Ferrari Alfredo: Il Commendatore Hated His Son's Mid-engine, V-6 Vision. What Did Enzo Know, Anyway?
It’s a miracle I didn’t get thrown out of junior high school for felony inelegance. As if my pipe-cleaner sleeves and plaid rayon pants weren’t bad enough, I sullied the hallways with a mouthful of braces so grotesque, some of my fellow students pressed coins into my palm in pity. No wonder that during those dark ages I gravitated toward romantic relationships of the long-distance variety. Really, really long-distance. As in, on TV. The object of my most lasting adolescent ardor wasn’t Wonder Woman or a Charlie’s Angel, though. Oh, no. I fell in love with a Ferrari.
I remember the moment, my first-ever glimpse of the 246GTS, aka the “Dino.” I’d tuned to the cutesy, pseudo-007 spinoff “Hart to Hart,” starring none other than Robert “It Takes a Thief” Wagner. As the theme song swelled, suddenly my eyes froze: those alluring curves, those libidinous flanks, all that glimmering, mouth-watering red. (The Dino next to Stefanie Powers looked nice, too.) Some time later, I happened upon a 30-second promo for that week’s Sunday night movie — “11 Harrowhouse.” Apparently it was some sort of diamond-heist lark, but I didn’t care, because there before me was another red Dino, this one piloted by the tweedy Candice Bergen. The Ferrari catapulted onto the screen, screaming down a tricky two-lane before suddenly ditching the asphalt and pirouetting round and round into the weeds, a furious frenzy of squealing tires and flashing fenders and really amazing hair. The sheer overdose of eye candy left my pubertal brain reeling. “Wow,” I remember thinking to myself. “This might even be better than ‘One Million Years B.C.!'”
Such mountain-road mastery, combined with knee-weakening, Sophia Loren curves, explains the astronomical — many say absurd — figures being paid for nice Dinos today.
Right then and there I vowed: Someday I must drive that gorgeous car.
Alas, consummating my romance — and ditching the static-charged plaid for Italian stile — wasn’t going to be easy. Ferrari built only about 1200 246GTS targas between 1972 and 1974. And I — then employed as a young executive brooming yellow fuzz off the courts at the local tennis club — couldn’t afford any of them.
Let’s shove the elephant out of the room right now: Pretty as it undeniably was, and despite selling well from the get-go, from its birth the Dino was a sort of Rodney Dangerfield in Maranello’s stable. It didn’t get no respect. Not from Enzo Ferrari, anyway. This being Il Commendatore’s first-ever mid-engine car — and powered by a puny V-6 at that — the maestro of the V-12 is said to have snorted something to the effect of: “Non mettere il mio nome su quella merda.” Which I believe roughly translates as, “Don’t you dare put my name on that steaming pile of rigatoni.”
Thus, the forerunner to Ferrari’s new mid-engine line, a masterful, curvaceous concept penned by the great Sergio Pininfarina and unveiled at the 1965 Paris motor show, wore badges of the company’s “affordable” Dino brand — and not a Ferrari emblem anywhere. It was a curious — some might say heartless — way to honor the name of Enzo’s late son, Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari, who had passed away in 1956 at just 24 from muscular dystrophy. On the other hand, the so-called Dino 206GT Speciale was a showstopper. Boasted Pininfarina of his new creation: “The voluptuous thematic of the curves, stylistically fascinating and aerodynamically exact, goes beyond any hasty criticism which might object to the front, exposed to bumps and mud.” (Take that, Don Draper.) And certainly Dino the man had earned his badges. He was the one who, against his father’s wishes, pushed for development of a mid-engine road car and a series of small twin-cam V-6 engines for the Grand Prix circuit, though he died before contributing to the designs or ever seeing one produced. (After Alfredo’s death, it was Pininfarina who picked up the torch and badgered Ferrari to build a mid-engine car; in many ways the Dino owes the most to him.)
He was unwilling to sully his own name with a V-6 model, perhaps, but Enzo Ferrari clearly cherished the memory of his son enough to follow through on his vision. By the 1968 model year, Ferrari — er, sorry, the Dino company — finally introduced a production version, the 206GT. Powered by a Fiat-built, triple-Weber V-6 making just 160 hp at 8000 rpm, the Dino was no GTO. But it was a jewel nonetheless, boasting a Ferrari-built chassis and handcrafted aluminum bodywork from Scaglietti. Che bella! If only poor Alfredo had lived to see it.
