Nimbler than a Testa Rossa, and almost as quick, Ferrari’s 246 Sport Dino is a delicate jewel. We took one for a little exercise and fell in love
By Colin Goodwin
Once, when a new Dodge Viper was being delivered to my house for a test, I was unable to sleep the previous night because of the excitement. It has not happened many times since, but last night I lay awake thinking about driving this 1960 Ferrari 246 Sport Dino. When the editor called telling me he had something a bit special lined up, ‘a car you’ll like very much, Colin’ I couldn’t place this car. A 246 Dino Formula 1 car yes, and a later 206SP Dino also, but not this one.
In May this car, chassis number 0778, will go under the hammer at RM Auctions’ Ferrari-only sale at Maranello. It is one of only two examples built and is expected to sell for several million. The car has an interesting history. It was built new in late 1959 as a factory team car and was first raced at the Buenos Aires 1000km by Ludovico Scarfiotti and José González on January 31, 1960. Ignition problems caused it to retire, but a few months later Scarfiotti, partnered by Willy Mairesse and Guilio Cabianca, had more luck at the Targa Florio in which 0778 finished fourth. A fortnight later the car was a burnt-out wreck after a pitstop fire at the Nürburgring. The remains were taken back to Maranello and scrapped, and a new car was built using the same serial number. The new car was sold to Luigi Chinetti in the summer, but we’ll return to the history book a bit later.
The Sport Dino will soon be on its way to Maranello for the auction, but for now it is being stored and kept fighting fit, registered and taxed for the road in an anonymous industrial unit in Essex. Its beauty is breathtaking. The editor had described the car to me as looking a bit like a smaller 250 Testa Rossa and he’s not wide of the mark. There’s the same Perspex cover on the bonnet, only on the Dino of course it prevents the ingress of foliage and small birds into six carburettor throats rather than 12. Just over 10 years ago the car was restored by Terry Hoyle and is now settling down with a nice patina. There are a few little nicks in the paintwork and I reckon that in another 10 years the car will have aged perfectly.
The starting procedure for the 2.4-litre V6 is entirely traditional and follows the script I read often in car magazines as a teenager: switch on electric fuel pump, wait until the ticking slows down and then pump the throttle three or four times. The engine fires, but doesn’t come to life straight away. At the next attempt it coughs fire back through one of the carbs but immediately cranking the engine again sucks the flames back inside. Next time it starts with a bark. The noise is wonderful. There’s an exhaust on each side of the car so you get a wonderful staccato engine note from the pair of three cylinders.
Often with cars of this vintage that have been through many owners there are detail changes and modifications that are hard to spot if you’re not looking for them. Terry Hoyle told me that the customer for whom he restored the car was tall and asked Hoyle to extend the driver’s footwell. To do so was complicated because the right hand cylinder bank’s rear-most exhaust had to be cut and re-welded at virtually a right angle. I didn’t notice it when looking at the engine and didn’t have a problem with pedals being too far away for a comfortable reach, so perhaps the car has been brought back to standard.
First gear in the five-speed gearbox is to the left and down, opposite reverse. To select the latter you have to first flick up a guard. A very simple gate underneath the classic Ferrari fingered gearlever guide prevents you from missing out gears on the way down the gearbox and over-revving the engine. I’ve never been a big fan of Ferrari’s trademark gate, but the change in this car is straightforward as long as you don’t dither with the stick.
I had been slightly concerned that a V6 would be only half as wonderful as a V12 but no, the Vittorio Jano-designed six-cylinder is a work of art. Firstly, it’s not at all cammy for its vintage. The power starts to build at about 3500rpm and carries on flowing as the revs climb. Maximum power is 240bhp at 7500rpm, although I choose to lift when the needle gets to around 7250rpm. Well-known classic racer Tony Dron races a similar 246S and says he’ll take that engine to 8000rpm in the heat of battle. The car has not been weighed recently and there is no mention of its weight in the specifications supplied by RM. However, almost 20 years of pushing cars around for photographers has given me a reasonable feel for poundage and I’d guess that the Dino weighs somewhere around 650kg. If I’m not far out that gives the car a power to weight ratio of 370bhp per tonne.
I don’t have a huge catalogue of cars with which to compare its performance, but the little Dino doesn’t feel a lot slower than a standard spec original Jaguar D-type (not one with a modern hot-rodded engine). I’d imagine that 0778 would be particularly potent in tricky conditions because the spread of power is so broad. You’d think that an almost 50-year-old engine of 2417cc and 100bhp per litre would be very peaky, but it’s almost the opposite.
