When you’ve already got a garage stocked with Ferrari’s greatest hits, each time you add something to the collection, it has to be interesting. This particular Dino, now packing more than 400 horsepower from an engine stolen from the famous F40 supercar, would qualify as interesting.
David Lee is well-known for his collection of prancing horses, and an appreciation for super expensive watches which has turned into a rather lucrative career, but I want to call attention to his idea of crafting a car that satisfies a remarkable craving.
(Full Disclosure: The owner of this Dino practically begged me to fly to LA, and damn near forced me to take it for a spirited run up and back down the Angeles Crest Highway. I couldn’t be the jerk that said no to such a request.)
The Dino was produced by Ferrari from 1968 until 1976, and the best version was the 2-seat 246 GTS. It’s easily one of the most under-appreciated designs to come from Pininfarina, and I still think it’s one of the best looking Ferraris created while Enzo was still walking around the factory in Maranello.
But it was brought to life as an entry-level Ferrari. And even though it was named after Mr. Ferrari’s son (Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari) who designed the engine and tragically died at a young age, the Dino itself was never really considered a true Ferrari by the company or collectors. That’s why you won’t find a single prancing horse badge on it anywhere.
People are starting to catch on to how pretty Dinos are, though. A clean one goes for around $300,000 today at an auction, and that’s been trending up over the past few years. Still, this F40 engine swap into a “low-tier” Ferrari is a pretty unusual concept.
Now, tuning up a classic Ferrari is no simple feat. Performing a full restoration is no cheap task. Deciding to not only give one a full restoration, but to also do a crazy engine swap from one of the greatest Ferraris of all-time could be considered crazy. Spending about $1 million for a project on this level of wackiness might get you thrown into a room with padded walls for several years.
The person responsible for constructing this Dino restoration had recently done another one in the U.K., which Lee offered to buy, but the guy was understandably too attached to let it go. Instead, he offered to create another one, and Lee agreed so long as they could go a bit more crazy with it. This 1972 Ferrari Dino is now known as the Monza 3.6 Evo.
No one had ever tried such an undertaking with a Dino, so there were no references to projects, measurements, tolerances, or parts availability. They had to do all the discovery as they went, and this sort of work doesn’t come cheap. After a year filled with countless hours of designing, engineering, and experimenting, they came up with a package that could work. Which, considering the scope here, is a pretty short timeline.
Let’s not mess around. The old 2.4 liter V6 from the Dino wasn’t fast, it wasn’t wonderful to hear, and it certainly wasn’t pretty to look at.
Instead, this one takes the 470-horsepower 2.9 liter V8 block from the F40, bored out to 3.6 liters, loses the turbos and all its intake and exhaust plumbing, and gets a set of velocity stacks atop the head. Sacrilege? Maybe, but damn it’s a good looking package, and the joyful noise that comes out of it may be one of the sweetest automotive symphonies ever produced.
Classic Ferraris have this power band that sings and pulls to no end. It revs to 7,500 RPM, and the torque curve is super flat. I could leave the car in third gear in a slower corner, and it would still take off once I fed in the throttle as I clipped the apex. They claim this engine produces 400 horsepower, and I have no doubt it does. The superb power-to-weight ratio really aids in the performance, as it tips the scales at 2,400 pounds.
This particular Dino has had no part left unattended, and frankly every bit is cleaner than it would have been coming fresh off the line in Maranello. The leather is possibly the softest I’ve ever felt in a car, the seats are perfectly comfortable while supportive, and the carpets are durable yet refined. The body has been tastefully updated, including new fender flares to accommodate the larger and wider wheels, but they fit the look of a limited batch of Dinos from the 1970s.
An original steering wheel is retained, but wrapped in updated leather, with a thinner wheel rim than I’ve gotten used to in restomod projects. Simple and clean gauges stare back at you, and the tachometer is updated to reflect the new redline. The old shift knob has been replaced for a lighter unit, but it’s period correct, and slides into a fine plate that surrounds the gated shifter. Gated shifters are the greatest shifters, and it pains me that so many manufacturers have gone away from them.
Analog cars are my thing. Yes, I get to hoon all the fast modern things available at your local dealer, but I’m a purist when it comes to driving inputs and sensations. This Dino does not disappoint. When you consider this was conceived as a one-off project, you’d think there would be a few kinks to sort out, and that there may be a few understandable imperfections. The pedal box is a bit compact, if you’re wearing running shoes, but that’s how the car was made. Once you get lined up with the pedal to the right, you have no trouble getting up to speeds which will have you paying substantial fines.
When you have that perfect engine note pouring out behind your head, you can’t seem to stop finding ways to make it scream. At any RPM, I could feed in the gas, and the car would surge smoothly, seemingly never running out of power at the top of the rev range. I made several attempts to ensure this was an accurate assessment. You know, for research.
The weight balance in the classic Dino was so perfect, and as I mentioned, the whole car weighs in at a ridiculously light 2,400 pounds. This car somehow maintains that curb weight after the big ass engine swap, and feels like a Cayman with the simplest mechanical steering. It does have a slight bit of power assist at low speeds, to make it simpler to park, but once you get past 20 MPH it’s all you, and it’s wonderful.
Turn-in requires a bit of initial effort, but it’s completely predictable. While the tires are currently modest Pirelli P-Zero Neros, they still get the job done. I wonder how a set of P-Zero Corsa rubber would serve the grip and handling. Koni coilovers handle the bumpy stuff, and do so with the right balance of response and comfort. Nothing upset the suspension, even as I was on bumpier parts of Angeles Crest Highway.
Forged 17-inch wheels are completely bespoke, but look the part. The owner first experimented with 18-inchers, but decided to go back down to better fit the look of the classic Dino. Behind those wheels are a set of Brembo brakes that have no trouble effectively slowing the Dino should you find yourself heading toward a corner at an excessive pace.
You could easily see yourself taking a decent road trip in this car. Not just because you’d be the coolest guy pulling up anywhere, but because it’s properly civil. A three-mode air conditioning system has been fitted, the cabin is actually quiet enough when you’re cruising along and seats are comfortable. The engine swap was done with the full intent of maintaining the trunk, and you can easily put a pair of weekenders in the back.
The owner of this car loved it so much, and enjoyed the process of the restoration that he has decided to commission 25 more of them. They can provide their own donor car, or have it sourced, but can expect to spend $1.3 million when all is said and done.
Invites are going to be extremely selective, and any prospective buyer has to actually use it for fun, but plenty of interested has developed to get one of the most characterful and special classic Ferrari projects I’ve ever experienced.
How Lee’s team pulled off this level of driving pleasure on their first pass at this car astounds me. I was blown away by this Dino, and can’t wait to see more of them on the road being put to good use.