It's time to wake up to the Fiat Dino. It might not say 'Ferrari' on the front, but this is a car bred from ambition, with flawless lines and a beating heart for the track.
We met up with Mark Devaney - the expert on Dinos - to shed a little light on this under-appreciated beauty.
“It’s the whole opera of the engine - quite a performance, I don’t mean horsepower,
I mean the soul of the car: the noise it makes, the way it moves.”
Dino. It’s a name you probably already associate with slight, elegant and fast Italian metal. Use the word 'Dino' and you’re actually talking about an idea. One from Alfredo Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari’s son who died tragically at the early age of 24. He had dreamed of building a smaller engine, a V6, to compete in Formula 2. In his honour, Enzo named the resulting smaller-engined cars 'Dinos' after his first born son’s nickname. To actually put this new engine design into racing, Ferrari needed a manufacturer capable of building a car to homologate the new engine.
They shook hands with Fiat who agreed to build the engine and match it with a car to reach sales numbers needed to keep the FISA chaps happy. Like being handed the mic at a rock concert, Fiat grabbed this opportunity and certainly made the most of it.
“I feel it was a vanity project to show what Fiat could build, what they could do. I don’t think they made any money out of them, but this whole tie-up with Ferrari was deemed a good thing to do. The trickle-down effect of siding with the winning national race team meant Fabio in his little Fiat 500 could pretend he was in a Ferrari. Fiat had a lineage, a connection to Ferrari through the Dino."
With these fresh links to Ferrari and Italy’s top design houses on the cards, the Fiat Dino caused enough of a stir to take roughly 800 orders before a design was even seen. Dinos were already making their mark as cars for people to actually get excited about owning. Cheaper than a V12, it brought a real racing engine to the people whilst Fiat got the renown it deserved. "I’m not sure it was the making of them by any means but I think it certainly increased their profile."
A manufacturer of cars, trains, tractors, diggers and ships, Fiat were at the centre of Italy’s engineering industry, “They even made satellites”. The Dino was a shot at sharing the limelight with the biggest racing brand in the nation. "Fiat has been looked down upon by lots of people, they did make some stuff that rusted but then so did everyone else. They were known for making cheap cars, I mean the Fiat 500 put Italy back on the roads."
Perhaps this car was the secret sauce to convince punters that Fiat was now a place to find a decent driving machine. Best of all it didn't disappoint. The concept Dino was poured into the spider - it takes the exceptionally futuristic and aggressive lines with ease and sophistication. That front. Those lights. It’s no wonder it was all over the Italian press. (If you get a moment, look up the Berlinetta Concept and you’ll see what I mean).
If you’re not already sold (as I was) then you’ll probably want to know what the Dino is really like to drive, and ultimately live with. "Once you get them right they can be quite reliable and they can be used to travel round Europe." Mark has customers with cars that he prepares for trips of over 4,000 miles. Of course the cars do get a bit grumpy from time to time, but what Mark won't tell you is that it's really his preparation skills that are the key to taking a sixties Fiat through over ten countries.
The 2.4L coupe is the heavier of the designs on offer. The engine gives a smoother power delivery making it easier to drive and ideal for longer journeys. "It does handle well and it’s well planted on the road. I feel the coupe was bought more by people who wanted something badged as a Fiat, the kudos of a Ferrari, but could be parked in a street without looking too expensive."
The convertible was cheaper than the coupe at the time, though they've now rocketed in market value. "[At the time] there wasn’t a small Ferrari convertible, they just made big V12 convertibles which made the Dino quite alluring.” Mark says the convertible is best offered as the 2L option rather than the rarer 2.4L version. Lighter and eager to please, it drives with a spirit that matches the top-down experience.
“It’s almost an urban Myth this Fiat with the Ferrari engine. Quite often people don’t know which Fiat has the engine. The badge means people haven’t really switched onto it until recently."
The bizarre reality to the Fiat Dino is that it’s actually a great car that seems to have forever been overshadowed by its cousins. Classing it as a lesser Ferrari or a greater Fiat doesn't matter, the car as a whole works to a perfect recipe, especially with that V6. "There's an air of sophistication to them, a slight ‘under the radar’ factor being that it’s got a Fiat badge on it. Quite often I see people looking at these cars when I’m road testing them or when I park them. People ask me about them and they never really know what it is, they’re always quite surprised it’s a Fiat."
All we know is we want one.