The Ferrari Dino 246 GT & GTS

Looking back and having time to reflect, it is difficult to believe that a car was launched from one of the most famous and prestigious manufacturers in the world and yet wore a badge that bore no evidence of whom the manufacturer really was. It was as if Ferrari somehow disowned it and wished to wash its hands of it. And yet the irony was that it was to become the most known of Ferraris, recognised even by non-Ferrari enthusiasts which was in contrast to the confusing array of preceding models.

The car had been named after Enzo Ferrari’s son Alfredino who had tragically died at the age of 24 in 1956 from leukemia. He was already on the company payroll and was credited with being the driving influence behind the new V6 engine which was being developed for competition purposes. Henceforth all six cylinder models were known as Dinos.

Since Ferrari’s answer to the new Porsche 911 was to be a smaller 6 cylinder car, the old man had therefore decreed that it should also be be designated the Dino, the first Production car to be named thus. There is also every indication that he was hedging his bets lest this little 2 litre was found to be unacceptable from a company that was associated with more powerful and bigger sports cars. As it turned out, it was not the engine capacity and specification which attracted the most attention, but rather the curvaceous and graceful Pininfarina body. At a time when design trends were becoming angular and wedge-shaped, the Dino stood head and shoulders above the rest for its beauty and grace.

Apart from being seen on a few sports racing cars in 1965 and 1966, the shape was initially shown on the Pininfarina stand at various Motor Shows. It was launched at the 1965 Paris Salon, reappeared at the following year’s Turin Show and again at the 1967 Frankfurt Motor Show, each time with a slightly altered appearance.

The version of the V6 engine which appeared in the first production Dino, the 206GT, was an offspring of the Formula 2 unit. The regulations for 1967 stipulated that Formula 2 engines had to be derived from a production unit of which at least 500 had to be manufactured in a year, a quantity far beyond Ferrari’s capabilities at that time. Giovanni Agnelli, head of Fiat, which at that time had not taken control of Ferrari, heard of the problem and offered to build them on Ferrari’s behalf. It was hardly a satisfactory situation as the engine had not been designed with large scale production in mind and there were doubts about the quality of the work, but in the event the joint project was quite a success.

The 2 litre, light alloy engine fed by three Weber 40DCF carburettors, mated to the gearbox and transversely mounted behind the seats produced 180bhp at 8000rpm, but it was not fast enough and suffered at the hands of the latest Porsches which the car was designed to meet head on. Consequently the 2 litre engine was replaced by a 2418cc version in the spring of 1969. The bore and stroke had been increased to 92.5 x 60mm and the power output increased by 15bhp to 195bhp at 7600rpm.

Due to the light alloy bodywork of the 206GT being replaced by a thin steel one on the 246GT and the weight consequently increased by 396Ib to 2380Ib, top speed was only 1 mph faster than the 2 litre, but the torque was considerably improved. There was little external difference between the two models except that the 246GT was three inches taller, the wheelbase was extended by 2.3 inches and the overall length by 3.7 inches, but gone were the triple-eared knock-off hub spinners and the chrome filler cap.

Between 1969 and the end of 1974 when production ceased, 2732 246GTs were produced, none, it is said, being exactly the same having been individually handcrafted.

There was an addition to the range in 1972 when a “Spyder” version was introduced. With the exception of the detachable roof there was little difference between the two models, but the 246GTS, as it was designated, has become all the more desirable as a collector’s car, particularly as only 1180 were produced in its three years of production.

The Dino has only become a collectable car within the last few years for during the Seventies and early Eighties examples in poor condition could be picked up for quite a small amount. The expense came later in the renovation, but such was the work needed with the resultant cost that at that time the price of a reconditioned car did not justify the expense.

Times have changed though and those people astute enough to have bought them when they were not in favour or as rust buckets for future projects are laughing all the way to the bank for where a good example cost £5000 six years ago, that figure has to be multiplied by at least 15 today.

One person pleased with this trend is Adrian Thomas who picked up his GTS a dozen years ago, but its condition belies its 34,000 miles on the clock. Sitting on blocks at the back of his garage, a converted stable in North London, it is a rather a forlorn looking sight and in complete contrast to his immaculate 308GTB. The car has been off the road for the last four years following its recovery after a theft. It was fortunate for Adrian that the thieves were joy-riders and not part of an international syndicate otherwise that there is no doubt at it would have been spirited out of the country. The radio and speakers were stolen, but the villains were so ignorant of the car that the precious Campagnolo wheels, which were an optional extra when new, were left as was everything else, the car suffering from a few superficial marks and dents.

At the moment the car is being stripped down prior to a rebuild. There are the usual rust problems, particularly around the door sills, the door bottoms and wheel arches where water would get trapped and so begin the rusting process. The strong, tubular chassis was protected from the atmosphere by a glassfibre sheet held in place with rivets, but as in the case of this car, they would sometimes get caught in the airstream underneath, peel back and finally pop off and fly away as happened to Adrian when bombing down the motorway.

Mechanically the car should be sound as it has been regularly serviced, an essential element in the ownership of any Ferrari. The Dino may have been the cheap Ferrari, but a service every 3000 miles was a requirement and the tappets needed adjustment every 6000 miles. Camshaft wear was also a problem particularly if too much use was made of that torquey engine and the car driven at low revs. The gearbox was marvellous but it was marred by second gear. Even when new it was the weak link, but on some cars, nowadays, second gear is almost unusable due to worn synchromesh.

Another problem area, even when the car was new, was electrics. The cars were fitted with Marelli’s Dinoplex electronic ignition, but as they were unreliable, the cars were also fitted with a conventional system as back-up. Adrian’s car had the single dual purpose coil instead of the twin coils that were fitted to earlier models. Instrumentation was good, gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and water temperature being visible but the speedometer and rev counter were partially hidden from sight. Other areas of poor design or build quality included the quarter light catches which easily fell off, the cable-operated door handles which snapped and the motors which lazily lowered and raised the windows. On Adrian’s model, the roof also squeaks and rattles when fixed in place, a common complaint on all 246GTs – as was the suede-type material covering the facia which quickly faded in the sunlight.

Although the Dino did not have the top speed of the Porsche 911S, it handled beautifully, braked efficiently and seemed at the time to be the nearest thing to a racing car on the road. It was not particularly well built, had a number of design faults, which few other manufacturers would accept and cost a lot to run, but despite those limitations, once sitting behind the wheel, with the bonnet and wheel arches dropping away in front of you bringing to mind the Chevron B8, there was simply no substitute for the adrenalin it caused to be pumped through the veins of even the most mild-mannered driver. It was contemptuous, exciting, passionate and very Italian.