Tale of the Dino
Volume 45 Issue 25
Dec 6, 2020
Bill Hancock describes his love affair with the Dino
My love affair with the Dino started in Nashville, in the late 1960s when I drove by the local Ferrari dealer and was captivated by a 206 Dino GT.
I remarked to my roommate at the time, I am going to own one of those one day; his reply “Yeah, when pigs fly.”
Ten years later, I happened by a local Ferrari dealer and asked if they ever took in any used Dinos on trade; they replied, “No, nobody wants them.” I left my card in case one showed up.
Six months later, I got the call. They were taking a wrecked 246 GT in on a trade. On the appointed day, I showed up, checkbook in hand and the pigs flew.
Later that day a towing service delivered my “wreck” to a local body shop, where the slightly creased passenger door was repaired for a total cost of $300.
Several weeks later, after five new tires and some scheduled maintenance, I took the Dino to an Italian-themed car show where I was summarily directed to park it with the Fiats.
Despite the fact that the car was titled as a Ferrari and bore the manufacturer’s data plate with only the Ferrari name, Dinos were not considered to be part of the Ferrari family because they were considered to be “off-brand low-end 6-cylinder variants.”
Out of curiosity, I started following the asking prices in the Ferrari Market Letter (FML) which over the years has become the leading authority of used Ferrari pricing.
I originally bought the car because of its aesthetically pleasing Pininfarina lines, and while not fast by any stretch, it had decent handling and was fun to drive.
The Dino never posed much of a threat on the racetrack, however Jack May did win the famed 1975 Cannonball Run driving a 246 GTS, and in so doing created a testament to its roadworthiness and dependability.
Enzo Ferrari lived to race. As a former driver himself, he dedicated his early efforts to establishing Scuderia Ferrari as the marque to beat.
Initially, he funded his quest by producing a series of fast cars which he sold to a few wealthy amateurs, thus providing the funding to field the Ferrari team driven by some of the world’s leading drivers of the day.
This success propelled the Prancing Horse to the top of the sport in post-war Europe. As victories began to mount, so did costs. Soon, the non-linear growth of expenses far exceeded the funding provided by the wealthy privateers. The obvious answer to the company’s survival lay in increasing the volume and finding new markets.
The Porsche 911 was establishing a new niche and one which would provide an opportunity for Ferrari to expand its presence in North America.
Ferrari began plans for the Dino line named after Enzo’s beloved son. The Dino brand was marketed much like Honda would later do with the Acura NSX.
The strikingly beautiful Dino was marketed as an entry level vehicle and positioned at a lower price point than the Ferraris, in hopes the increased volume would provide the needed profits.
Faced with an exponentially rising budget required to remain competitive in F1, Enzo soon turned to the Agnelli Family, scions of the Fiat empire, to negotiate an arranged marriage.
Once the relationship was established and Ferrari’s financial future was assured, the key components for Ferrari’s street cars were soon aided by Fiat’s production expertise.
Enzo’s pre-nup agreement assured that he could remain as the head of racing to continue unabated in his enduring quest to stay in the hunt in F1.
Production car manufacturing and quality assurance, while remaining in Modena, were being augmented by Fiat.
Despite the diminutive Dino’s attractive styling and layout, its lackluster performance did not resonate with the market. The 246 GT was followed by the GTS which helped, but in the end did not meet the necessary sales volume.
Unfortunately, the Dino line never achieved the predicted market penetration and toward the end of 1973, many of the Ferrari dealers quietly began rebadging the Dinos as Ferraris in order to elevate sales. Some of the dealers merely adorned the rear deck lid with the iconic Ferrari logo, while others mounted the Prancing Horse on the grille.
The 246 series was followed by the Bertone-designed Dino 308 GT4 which also failed to gain a foothold in the market.
Meanwhile in America, the Feds were creating a complex web of stringent safety and emissions standards which drove up the vehicle unit cost. The manufacturers were all faced with essentially the same costs for compliance testing however, the low volume manufacturers were faced with having to amortize these costs across a much smaller production run.
Soon, after the short-lived Bertone designed Dino 308 GT4 was dropped, the pocket surrounding the Dino badge on the nose was repositioned to accommodate the classic vertical Ferrari badge, the Dino brand disappeared entirely.
Interestingly, over the years it has been suggested by staunch traditionalists to remove the Ferrari badging, restore the DINO badge and the pocket to its original landscape orientation on the affected cars in order to maintain the integrity of Dino’s DNA.
Others view these changes done by the dealers as an indelible record of the vehicle’s history, much like a patina.
In 1977 when the Dino brand disappeared it was replaced by the Ferrari nameplate which reappeared on the 308 GTB which went on to become an instant hit even though it only had 8 cylinders and a transverse engine layout.
The 308 GTB and the Ferrari brand went on to gain a huge boost in market awareness and resulting sales volume from the TV show Magnum PI.
After bottoming in the late 1970s, the asking price for Dinos quietly began escalating, and soon the little car with the pretty lines began to attract a loyal following.
Slowly, the strident V-12 crowd mellowed and begrudgingly became slightly more inclusive after the Asian market became enamored with the car and began to import them.
Soon, the Dino started appearing on various lists as desirable. Today, it is almost always included on somebody’s list of the most beautiful Ferraris.
Not surprisingly, the Dino has even been rumored to have been benchmarked by both the Pontiac Fiero and Acura NSX design teams during their early gestation.
Fast forward to 2014 when, after avoiding car shows for thirty-five years, I arrived at a local car show and was told that they had reserved the featured spot for the Dino among the “other” Ferraris. As Toby Keith would say “How do Ya’ like me now?”
In the spirit of full disclosure, I did not buy the car in 1979 as an investment but rather as a bucket list item or simply to scratch an itch.
Shortly thereafter, the Dino took on special meaning for me because I drove it when I began dating an Italian girl who was an automotive designer and would eventually go on to become my wife.
After getting married and starting a business, the car got parked in our garage for thirty-five years while we pursued our careers, raised a family, and went about living life.
Today in our car collection, the Dino is the ballet dancer; driven sparingly but when I slide deep into the seat and peek out over those beautiful rounded front fenders, I still feel the magic. Fast, No; Sexy-Oh Hell Yes!
History and looks aside, let’s look at the money part of the equation.
Having owned the Dino for 41 years I find its price path somewhat interesting when compared to two other mid-engine Ferraris from the same era.
Attached is a graph of the annual asking prices for the Dino as reported in FML.
With no way of knowing the final transfer price, FML’s annual asking price tabulations provided an easily accessible and consistent way to delineate values and market trends.
It is interesting is to compare the Dino prices to values for the 308 GTB and the 512 BB, both of which followed the Dino and were of the same mid-engine layout but lacked the non-Ferrari stigma.
The graph below tells an interesting story about Dino pricing. In short when compared to its sanctified peers, it started out at the bottom and over the past forty years has quietly risen to become quite a worthwhile investment.