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It’s just a theory, but I have a sense that Enzo Ferrari hesitated in lending the full weight of his title to the first of his Dino road cars not because he was ashamed of their lack of cylinders, or suspicious of the mid-engined layout, but because they were almost too good to be Ferraris.
He would not have couched it in those terms, even to himself, but the fact remains that the Dino was more of a driver’s car than any of his brooding, unapproachable front-engined V12s. This was a sports car, not a grand tourer.
First seen at the Turin Salon in 1967, 11 years after the death of the young man who inspired its creation, here was a V6-engined, 140mph-plus two-seater with sensually beautiful styling, viscerally thrilling race-bred handling, and all the best traits of a stable and civilised road car that anybody could safely drive and enjoy.
If you accept that the Miura was an impossibly exotic toy, this was a combination that had never been seen before. The Dino was not a ‘supercar’ but the most modern and exciting roadgoing sports car in the world, wowing all who drove it.
Before the Dino, Ferrari had considered itself lucky to sell 700 of its haughty, handbuilt V12s annually; by 1974, when the last of the 246 Dinos were being built, that figure had tripled.
With its sights on the £5000 Porsche 911 market, Ferrari’s first mid-engined customer car linked the craft-based industry of the 1960s with the more heavily promoted and productionised post-Fiat era of the ’70s.
In that sense, the Dino 206GT (precursor to the much better known and more numerous 246GT and GTS) might just be the most important single roadgoing Ferrari of all: the first step towards volume production at Maranello as we know it today.
That’s as good a way of justifying a drive in a Ferrari that has eluded me, until now, as I can think of. I have sampled a few 246s and always loved them, but there remained this nagging intrigue about the early aluminium-bodied, aluminium-engined car with its beautiful centre-lock wheels that just would not go away.
To be honest, I’d forgotten how rare they are. Just 150 of the 206s were built through to late 1969 as a sort of pre-production run for the much more sorted, customer-friendly 246GT.
They were all left-hand drive (a slightly offset central chassis member apparently made a right-handed pedalbox too much bother to engineer for), and always something of a curiosity in the UK, where only two were sold new by Maranello Concessionaires. Eric Clapton bought one of them secondhand after its first owner chopped it in for a four-cam 275 (and a £200 credit note!).
Pleas for right-hand drive were only satisfied by the UK-market 246GT in 1970, available for £1000 less than the £6250 importer Colonel Ronnie Hoare was asking for the 2-litre car.
Standing just 43in tall and weighing in at less than 2000lb (dry), the 1967 206GT was a masterful creation from the drawing board
of 41-year-old Aldo Brovarone, a man with a 15-year track record of fabulous designs at Pininfarina, including the Dino 206 Speciale show cars and many other Ferrari shapes.
The packaging of the car had benefited from the transversely mounted all-alloy, quad-cam engine, which was 20 horsepower stronger than in its Fiat Dino siblings at 180bhp.
Built by Fiat at its Rivalta factory, the V6 sat parallel to, and in front of, the rear wheels and put its power – via pinions and spur gears – through the primary shaft of a five-speed ’box of Maranello design and construction. This superb piece of foundry-work was cast in-unit with the engine sump and housed the limited-slip differential, but with the gearbox and engine oils kept separate.
If the layout of the 206 was revolutionary, the materials and construction were traditional, its alloy panels supported by an electrically welded steel chassis of elliptical tubes. Riding on classic unequal-wishbones, and the latest 14in Michelin rubber, the Dino had four-wheel vented disc brakes and upstaged the V12s in being the first Ferrari with rack-and-pinion steering.
This 1969 206GT, exquisitely perfect in all respects, is thought to be the UK’s only running example. Once part of the Albert Obrist collection, the Italian-market car was sold to its current owner a decade ago by Bernie Ecclestone.
After careful dismantling, a three-year rebuild began, much of it by specialist Barkaways. Ferrari trim maestro Luppi did the interior and it was fully restored mechanically: the V6 needed a new crank and its block was repaired using exotic underwater welding techniques, having thrown a rod at some point in its past.
Thinner bumpers with narrower rubbers and a variety of other parts special to the 206 (such as the four narrow-gauge ‘pea-shooter’ tailpipes)had to be remade. The rest was paid through the nose for: a new and very rare chrome filler cap cost an eye-watering £1700 from the States.
We meet the Dino in the climate-controlled quarters where it sleeps next to 20 or more of its siblings – most much younger, but none more beautiful. Finished in a shade of ‘Rosso Dino’ (which is actually more like a bruised orange), this one-time Cinderella of the Ferrari family makes its obese and blinged-out modern brethren look like the ugly sisters they truly are.
It occupies the same footprint as a Mk2 Cortina, but the 206 appears much smaller. You can’t take your eyes off it: a car with a presence out of context to its size, and which has a perfection of stance and proportion that, even if you don’t think a car can ever be art, has to be a kind of visual poetry. There are no Ferrari badges on the car: it even says ‘FIAT’ on the alloys, which were shared with the front-engined Dinos.
Open the engine cover and you can see how the packaging of the Dino is the key to its famous handling composure, the compact drivetrain even leaving room for a carpeted 10cu ft boot. Here the Dinoplex electronic ignition lurks, one of the first of its kind, designed to prevent the plugs fowling in traffic. The spare wheel and radiator take up all the space in the nose.
When the Pennine skies finally – briefly – clear on a Friday afternoon, the Dino blinks into the sunlight for a rare outing on a real public road. It is, by its owner’s happy admission, an unashamed concours queen that has won awards worldwide. And yet, unlike so many of its ilk, MCW 143G drives just as well as it looks.
True, it makes a faltering start from dead cold, which is hardly surprising because it has not been fired up for six months or more. While carefully warming its fluids there is time to examine the interior, which you enter through a light, wide-opening door with a tiny outside catch and manual window-winders: power windows were optional on the 206.
Swinging the legs in after the backside is my favoured entry technique and, after negotiating my thighs under the gorgeous Nardi wood-rim wheel (larger than the leather type on later cars), I can settle into the slightly sketchy seats. They are trimmed in black vinyl with optional ‘sweat absorbing’ orange towelling inserts – a nicety of the 206, which never offered a leather option.
The passenger footbrace, sill-mounted grabhandle and ‘floating’ headrests attached to the bulkhead are uniquely 206GT features. Likewise the siting of the heater controls between the seats, although the elliptically shaped eight-gauge binnacle is much the same as a 246’s.
Apart from the pedals, slightly offset to clear the wheelarch boxes, the driving position is excellent and vision is good all round, even to the rear through that inwardly curved glass.
Once you are settled inside, the Dino seems just the right size – neither too big nor too small. There is room for a briefcase behind the seats in a cabin that is cosy but not cramped. You feel at home even before you have dipped the clutch and found its round-the-corner bottom gear. It’s as though its creators thought hard about how people were going to fit inside the envelope from the start, rather than regarding its occupants as an unavoidable irritation.
In tight, low-speed manoeuvres you can hear the gears in the limited-slip diff groan; the steering lock is reasonable, but the brakes feel dead until warm and the clutch is smooth but fairly heavy. Crawling along in first and second on narrow roads at the behest of the photographer, dodging perfection-compromising puddles, is not what the Dino 206GT is all about.
Try third: the lack of torque compared to the 246 is not blindingly obvious at first, but it doesn’t want to accelerate with any commitment from less than 4000rpm and prefers 5-6000.
Here it really starts to pull hard and sing, its metallic note a joyous one of deep-lunged, short-stroke responsiveness that overrides the thrash and chatter of the transfer gears as you surge through the closely stacked indirects.
There’s a ratio for every occasion, including an autostrada-munching fifth where, at 7500rpm, it should do 143mph. We don’t get even halfway to that but it doesn’t matter: urging up through the gears, the views across the voluptuous nose and wings are mesmerising and, as the landscape rushes toward the deep ’screen – held in by wafer-thin posts – the aura of low-slung excitement and absolute control is complete and the Dino has you.
Like almost anything with this engine, it sounds faster than it really is but with an even more effervescent character than the later cars. It takes a while to appreciate just how smoothly the 206 is skimming across the surface of the road, how effortlessly and neutrally it steers around any curve. It’s a car to flatter and thrill with its flat, near roll-free cornering and obediently go-kart-like (but never twitchy) steering.
It digs in magnificently, feels light and delicate yet of-a-piece, agile and utterly biddable with lightning throttle response that makes guiding the solid stick of a gearlever around the open gate a pleasure.
There are rarer Ferraris, faster Ferraris and maybe even prettier Ferraris, but I consider the Dinos (206 or 246) to be the nicest driving of the classic-era road cars, and likely the quickest means of moving along a twisty road yet devised in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The frisky, fascinating but somewhat fragile 206GT didn’t give Porsche too much to worry about, but was part of the opening gambit in Fiat’s courtship of Enzo Ferrari that led to the full nuptials of 1969. It was also the beginning of a line of compact, mid-engined two-seaters that you can trace directly through to today: road machines sufficiently approachable in price that your averagely wealthy young (or young-at-heart) tycoon could at least dream of owning.
Not that the 206 is approachable today. With only 80 thought to be left worldwide, these cars command huge money and are easily the most prized of the Dino road cars.
We insured this – admittedly mind-bogglingly pristine – specimen for £800,000 to get behind its wheel, and I doubt its owner would part with it even for a round million. In a way, I don’t blame him.
Thanks to the Dino’s owner and to Tony Willis of the Maranello Archive. Images: Olgun Kordal
FERRARI DINO 206GT FACTFILE
- Sold/number built 1967-’69/150
- Construction tubular steel chassis with aluminium body
- Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank 1987cc 65º V6, triple Weber 40DCN14 carburettors
- Max power 180bhp @ 8000rpm
- Max torque 137Ib ft @ 6500rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering rack and pinion
- Brakes Girling dual-circuit 101/2in (269mm) front, 10in (254mm) rear discs, with servo
- Length 13ft 9in (4150mm)
- Width 5ft 6in (1700mm)
- Height 3ft 7in (1115mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 61/2in (2280mm)
- Weight 1984Ib (900kg, dry)
- 0-60mph 6.8 secs
- Top speed 143mph
- Mpg 14
- Price new £6243
- Price now £6-800,000