It used to be that a gentleman driver would only consider a Ferrari with a large and powerful V12 engine mounted up front. Porsche manufactured small, rear-engined sporting cars for the arriviste.
All that changed when Ferrari launched the Dino, with a mid-mounted V6, and followed it with a succession
of V8-engined sports cars. Ever since, Ferrari has offered two tiers of performance and style – but the Dino has moved out of the new-money realm into
the collector-car stratosphere. Could the 1990s F355 be about to follow suit?
Ferrari broke from its traditional front-engine philosophy in 1968, when the diminutive Dino appeared. The new model was not even badged a Ferrari; it was simply a Dino 206GT. To make matters worse it was developed along with Fiat, the V6 finding its way under the bonnet of the Fiat Dino Coupé and Spider. Motoring aristocrats such as the Agnellis of this world were about to be joined by successful Luigis who owned lucrative pasta joints. What was Enzo thinking?
To be fair, the Old Man wasn’t keen on the mid-engine configuration for road cars – although his 250LM racer had proved to be the future for sports racing cars – as he thought the layout unsafe in the hands of customers. In the 1950s, his son Alfredo Dino Ferrari had been working with legendary engineer Vittorio Jano on small-displacement V6 racing engines that translated into successful racing cars, but Dino died of muscular dystrophy and never saw his ideas realised with the very successful road-going Dino.
As was often the case with Ferrari (and other small manufacturers), building the required production run of 500 vehicles to meet the homologation rules was problematic so, for the new 1.6-litre Formula 2 series in 1967, Ferrari turned to Fiat for production and to up the numbers. Sergio Pininfarina was commissioned to build a concept for the 1965 Paris Salon and a refined Dino 206S featured at the 1966 Turin motor show. The reaction was very favorable, so Dino 206GT production followed the year after.
The Dino became an instant hit with the new Ferrari customers and it was a brilliant piece of automotive design and engineering. It also moved Ferrari up a number of gears, transforming it from a small manufacturer of racing cars and expensive road cars into a specialist manufacturer of racing cars, expensive exotics and more affordable sports cars. In 1969 Fiat took commercial control of Ferrari, allowing Enzo to concentrate on his first love – motor racing – while considerably expanding the company and allowing it to grow into the success it is today.
With the new Dino costing some £5500 against the big-gun 365GTB/4 Daytona’s £9000, it’s no wonder the small Ferrari (priced similarly to the Porsche 911) took off the way it did. Just 157 examples of the all-aluminium 2.0-litre 206GT were manufactured in ’68 and ’69 before Ferrari realised that improvements were required to sustain the sales trajectory.
The steel-bodied 246GT was introduced in 1970, with a larger 2.4-litre engine that upped the horsepower from a screaming 160bhp at 8000rpm to a gruntier 195bhp at a still heady 7600rpm. Importantly, torque followed suit, from 138lb ft at 6500rpm to 166lb ft at 5500rpm. Weight rose too, to 1077kg, a tad more than the Porsche 911 of the day, but performance also improved considerably, with the 0-60mph sprint taking seven seconds and a top speed of 143mph.
The 1972 Giallo Fly Ferrari Dino 246GT you see here belongs to Capetonian Dickon Daggit. Daggit is a leading light in the historic racing scene in the Cape and has raced his Cooper Bristol at Monaco and Goodwood. He has owned his Dino since 1981. ‘Of all the cars I own, this will be the last one to go,’ he says. ‘Not only is it beautiful to look at, it’s a classic that’s quick, handles superbly and does everything I want in a sports car. I regard it as being one of the most important road-going Ferraris ever, even if the Dino GT only actually received the Ferrari badge once the model was launched in America.’
And there’s the crucial point. Informed motoring collectors such as Dickon Daggit consider the Dino to be a proper and seminal Ferrari. But because Dinos were half the price of the bigger V12 Ferraris when new, many of them had harder lives and multiple ownership. Rust, unreliability and expensive, high-maintenance servicing costs dragged their values down to the point where they became ‘cheap Ferraris’, an oxymoron that led to neglect and demise in many cases. Dinos were abused, smoked around and lost much of their value.
