Conceived in the '60s to take a slice of the small-engine capacity sports car market, Ferrari’s first six-cylinder sports car goes up against its contemporary, the Porsche 911, once more.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Photos: Charles Russell
SIX different prototypes. That is the number of cars Pininfarina built between the 1965 Paris Motor Show and the 1967 Frankfurt Show before the Dino 206 GT went into production. The result was this gorgeous and elegant body, made by Carrozzeria Scaglietti in Modena.
This specific Dino 206 GT is the only one of its kind in South Africa. I’ve also known the car for most of my adult life. The owner is a collector, enthusiast and engineer of note – however, he doesn’t just hand over the keys to his cars for journalists to drive. After more than a decade-and-a-half, I proposed this comparison to him – he obliged, especially when he heard about which competitor I was planning for the comparison.
As any respected Ferrari enthusiast will know, the Dino was named after Il Commendatore’s son who passed away at the young age of 24 in 1956. Enzo Ferrari decided to name the Formula 2 V6 engine after his son, the engine on which Alfredino was working at the time.
From here on the V6 engines (fitted to road and race cars), as well as some V8 engines, were referred to as Dinos. The successes of these engines are well documented, but to sum up: it powered three world champions, several sports racing car victories/class wins as well as two European Mountain Championship victories.
Furthermore, as I would discover, the compact feel and nimbleness of the Dino is another feature and characteristic I’ve never experienced in any other Ferrari and offers a level of driving involvement unique to this prancing horse…
It is driving attributes like these which bring me to this perfectly restored 911 2.2 S. If this model name looks familiar, it might be because it is the same model the legendary Steve McQueen owned and drove in the classic movie Le Mans (1971).
This particular example was purchased around four years ago by an enthusiastic Cape Town-based Porsche collector. The previous owner Tim Abbott, a master Porsche restorer based outside Johannesburg, worked his magic on this car over the course of several years. It is believed to be one of the neatest 2.2 S in the country. As both cars are equipped with six-cylinder engines and capacities of around 2.0-litres, plus being contemporaries, surely a comparison has to be conducted. Further underlining the relevance of such a comparison, the Dino was partly developed for Ferrari to have a slice of this smaller, 2.0-litre sports car class, where Porsche already showed a level of success.
Parked side by side, there is an exotic design feel to the Dino that the 911 cannot replicate. The pronounced fenders of the Dino, round nose and the lovely curved rear window are only a few of the many elements that invite you to walk around this compact Ferrari and drink in all the details.
There is also a practical side to the Dino. As the engine is pushed all the way up against the bulkhead (transversely mounted), there is a luggage compartment behind the engine. While there, kneel down behind the car and you have a perfect view of those two, chromed exhaust pipes.
However, the 911 is without a doubt the more practical alternative, though not bursting with as many aesthetic details. With its luggage compartment up front, there is also space for children (or luggage) in the rear.
While it might be a decade-and-a-half since the Dino’s restoration was completed, today the car still looks as immaculate as back then. And this rings true for the entire car, be it the engine bay, the cabin or the bodywork. The Dino is also no garage queen, as the owner drove it for the entire week leading up to this drive and shoot (and jokingly told me I should have come and washed it beforehand).
The 911 S is no different, the previous owner also having taken a similar amount of time restoring the S. When the current owner bought it, she revealed it at the Concourse South Africa event in August 2018, and secured a respectable podium place.
With most of the photography done and the sun already below the horizon, I climb, or is it fall (!), into the Dino’s comfortable, softly ribbed leather seat. If you appreciate the concept of a compact car, the Dino will be right up your street. There is no wasted space in the cabin. You and your passenger sit very close to each other, partly as a result of the notably wide sill, while the short nose in front of you means you know exactly where the front wheels as well as the front and side extremities of the car are. I can’t help but imagine the type of car (and performance) Ferrari would be able to build if they were allowed to design a car this small without any current legislation getting in the way.
As I pull away and start using that evocative open gate gearlever, I quickly realize that, at 1.87-metres, I do face a few challenges driving this car. I have just about enough, although limited, headroom. But my right leg (it is a left-hand drive car) is wedged between the gearlever and the steering wheel. I can also not press the brake pedal from straight ahead, but need to do so kind of from the side, at an angle. Not ideal for heel-and-toeing at the limit.
