Fiat al Fredo

The 1967 Fiat Dino Coupé amounted to a good deal more than the sum of its parts.

1967 Fiat Dino Coupe. Image: Wheelsage

By the latter stages of the 1960’s, Fiat management realised the necessity of providing more than just basic transportation for the Italian market. With living standards on the rise, the demand for more upmarket cars grew – at least within the bounds of what Italy’s stringent taxation regime would allow.

With Dante Giacosa’s engineers at work on a series of new models to cover the compact to mid-classes – (124 and 125-series’) in addition to a new flagship to replace the dated 2300-series, Fiat’s offerings to Italy’s middle classes reflected this push upmarket, even if the egalitarian Giacosa didn’t necessarily understand the necessity.

Given these developments, it’s somewhat curious that Fiat management saw fit to embark on the Dino programme, because on the face of things, it looked more like a favour to Ferrari than anything that particularly stacked up as a business case.

The story behind the project goes something like this. In 1964, Ferrari was interested in entering the Formula 2 championship but regulations stipulated that in order to comply, all engine crankcases would have to be series produced with 500 units completed by 1966. Ferrari hadn’t the capacity or the demand for such volumes, nor indeed the interest in producing road cars to meet it, but the Italian auto scene being what it was, word filtered through to Fiat’s Agnelli, who was interested in gaining a stake in the Ferrari business.

Fiat Dino Spider cutaway. Technically identical to Coupe apart from 10″ in wheelbase. Image: Velocetoday

At the conclusion of discussions, Fiat agreed to re-engineer, enlarge and produce Maranello’s 1596cc 65º V6, for use in a mid-engined Ferrari berlinetta and a Fiat branded sporting model, thus giving Enzo the volume he required and Agnelli his foot inside Maranello. The official line on the Dino V6 was that Alfredo Ferrari had worked closely with Vittorio Jano on the initial 60º design before the younger man’s illness intervened. However, according to more independent chroniclers, the likelihood is that Alfredo’s contribution was retrospectively bolstered by the sentimentality of a grieving father, being predominantly Jano’s work.

Either way, the 1.6 litre unit (latterly the work of Franco Rocchi) was presented to former Ferrari, now senior Fiat engineer, Aurelio Lampredi with a brief to produce a suitable unit for a road car. Lampredi retained the stroke of the Rocchi unit, but widened the bore, giving a capacity of 1987cc. The cylinder block was alloy, valves being actuated by four chain driven overhead camshafts. With triple Weber carburettors, power was rated at 160 bhp. The redline was 7500 rpm.

With the power unit taken care of, the Fiat parts bin was raided mercilessly to furnish the remainder of the car’s technical specification. Front suspension and steering were 124/125 based, (as most likely was the floorpan) with coil springs and lower wishbones, while rear suspension was a derivation of the 2300’s live rear axle using half elliptic leaf springs, twin leading radius arms for location and twin shock absorbers on each side. A limited slip differential completed a relatively sophisticated rear end. Disc brakes were fitted all round.

Dino Coupe interior. Image sportscarshop

While Pininfarina was given stylistic duties for the 1966 Spider version, the Dino Coupé was the work of carrozzeria Bertone. According to journalist and historian Martin Buckley, the Bertone styling theme was developed as early as 1963 by Giugiaro as a putative replacement for the existing Ghia bodied Fiat 2300S Coupé. Styling duties were completed after Giorgetto’s departure, likely by his replacement, Gandini. (Shades of the Bertone Jaguar 3.8 FT?)

Image: Wheelsage

While the Spider was more of a rorty two-seater, the Bertone coupé was a suave Grand Turismo, with a fastback profile, a more subtle styling theme and an emphasis on comfort and practicality. The (usable) rear seats even folded 50:50 for additional luggage space. (Was this a first?)

With a well honed technical specification, elegant carrozzeria styling and a race-bred Ferrari engine in the nose, the initial home market reception to the Dino twins was rapturous and apparently, the appearance of several black coupé’s in the Italian Job movie was not artistic licence; it’s believed the Mafia did use them and that the ‘Cosa Nostra’ connotations would later adversely affect secondhand values.

