Passenger ride – Fiat Dino Spider

It’s not often you see a car so beautiful it stops you in your tracks, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I first laid eyes upon David’s gorgeous yellow Fiat Dino Spider a few weeks ago. Just look at it. It’s stunning.

And what’s more, David was kind enough to take me for a spin in it early one sunny Saturday morning.

The Dino fits perfectly into a long heritage of the kinds of Italian convertibles I dream about. Cars that have the classic 60’s movie star looks and a powerful, aurally magnificent engine to back it up. To be perfectly honest, riding in the Dino Spider early that morning was as close to my dream of driving a Ferrari 250 California at sunset as I’m likely to get in a while.

How so?

The Dino came about as a ‘marriage of convenience’, of sorts, between Fiat and Ferrari back in the days before the Italian auto giant owned the small supercar manufacturer.

In the early 60’s Enzo Ferrari was firmly of the opinion that a Ferrari should only be fitted with a V12 engine. He was in disagreement with his beloved son, Alfredo ‘Dino’ Ferrari, who saw how a V6 engine could compliment the company’s larger V12 line. After all, Ferrari were already successfully using a V6 engine in Formula 2 racing, so ‘Dino’ worked on the concept with such engineering luminaries as Jano and Lampredi.

Unfortunately Dino succumbed to muscular dystrophy and passed away at the young age of 24. It has been said that Enzo Ferrari never really got over the death of his son, and as a tribute he decreed that any car produced by Ferrari with a V6 engine would be badged simply as ‘Dino’.

At around the same time the FIA brought in a new homologation rule for Formula 2 racing, requiring any engine used in the competition to also be used by a minimum of 500 production vehicles. This caused a profound problem for Ferrari – at this stage they weren’t even producing 500 cars per year, let alone 500 V6 engined cars, but their racing engine was simply too good to walk away from.

Which is how the mutually beneficial deal with Fiat was struck. Fiat would build the cars, and Ferrari would supply them with V6 engines. Ferrari were then able to continue their racing success in Formula 2, and Fiat had a replacement for their ageing 2300 Coupe, not to mention the huge marketing potential that came with a genuine Ferrari powerplant. Fiat contracted styling house Pininfarina to first design and build the Dino Spider, and later Bertone to design and build a completely different but equally elegant coupe.

Ferrari also produced a mid engined Pininfarina styled car with this same V6 engine, the 206 and later 246 Dino. But on a technically anal note it should never be called a Ferrari as it abides by the same naming policy – it is simply a Dino 246. It never carried a Ferrari badge anywhere on it, and if someone calls it a Ferrari you should politely correct them. And then rightfully expect to be slapped in the face for being so pretentious.

In my eyes it’s timelessly good looking, but the desire doesn’t stop there. The arrangement with Ferrari means the Dino is fitted with a proper Ferrari Formula 2 race engine. Sure, it’s detuned for use in the Dino but there’s still no hiding it’s true roots.

So what happens when you rush a car with a Ferrari race engine into production in time to meet homologation requirements? Well, the first cars had the problems you’d expect of a vehicle fitted with a Ferrari race engine. The first 2000cc engines were alloy with cylinder sleeves, they had plenty of power and sounded fantastic but they overheated in traffic and regularly fouled the spark plugs.

These problems were (somewhat) solved with major revisions. The blocks were instead cast of iron and enlarged to 2400cc. ‘Dinoplex’ electronic ignition was fitted in an attempt to combat the spark plug fouling problem, and apart from having just about the best and most futuristic name for an injection system, Dinoplex made the Dino the first ever production car to be fitted with electronic ignition.

Dinoplex improved the situation but there’s still no hiding the true origins of this engine. Cruising around town you can just feel that the engine isn’t happy at low rpm. It pops and cracks like all old Ferrari’s do, and whilst it seems relatively tractable it’s certainly no big V8. It needs revs, and lots of them.

Luckily our ride wasn’t confined to the slow town streets, and we were able to get out on the open road and let the Dino rev. And my word does it like to rev. The sound is just music to the ears, a melody that keeps getting better and better the further the needle swings around the tacho. And when you reach the redline and grab the next gear, it just keeps on going. It’s quite quick for a car of it’s age, but that’s not really what it’s all about. If you want a fast car buy something with a turbo – this is about savouring and enjoying every moment you have with such a special car. Enjoying the wind rushing through your hair as it carries the sweet V6 harmony past your ears and on to anybody lucky enough to be standing roadside as you pass.

This clip from the 1970 Italian movie ‘Paranoia’ does a pretty good job of conveying the appeal I find in the Dino. My ride wasn’t quite as hectic as this gent’s ride, however.

And of course, it’s impossible to talk about Dino’s on film without mentioning the famous sinister black Dino Coupe which starred as the mafia car in the original Italian Job.

I’d like to extend my thanks for David for taking me for the spin in the Dino, it was an extremely enjoyable experience and a definite highlight of the weekend.

I’d also like to thank local Adelaide Fiat enthusiast and Any Given Reason supporter Guy Standen. Guy is up to his arms in an extensive, no stone unturned restoration of his Dino 2400 Coupe and has become quite the Dino historian. Information for this post was cheerfully gleaned from a brilliant article he researched and wrote for a recent edition of the Fiat Lancia Car Club magazine. And it’s worth mentioning that the poor man hasn’t even had a ride in a Dino yet…. sorry mate!

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