A new run of chassis for 1958 was well underway before the new season started. In Doug Nye's excellent book on the history of the Dinos, he makes the case for the usual chassis number chicanery. The new 246 cars were known as either big tube or small tube, as in frame. Renumbered chassis, that sort of thing. A perfect example is the 246 as driven by Mike Hawthorn: Was it renumbered after the conversion to disc brakes? (I love this sort of thing.) The small-tube-chassis 246s were apparently not too successful due to a lack of rigidity and were later redone. The new generation of lightweight, rear-engine British cars were starting to make their presence felt, and the lights burned late at Maranello in keeping the Dino ahead of the pack.
Mike Hawthorn drove perhaps his Dino's finest race at Reims in 1958 in a totally dominant performance. Tony Brooks was to repeat this at Reims a year later aboard his Dino. And then there is Phil Hill giving the Dino 246 F1 the last great victory at the Italian Grand Prix in 1960.
Finally, a question about the clear plexi cover over the carburetors. For years I asked anybody who might know how that came to be. I have heard that the drivers needed it to be clear so they could see over the hood, but my favorite has to be, "It's because it's Italian."
Driving The DinoA Day At Sears Point This is how the phone conversation went: "What kind of Grand Prix car? Ferrari? Wow. A 246 Dino from 1959/60? Wow, again! What day do you want me there? Anything I can do to help out?"
The prettiest front-engine Grand Prix car ever made has just pulled up at the Sears Point paddock, sitting on an open slant-bed transporter. The opportunity to drive Ferrari's last front-engine Grand Prix contender is here. As I sit in the car and go over the gauges and controls, my respect and admiration is raised even higher for the drivers that competed in that era.
No custom-fitted seat, definitely no shift paddles on the steering wheel, just left-hand shift with a reverse "H" pattern. First gear is over to the far left and down, right next to fifth gear; no reverse. The actual seating position is comfortable, slightly laid back, but my legs are spread to reach the pedals; the driveshaft runs right between them. The gauges are what one would expect: tachometer, oil temp and pressure, water temperature and fuel pressure. Very straightforward.
The starting procedure when the car is cold is truly a procedure. The Dino must be towed around the paddock slowly to get the fuel pressure and oil pressure up. Once this is accomplished, I have to quickly switch on the magnetos, engage the clutch, slip into second gear and "bump" start. When the Dino fires up, I can't exceed 2500 rpm until the oil temperature is up. There were no mounted starters in GP cars back then, so it's a push start in pit lane-and don't let the engine die on circuit.
In over 20 years of driving a vast array of current and vintage race cars, I don't think I have felt so many sensations on just the "out lap." I have run at circuits such as Goodwood in a Maserati A6GCS and Le Mans in an RSR, but the Dino represents something else entirely-the aroma of Castrol R; every vibration and track undulation coming up through the seat bottom; the strange shift pattern; figuring out the only way to see the track and gauges at the same time is to look through the steering wheel and just over the instrument panel; sliding all over the seat; getting the tires and brakes up to temperature. Most important, though, was getting used to the V6's powerband, being careful not to go over the 8000-rpm redline.
What fabulous noise! The Dino has one of the loudest, most beautiful ear-piercing screams I've ever experienced in motorsport, and that includes Cosworth and Ferrari and Matra V12s. Ear plugs should be permanently glued in.
After a couple of laps, everything starts to come together. The L-section Dunlops and brakes are up to temperature, making the car very stable and predicable under braking for a car with 5x16-in. wire wheels. The Dino was Ferrari's first use of disc brakes on a GP car; thank you, Peter Collins! The Dino is geared a little too tall for Sears Point, so I'm only using second, third and fourth gears, which is fine with the exception of turn 11, where on corner entry the engine falls off the powerband. However, when the V6 comes back on, the Dino steps out a little on the exit. All very nice and predictable.
Setting myself at a conservative pace, there is a bit of mid-corner understeer, but as I pick up the pace, the front tires start working and the Dino shows neutral handling with some slight oversteer at the corner exits. This seems to be typical of Dunlop-shod cars of this era. The car is very tight, and as my confidence builds, it really starts getting fun. I'm sliding around a lot in the seat and hanging on to the steering wheel. I'd always heard and read about this-no belts and a lot of sliding around-but for me it was a new experience.
The Dino has a much more purposeful feel than any of the sports cars from the '50s I've driven, and I guess even today a Grand Prix car is a tool as much as a car. The strange gear pattern starts to become familiar, which is good, because if I do miss a shift (I did once), everyone is Sonoma County will hear. On the final lap I can't take the smile off my face. I had so much fun, but the overriding impression the Dino left with me is more of an appreciation for Hill, Brooks, Gurney, Hawthorne, Collins, etc., the men who drove these Dinos with courage and precision in the world's best racing.