Ferrari had a problem. It wanted to go Formula 2 racing in the 1960s but it needed to homologate its 2.0-litre engine for competition, and that meant at least 500 had to be built and used in road-going cars. As a maker of low-volume sports cars, that was never going to happen.
Yes, Ferrari tried with the Dino 206GT, powered by its new 2.0-litre V6, but its small production numbers (just 152 were made between 1967-69) were never going to trouble the homologation bean counters.
To solve the homologation problem, Enzo cast his not inconsiderable gaze to Turin and Italy’s mainstream maker of affordable cars, Fiat. An agreement was reached, and Fiat set about designing a new sport car that could accommodate the ‘Dino’ engine. Fiat also agreed to build the Ferrari-designed engine at its Turin plant.
The results were the Fiat Dino Coupe and Fiat Dino Spider.
With Bertone responsible for the design of the Coupe, it was left to Pininfarina to pen the altogether more elegant and swoopy Spider. In a race of the drawing boards, it was the Spider which made its debut first, unveiled to the public at the 1966 Turin motor show. The Coupe followed months later, the covers taken off the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed fastback at Geneva in March, 1967.
Both were powered by the 2.0-litre V6 making a claimed 118kW. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox and thanks to its svelte 1240kg kerb weight, the sprint from 0-110km/h could be dispatched in around 7.0 seconds, not too shabby for the time.
While externally, the Spider is undeniably a thing of beauty, early production models were let down by a cut-price interior. The switchgear of those early models was pilfered from cheaper Fiat models, and the dashboard was covered in cheap-looking vinyl. Worst of all, Fiat’s three-spoke metal steering wheel was rimmed in plastic.
The Coupe meanwhile, offered far more resplendent interior, with a wood-rimmed steering wheel and wood-covered dashtop. It wasn’t long before Fiat realised its mistake in trying to cut costs and by 1967, just a few months after production had commenced, the Spider started rolling of the line with the better-appointed interior from the Coupe.
In 1969, the Fiat Dino received a heart transplant, along with its cousin from Maranello. A new 2.4-litre V6 with 132kW now provided motivation. A ZF-sourced dog-leg gearbox sent drive to the rear wheels while suspension upgrades – the leaf springs found at rear in the older model were replaced by a coil-sprung independent set-up sourced from the Fiat 130 – gave the Fiat Dino much better handling characteristics.
The engine too, despite the modest bump in power, enjoyed a fatter torque curve, making for an altogether more enjoyable driving experience, especially at slower speeds and in traffic. The sprint from 0-100km/h was said to take around 8.0 seconds while top speed was rated at 210km/h, all while that glorious Ferrari V6 growled under the bonnet.
In all, 7803 Fiat Dinos were produced between 1966-73. Of those, just 1163 were 2.0-litre Spiders. Rarer still, just 420 of the 2.4-litre Spider 2400 were ever made, making this one rare Italian thoroughbred.
Today, it’s the Spider 2400 garnering the most attention and the big dollars. Recent examples have sold at auction from anywhere between AUD$130,000 to $200,000. A quick scan of internet classifieds reveals asking prices well in excess of AUD$200,000. Even the Coupe is starting to ask for big money, anywhere from AUD$60,000 to $130,000 depending on specification and condition.
Still, with the Ferrari Dino commanding prices well in excess of AUD$500,000 regularly, the Fiat Dino Spider just might be the answer for those wanting Italian flair with the heartbeat of Ferrari.