 (plus 1180 GTSs)
1973-’80/2826 (plus 840 208s)
tubular steel chassis with steel body and aluminium bonnet
tubular steel chassis, steel body, aluminium bonnet and engine cover
iron-block, alloy-heads, dohc-per-bank 2418cc 65° V6, three twin-choke Weber carbs
all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 2927cc 90° V8, with four Weber 40DCNF carburettors
195bhp @ 7600rpm
|250bhp @ 7700rpm|
165Ib ft @ 5500rpm
|210lb ft @ 5000rpm|
|Transmission||five-speed manual transaxle|
|Drive||driving rear wheels|
independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
|Steering||rack and pinion|
|Brakes||dual-circuit ventilated discs, servo|
|Wheels||6 1/2×14 Cromodora alloys, 205/70 VR14s||7 1/2x14in alloys, 205/70 VR14s|
|Length||13ft 10 3/4in (4235mm)||14ft 1 1/4in (4300mm)|
|Width||5ft 7in (1702mm)||5ft 7 1/4in (1710mm)|
3ft 9in (1143mm)
|3ft 11 1/2in (1210mm)|
|Wheelbase||7ft 8 1/4in (2343mm)||8ft 4in (2550mm)|
|Price now||from £115,000||£15,000|