When the classic car phenomenon took hold in the 1970s, 275GTBs, 365GTCs and Daytonas increased in value and, come the crash of 1989, a Daytona was worth four times as much as a good Dino. But things have changed since then and today a good Dino is worth almost as much as a solid Daytona: say about £130,000. The Ferrari Dino is now as respected and collectable as any of the big V12s and having its engine mounted behind the cockpit is no longer a negative. After all, it became the way of many Ferraris.
The sublimely beautiful Dino Berlinetta and Spider were followed by the less classical, more angular Bertone-styled Dino 308GT4 in 1974. It was never considered to be one of Ferrari’s finest creations, yet its V8-engined heart founded a theme for every junior Ferrari that followed, starting in 1975 with the superb 308 (as featured in Octane issue 83), which morphed into the 328, then the tricky and nervous 348 of 1989.
This was the low point for the junior mid-engined Ferraris, as the company appeared to be concentrating its skills on the larger Testarossa and 512TR, the magnificent 288GTO and the ballistic F40. But in 1994 Ferrari focused anew and came up with the F355. The best mid-engined, smaller-displacement Ferrari since the original Dino, the F355 was met with enthusiasm by both the press and Ferrari owners, who once again had a compact and wieldy sports car to enjoy thrashing along their favourite roads.
Adam Blow brought along his immaculate 1996 F355 Berlinetta to pit against Daggit’s Dino and together they make a fine pair. Both designed by Pininfarina, these are two of the best-looking Ferraris ever created. The F355 has obviously moved on from the 246 and its specs are very impressive. It is the first Ferrari to feature five valves per cylinder (three intake and two exhaust valves) and its 3.5-litre V8 engine thumps out 380 stallions at 8250rpm. This translates to 109bhp per litre, an even higher specific output than the legendary McLaren F1’s 103bhp per litre. Performance? Little-league no longer, thanks to 0-60mph in 4.5sec and a top speed of 178mph. That’s properly fast, even today.
The fabulous 90-degree V8 is complemented by one of the most sophisticated exhaust systems of the time, which has a wastegate that opens at high revs to reduce back-pressure and, unfettered, allow an extra 20bhp. How exuberant and typically Ferrari – yet it is balanced by a cool and efficient Bosch Motronic engine management system, a six-speed gearbox with tightly stacked ratios, underbody aerodynamics with twin diffusers at the rear, electronically adjustable dampers, and proper racing car-style double wishbones at each corner.
The upshot is that Ferrari not only moved its F355 emphatically ahead of the 911 and Honda NSX opposition, it pushed the car straight into the jaws of the senior class dominated by the V12 Ferrari 512TR and the thunderous Lamborghini Diablo VT. Road tests of the time attested to the F355 being faster to 100mph than both, with the same time to the one kilometre post and a top speed almost identical to the 512’s. Bravissimo!
We meet on a hot 38-degree day at Hout Bay. Victoria Road snakes along the peninsular towards Camps Bay and Clifton beach, providing one of the world’s most beautiful motoring backdrops. The cold Atlantic Ocean crashes onto the rocks on one side, while verdant mountain ranges including the Twelve Apostles, Lion’s Head and the rear of Table Mountain soar up towards the bright blue sky on the other. The smooth tarmac ribbon dips and rises past the breaking waves and offers fast and flowing third- and fourth-gear corners with a couple of clear dual carriageway sections where the throttle pedals can be planted.
Rightfully, we start with Daggit’s Dino 246GT. It shimmers in the bright and unrelenting sunlight, sitting low on its old-tech 205/70 XWX Michelin tires, the bodywork stretched voluptuously yet tautly over its tubular steel frame. The mid-mounted engine requires two flared nostrils on either side to feed cold air, and the front and rear lids are perforated with gills. You open the driver’s door with the dinky little curled handle, about the size of a nail clipper, and slump down into the driving seat. It is reclined at a comical angle, like a deckchair, and has no rake adjustment. Lying almost prone, you look over the instrument binnacle full of optimistically rated Veglia dials and up over the high-arching front wings.
