For those Americans who ventured forth to Europe during the post-war '50s, it was in many ways reminiscent of the 1930s. There was still a great mystery and sense of adventure that has all but disappeared in this age of cheap airfares and instant messaging. A friend once remarked that she would never get to France. I quipped that it was just a matter of buying a ticket.
Steve Earle, the maestro of the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, was fortunate enough to be one of the motorsport vagabonds in 1959, when he ditched his studies and headed off to Old Europe to see firsthand what he and thousands just like him had read about. The famous public roads of Reims amid the plains of Champagne were host to the French Grand Prix and Grand Prix of Europe in those days, and Earle arrived just in time for a round of practice and then the race.
"I had never seen a crowd that big for anything, people some 20 deep lined up for miles around the French countryside," remembered Earle. "I was right there at the restaurant at the end of a straight. Phil Hill got off to a great start in his Ferrari Dino and, as I recall, spun it three times in front of me. There was a group of well-dressed ladies who seemed oblivious to the race until Phil Hill would come into view, when they chanted "Pheeel Heeel!" It was a Ferrari 1-2, Tony Brooks taking the checkered and Phil right behind. Their prancing horses that day were Ferrari Dino 246s, the last of the truly great front-engine grand prix racers.
I remember doodling in elementary school what appeared to be the Dino 246. Sure, all grand prix-and for that matter-Indy cars tended to look the same to a 6-year-old. But I knew it was a Ferrari. Somehow I knew it was different, and that was all I cared about. My first slot car set had a BRM and a red Ferrari Dino. In a time of uniquely styled and handcrafted automobiles, I always considered the red Dino the most beautiful and balanced of any single seater of that era. Nothing since has caused me to change that opinion.
For those unfamiliar with how the Dino name came to be attached to so many Ferraris, a bit of background. Signora Laura gave birth to Alfredo Ferrari on January 19, 1932. "Dino," as he was usually known, became the most important thing in Enzo Ferrari's life. It became clear to those around the inner circle that young Dino would someday take over the business. However, Dino suffered much sickness in his youth and passed away on June 30, 1956, from muscular dystrophy. Dino had been a gifted engineering student, and Enzo Ferrari had always said that his son contributed a great deal to the development of what was to become the V6 before his death, and the 246 F1 is just one of the many that proudly carry on the Dino name in the Ferrari family.
The decision to build the V6 came in reaction to new FIA rules governing Formula 2. In late 1956, the first of the new 1.5-liter powerplants was running on a Maranello test bench. The question of how to deal with balance problems prompted engineer Vittorio Jano to envision and come up with a six cylinder along the lines of three V-twins. This led to a neat crankshaft design, and the whole assembly was built around a one-piece crankcase.
Weighing in at less than 280 lb, the new V6 showed great promise in cranking out an initial 180 bhp. There were a great many design departures from the traditional 12-cylinder motors, and the little six-cylinder liners were scrapped in lieu of a seating flange and copper gasket.
The appearance of the new V6 mandated that a new chassis be constructed for use in Formula 2. It was well known that Ferrari placed a far greater importance on the output of his motors over any decision favoring chassis or aerodynamics. This outdated thinking in Maranello lasted throughout the '50s, and only then did Ferrari pay attention to the other areas making up a race car. There were those within the company who knew of the importance of a good chassis, and this was the case as development began on the new F2 car. In many ways, the F2 Dino resembles a scaled-down but more attractive Lancia D-50 (which later became the Lancia Ferrari 801). Starting with the traditional ladder frame, additional tubing was used to give it, in effect, the look of a spaceframe. The forward-angled placement of the motor was an absolute necessity for the driveline.
The front suspension consisted of beautifully forged wishbones, backed up in the rear with the usual de Dion setup. This stable yet oddly elegant design was to be constantly updated throughout the life of the Dino (fully independent rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, superior shocks). A thin-wall aluminum body was then wrapped around this new, potent challenger from Ferrari.
Setbacks aside, the later promise shown in the Dino F2 during the 1957 season gave way to serious construction of a bigger motor to propel the Dino into the ranks of Formula One. Formula One's new 2.5-liter classification brought forth the 246 powerplant (2.4L, six cylinders), which used the previous F2 cars as test beds. As with the 1.5 unit, the new motor featured two overhead cams per cylinder bank. A Marelli magneto fired the twin plugs in each cylinder, fuel supplied through three double-barrel Weber carburetors. At a close to 9.0:1 compression ratio, the new V6 could be counted on to produce about 290 bhp at 8300 rpm.
A one-off Dino 256 made an appearance with Mike Hawthorn at the Italian Grand Prix in 1958 with an output of 310 bhp. The future World Champion settled for second that day behind the race-winning Vanwall of Tony Brooks. Of interest was an American by the name of Phil Hill, who finished third in a Ferrari Dino 246.