The Ferrari Dino is one of the all-time classics – and for very good reason. Very occasionally a car manufacturer builds a car which hits the nail so squarely on the head that it becomes an instant classic. The 246 captured the spirit of the moment and maintained its stature for years to come.

The shape, the mechanical layout, the price and above all, the way it drove, would capture the very essence of the pleasures of sporting motoring.

Operating since 1940, initially as a racing car manufacturer, Ferrari had long been a dominating force in racing and sports car design, manufacture and marketing, the name becoming a household word by the 1960s. But times were a-changing, and Enzo Ferrari, along with his many cohorts understood that there was demand for sports cars other than large, front-engined V12 machines.

Enzo's engineers had long looked at the idea of smaller models – the ASA 1000GT of the early 1960s being the closest anyone had seen. Designed by his team, this pretty 4-cylinder design ended up being manufactured by another company after Enzo got cold feet.

The time when Ferrari was working on new small car concepts coincided with a period when styling house Pininfarina was at its zenith, creating modern, smoothly curved, voluptuous shapes. Their design work would become an important part of the process that Ferrari would follow. Pininfarina showed a V6 mid-engined, 3-seater styling exercise at the 1965 Paris Salon, the 206S, from which the styling of the eventual production car would evolve.

While Ferrari had built the 250LM competition car as their first mid-engined car (1963-1966), it used their venerable 3.3-litre V12, which was mounted north-south behind the cockpit, in the same manner as most mid-engined cars. This new engineering feature was gaining ground, which the new small sports car would incorporate – a transversely mounted mid-engine.

A couple of towns away, Lamborghini was also working on a transverse mid-engine design, the spectacular V12 Miura, which would see the light of day in 1966.

Ferrari's engineers developed the new small car to incorporate a 1987cc 65-degree V6 engine. With quad cams and triple Weber carburettors, the aluminium alloy engine was an absolute jewel. A new 5-speed gearbox was developed along with many other specially-designed major components for the all-new car.

The Dino 206 was launched at the Turin motor show in 1967, the new car was an immediate hit. The name Ferrari chose for the car was Dino, the name of his son who had died in 1956 from leukaemia at the age of 24. In fact, Enzo thought that there was some risk to the Ferrari image involved with the new small car project, so the name Ferrari did not appear on the car. While designed, built and sold alongside traditional Ferraris, Enzo was cautious and distanced the new Dino from his larger cars.

That said, from day one, just about every owner fitted Ferrari badges to their Dinos. Even dealers did it.

The Dino 206 was so right for the time that it became an instant success. The media hailed the new sports car as one of the greatest of all time – quite likely unaware that it would be perceived as such many decades later.

Well respected racing driver and journalist Paul Frere was among the first to drive the car saying it was “a revelation … perfectly neutral and incredibly agile.” British magazine Car tested a Dino in 1970 and enthused about the driving characteristics “Driving the Dino is quite an experience, for it is probably closer to a mid-engined racing car than to most road vehicles. It has that instant responsiveness and chuckability that the French so delightfully term 'nerveuse', which makes it a joy on twisting roads.” They summed it up saying the Dino “probably has the best handling of any high performance GT car”.

Developing 180bhp at 8000rpm, the 206GT could accelerate to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds and achieve a top speed of 240km/h.

The car's handling was a revelation. Pin-sharp steering, strong brakes, very little body-roll and excellent adhesion made the Dino one of the best handling cars of the time.

The styling of the Dino has long been acclaimed as among the all-time greats. Curvaceous and so very sexy, the design incorporated modern features such as the cut-off Kamm-tail and a long, low rear deck, allowing good rear three-quarter vision (something severely lacking in many early mid-engined cars). The Dino had a very balanced overall shape, with a wide stance and many lovely details such as the side air intakes and delicate chrome trim.

It wasn't until 1968 that production got underway, with Scaglietti in Modena assembling the alloy-bodied cars. In the following year, the car would see some major changes. After only 152 cars had been built, Ferrari announced the revised Dino 246GT.