The Dino has been chuntering about for photos in the searing heat, but a press on the throttle pedal and a twist of the key gets the starter slurring and the three twin-choke Webers feeding without fuss. A dab of throttle elicits a fierce bark, as the race-derived 2.4-litre, chain-driven double overhead-cam engine clears its throats. Without having even moved off the mark, you know this is going to be a full-volume Ferrari experience.
The clutch is firm and short but has a precise bite. The dog-leg five-speed shifter is typically sticky at low speeds and is heavy in comparison to a modern car’s. The Dino moves off, proffering an unexpected flow of gentle torque. Changes up through the ’box get sweeter as the speed rises and the car responds instantly and accurately to the superbly alive steering through the beautifully crafted wheel.
Visibility is good, steering near-perfect, brakes need a good shove to get their attention but are then easy to modulate and the ride flows thanks to the all-wishbone, coil-spring suspension. The V6 engine is mounted transversely in the chassis, with the gearbox beneath it and the diff behind, so the mass is concentrated well within the wheelbase. And that becomes apparent as soon as you get into the groove.
Turning into corners the Dino initially understeers, but add some throttle and the rear end squats and the car starts to work from the seat of your pants. Load up the XWXs, start to push and the Dino responds beautifully, seeming to get down and clamp itself to the tarmac like an angry Cape Cobra. It darts from one apex to the next, hugging the best line with precision.
With the enthusiastic little V6 engine revving orchestrally behind you, the Ferrari can be thrown at every corner as fast as you like. The now-hot discs offer delicious feel as you brake later and later, guiding the Dino via its communicative steering while feeling it pivot about your hips, as the suspension does an excellent job of dispensing with any interfering undulations. You become one with this car and it flatters the driver, probably because the sublime chassis could clearly handle a whole lot more power.
So now we move to the more powerful young blood; the supercar. And make no mistake, the F355 is most certainly a supercar even if, today, a good, pre-owned example can be had for the relatively affordable (against a Dino) sum of £40,000-45,000 – prices that, having moved north over the last year or two, already prove that interest in the F355 is increasing. The best thing? Even at that money, it’s still an absolute bargain for what’s on offer.
Adam Blow’s F355 Berlinetta looks fierce in Scarlet. ‘I have a Porsche 993 Turbo as well as this and they are completely different. The Ferrari is a pure supercar but it is useable every day. And every time I drive it, I am reminded how special it is, even when sitting in traffic with the air conditioning on. As a driving enthusiast, I think Ferrari is the ultimate, so my next step is to order a new 458, which I am planning to collect from the factory in Maranello. My dream,’ says Blow.
Modern safety regulations and aerodynamic considerations render it less curvaceous than the Dino but the 355 is still a dramatic statement with its long nose, side vents, flipped-up tail and signature Ferrari tail lights. As the Dino is diminutive, the 355 is sizable and wide, with a low, ground-hugging front spoiler. It looks honed. Just walking towards the car you can feel the shift from analogue to digital. The 355 is laser-cut, the Dino handcrafted.
Having made myself comfortable behind the fat-rimmed steering wheel, the 355 starts instantly. Whirrr, blam, vrrrrrr. Fans blow from under the rear hood where the V8 is mounted longitudinally and the mill produces a flat wall of sound and a swell of heat. Every control feels oiled and accurate even though the pedalbox is offset towards the centre of the car. The drilled aluminium pedals themselves look a bit boy-racer in the otherwise sober and tasteful cabin.
You can drive the 355 fast and comfortably, revving it to about five thou, with the radio playing and the air-con cooling. But, as advised by owner Blow, things only really start to happen above that. So turn the tunes and chills off, drop two gears via the riflebolt gearshifter and hold on. The 355 gets serious.
If the Dino is akin to dancing with a beautiful woman as you guide her across the floor, the F355 is like a work-out with a black-belt karate instructor: precision thwacking with no corner either broached or given.
