The car with which Alfredo Ferrari’s name would become synonymous did not carry the famous Cavallino Rampante emblem, but is arguably the most significant (and beautiful) Ferrari of all.
Enzo Ferrari preferred to be addressed as ‘ingegnere’, which was something of an irony, given his somewhat reactionary views on the subject. A staunch traditionalist, his principles were firmly rooted in the pre-war era; pivoting around the notion of a powerful, high revving power unit combined with a driver of sufficient bravery and skill to overcome the inevitable chassis-related deficiencies.
Despite employing some of the finest engineering minds within the Italian automotive landscape, he remained unbendingly averse to the concept of modern chassis dynamics. By the mid-’60s, Ferrari’s lavishly exclusive road cars were only beginning to employ such niceties as independent rear suspension and disc brakes. All sound, fury and straight line speed, a skilfully driven Lancia would likely have shown most Ferrari road cars the way over a sinuous Apennine pass.
Modernity made something of a tardy arrival at Scuderia Ferrari’s technical nerve centre with a series of mid-engined Carlo Chiti-designed racing machines; their advent leading to the traditional unsophisticated Ferrari road car layout coming under renewed internal pressure. By 1965, Ferrari had reluctantly embarked on an expedient joint venture with Fiat where the Scuderia’s original Jano / Rocci 65° Dino V6 engine was redesigned for road car use.
With Fiat employing it to power a homegrown Torinese model line, Ferrari engineers finally broke with tradition by adopting a mid-engined layout that not only referenced racing machinery, but also illustrated to the craven upstarts at Sant’Agata that Maranello could play that tune just as well.
For the first time in the company’s history, a Ferrari-developed road car would be underpinned by a chassis that could be described as state of the art while maintaining a straight face. The 206 GT was built around a stiff (and heavy) tubular steel frame which contained the transversely mounted all-alloy 2.0 litre V6 powerplant, which was rated at an optimistic 180 bhp at 8,000 rpm. Suspension was by double wishbones and coil springs all round. For the first time at Maranello, rack and pinion steering was employed, while disc brakes were fitted all round, as was a limited slip differential.
So if the 206’s chassis was a delight, the car’s alloy-clad body can only be described as exquisite. The Dino’s body style stemmed from a number of endurance racing machines, beginning with the 1965 166P prototype, which rapidly evolved into the Piero Drogo-bodied 206S endurance racer. This would set the Dino template, with Pininfarina evolving a more road-focused Berlinetta Speciale styling study in 1965, whose curvaceous lines and abruptly truncated tail mutated into the virtually definitive 365P concept the following year.
In terms of form, proportion and scale, the body design, attributed to Pininfarina’s Aldo Brovarone is probably unsurpassed. Delicate but not dainty, muscular yet lithe, pretty yet purposeful, the car was and remains a masterpiece in miniature. Ferrari may have created better cars, but its debatable whether they (or indeed their chosen carrozzeria) ever designed a nicer one.
Design it they might have done, but marketing the 206 GT was another matter. Concerned that its Fiat associations might damage the brand and suspicious of its mid-engined layout, Ferrari decreed that it must not carry the fabled warhorse, but should simply be badged Dino instead – the official line being that it was to honour Dino Ferrari, Enzo’s late son.
The first production model was shown at the ’67 Turin show and despite the considerable excitement the new car generated, some questioned the 206 GT’s provenance. However, most who drove it, were swiftly won over by the manner in which the little Dino comported itself. Car magazine reported the 206 GT “…is probably closer to a mid-engined racing car than to most road vehicles. It has that instant responsiveness that the French so delightfully term ‘nerveuse’ which makes it a joy on twisting roads.”
Autosport’s John Bolster was similarly impressed, saying, “It bears no relationship to normal road cars, being comparable only to racing cars. It simply goes around corners at speeds that seem simply absurd.” Nevertheless, the car was criticised for a lack of outright pace, excessive engine noise, poor ventilation, unreadable instruments and poor finish. The light, airy and minimalist interior was praised however because here Pininfarina (or Scaglietti, who built the body) engineers had created something of a packaging miracle. There was even a decent boot aft of the engine compartment.
In production for only two years, the delightful little 206 Dino was produced in tiny numbers, before being replaced in 1969. The superseding 246 GT, while visually identical, featured a longer wheelbase, a more powerful 2.4 litre engine and various detail refinements aimed at making a more rounded, more civilised proposition. Sadly a combination of additional body weight (now made in steel) and the cast iron 2.4 litre engine block added considerable poundage to the Dino’s already portly bodyshell. They also rusted with staggering enthusiasm.
Experts differ over how many 206 GT’s were built, but marque chronicler, Doug Nye suggested it to be in the region of 500 cars. Only three were made in RHD and a mere seven officially imported to the UK. Hen’s teeth. More of the later models were built, but nevertheless, with a final tally of around 4,000 cars, their rarity, and the provenance that has been belatedly bestowed upon them has seen Dinos command vast sums.
The Dino 206 GT marked a watershed for the prancing horse. Inspiring a series of models which continue to this day, the Dino template codified the modern Ferrari. And despite being overshadowed for years within the Maranello iconography by larger, faster, more ostentatious, (and let’s be honest) increasingly vulgar descendants, the little Ferrari that wasn’t represents a moment in time when Maranello, almost despite itself created not only a defining road car, but arguably its most perfectly realised.
There are Ferraris, I would contend, and then there is the 206 Dino GT. The non-Ferrari that is perhaps the most Ferrari of all.