By 1969, Ferrari filled out the twin-cam, 2.0-liter mill to 2.4 liters, stretched the wheelbase a tad, and replaced the aluminum bodywork with steel to save costs. The 246GT coupe was born. The removable-roof GTS (Spyder) version bowed at the 1972 Geneva motor show, and by late 1973 the car was available with wider wheel arches; fat, 7.5-inch Campagnolo alloy wheels; and “Daytona”-style leather seats (the famous- – and highly sought — “chairs and flares” package). That Italian-company-we-won’t-name built the last 246GTS in 1974. That wasn’t the end of the Dino, though. The clunky 1973 308GT4 — a Hieronymus Bosch hag to the Botticelli Venus that is the 246 — also bowed wearing only Dino badges, but soon the company decided the 2+2 was in fact worthy of full Prancing Horse status. In 1976, the GT4 appeared as a Ferrari. Alfredo would’ve loved that one.
Despite its “affordable” Dino nameplate, the 246GTS was a pricey piece in its day. Base sticker in 1973 was $14,500; a V-12 Jaguar E-Type could be had for just $8475. Even a Porsche 911 Targa undercut the Dino by a good $5000. The Dino’s acceleration was merely decent — about the same to 60 mph (roughly 8 seconds) as the E-Type, but slower than a contemporary Corvette. On top speed and handling prowess, though, Alfredo’s bambina trumped them all, reportedly topping 140 mph and circling the skidpad at about 0.85 g — a figure that would hold up well today.
Such mountain-road mastery, combined with its knee-weakening, Sophia Loren curves, explains the astronomical — many say absurd — figures being paid for nice Dinos today. Clearly, Enzo Ferrari was wrong about his little bargain-basement middie, and his son was right. That four-wheeled nymph I first saw flickering across the cathode rays may once have been a “lowly” Dino, but it’s since become one of the most iconic and adored Ferraris of all time.
Even after nearly three decades in the car-testing business, the Dino managed to elude me. I’ve sampled everything in Ferrari’s modern stable: the Enzo, the Superamerica, the 599GTO, even a ride around Mugello with Piero Ferrari himself in the awesome FXX. But no 246GTS. Years ago, I’d even talked about buying one with colleague and then-246GTS owner Ken Gross. “Oh, you could get a really nice Dino for, say, $35,000-$45,000,” he’d replied. At the time I balked at such an “ungodly” sum. Now I could kick Ken for not kicking me.
It was Motor Trend Classic that finally brought the dream to life. Suddenly I found myself orchestrating this issue. “I think I’ll test-drive a 246GTS; write a feature story on it,” I said aloud. “Sounds like a great idea,” I replied to myself. “Excellent,” I said back. “Take your time on the deadline.”
Cue the magic wand. That’s this business. Suddenly appears a luscious, bright-red 1973 246GTS, chairs and flares and all for me. Of course, I’ve seen and admired Dinos in the metal many times. But this time I climb in, find a halfway comfortable position in the banana seat on the flat floor, and twist the key. “It’s yours for the day,” the car’s gracious owner has told me. “Enjoy.”
After a few extra it’s-an-old-car cranks on the starter, the little V-6 springs to life, settling into a lumpy but strong idle. The dash is early-’70s cool: electronic Veglia gauges, brushed-metal plate, big ventilation sliders — all wrapped in a blanket of fuzzy black “mouse fur.” The Dino name sits right there at wheel center, a stylized script as only the Italians can do it. No, Enzo wasn’t hiding anything.
Clank. I slot the gated shifter down to the left, ease off the clutch. I’m gentle with the throttle at first, watching the gauges reach for warmth. Temps up, I press harder. The engine loves it, quickly segueing from a mellow grumble to the sort of high-pitched, sports-car yowl that awkward teenage boys imagine screaming from the posters on their wall. Except this time it’s real. I start pushing harder into the turns, and the Ferrari — hell, yes, this is a Ferrari — loves that, too. This 246 may be 40 years old, but it’s got Ferrari’s trademark magic-carpet feel. It seems to hover over the ground, resilient but responsive at the same time, the steering breezy and direct. The steering wheel is pitched at a stupid angle — more horizontal like that of a bus than vertical — but as I shuffle it through my fingertips, do I care? I do not. The cockpit smells of worn leather and decades of sunlight. The targa roof is off and the wind is blowing and the engine is right behind me, almost riding with me, whirring chains and whirling gears hot in my ears. The Dino feels light and happy and small and very, very Italian. Alfredo, I sense, knew it could be like this, wanted it to be like this.
