Back in the early 70's, I was a disco DJ for a nightclub called The Candy Store (as in nose). One fateful summer night, I parked my Mazda RX4, rounded the corner and walked straight into a Dino 246GT. My employer's new whip sat on the weathered dock, glowing in the fading sun. The diminutive Dino instantly re-ordered my automotive universe. I could never see another American car as anything but a clumsy barge. And boy, did I want one. A Ferrari, that is. Yes, I know, a Dino isn't a Ferrari. And Marissa Miller was never on Baywatch. So? God made both Pammy and Marissa. Enzo made both Ferraris and the Dino. It's not a contest, and if it was, the Dino 246GT would win.
The Dino's design may be/is heaven-on-wheels, but the model was a slow train coming. The original Pininfarina concept car debuted at the Paris Show in 1965, and then reappeared at the '66 and '67 Turin Shows. Finally, in '68, Ferrari's first mid-engined production car hit the showrooms— as a Dino. Enzo claimed that the nominal re-branding honored his dead son (who originally conceived its V6 powerplant), but the distinction without a difference actually reflected Ferrari's fear of alienating his wealthy clientele with a [relatively] cheap, mass market motor.
Enzo fears were not without substance. The light, perfectly balanced Dino 206 GT was a true driver's car, back when Ferraris were front-engined hairy-chested monsters (e.g. the concurrent V12 Daytona). With more than merely adequate shove, double wishbones fore and aft, and big ass (for the time) ventilated discs at all four corners, the Dino 206 could cut a mean rug. And the world was deeply smitten with the Dino's curvaceous sheetmetal. Bernard Schwartz (a.k.a. Tony Curtis) did more than his part to spread the car's fame; his character Danny Wilde drove a red Dino (chassis number 00810) in an internationally-distributed TV show called The Persuaders.
In 1969, the next gen Dino 246GT ditched alloy panels for a steel body. The car also received a slightly heavier cast-iron 2.4-liter quad cam V6. Purists (you know the sort) claim the engine's additional weight messed-up the Dino's balance, but there's no question that the extra power (195hp @ 7600 rpm) and torque (166 ft.-lbs. @ 5500 rpm) made the car a far more usable proposition. And quick too. La Bella Machina II sprinted from zero to sixty in 7.1 seconds and topped-out at 148mph, showing a clean pair of heels to the Porsche 911's of its day.
I recently drove a properly restored, maintained and sorted Dino 246GT. It's like having sex with the girl of your dreams— and discovering she's actually quite good in bed. Although the Dino's out-gunned by a V6 Honda Accord, the Italian sports car feels alive in a way that few modern motors (MX5?) can match. Its brakes, steering and chassis provide an endless stream of visceral feedback; the Dino makes most of its contemporary equivalents feel like they're wrapped in cotton wool. And the sound blatting out of the Dino's quad pipes is to die for— but not with. The 246GT is trustworthy right up to the limit, which it signals with the most delicious squeal (note: do not fit with over-sticky modern rubber).
Ferrari produced some 2700 Dino 246GT's from 1969 to 1974 (as well as 1180 targa-topped GTS's). There are two kinds of Dinos: ones that have been restored and ones that need to be restored. Although the model is relatively plentiful in classic car terms, a flawless GT currently costs just north of $100k. It's also worth noting that the Dino 246GT makes a terrible garage queen; if you don't regularly thrash it— and I mean weekly— it's only a matter of time before the Dino will need more "reconditioning." But that's hardly an onerous task. If you don't enjoy driving this car at full chat, as Enzo's mob intended, let's face it: you've got no business owning one.