There's only one #Ferrari I'd have on my driveway
Is there something wrong with me? Hand on heart, there's nothing in the current range of Ferrari motor cars that I'd actually want to own. They're unusably wide, they're leeringly ugly to my eyes (488 arguably excepted) and they're so quick that driving them on the road would be saturated in frustration at not being able to exercise them properly. Oh, and they lack a gear lever and a clutch pedal.
It's sad that the marque that represented the pinnacle of wonderfulness to the pre-adolescent me, when the 330 P4 endurance racer vied with GT40s and the Chaparral 2F as objects of ultimate petrol-soaked heaven, when no road car looked more luscious than the 275 GTB, has come to this. It seems that no Ferrari able to trigger in me an unrequited longing has been made since the early 1970s, although I have driven and greatly enjoyed some much newer ones. Of those, a 430 Scuderia comfortably tops the pleasure bill.
A 430, obviously, is mid-engined. And it is the 430's most distant ancestor that is the only Ferrari I have really pictured in my garage. Partly that's because there was a time when achieving ownership was almost possible, helped by the fact that no other Ferrari road car has had such a modest number of cylinders or sat lower in the hierarchy, and partly it's because it remains one of the most beautiful Ferraris ever made. Clue? It wasn't even strictly a Ferrari. It was, of course, a Dino.
Dino was Ferrari's shortlived sub-brand for Maranello's smaller, cheaper creations. It was named after Enzo's son who died too young, but not before he had instigated a 65-degree, four-camshaft V6 engine for Ferrari's 1950s Dino 246 Formula 1 cars. That engine, after extensive re-imagining a decade later for quantity production by Fiat but with traceable conceptual roots, powered three new cars with Dino in their names. Fiat launched the Fiat Dino Coupé and Fiat Dino Spyder, while Ferrari launched the Dino 206. The 2.0-litre engine also appeared in Formula Two racing cars, which required a production-based unit.
For 1969 the engine grew from 2.0 to 2.4 litres (in which form it later powered the Lancia Stratos) and had its block changed from aluminium to iron. In Ferrari's case this gave rise to the Dino 246, reprising the old GP car's designation. What didn't change, though, were the curvaceous, low-slung, Pininfarina-drawn lines whose air intakes in the rounded rear haunches set a design motif that lingered within mid-engined Ferraris right up to the F40. But only the Dino retained the curvy nose of past Ferraris, with a low, round-cornered mouth of an air intake and rounded eyes of headlights above. Horizontality ruled thereafter, before transmuting into today's manic grins.
Stand by a Dino today and it seems tiny. To young eyes the tyres seem balloon-like in the way they cushion the little 14in wheels, but a 70 per cent profile was quite racy back then. The sense of delicious compactness, of easy country-road threadability, is heightened as you fall way, way down into the low, horizontally-striped seat having barely stepped over a sill. The road is mere inches below your bottom.
Some mid-engined cars are claustrophobia-inducing and thwart attempts to discover what is going on behind. Not this one; there's a panoramic view forward over the low bonnet, the mountains of the front wings delineating the valley between, and there's much glass aft so you can see through the buttresses either side of the engine. Driving the Dino should be pure pleasure.
Strangely, at first it isn't. Enzo Ferrari, worried that his buyers might find his first mid-engined road car unnervingly twitchy, ensured they wouldn't by making the steering quite slow and the handling balance biased to strong understeer when driving gently. Then there's the usual business of a gearbox reluctant to concede second gear when cold, and the fact that to achieve a pace befitting a claimed 195bhp output (in the 246; the 206 promised 180bhp) requires merciless revving.
I discovered all this some years ago when driving a Dino 246 GT for the second time. The first had been a short run in Maranello Concessionaires' own metallic blue example in 2001, which didn't actually feel very fast. The fantasy was slightly punctured by this, but several years later I drove a well-used example which had the haze of hydrocarbons suggestive of a loose, free-spinning motor. That's how the Dino seems to work best; you just put up with the smell and watch the oil level.
On first encounter, the roads wet, this one immediately felt keener in the engine and it sounded lovely. But the steering was sluggish, it misted up, the clap-hands wipers were hopeless… was this another case of a hero better unmet?
The next morning, roads dry and sun shining, everything changed. The steering's initial sloth turned to feelsome precision once I was pushing a little harder and the front tyres were loading up. The gearchange responded willingly to a firm, measured hand and an occasional double-declutch, the engine sang as it headed to the sevens and it was all rather wonderful. Driven with gusto the Dino came together. The reality finally matched the dream, albeit with more physicality to the driving process than that delicate styling suggests.
But dream it has had to remain, because Dinos now routinely sell for £250,000 or more. When I was a student, abused ones could briefly be had for a hundredth of that; indeed a friend and I calculated that if we didn't eat or drink for the rest of the year we could just about buy one between us. We didn't, and stayed alive instead.
Now, a (different) friend is thinking of selling his unusually lovely example, with panel fits as perfect as those of too many Dinos are not.
It would be the ideal one to buy, but I'd have to sell my house first. And, annoyingly, I don't think you can live in a Dino.
Words by John Simister