As the 246 name suggests - 2.4-litre, 6 cylinder - the engine capacity was enlarged. But significantly, the new engine also changed to a cast iron block. The 2419cc engine offered increased power and torque, giving the new version a 0-100km/h time half a second quicker and an additional 12km/h top speed. The torquier engine characteristics suited the Dino well, making it an even better drivers' car.

Alongside the engine changes, Ferrari saw fit to make several other changes. Material for the bodies was changed to steel. The centre of the body was lengthened by 580mm, and detail changes such as a fuel filler flap were incorporated. The previously off-centre gear-selector tunnel was centred so that right-hand-drive cars could be built.

These changes coincided with an agreement with Fiat, which saw the huge conglomerate take Dino engines for cars of their own. Fiat introduced the Fiat Dino Coupe (with Bertone body) and Dino Spider (by Pininfarina), both initially with the 2-litre V6, then the 2.4 - and Lancia used the Dino engine for their dramatic and seriously effective Stratos rally car. For the first time ever, Ferrari had the benefits of economy of scale from relatively mass manufacture of an engine.

Ferrari themselves offered a couple of variations on the 246 theme. There were several options available on the 246, one of the best known, being the 'Chairs & Flares” option, which consisted of seats upholstered in the Daytona style ventilated trim, along with flared wheelarches to accommodate a wider wheel and tyre package.

More significant though, was the GTS version which was introduced in 1972. This adaptation incorporated a removable centre section of the roof. The targa-roofed GTS also differed by having three small vents where the rear side windows were on the coupe version - matching the vents on the bonnet. This open-topped version proved very popular.

The Dino introduced a whole new range of clientele to the brand and by the time production ceased in 1974 over 3700 246s had been made, making it far and away the company's best seller to date.

The Dino sold in an interesting marketplace, where its natural enemy was the Porsche 911 – still a relatively new model at the time. By comparison, in 1972 a 246GT listed in Australia at $16,000, a 911S 2.4 was $15,628 and a Jaguar E-Type V12 was just $11,929. Pricey though it may have been, the Dino cost half as much as a V12 Ferrari.

Values of Dinos commonly dipped as low as $15,000 in the late 1970s, before reaching sky-high figures in the boom at the end of the following decade. Amounts as high as $200,000 were achieved by some lucky sellers – only to halve when the recession hit. Today, prices have gone completely crazy, seemingly regardless of condition and history. Half a million dollars is not unusual now... Most sit in the $350-450,000 range.

Dinos were prone to rust, and were often not particularly well looked after by early owners. Quite a few local cars were also imported second-hand from the UK. Hence, the vast majority of Dinos in Australia today have been restored at least once.

Driving a Dino
Today, a good Dino is still a pleasure to drive. I've driven Dinos on road and track. The Dino insists that you become involved in the driving process – beginning with a slightly un-natural driving position, with the pedals offset to the centre. Then there's the warming up process; both the engine and gearbox like quite a few kilometres before they're friendly.

But once you and the Dino are ready to play there is a harmony you develop with the car which is reassuring, confidence inspiring and quite exciting. The Dino is one of those rare cars where you really feel it is a part of you. The controls respond instantaneously, accurately and inspiringly.

Before your first drive, you might imagine the 2.4-litre car to be a sweet, if delicate, reasonable performer, with its strength being handling, not performance. When you've got the feel of the Dino and explore what it has to offer, perhaps the greatest surprise is the engine's performance. A buried accelerator brings out a wonderful howl from behind the cockpit, accompanied by impressive acceleration. Combine that with brilliant – almost intuitive steering and handling, and the Dino makes exceptional progress.

Click the gearstick through that famous Ferrari alloy gate, gently ease the steering wheel, and feel the thrum of the V6 just behind your shoulders – the Dino offers an  entirely pleasurable driving experience. And one that certainly lives up to the expectations that such an iconic car has.

It is a pleasure to explore what the Dino has to offer in the confines of a race track, or on open country roads. And unlike some large supercars, it isn't unwieldy around town. Compared to a new hot hatch though, it isn't that fast and the lack of power steering is noticeable when parking.

It does, however, attract attention like few other cars.

The shape, the name, the aura, the classic, exotic icon status of the Dino all add up to make it one of the true greats – quite justly recognised as such.

Above: Factory publicity photo showing an early 206GT

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