Dream Car

I don’t think I’m the only petrolhead who has a constant feeling of cognitive dissonance when it comes to the combination of looks and performance. Some beautiful cars disappoint (relatively speaking) when it comes time to hit the road, whereas others perform like a dream while looking like a dog’s breakfast.

Let me tackle the first scenario. As Longtime Readers know only too well, I think the 1970s-era Ferrari Dino 246GT is one of the most beautiful cars ever made. Whenever car aficionados are asked to name their “10 Most Beautiful Cars”, almost without fail, the DIno is somewhere in everyone’s top five. It is and always will be my #1. Here are a few examples (because any discussion of this nature is yoosliss wifout pitchurs):

…and topless:

The only problem with the Dino was that it, well, wasn’t really a Ferrari. (I’m not going to go into too much detail because it isn’t relevant to this post: Wikipedia has a decent summary if you’re interested.) The Old Man (Enzo himself) was initially reluctant (until 1976) to allow it to be called a Ferrari, because it was Marinello’s attempt to make an “entry-level” Ferrari, and quite frankly, it shows. The interior is hideous (no pics because they make me ill; just take my word for it), but even worse is that the car is an absolute pig to drive (I’ve driven one): the gearbox almost requires two hands to work the lever, and my left calf ached for days afterwards because of the stiff clutch. Never mind that it’s crap compared to modern cars (which it is); it was crap for its time as well.

But… there was that mid-mounted 2.4-liter six-cylinder engine (which was a Ferrari) howling about four inches away from the driver’s ears, and despite all its technical flaws, it handled superbly — better even than its rival from Alfa Romeo, the Montreal (which I’ve also driven). That, added to its beauty, created a fanatical following for the DIno. But it was, and is, a pig to drive. And it, like the Montreal, would fall apart if you so much as looked at it — one of my friends had his Dino’s gear knob come off in his hands as he was downshifting to take a sharp corner, and how he avoided a wreck is one of the mysteries of the ages.

On the other side of that coin is Porsche, most especially the 911 model. Jeremy Clarkson is always having a go at Porsche’s “design” team, calling them the laziest people on the planet, and he has reason: while the 911 has always had tremendous performance and outstanding reliability, it looks like a pig, with that humped rear and and strange, minimalist front:

…and the Targa:

However, in the early 2000s someone at Porsche seems to have had this brilliant but revolutionary idea: “What if we make a nice-looking Porsche?” He was probably fired but his heresy remained, with the result that the mid-engined Porsche Cayman is not only better-looking compared to the 911 (a low bar, to be sure), it’s as good-looking as any other sports car, and better even than many of its competitors:

Even its rear end isn’t quite the truncated monstrosity of old, and it now looks quite shapely:

So why am I telling you all this? Because the Dino and the Cayman are almost identical in terms of chassis dimensions — the wheelbases are within a half-inch or so of each other, and of course they’re both mid-engined.

Here’s my thought. I bet that some enterprising coachbuilder could whip off the Cayman’s shell and replace it with a carbon-fiber near-copy of the Dino’s (with a little bit of nipping-and-tucking to accommodate, for example, the Porsche’s single exhaust pipe and longer suspension posts, and so on). And just for kicks, I’d use the Cayman’s smallest engine which is… ta-da! a 2.5-liter six-cylinder (flat, not a V, but hey, consistency is the hobgoblin etc.).

What you’d have with this marriage is a modern car’s performance, with a pre-wind-tunnel body that would make even the dourest car freak wipe a tear from his eye and drool from his chin.

If I ever win a large lottery, I’d present a custom coachbuilder with this challenge. I’d call it the Pino, and I’d be the envy of… well, of everybody.

Your thoughts in Comments.


  1. About the Dino, I agree on the gearbox and the cheesy fiat 500 interior, it wasn’t very fast either.
    Beautiful it is. But if you’r wanting to talk about beautiful cars, IMHO, almost any Aston Martin coupe has the beauty end of the spectrum well covered.

