Ferrari’s Dino And The Echoes Of Potential
This word should be added to the Italian dictionary for “father-son relationship.” Dino is not a car, it is the love of a father for his son, a shared passion for motors and racing, and, of course, tragedy. The car that was the manifestation of Enzo’s love for Dino is one of those rare few that’s just filled with magic and history and provenance, a mix that transforms a lump of metal into a symbol.
No other car captures the Ferrari family story better; in the Dino is a tale about a father—lost in his own greatness, overbearing, bitter, and yet an extremely fragile man—who had become one of the biggest automotive icons in history, if not the icon. On the other side of this story stands a son—a young, ambitious, carefully educated engineer and businessman—but above all a son who did not want to disappoint his father. It is the embodiment of both Enzo “Il Commendatore” Ferrari and his son Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari (for those unaware of the nickname’ origin, Dino is short for the diminutive of Alfredo, Alfredino).
Enzo was an extremely demanding man. One cannot hide it, no matter how rose-tinted our specs are: Enzo was only interested in his own successes and selfish pursuits, whatever the cost, even if it meant endangering someone’s life. In the years between 1955 and 1965, at least six drivers were killed in Ferraris. And In 1957, a dozen people were killed during the Mille Miglia when Alfonso de Portago’s 335 S had a gruesome accident. After this event, the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, wrote of Enzo, “Ferrari is like the Roman god Saturn, devouring his own children.” Even this left Enzo unmoved. After his cars were involved in accidents, he was typically more interested in whether the car after the crash was suitable for the next race. In the 1960s, after one such tragedy, he was even accused of murder, but the court acquitted him.
The formidable “Il Commendatore,” in one moment, has his life fall into total havoc. In 1956, his 24-year-old, beloved son passes away after a hard fight with the then incurable muscular dystrophy. From an early age, Dino was prepared to take over his father’s empire. He also educated himself formally in the science of engineering. Unlike his father, he was a certified engineer, and attended two technical universities. Dino also honed his knowledge of economics and business management, and so was more or less primed to run the business later on. As an engineer at Ferrari, he started working on a 1.6-liter V6, which he envisioned propelling the new Formula 2 cars—it was an innovative idea, because Enzo usually only considered large V12s.
Young Dino, together with the outstanding engineer and Enzo’s most trusted man, Vittorio Jano, had jointly started work on the new engine. Even on his deathbed before his quiet departure, he was reading reports from the factory and discussing the final design with his father and the engineers who visited him. Alfredo had a chance to bring the Ferrari brand into a new era, but the real impact of his work would only manifest after his passing.
Although his father did everything to save his son—even resorted to smuggling illicit drugs into Italy—there was nothing even the all-powerful Enzo could do. Something shifted inside him after his son’s untimely death, and every day before work he would head to the family tomb to pray for Dino.
Enzo became embittered and even more unhappy. Almost immediately after Dino’s death, his double life came to light. Alfredo was the “legal” son of Enzo and Laura Garello, but his death revealed that for many years Enzo also had a mistress, Lina Lardi, with whom he had an illegitimate son named Piero. Piero would become Vice Chairman of Ferrari later on, however it was always Dino who was the apple of the Commendatore’s eye, and Enzo wanted to create a car to pay homage to his son. These cars would become the Dino 206GT, and later the Dino 246GT. The concept model, which was first presented at the Paris Motor Show in 1965, was designed by Sergio Pininfarina himself, and the production version in 246GT trim is equipped with a 2.4L V6 engine, generating just shy of 200hp—the same construction that Alfredino started on. This engine proved to be a strong performer, and the Dino-powered Lancia Stratos went on to be a rally titan in the 1970s.
The Dino is a moving experience, literally and figuratively. Opening the door to this one, I was captivated by the beautiful, thin and delicate chrome handles, and once I climbed in, I felt I’d crossed the border between the automotive realm and something otherworldly. Such a car is sort of like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia. Then reality hits again; the seating position is a little uncomfortable. I would describe it as like a race car layout: flat and low. Okay, I thought, this will not matter once I actually drive the thing. Turn the key. Nothing. Apparently no Dino fires up with the first attempt! I bury the gas several times, careful not to flood the carbs. The compact V6 finally jolts to life right behind your head. It is a wonderful sound—very delicate—but not demure. It is not a monster—a Dino is not fast—and it is not a demon of twisting torque and burps of fire either, but it doesn’t need to be, and it shouldn’t be compared against such criteria. Though Enzo originally only wanted to make race cars, the Dino is squarely in the production car category of performance and setup.
The lines of the Dino extremely attractive. This is not news, I hope. There is a lot going on with the swept and nude-like curves and cooling inlets, but it never looks busy or overdone. The car is neither too big nor too small either, striking the perfect ratios between its proportions; low-slung with one plane flowing into the next, the “baby Ferrari” gives a sense of perfect balance. This extends beyond just the looks of course, as the Dino is the first Ferrari to have a mid-mounted engine. It was a novelty that Enzo at one point considered to be an extremely dangerous concept on the road. Of course, we know that the layout works just fine, and gives the driver plenty of opportunities to find joy in the car’s handling capabilities and general agility afforded by a centrally-located motor.
Today, one may get away with calling the 488GTB an evolution of the Dino, and in many ways it is—it’s a car with a striking road presence, a small engine, and huge potential—but nothing will have the immense history of the Ferrari family so deeply mixed into its DNA.