Thirty-some years ago, I fantasized of such an afternoon: of gunning a Dino through the cogs while embraced by a loveliness so rare and sublime even in my muddled youth it blazed through like a beacon. Even all the brilliant test cars since — even all the Ferraris — haven’t diminished this adolescent reverie at last realized in speed and form and sound. So please forgive the crazy smile. The Ferrari 246GTS, Dino’s dream and mine, has left me giddy. And the braces are long gone.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Motor Trend Classic.
1973 (FERRARI) DINO 246GTS SPECIFICATIONS
Engine: 147.6-cu-in/2419cc DOHC V-6, 3×2-bbl Weber 40DCF carburetors
Power and torque (DIN): 195 hp @ 7600 rpm, 166 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm
Drivetrain: 5-speed manual, RWD
Brakes front: vented disc; rear: vented disc
Suspension front: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; rear: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Dimensions L: 166.0 in, W: 67.0 in, H: 45.0 in
Weight: 2820 lb
Performance 0-60 mph: 8.2 sec, quarter mile:
16.0 sec @ 87 mph, 60-0 mph: 170 ft (Motor Trend, January 1982)
Price when new: $14,500
ASK THE MAN WHO OWNS ONE
MATT YADEGAR, a commercial real-estate developer in Beverly Hills, California, owns a hangar-full of modern exotics–but always wanted the Dino he finally bought three years ago.
WHY I LIKE IT: “A neighbor of ours had a yellow one. I was 10 or 12, and I was like, wow, this car is beautiful. I look back on those years, and it was never musclecars for me–it was always this one particular car, the Dino. I’ve owned an F430, a 599, but this is my first classic Ferrari.”
WHY IT’S COLLECTIBLE: Ferrari built roughly 4000 examples of the 246, only about 1200 of them targa-topped Spyders. It’s the first-ever mid-engine Ferrari, and as glamorous as a Hollywood icon. In the inaugural issue of Motor Trend Classic, we ranked the Dino #7 on the list of all-time greatest Ferraris.
RESTORING/MAINTAINING: Much more affordable to maintain than a V-12, though regular adjusting of carbs and valves obviously required. The interior plastics can become brittle, and the mouse fur dash covering can easily get ratty.
BEWARE: The standard Dinoplex ignition can have reliability issues, and some owners upgrade to a contactless system.
EXPECT TO PAY: Concours-ready, $275,000; solid driver, $234,500; tired runner, $164,000. Chairs and flares versions command a roughly 10 percent premium. (Source: Hagerty Price Guide)
JOIN THE CLUB: Ferrari Club of America (ferrariclubofamerica.org), Ferrari Owners Club (ferrariownersclub.org)
THEN: “By comparison, such other great Ferraris as the Daytona and the GTC-4 are fast motor carriages for wealthy Nevadans and doctors specializing in diseases of the rich.” — Motor Trend, December 1972.
NOW: As soul-stirring today as it was in the early 1970s. Like the Jaguar E-Type, the Dino stands as one of the all-time most fetching and admired automotive designs. As its current pricing reflects, young Alfredo had the last laugh on his father. The Dino was and is the embodiment of everything a sports car should be.
By Neil Thomas
Why has the “affordable” Dino become so unaffordable? First, Enzo-era Ferraris are hot. Second, it’s a beauty — the sexy Pininfarina fenders and flying buttresses reminiscent of the 250LM. Third, the Dino is simply a great car to drive.
This example featured here, a ’73, ticks all the right boxes, finished in gorgeous red and tan, Daytona-style seat upholstery (the “chairs”); the slightly wider Campagnolo wheels; and the wide wheel arches option (the “flares”). Overall condition is very good, with nicely refinished seats and mouse fur on the dash. The door panels are excellent, as are the carpets. Paint is also very good, with a great shine, albeit a couple of imperfections. There are no signs of rust, and panel fit is excellent. Mechanically, the car is dialed in, starts up easily, and makes no smoke or rattling noises. This particular 246GTS is listed in the Dino Registry database with entries since 1983. The current owner purchased the car in September 2009 with 52,300 miles; the odo currently shows 52,700 miles. In September 2009 this Dino was worth about $180,000. Today, it could fetch $330,000. That’s right: The once unloved, red-headed stepchild of the Ferrari world has become a Victoria’s Secret super-model — and everybody wants one!