Shorter drivers will fit perfectly though. However, I soon look past these few obstacles and marvel at this little sports car. Firstly the 2.0-litre engine revs with real zest (134 kW at a lofty 8 000 rpm) accompanied by the raspy and old-school soundtrack from those two pipes, helped by the fact that the car only weighs 1 140 kg (remember, the exterior panels are all aluminium in the 206). There is wonderful feedback through the large steering wheel and the car feels nimble and chuckable at all times, especially on this very twisty coastal road. Turn-in is quick thanks to a direct steering action. The three-spoke steering wheel with the Dino centre boss is almost identical to those steering wheels used on racing Ferraris in the preceding decade – a strong reminder of the importance of these cars.
I don’t get the gear changes right all the time though, and, very embarrassingly, scratch the gearbox twice when changing to a lower gear. You need to blip the throttle on a down change, otherwise this is the result. However, each shift is a mechanical action, rather eventful and a pleasure when you get it right.
The low weight of the car has another benefit. Press the brake pedal, and there is an initial confidence-inspiring bite. From here on you need to press the pedal harder to achieve the full braking effect, the brakes being fairly progressive once working.
We often talk about a car that you “wear”, meaning that it feels like an extension of your body. In a race car that is always the case because you are securely strapped in, there is a race seat and everything is dialled to the maximum (no comfort, sound deadening etc.). The Dino also offers that feeling, but for the reasons above.
Make no mistake, just because the 911 S’s roofline is slighter higher than the Dino’s, doesn’t mean it is less sporty. In the Dino you sit very close to the ground, but when I open the 911’s door and lower myself in the seat, I realize here I’m also comfortably close to the tarmac. The cabin is more spacious and the windscreen’s angle more upright. The nose in front of me is also short and I have just as much confidence in knowing where each front corner of the car is compared to the Dino.
Although the first 911 S was also originally offered with a 2.0-litre, SOHC flat-six engine, during the next-generation the capacity was increased to 2.2-litres, developing 134 kW. The mechanical sound is so typical of the 911 and immediately infiltrates the cabin. As I select first gear I do miss that open gate system of the Dino. The 911’s ‘box takes a few shifts to get used to, but from then on you are never in doubt where to shift for the next gear.
As with the Dino, there is a solid nature to the 911 and there are no rattles or squeaks in either fully restored machine. Once all the fluids are warmed up, the Porsche’s engine revs with ease through the rev range. It is actually not happy pottering around at the 2 000 and 3 000 rpm mark, but will eagerly and with only a little inertia swing past 6 000 to just over 7 000 rpm.
Compared to the Dino you can feel the engine is further back in the chassis, but once you learn how to use it to your benefit, the 911 feels just as light and nimble as the Dino, be it when changing direction or under braking.
I’m also more comfortable behind the wheel due to the larger cabin which allows for more space around all the major controls. As the steering wheel is so close to the dashboard (and the windscreen), you have a perfect view over the boot lid and the fenders. At times I don’t feel as connected to the car as in the Dino, but only for brief moments.
It is safe to say that there is a racing feel to the Dino which the 911 might lack. This could be attributed to the design, that open-gate gearlever, mid-mounted engine that sings all the way to 8 000 rpm and finer details like those knock-on wheels.
It would be wrong to dismiss the 911 because it doesn’t offer these same features, after all, in the 70s (and today) the 911 was one of the most successful racing cars.
In terms of value, today the Dino is worth around double that of the 911, which one could justify to an extent... the Dino being more focused and rarer.
The racing provenance of these engines and cars is just as impressive as so many other larger capacity Ferrari engines. Plus, it stands out as a concept, seeing as Ferrari fans had to await for the arrival of the new 296 GTB to experience a compact, V6-engined sports car again…
Specifications: 1968 (Ferrari) Dino 206 GT
Engine: 1 987 cm3, V6
Power: 134 kW at 8 000 rpm
Torque: 187 Nm at 6 500 rpm
Top speed: 225 km/h
Gearbox: five-speed, RWD
Weight: 1 140 kg
Produced: 152 units between 1967-69
Specifications: 1970 Porsche 911 2.2 S
Engine: 2 195 cm3, flat-six cylinder
Power: 134 kW at 6 500 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm at 5 200 rpm
Top speed: 230 km/h
Gearbox: five-speed, RWD
Weight: 1 020 kg
Produced: 3 154 units between 1970-71