Scene from the 1969 film The Italian Job. Image GTplanet

The Dino Coupé was an excellent driver’s car and like the early 124 coupés, the car’s well balanced road behaviour belied its relatively humble underpinnings. The 2 litre V6 was a free revving jewel of an engine, and despite a lack of torque and a rather heavy bodyshell, performance, if not stellar, was more than adequate, with a 130 mph capability. Parts bin special or no, the Fiat Dino Coupé was every inch a thoroughbred and easily the dynamic equal of anything in production at Maranello at the time.

In late 1968, Fiat ceased Dino production with nearly 4000 cars built, which more than covered Ferrari’s homologation requirements. That really should have been it for the programme, but mystifyingly, Fiat engineers thoroughly reworked the car, stem to stern. Firstly, the engine, while still essentially similar in design was Fiat-ised. The larger cylinder block was now of cast iron with capacity increased to 2.4 litres. Torque was the reason given for the enlargement, although this alone doesn’t adequately explain the degree to which the engine was revised.

In addition, the sweet but fragile Fiat five speed transmission was replaced by a heftier ZF unit. At the rear, the live axle was replaced by a 130-series derived semi trailing arm and strut arrangement. The Coupé received a revised interior with a new dashboard, plusher seats – (the front ones apparently borrowed from a Lamborghini Espada). Externally, changes were minor, effectively consisting of a revised matt grille arrangement, and rubber bumper inserts.

Fiat Dino 2.4 Image: Dinoitalia

The revised cars debuted in 1969 and while performance was stronger, and the overall package on offer was a more refined one, the earlier car’s delightful balance was lost. Quite why Fiat saw fit to go to such trouble and expense for what was purely a low volume image builder is one that has never been made clear – especially since the same year also saw Fiat’s acquisition of Ferrari’s road car operations. Surely it was a case of mission accomplished?

The larger V6 was also fitted to a revised Ferrari 246 GT, but its thorough re-engineering seems to suggest it was intended for other uses too. But what? Fiat by then had a larger single cam 2.8 litre Lampredi-designed V6 entering production. Once again, Fiat’s product planning deficiencies come into focus. Production ceased in 1972 with a further 2818 cars of both bodystyles produced.

Image: Favcars

For years now, the Dino’s have been seen as poor relations, their humble Fiat badging preventing the market from recognising their merits. Many retrospectively acquired Ferrari badging from owners keen to acquire some Maranello fairy dust. Rust, apathy and mechanical frailty saw many coupés to their doom, but values have hardened latterly as equivalent Ferrari’s edge toward the stratosphere.

So how to distil the Dino? A low volume image builder? A vanity project? A Trojan horse? Perhaps a little of all three, but also perhaps, just perhaps the seeds of other stillborn projects. Above all though, further example of Fiat’s ethos of offering enthusiastic drivers more for less. It wasn’t a sustainable focus, but its one enthusiasts should lament in its passing.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Fiat al Fredo”

  1. As prices of Fiat Dinos have risen significantly this decade, they are yet another car that causes me to kick myself for not being more ruthless about car ownership. My problem is that, whenever I get a car (and I don’t meant my Citroen, I mean any car), I feel this stupid loyalty, for want of a better word, and hang on to it ignoring escalating garage bills and diminishing value. So many older cars have intrigued me over the years, and some of them I could once have afforded. The Dino is certainly one whose prices I’ve looked at for time to time and, even allowing a decent contingency percentage, have thought I could scrape together the funds to own. But now, for someone who has user mentality rather than collector mentality, they are now too valuable to indulge. Yet, even if I’d driven that £5,000 Dino until it stopped, then salted it away somewhere, I’d still be quids in selling it to some optimistic restorer. Aah, the great benefit of hindsight.

    1. Nice as the Dino is, ownership would always be on the “polished toy” basis. I don´t think there can be more than handful of people who have one and use it very much. As such, you may very wel have earned some money but you´d also be nursing the car on a constant basis and, to be frank, driving one is probably a lot less enjoyable than other, more affordable cars like, for example, a mint 70s Ford Granada (Myles Gorfe´s idea, not mine).

    2. If I’d actually bought one, I would certainly have used it. I’m useless at polishing. From a received opinion perspective it would be a more practical proposition than an SM. Its underpinnings are proven Fiat parts and Alfieri’s Maserati V6 lives forever in the shade of Ferrari’s. That’s received opinion. The fact that the SM cruises about town with none of the whinges and whines that are supposed to accompany more exotic engines would set a challenge that I’m not sure a Dino would match. I just wish I’d found out.

