There are many legendary cars that owe their existence to motorsport homologation rules. The Lancia Stratos, Ferrari 250 GTO and Ford RS200 spring straight to mind. There are some, however, that fly under the radar. The Fiat Dino is one such machine - a knee-shakingly beautiful sports car with a Ferrari engine and the choice of Bertone and Pininfarina styling. It is exquisite, and, thanks to the badge, it won’t break the bank in the same spectacular fashion as its Maranello cousins.
The Fiat Dino was launched in 1966 as one half of a technical partnership with Ferrari. Maranello had developed a new V6 engine for their Formula 2 programme. Regulations stipulated that five hundred road cars be fitted with the engine before it could be raced, and so the Ferrari and Fiat Dinos were born. While Ferrari’s 246 Dino is the stuff of folklore, its Fiat cousin never achieved the same status, no doubt due to the less glamorous badge. Nevertheless, the Fiat has tremendous pedigree. With a Ferrari racing engine under the bonnet and the choice of a Bertone-styled Coupe and Pininfarina Spider, the little Dino has all the hallmarks of a thoroughbred sports car. In 1969 an updated version was rolled out - the 2400 - introducing a larger capacity engine with more power and torque, an uprated clutch, new gear ratios , fully independent rear suspension and styling tweaks. It also fixed the launch model’s build quality niggles, altering the interior to solve the issues. This was sold until production ended in 1973.
The Dino is a Sixties Italian sports car, and so it comes to no surprise that it loves rust. Lots of rust. Inspect the A-pillars, wheel arches, jacking points, wings, floor and sills. Also ensure that the panel gaps are even around the doors because the sills are prone to sagging. Have a good look at all bodywork panels, bumpers and trim for signs of damage or corrosion. Replacement parts range from rare to non-existent due to the limited number of surviving cars, so bear this in mind before settling for a pranged example. If you have to do corrective work it’s going to be expensive.
The Ferrari V6 was built for racing, so there’s no doubting its strength. However, due to the Fiat badge on the bonnet and the cute styling, vital maintenance is often neglected by owners. For instance, the top end valves and cams can wear if they’re not lubricated. The valve clearance will also need adjusting every six thousand miles. If this is not acted upon the engine will deteriorate rapidly. Early cars were fitted with a mechanical ignition system, which can often lead to wear to the distributor. Engine rebuilds are pricey so don’t go for an example with a smoky engine hoping to tinker with it later. This can quickly eat into your budget. Remember to check the log book for service history and any repairs. This is not a car you can repair on a shoestring budget. Don’t get hung up on matching numbers. Despite the classic car industry’s obsession with matching chassis and engine numbers, very few Dino’s left the factory with them and it’s not a big deal.
The gearbox fitted to the early 2.0-litre cars are the most temperamental and may need some attention. Any issues usually reveal themselves with copious whining. Later cars came fitted with an uprated gearbox, and these examples are tougher. The extent of issues you might be confronted with are a worn differential or tired universal joints. The gearbox has never been the smoothest, so don’t worry if changes are notchy and stiff.
The front suspension is prone to worn ball-joints. The rubbers split, causing the joints to wear quickly. Don’t worry too much, they are inexpensive and easily replaced. If the car rides strangely over bumps it could be a sign that a damper has lost an oil seal - causing it to run dry. Again, because the Dino shares its suspension with the lesser 124, 125 and 2300 this can be easily replaced.
Sixties Italian wiring is not a byword for reliability, so expect some dead switches and faulty lights. Thankfully this was the era before electrical gadgets caught on so it isn’t too complex to put right. Most of the switches and electrical gear is shared with other Fiats in the range, so you can always nab something off a 125 if you get desperate.
There isn’t much to fault about the interior, but check for any missing trim as you may have to do without it. These are rare cars and finding replacements for unique parts is difficult to say the least.
Dubbed as the ‘mini Ferrari’, it’s little surprise that the Fiat Dino is all about the engine. A smooth, race-derived V6, it delivers a distinctly Maranello-flavoured driving experience, with a beautiful engine note to boot. The Dino might have a reputation for being a handful in the wet, but as long as you remember this is a dinky rear-wheel drive sports car with a comparatively large engine up front you’ll be absolutely fine. As mentioned above, the gearbox can feel clunky, but it’s nothing to worry about. Watch out for the car jumping out of gear - this could mean a synchromesh change.
Although the Fiat Dino has garnered a reputation as the working man’s Ferrari, prices have started to rise in recent years, with the market waking up to the car’s inherent value as a Ferrari homologation. The car’s rarity has also contributed. The later 2400 commands higher values than the early cars thanks to its improved reliability, increased power and superior driving dynamics. Values are difficult to ascertain, but it’s fair to say the Dino is no longer trading for small change. You’ll need at least £40,000 - £60,000 for a working example, with show cars climbing as high as £150,000 (particularly Spiders. It might be worth making a trip to Europe. Values are lower over there and there’s more cars to choose from. Dwindling UK numbers are shooting prices into the stratosphere.
The Dino is a relatively inexpensive car to run day to day. The real costs stack up if you need to restore or replace any parts. Engine rebuilds are very expensive and even small parts can be downright impossible to find anywhere thanks to the rarity of the car, especially in the UK. Approach a project car with the utmost caution and the deepest of pockets.
The Fiat Dino is an irresistible combination of Ferrari power, elegant styling by two of the all-time great design houses and a rarity only hypercars can match. If you can stomach the outlay for what is a 150 bhp sports car then you could have one of the most underrated Italian sports cars of all on your driveway.
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