  2. The Dino is great to drive, as 70s era Ferraris go, providing it is set up by someone who knows what they’re doing. Most do not. One of my customers has one that has been in my care for many years, and while he’s spent quite a lot to get it to the state it’s in, he’s also put some 40,000 very enjoyable miles on the thing. Which for a Dino, is a lot. There’s only so much you can do with them providing the car is an investment and hence must be kept entirely stock, but if you actually want a car to drive, well, it isn’t rocket surgery to smooth over the rough edges.

    The Cayman, conversely, is one of the worst Porsches ever made. The latest 718 almost has all of the issues of the original car worked out– it took the effing Germans over ten years to work said issues out, which should tell you something. The early engines were notorious for failed IMS bearings, a fun little problem that requires removing and about totally disassembling the engine to fix. Then there’s the PCV valve failure, which will happily result in sucking most of the oil out of the engine and then grenading it. And on, and on. I owned several Caymans, and when they were set up properly, they too were pretty good to drive– but by the time you’ve done everything the thing needs to be good, you’ve spent 911 money on a car worth half as much as one.

    Porsche finally got the Cayman right with the GT4– but they “got it right” by dumping all the 911 GT3 parts on the thing and sticking a 911 price tag on it.

    Finally, the smallest engine in the Cayman at present is the 2.0L. The previous generation non-S 2.5 was quite possibly the worst engine Porsche ever made. Also, there is no “shell” to the Cayman. It’s a unibody stamping– all its bits bolt directly to it. If you wanted to put an early Cayman driveline into a Dino reproduction– and I can’t imagine anyone sane wishing to do such a thing– you’d be building a custom tube or aluminum extrusion chassis to do it, which would cost less and take considerably less time to do.

    So, while it would not be that difficult to build a “Dino”-like car with a modern driveline, sniffing around in Porsche’s decade-old parts bin isn’t really the way to do it. If I were going to, I’d find a crashed Alfa Giulia and start with an engine that has some providence, or start with a 308 block which are still not that difficult to find laying around your local exotic shop.

      1. Much as I like the LS, it has no place in a light, small sports car. A Dino-esque car wants for a relatively small, relatively light, ideally flat plane V engine. Small V6 with turbos, small BMW or Judd V8, etc. Or even Ford’s Voodoo engine would do the job in a pinch, though it is dimensionally quite large, and there isn’t that kind of room in something the size of a Dino.

    1. So I’ll get YOU to build me a Dino lookalike when I hit the MegaMillions, O Leonine One.
      Send me your price card…

    1. 50 Series land cruiser with a modern *diesel* stuffed innit.

      I’ve got a 60 series with a 2H that needs some work. I’m hoping to find a 12HT in good shape to replace it with.

  3. As a Ferrari owner of some 40-years, and a Ferrari mechanic of almost that duration (I couldn’t afford me, but I could afford Ferrari shops even less), I always find the complaint about Ferrari’s gated-shifter to be ill-informed.
    What the complainers rarely mention is that they are experiencing “trouble” when they’re just lolly-gagging through town short-shifting. The shifter and gearbox work wonderfully when pressed…..at the redline or vicinity.
    I had a client with a 512 BBLM who thought the gearbox (which had been used twice at Daytona, and once at LeMans) had weak synchros. So much so, that on a trip to Italy, he stopped by the Customer Service Center in downtown Modena where the BBLM’s were assembled, and picked up spares for the gearbox. Upon return to The States, he put some more hours in the car, and started exercising it properly (like an 8K red-line – suggested by the gnomes at the Service Center – instead of the 7200 he’d been previously using) – resulting in one of those “light-bulb” moments when the gearbox shifted flawlessly time after time after time.

    BTW, that first pix of a Dino, the one with the “knock-offs” has a high probability of being a 206 Dino, not a 246; as the knock-offs were only used on a few 246’s at the very beginning of the 246 run.

    1. Was a similar phenomenon behind the origins of the “Italian tuneup”? That is, engines that came from the factory setup to be run vigorously, but often instead spending most of their running time cruising and navigating urban traffic. Result: loads of carbon buildup, resolved by mechanics revving the engines high while treating them to generous amounts of carb cleaner.

      1. Yes! But even better (to knock the crud off the backsides of the valve tulip) find a good stretch of road, and hold it just below the red-line in a gear down from Top, and just watch the carbon stream out of the exhausts.