You want the driving seat mounted forward so you can grasp the fat power-assisted steering wheel, then reprogram your brain to keep up with the speed with which the 355 lunges into the corners. The gears are worth swapping just for the crack and the powerful vented disc brakes slough off speed with disdain. The car crushes the distance between corners with complete authority, and then it takes those corners with insane levels of grip and speed. Simply point and squirt. The superb suspension does the rest as the 355 hunkers down and launches itself through the bends.
The first run along the costal road is a blur. So do it again. Concentrate, balance the throttle, gearchanges and braking. Still too much infused information to process, so do it again. More at one with the 355, you delve more deeply into its performance abilities. The fat 225- and 275-section 40-profile tires mounted on 18-inch rims are not even close to the limit on this road and the 355 could do with a long, closed racetrack to get anywhere near its properly exciting edge. Amazingly, the electronic damping control that varies the suspension’s stiffness confers an extremely comfortable ride amid all the high-speed action.
Obviously this is not a Dino 246GT versus a F355 Berlinetta road test because, although both are Pininfarina-designed mid-engined Ferraris, they are from totally different eras and are engineered with vastly different technologies – but note that both are Berlinettas, the purist’s choice over the Spider versions. The Dino is charming and so much better than I imagined it might be. The 355 is a true supercar, yet as capable of being a daily commuter as it is pushing the envelope of serious performance. The 355 was never a ‘little’ nor a ‘cheap’ Ferrari, being launched at £83,000, whereas the Dino was perceived as being the ‘small’ Ferrari when first seen in 1969.
So I am surprised to find that I would choose the Dino over the fabulous 355. This Dino, like most today, is properly restored and in fine condition so it behaved impeccably in roasting conditions, never losing its cool. And it is just more special than the computerised, extremely loud, heat-venting, hyper machine that is the 355. Nowhere near as fast, the Dino is more seductive than the 355 on real roads. It appeals as a handbuilt icon rather than a precision instrument. You drive it with your soul whereas the 355 simply requires you to aim it with your brain engaged. You dance with the Dino and spar with the F355. Sure, the 246GT commands a price three times that of a good 355, and that’s no surprise: but don’t be surprised either if the F355 starts edging closer to it.
Thanks to Dickon Daggit for providing the Dino 246GT and Adam Blow for the Ferrari F355
NEED TO KNOW
Mototechnique has been restoring Dinos for decades and is regarded as one of the leading specialists in the field.
‘Dinos are over 40 years old now and therefore many have been restored,’ says Kevin. ‘Yes, they certainly did rust, but no more than many other classics of the period. At least with the Dino the footboxes, floors, inner arches and rear bulkhead are glassfiber, so you are really working with a single outer skin. Not like a lovely Alfa Romeo we have just restored, where we were chasing rust all around the car.
‘The Dino is very robustly constructed with a sturdy oval tube chassis, so they are tough little cars. The engines will eat through their camshafts if the tappets are out of adjustment and they need regular oil changes – that’s just routine maintenance. People go on about the electrics but I have never had to replace one wiring loom on a Dino.
‘One thing to look out for is the ammeter gauge shorting out and causing the car to catch alight. The wires at the back of the gauge go directly to the battery and if the gauge has been moved or the insulation broken it can cause a short and a fire.’
Roberto Grimaldi of Grimaldi Engineering is your man when it comes to looking after the 355.
‘These are great cars and are better when used regularly,’ says Roberto. ‘Batteries go flat and are difficult to reach; once the battery goes dead the engine management system will need to be reset.
‘The Motronic electronic engine management is an early system and no problem for our diagnostics equipment. The cambelts need to be changed every three years or 36,000 miles but we do that with the engine in place and offer a fixed-price menu, so no drama there,’ says Roberto.
‘The 355 wears out its exhaust valve-guides and in America people won’t buy them unless the guides have been renewed. But this doesn’t seem to affect performance at all.
‘Later models had the F1 paddleshift option which is designed for racetracks so it’s
a bit brutal. But it was good enough for Michael Schumacher; I really like it and it poses no problems.’
Grimaldi Engineering: +44 (0)1787 474645, www.grimaldiengineering.co.uk.