The Fiat Dino Spider debuted in the Spring of 1966, but the story behind its name goes back to 1932, with the birth of Alfredo, the son of Enzo Ferrari. As “Dino” is the diminutive for “Alfredo,” Enzo Ferrari himself would affectionately call his son that way throughout his life, which was then tragically cut short by an incurable illness in 1956.
It’s unclear how much actual input Dino Ferrari had on the V6 engine that went on carrying his name beyond the general idea, which was then put into practice by engineering legend Vittorio Jano, the man behind Alfa Romeo’s racing successes in the 1930s. The Dino V6, with its unusual 65° angle between its cylinder banks, debuted in the 1957 Formula 2 season as a 1500cc but, by the mid-60s, it had spawned an extensive series of derivatives that won races all over.
In 1965, a regulatory change stipulated that Formula 2 powerplants had to be based on production engines built in at least 500 units a year. That number was way over Enzo Ferrari’s possibilities back then, but merely a trifle for Fiat, then the largest European carmaker. Gianni Agnelli and Enzo Ferrari signed an agreement on the first of March 1965, and the project “135” was born.
Given the little development time at their disposal, the Fiat engineers kept things traditional and straightforward: front-engine, a double-wishbone front suspension, a five-speed manual transmission that sent power to the rear wheels, suspended by a live axle on cart springs. Fiat contracted the design and manufacture of 500 roadster bodies to Pininfarina, which delivered what’s perhaps one of the firm’s best-looking designs, a real show-stopper.
Demand for Fiat’s hot new roadster soon outstripped the planned 500 cars, leading the company to keep Dino Spider production going until December of ’68. The availability of the Dino engine and the successful introduction of the Spider led Fiat to evaluate the idea of a larger Dino-engined coupé as a replacement model for the aging 2300S. Presented in March of ’67, the Dino Coupé filled a much different role compared to the Spider. Heavier, longer and more expensive, the Dino Coupé, whose body was designed and built by Bertone, was an elegant GT that could seat four people in a well-appointed cabin, meant to cover long distances in relative comfort. This increased usability meant the Coupé outsold the Spider three to one by the end of ’68.
The new Dino 2400 Coupé and Spider presented in 1969 looked very much like their predecessors, and that certainly was a good thing. But much had changed under their stylish, coach-built bodies.
As homologation for Formula 2 racing was no longer a requirement, Fiat completely re-engineered the Dino V6 for increased durability, ease of manufacture, and smoother running. The 2.4 liters engine had its block cast in iron rather than aluminum but weighed only 15 Kg more than the 2 liters, and was mated to a new ZF 5-speed gearbox. It’s important to note that the 2.4 Dino V6 had nothing in common with the contemporary Fiat 130 V6 introduced the same year. Instead, what the revised Dinos and the 130 did share was their independent rear suspension design. Production of the Dino Coupé and Spider ended in 1972 at under 8000 units total, roughly 80% of which were coupés.