What do you drive? Oh, it’s an old Fiat… Not a winning drinks-party reply in the one-upmanship stakes – until you step outside, slip into a seductively curvaceous two-seater and disappear with a strident blare of engine noise that could only come from a race-bred motor. This old Fiat will turn heads, for it’s a far rarer sight on Britain’s roads than a common old 458. And yes, that was a race-bred noise it made as you streaked off up the road, for like its half-brother the 246 Dino from Maranello, Pininfarina’s voluptuous curves enfold the little V6 derived from Ferrari’s Formula 2 Dino engine.
Handed to Fiat’s production lines as a way of producing enough engines to qualify for racing in F2, the little motor, initially 2-litre and then upped by 400cc, found a home not only in the better-known 206 and 246 Dinos but also in two Turin enterprises – a 2+2 coupé shaped by Bertone, decent enough to look at but not a pulse-raiser, and the lovely Spider such as Cheshire Classics has on offer.
“It’s had a cracking job done on the engine,” says vendor Damon Milnes, “and it has a huge history file that reads like a directory of Ferrari and Fiat specialists. There’s record of paintwork and some minor jobs but no major work. Basically it’s a sound car that feels taut, as though it has always been well looked after.”
It seems the car’s lady owner kept it at Ferrari specialist Talacrest, who exercised it for her when she wasn’t using it. Fiat claimed the package as a two-plus-two, but frankly the ‘plus two’ element probably makes a better perch for your groceries than your offspring.
Despite that American incantation about cubic inches, bigger ain’t always better. While an earlier 2-litre car like this one rides on leaf springs supporting a rigid axle, the extra urge of the bigger motor brought independent rear underpinnings of coil springs, an angled steel arm and a transverse link. On the other hand the smaller unit has an alloy block, and enthusiasts still argue the trade-off between balance and bhp. But either looks equally attractive: those arching front wings plunging to that ground-hugging twin-headlamp grille give it a mean look, like a big cat on the prowl, and the details are pure Ferrari – in that a lot of them come from the Fiat parts shelf.
For fun fresh-air motoring with prancing horses under the bonnet if not on it, one of these little beauties is a temptation, if left-hand drive isn’t a problem. “Frankly you’d be hard-pushed to find an RHD example, especially as good as this,” says Damon. And anyway, that nostalgic Nardi wheel is on the correct side for Continental meanderings…