An original road test taken from the Motor Sport archives, September 1971 | by Denis Jenkinson
Ever since I experienced the 904 Porsche, with its mid-engine layout, I was convinced that this was the right formula for a sports car. Since then I have experienced so many mid-engined coupés that I am more than satisfied that my first impressions were correct. The highest point in my road-going mid-engine experience must still be the Ford GT40, but this was a pure racing car adapted for road use. Very high on the list was the experimental Rover BS6, based on road car parts, which Lord Stokes seems to have killed, thus depriving British industry of a chance to show that it can make cars as good as anyone.
In all my mid-engine experience there was one serious gap, and that was the Dino Ferrari. I watched Italian owners suffering the pangs of growth with the early models, in the days when it was the thing to do to sidle up to the owner of a Dino Ferrari and innocently enquire “How’s the Dino?”
Nine times out of 10 he would spill his coffee as he snapped “Why?” Early Dino owners were very touchy about the fact that they had paid an awful lot of money for a car that was still having teething troubles.
Those days are long since past, and the Dino owner today cannot wait to tell you what a wonderful car it is, and at last this gap in my mid-engined experience has been filled. Without reservation it has gone down in my special list of the unbelievable, along with the GT40, the Rover BS6 and the Mercedes-Benz C111, but the outstanding thing is that the Dino Ferrari is a production car, even being available with right-hand steering for the insular English. Ferrari’s little jewel is a very sleek and smooth two-seater coupé, the body being to the design of Pininfarina, and surely one of the best designs from that firm. It is built by Scaglietti in Modena and mounted on a tube chassis frame, with independent suspension to all four wheels by wishbones and coil-spring/damper units. The V6 engine of 2418cc is mounted transversely just ahead of the rear wheels, the five-speed gearbox integral with the sump. This results in a remarkably compact power unit, so that there is a large luggage boot in the tail without unnecessary overhang.
The four overhead camshafts are driven by chains, and in the vee of the engine are three Weber 40DCF carburetters fed by an air duct just behind the left-side door. The V6 cylinder block is in cast iron, all other parts being in alloy, and a duct by the right-side door feeds cooling air onto the ignition system. The 2.4-litre engine revs to 7600rpm for a power output of 195hp. It will run to 8000rpm, and all the best journalistic road-testers seem to get 8000 in fifth gear, a theoretical 151mph. I found that the rpm instrument was so badly sited that the needle disappeared from view at about 7400rpm. Without doing a timed run through electric clocks you cannot really quote a true maximum for a car like the Dino, but it will no doubt do an honest 145mph under favourable conditions.
Unlike some mid-engined coupés the Dino Ferrari presents no problem of entry, the doors being wide and the opening unobstructed. The bucket seats look first-class, but are in fact about the only weak point of the car, for they tend to be too small for large drivers, which is a pity, for the fore and aft adjustment is so good that there is adequate room for all sizes. My main criticism is that it is not possible to alter the angle of the back of the seat, a very necessary adjustment on any car that is going to be used for serious motoring. Of the driving position itself there is no criticism at all, and the rear and rear-three-quarter views are excellent, thanks to a clever rear window that is curved at its ends to flow into the body sides. Not only does this look good but it is remarkably effective in providing all-round vision.
A disappointment was the very ineffectual layout of the instruments, as they appear to have been put in place by a stylist and not a motorist, for with an engine like the Dino V6 the rpm indicator is all-important, because it revs so freely and the car has such superb gear ratios that the needle rushes up into the red sector incredibly easily. A car like this needs a large clear tachometer in the centre of the panel in front of the driver and other instruments should be secondary, as on a 911S Porsche; the Dino has matching speedo and rev-counter laid out to make things look pretty. The three-spoke dished steering wheel is nicely tucked away out of the line of vision and the long central gearlever operates in a functional and clear gate, the five forward ratios being beautifully spaced so that as you accelerate hard through all the gears the music of the V6 engine seems to remain constant at all times. Considering that the engine is just behind your head the noise level is very low indeed and you can converse quite normally at 100mph.
The shape of the Dino was evolved in the wind-tunnel at the Turin Polytechnic Institute and the results would appear to be very satisfactory on three counts, the low wind noise, the fact that a day of 100mph-plus motoring left very few dead flies on the nose, and the remarkable way the car maintains speed if you lift off and snick into neutral. The gear gate is typical Ferrari, leaving no doubt as to which gear you are in or where the next one is. The lever has quite a long and deliberate movement, not terribly quick, but a real joy to use, and even though the 2.4-litre engine pulls cleanly from tick-over right through the rev range, you tend to keep the engine revving for the sheer pleasure of listening to the dynamo-like music behind you.
Of all the mid-engined cars of which I have had experience the Dino stands head and shoulders above the rest, with the exception of the GT40 Ford, which was a pure racing car, and the BS6 Rover V8, which was an experimental one-off. After discussing the car at great length with a friend he remarked that if my only two criticisms were the position of the tachometer and the lack of an adjustment to the seat back, it must be a very impressive car. He was absolutely right, it is a very impressive car. If you have never driven a good mid-engined car then you cannot start to really appreciate the handling, the ride, the stability and the feel that such a car imparts, but once you have experienced it it makes all front-engined or rear-engined cars obsolete. As a production car selling in England for £5252 it must be the ultimate sports car.
Ferrari Dino 246 factfile
Max speed: 145mph
Purists insist it’s not a Ferrari, but if Jenks called it one… Compact, pretty and wieldy; an enduring classic you can get a suitcase in for that special weekend. Based on 206GT, it needed only very minor changes during life, apart from wider rear track and five-bolt alloys from ’71, GTS Targa option from ’72.
Perfect spec: the one you bought before prices spiralled…