The bodywork is by Medardo and Gino Fantuzzi, coachbuilders who were famous for their work with Maserati and who also built one-off bodies for Ferrari, including a 250 TR (now in the Ralph Lauren collection) that looks very similar to this car. The shape is quite wonderful and the construction delicate. The chassis is fabricated from steel tube, of course, and uses Ferrari’s trademark oval section tube for the key frame sections. The doors are wafer thin and are held shut by simple sliding latches.
While Ferrari fitted some cars at this time with a de Dion rear axle and the 246S that Dron races has a conventional independent rear suspension, chassis 0778 sticks with a live rear axle. But then the 250 GTO has a live rear axle and there is little wrong with that car’s handling. Unfortunately today we are not near a race track, but the roads we are on are smooth and virtually deserted. Under hard acceleration in the first two gears the Dino wanders slightly as the front end rises and all the weight is transferred to the rear. I suspect that the issue here is the Dunlop racing tyres which until nice and warm, which is not possible to achieve on a cold spring day with speed limits, have poor lateral stability.
The steering is light and accurate. The V6 engine is set a long way back in the chassis (hence the necessity to chop the rear exhaust about when moving the driver’s pedal forwards) making the car technically mid front-engined. It would have been delightful around the Targa Florio course. Ample power, but useable and tractable, and a lightness of control essential for long distances in hot conditions.
The one thing I cannot cope with, and being born two years after this car have blissfully little experience of, is vintage brakes. The Sport Dino is fitted with disc brakes at both ends and not only do the calipers look man enough for the job, they are. Despite several hard stops there is hardly any fade at all and with no servo assistance the feel is solid and lock-up easy to judge.
You could easily drive this car to the south of France. There’s a lot of messing around on a photo shoot and that can strike disaster for a racing engine. A Kenlowe fan has been fitted at some point, but this is rarely needed as the engine runs at a perfect temperature as long as you don’t sit still for an unreasonable length of time.
While in Chinetti’s hands chassis 0778 took part in numerous American domestic races including Sebring in 1961, where it was driven by Chaparral founder Jim Hall and George Constantine. There’s no mention of competition in 1962 and only one race in ’63 before the car passed to the Hugus family. Chinetti stored the car at his Connecticut premises until 1971 when it was sold to Paul Bardinon in Mas du Clos. The car went to France, but Chinetti kept its original engine. A non-matching engine was fitted in Italy during a restoration soon after it came to Europe. Bardinon kept the car until 1997 when it was restored by Hoyle, who obtained the original engine from Chinetti and returned the car to its current specification.
Hoyle overhauled the Dino’s engine, replacing all the major assemblies. It is a fabulous looking engine with crackle-black valve covers hiding the single overhead camshafts and trio of Weber 42 DCN carburettors. Every detail on the car is perfect. It was built in a period when Italian coachbuilders couldn’t help themselves from creating works of art. The air vents just behind the wheels have beautifully fabricated stainless grilles where on a factory racing car a simple hole might have sufficed.
When the gavel falls in May I hope this 246S Dino falls into the hands of an enthusiast who not only appreciates its aesthetic beauty, but also that it is a perfectly set-up sports racer which should appear regularly at Goodwood and other circuits. I’ll drive other Ferraris, but somehow I doubt they’ll have the character of this one.
The hard sellers
American auction house is breaking records in Europe
RM Auctions started life as a single-car garage in Chatham, Ontario. It was here in 1976 that Rob Myers (pictured) started a car restoration business. “I began doing repairs, engine and performance upgrades, and eventually graduated to bodywork modifications and custom paint,” he says. “By 1980 I was able to open a large dedicated restoration and sales facility.”
Myers started buying and selling cars on a large scale, bringing vast numbers to auction houses and culminating in a record 118 vehicles at a Kruse International sale.
“We were doing such a large volume of business with other auction companies – something like several million dollars a year – that we decided it was time to open our own auction house.” And so it was that in 1991 RM Auctions Inc was born.
Nowadays it is the world’s largest classic car auction company, but RM had not ventured into the European market until last year. “I’ve been in the business for 20 years so I’ve been to many auctions in Europe,” says Myers. “I just felt we could be doing a better job than the companies over there. These are important cars and they deserve highly professional presentation.”
RM made a good start in Europe, selling just under £27.5 million worth of Ferraris at Maranello in May 2007, and then a record £19m at Battersea Park in October.
Even after these results, Myers has no interest in expanding too fast: “We’re taking our time in Europe. I’m not interested in doing auctions that sell one and a half million pounds worth of cars, there’s no point.”
RM aims to have at least four or five annual sales in Europe in the next few years and is sure the upcoming Maranello sale in May will be as successful as last year’s. “We’ve got some great products again and it’s been a little easier because we’ve proven that it’s a successful venue, so I think we’re going to have a great sale with Ferrari this year.” EF