Last week I went to Maranello to drive the new Ferrari 488 GTB, opinions about which are available on this site via my learned colleague Chris Harris. And that is all I went to do. But by the time I left Fiorano in the back of an FF (all 6ft 4in of me in perfectly reasonable comfort) for the kind of taxi ride to the airport only a Ferrari chauffeur with 650bhp under his foot can provide, it was with news far better and more important even than the fact that, LaFerrari aside, the 488 GTB is the best handling mid-engined car Ferrari has ever built.
In short, Ferrari is building a new Dino.
The news could not have come from a higher, or better authority. I’d been standing beside the track, talking to the man from the Telegraph about how surreally, almost absurdly fast was the 488 GTB for a standard production model and naturally my thoughts turned to whether there was now space below it for a car more accessible both in terms of power and price. And, as if on cue, along came the unmistakeable, perpetually be-jumpered figure of Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne. So I just asked him a straight question and, to the horror of the PR man standing next to him, he gave me a straight answer: ‘A new Dino is a question of when, not if.’
Perhaps seeing the expression on the face of the man who would have to deal with the media storm that was now brewing fast on the horizon, Marchionne was more coy with further details, but did talk in non-specific terms about V6 engines, 500bhp and a price point that did not undercut Ferrari’s current range. On that he was actually quite precise, making it very clear that ‘Dino’ and ‘cheap Ferrari’ are not words that should ever sit in the same sentence.
Dino. I know the word means different things to different people, from Mike Hawthorn’s 1958 F1 World Championship winning steer to the Bertone-bodied Dino 308GT4 of the mid-‘70s, but I am sure that to most of us the car we think of when we see Alfredo Ferrari’s diminutive on a car, it is a 246GT.
I find it fascinating that one of the most valuable standard production Ferrari road cars of the last 50 years is also probably the slowest Ferrari ever intended for widespread public sale. Every time I drive one I am struck by two things: first how slow it is, and second how little that matters.
It was claimed to have 195bhp, which is more than the 180bhp of the 206GT it replaced, but as its body was made from steel rather than aluminium like the 206, I doubt it was significantly quicker. What it did have was a 2.4-litre V6 engine derived from the race motor, which meant you had to drive it hard and fast not just to get the best performance from it, but reputedly to tempt oil up to the top of the engine and avoid hideous cam wear. A car you have to drive flat out to maintain it properly? That’ll be the Dino.
‘But I know exactly what I’d do with a Dino: I’d take it on holiday, I’d take the kids to school (ok, one at a time), I’d take it to the pub and I’d take it to work. In short I’d take it everywhere.’
Of all the street Ferraris you could buy, the Dino is the one I’d choose to buy had I the £300,000 now needed to get a good one. That’s not to say it’s quite my favourite Ferrari, for I can’t see that ever being anything other than the F40. But I don’t know what I’d do with an F40, nor even a Daytona, a car that really does only truly come alive above 100mph.
But I know exactly what I’d do with a Dino: I’d take it on holiday, I’d take the kids to school (ok, one at a time), I’d take it to the pub and I’d take it to work. In short I’d take it everywhere. With performance certainly no better and probably quite a lot worse than a modern Golf GTI, you’re not going to risk your licence, it’s comfortable, easy to see out of and even has quite a big boot.
As for the driving experience, it is nothing less than sublime. That V6 makes a better noise than most Ferrari V12s, it revs to 7800rpm and it attached to a wondrously characterful, sweet shifting, exposed gate five-speed gearbox. And, until I drove the 488 GTB, I’d not been sure there’s been a mid-engined car with better manners on the limit. Grip levels on skinny old Michelins are not incredible, but perfectly matched to the power under your foot, so you can hoof it around knowing you’ll catch every slide with its sublime steering, or simply cruise, knowing you’re in a car better both to look at and listen to than almost anything else ever designed for road use.
It is a hell of an act to follow, which is perhaps why it has taken Ferrari over 40 years to pluck up the courage to do it. I think it’s a brave move, but that the timing is right for such a car. Besides, fortune tends to favour the brave and I wish Senor Marchionne and his team all the very best of luck with it.