    3. Sean, I agree with you. You used to be able to buy tidy examples for £10-15k. Mind you, you would also need off street parking. I absolutely adore the Fiat Dino Coupe.

    4. Prices of nice mark 1 Granadas have been on the climb for a while now. The rarercoupé enjoyed a massive bounce after being repopularised by the video for Blur’s Parklife.

  2. So the Dino V6 was planned to be used in other stillborn Fiat projects?

    The Fiat 130 seems to be too large for the Dino V6, leaving only the Fiat 131 and Fiat 132 or sporting models derived from the latter pair as the only suitable candidates for the Dino V6. Either that or somehow the Lancia Montecarlo (as a more usable Lancia Stratos of sorts) and Lancia Gamma.

    Even though Abarth was producing similar sporting models, would have loved to have seen a Fiat 850 Spider fitted with the same Ferrari-derived 4-cylinder engine as the ASA 1000 GT “Ferrarina” as a Fiat sub-Dino or a similar car with a smaller front-engined RWD platform. –

    1. Bob: I wasn’t necessarily making any verifiable claims to that effect, merely asking the question as to why Fiat went to such pains to re-engineer the Dino V6 with a clear aim of making a less peaky, more tractable and perhaps, more saloon-like power unit. However, it’s unclear what applications it would have been suitable for. Given Fiat’s notable weaknesses in the area of product planning, it’s quite possible no real thought was given to this – certainly the logic of two v6 power units of similar output – (admittedly the Lampredi unit was not in a high level of tune) being developed simultaneously smacks of the early BLMC years where amongst other things, at least three distinct V8 engine programmes were in train and were permitted to be continued with – (Rover, Triumph & Jaguar).

      As regards the Dino Coupe styling, I have subsequently received further clarification – (thanks Kris!) which points to it being predominantly Giugiaro’s work. According to the recent Gandini biography, Marcello’s input was confined to ‘widening the car, reworking the front face, rear valance panel and lamps; the intention being to make it look more aggressive’.

    2. Apparently the Lancia Montecarlo was to originally feature a version on of the Fiat 130 3-litre V6 engine prior to the 1973 Oil Crisis, though it is possible that a version of the re-engineered Dino V6 was also still in the picture until Ferrari decided to move on to the Dino V8 engine.

  3. My interpretation for the second series is that Fiat hoped it would do better and build on the first car´s sort-of success. With simpler legislation and cheaper labour such a project was not the hard work it would be today. Thus the extra effort may not have been as great as it seems to us.
    The Dino´s second-class citizen status is only a reflection of the values of the Evo and Octane set: snobbery. It´s a lovely looking thing and almost worth the pain of the breakdowns, rust, engine fires and lack of parts.

  4. Meanwhile, as people salivate over a hangar queen, the useable, affordable and manageable Innocenti is gathering dust just one post below this one. I didn´t know this site was so biased towards the strawberries and Simoniz end of the classic car scene.

    1. Look old boy, I’ve nothing against the Innocenti. One of my gardeners drives one and it’s a sweet little thing.

      Actually, as I suggested above, in my mind I’m still adjusting to the idea that the Fiat has actually attained that degree of general desirability. Once it was avoided by brand snobs, except the sort who would remove the Fiat badges and put a couple of Cavallino Rampante shields on the wings. The usual way of thinking is that increased value is good, since the cars then fall into the ‘right hands’ – people who can afford to maintain them. Yes, that’s probably true, but how much should I care that these cars exist somewhere, out of sight, snug in someone’s private garage? Unfortunately, for me, desirability decreases as value increases.

  5. Have always love the Dino Coupe. My dream garage would consist of more modest cars rather than the obvious super car stuff. This lovely Fiat would form part of the Italian element of my collection along with, maybe, an Alfa Giulia GTA. Better start doing the lottery again……….

  6. Curiously it seems Dante Giacosa (on page 321 of PDF) contemplated the development of an inline-6 version of the Fiat Twin-Cam (based on the 4-cylinder version used in the Fiat 124) for the Fiat 125 (albeit possibly lengthened by an extra 10-12cm at the engine hood), which later fuel crisis aside would have been interesting to see in the 132/Argenta or as an alternative to the V6 in the 130.

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