It is probably true that three of my five favourite road cars are Ferraris. Naturally I can’t afford any of them but even if I could, I’d probably not have either an F40 or a LaFerrari because both break the one rule by which, after far too many lessons learned the hard way, all my car buying decisions are now governed. Know what you’re going to do with it.
But a Dino, a little early ’70s 246GT? I know exactly what I’d do with that, which is pretty much everything. Compact yet surprisingly usable thanks to its big boot, with performance and handling you can exploit in public, it’s a car you’d enjoy whether taking it on holiday or simply to the pub.
There is another reason these cars are close to my heart because a Dino was the first Ferrari in which I travelled. What’s more it belonged to my father. Briefly.
He’d always had this thing about buying a new Ferrari before he was 40 and with months on the clock remaining, managed to scrape enough together to buy a red Dino in March 1972. Months later the world suffered one of its periodic financial spasms, we lost everything bar the house and that was that. Aged six, I probably only travelled in it a couple of times, but it was enough to light a Ferrari-themed fire within me that’s never really gone out.
I mention this now because in the last month I’ve been back behind the wheel of a Dino. But not AN Other Dino. The same one. My father’s car. The car is unrestored and save a respray and consumables aside, it is as it was when I last saw it 49 years ago. Which, when you think about that period of time and the Dino’s reputation for converting itself into iron oxide, is fairly remarkable. But it’s all down to its second owner, who kept it for 37 years, used it properly including doing sprints and hillclimbs, but clearly maintaining it fastidiously.
The car was for sale at Girardo & Co, and Max Girardo kindly suggested I take it for a run up the road. I wasn’t sure. I’ve driven other Dinos. It seemed unlikely one that had escaped the restorer’s knife for so long would measure up. And the last thing I wanted to find was a car that looked great but was a poor shadow of its former self. Then again, how could I say no?
I couldn’t. And it turned out to be the best Dino I’ve driven, with the strongest engine, smoothest gearchange and a rattle-free chassis that still felt entirely on top of its game. For all sorts of reasons, both subjective and objective, I was a bit stunned by it. But not as stunned as I was when I opened the glovebox and found the same eight-track cassette I’d last listened to in this very car almost half a century ago. Don’t ask how I remembered it, my mind just has a curious facility for retaining what turned out in this rare case to be only apparently useless information.
I left and drove home trying to think of some way to raise the steam to buy it, but I couldn’t come close. So I bought a Caterham instead, but that’s another story for another column.
“I drove home trying to think of a way to raise the steam to buy it”
But I wasn’t left entirely bereft. Three days later a FedEx van pulled up containing a small parcel and a handwritten note from Max saying, “We thought this was part of Frankel family treasure and will mean more to you than anyone else.” A class move if ever there were one. So I may not have my father’s Dino, but I do at least have his Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits eight-track cassette. All I need now is a machine on which to play the bloody thing…
I have also spent some time this month behind the Bakelite wheel of the very first of Bentley’s run of continuation ‘Blowers’, the dozen recreations of Sir Henry Birkin’s Team Car No2 supercharged 4 ½-litre Bentley. Except this isn’t one of the 12, but the so-called ‘Car Zero’ prototype on which all the development will be done and which will thereafter remain in Crewe. What was fascinating about it – apart from the rather obvious fact that it is a Blower Bentley – is that I got in it at a very early stage of its development and before hardly any – let alone all – of its bugs had been ironed out.
It is easy to tell how good the cars are going to be because the mighty engine felt stronger even than that in the original No2 (whose boost pressure is kept limited for eminently sensible reasons), and its chassis rigid and predictable, at least by the standards of the ironmongery that was possible over 90 years ago. But there were lots of details with how the clutch, throttle, brakes and gearshift behaved which would need attention, and there was very little surprise in that, given that almost 2000 new parts have had to come together to make it possible.
In fact I was quite glad it was so raw because it makes me think how much I’d enjoy being the driver who worked with a team of engineers to progress it from where it is to where it needs to be in order to provide a reliable template for the customer cars.
Indeed it briefly opened up a vision of a whole new career path for me as a development driver. I’d probably not be much good at new cars because I don’t care enough about the qualities that are important to someone buying a mid-sized crossover hybrid, but for recreated and resto-modded old cars? So long as I could work with people who knew how to put right what I said was wrong with the car, I’d like to think I could make a contribution somewhere. The chances of this happening? Somewhere between hardly any and none whatsoever. But it would be fun to try.
A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel