Driven by Design: Ferrari Dino

Photography by Rémi Dargegen for Artcurial Motorcars

The original Dino 206 GT was Ferrari's first foray into mid-engined sports cars for consumers. While the mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout was well-established already as the preferred layout for motorsports, passenger cars had only just begun to adopt this layout. And it was begrudgingly, at Mr. Sergio Pininfarina's insistence, that Mr. Enzo Ferrari agreed to build a mid-engined car for his customers, thinking them too difficult for non-racers to handle. But clearly Enzo, and the design world, had been shaken by competitor Lamborghini's tour-de-force, the Miura. But unlike the Miura, the Dino 206 GT was to be powered by a 2.0L V6 that Enzo believed wouldn't allow his customers to get into too much trouble.

But the Dino was interesting as it helped to launch the career of designer Leonardo Fioravanti. He had been at Pininfarina for about two years when he was allowed to design the 206 GT and frankly, his inexperience shows. Even as the world was turning away from the voluptuous forms of the post-war years, the 206 GT clung onto them. Which isn't to say that they're not pretty, they simply weren't on design's cutting edge. It's almost as though Leonardo feared (or was directed against) straying too far from convention. But some of Mr. Marcello Gandini's eventual planar forms were already evident on the Miura and show cars were also certainly going in that direction. Considered in that light, the Dino 206 GT seems like it was an anachronism when released in 1968.

Conservative design aside, it also became Ferrari's first volume model (the 246 GT, that is) in spite of the fact that it had a Fiat-built powertrain. But the fact that it was a sales success probably had more to do with the fact that it was the 'budget' Ferrari and that the Dino was a great-handling car. It simply wasn't such a handful as their V12s.

Now, I can hear most of you saying, "Yoav, I just paid close to half-a-million dollars for my 'Chairs and Flares' Dino, how dare you even insinuate that it was an anachronism when released or cast doubt on its beauty?" To which I have to reply, "I said it was pretty and you paid how much?!" But in truth, its design isn't much of a departure from Ferrari's P (for prototype) cars of the early 1960s. Which is why I'm confident in my assertion that Leonardo played it safe, whether by directive or lack of experience. So let's talk about why it is pretty...

First off, it's proportions are great. While this was one of the first mid-engined cars available for non-racers to buy, the mid-engined proportion was already well-accepted and born of racing, which is Darwinian in how quickly it separates designs that work from those that don't. So the overhangs are just long enough and the doors are mounted appropriately close to the front wheels with ample room behind them for the engine. One place where Mr. Fioravanti was rather successful was in the C-pillar buttresses that sweep out in a gentle negative curve to the back. Without them the greenhouse would have appeared chopped and incongruous to the rest of the Dino's flowing lines in profile. But they also keep the engine compartment separate from the cockpit limiting noise and allowing for good rearward visibility.

Additionally, that negative sweep of the buttresses exaggerates the Dino's ample rear flanks. And speaking of surfacing, this is where the Dino truly shines: compare the fenders and form development of the 206 or 246 GT to the Porsche 911. All of the Dino's surfaces are just so full and voluminous in comparison. But again we're comparing the Dino to a form which had been around for nearly ten years at this point. Perhaps now you understand why it's not very daring?

In fact, the Dino's only concession to futurism is the crease that runs the length of the bodyside about one-third of the way up. But this surface treatment was yet another cue borrowed from cars that came out two to five years earlier. The details are tastefully sparse as befits a racing-inspired machine and virtually all are functional. The car also has a wide, low stance in spite of smaller wheels (by today's standards), and is best viewed from a low, rear three-quarter perspective where the kamm-tail and inset panel recall Ferrari's wonderful endurance racers.

But regardless of sales figures, its beauty, or the fact that this very car inspired an amazing lineage of mid-engined Ferraris, much like the Daytona (also designed by Leonardo) it was a car, in some ways, behind its time. That Enzo allowed him and Pininfarina to continue working on Ferrari's cars is more a tribute to il Commendatore's steadfastness (read: stubbornness) and ambivalence regarding his passenger cars than Leonardo's daring vision.