    2. Yeah, but the essence of a gearbox is that it works everywhere, not just on the track. Goosing the 246 engine up to 8k through all the gears in a city street will lead to being arrested by the fuzz — even in Ferrari-mad Italy.

    3. I spent a lot of time in an early 80’s 911 SC. An absolute pig to drive SLOW. Stiff clutch hard to shift, manual steering was jerky, engine would spit and hesitate at low speeds…

      An absolute dream to drive FAST! The engine went into a magnificent battle-cry and high rpms, gear-changes were smooth, the steering was more like mind-controlling the car. Damn that thing was dangerous – just a constant temptation to let ‘er rip.

  4. As the Kraut in the room, the 911 is a much better looking car than the Cayman which I find rather ugly and feminine at the same time, of course that is more or less how I feel about Ferrari too.

    1. I’m with you (and the Hamster)- I’ve always like the clean, minimalist lines of the 911, and can appreciate the fact that Porsche has continued making improvements.
      As even Clarkson had to admit, the “Beetle” is a supercar that can be used on a daily basis, while the Ferrari’s typical home is in a garage under a cover.

    2. I fully agree, I like the 911 design, can’t stand the Dino, especially those weird air intakes and headline placement.

      And for whatever reason Kim never even mentioned the epitomy of car design, the first and second generation BMW 3 series (E21 and E30 models) and the Jaguar E type.
      Especially the BMWs both look great AND drive great. They went a bit downhill in looks after the E30, but still have what it takes.

  5. Lots of old cars would be good on top of a more modern running chassis. If you can stuff a big block ford into the engine compartment of a 1970 pinto you can make anything work. Course the car did look like the carriage cradle for the engine, but it was not my car and I did not have to come up with new tires for it.

  6. The Dino, and other mid engine sports wedges never really appealed to me. I much prefer the looks of the 50’s supercars- the 300SL, the Mulliner bodied Bently R-Type, the Jag C & D types, and the BMW 507.

    Though I have a kinky part which likes the Citroen SM…

    1. Speaking of 507’s…..
      I see an ad on the net that John Surtees’ 507 coupe, that he bought while riding for MV Agusta, will be on the block at Goodwood this summer. A one-owner car with some significant upgrades by BMW.

  7. I’m surprised nobody brought up the Jaguar E Type roadster; for sheer beauty, I think it is unmatched.

    There’s a company rebuilding new ones. Not sure if they de-Lucas them but they look as fantastic as the originals. https://www.eaglegb.com/36/eagle-etypes

    I know the Euro-philes will turn up their noses but there was a company taking Chrysler muscle cars (E-Body Challenger and ‘Cuda) and completely replacing/updating the subframes, suspension, engine, and instrumentation/interior with purpose made/tested components and modern ‘Hemi’ engines. There’s no ‘drop the body on a chassis’ update since they are unibody cars, but the subframe and body reinforcements were a major part of the package.

    The reported handling and comfort were huge improvements over the originals (which were, in the day, probably the best of the muscle car class). The concept of these upgrades is excellent; I’d love to see a Dino so modified, though I still wouldn’t really want one.

    1. I couoldn’t agree more about the E type being unmatched. The first car I ever bought for myself was a 10 year old ’66 4.2. I still miss that car 40 years after my husband made me sell it, simply because every penny I made was going into my car, but oh what a car!! Beautiful, amazing to drive, although it was much too easy to break the back end loose, with practice it became a dream to drive. Simply the best and most beautiful car ever.

      1. Merry
        oh I’d never say best about any classic British car, though the only ones I had immediate experience with were an MGA, and MGB, and a Triumph Spitfire (also a lovely car). all of them gave their owners lots of things to spend money on ‘or else’. But the Jaguar’s lines, and curves, and proportions… the E Type defined svelte. As much as I love my Mopars, and think some of them peaked pretty high on the looks scale, the Jaguar was on a whole other level of its own. Put that body on a modern chassis with an appropriate drivetrain… wow.

    1. Most likely not this year. If I do go back, it’ll be for high-bird shooting in November — and even that’s pretty iffy at the moment.

  8. I’ll see your Ferrari and raise you a Fiat 750 Abarth-Zagato bubble-top, heh, heh,heh. ( with the bigger 47hp engine o’course…)

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