Curbside Classic: 1970 Fiat Dino GT Coupe – A Delectable Fastback

(first posted 6/22/2014)     The Great Fastback Epoch swept across America like so many sudden feverish automotive (and food) fads, unleashed by the 1963 Sting Ray. Some were good, like the Corvette; others middling. But way too many were atrocious like the Marlin, rushed attempts to graft a fastback roof on a sedan body, a recipe with very poor odds of success. American fastbacks too often were like American pizza: an over-sized and over-laden pathetic imitation of the original. Well, the Italians had a head start, and for them fastbacks were hardly a new fad, but a staple of their automotive diet; one they had long perfected. A very tasty example of that is this delectable Fiat Dino GT Coupe, whipped up by the master fastback chef himself, Giorgetto Giugiaro.

These cars make an interesting comparison on a number of criteria, but let’s start with the fact that both of them were germinated and birthed about the same time, the Marlin (CC here) arriving in ’65 and the Fiat Dino GT in ’67. On second thought, let’s end this exercise right there, and move on, because these cars really have no basis for comparison, except to explain to folks who think I’m overly harsh on the Marlin’s styling.

I sure wasn’t eating genuine Neapolitan wood-fire cooked pizza in Towson in 1967, but I was savoring the visual delights coming from Italy at the time, and they rather spoiled me for the Detroit (or Kenosha) imitations. The 1967 Lamborghini Marzal by Marcello Gandini of Bertone was my lust object that year. Sorry, Marlin and company.

The Fiat Dino GT came out of the same Bertone studios as the Marzal that year, although by different hands. But the fact that Gandini and Giugiaro were both working under the same roof then was apparent in their rooflines. Obviously, the Marzal was a show car, although it was realized quite faithfully in the Espada, except the glass doors of course.

Giugiaro’s task for the Fiat Dino GT was a bit more down-to-earth: a production coupe at a semi-affordable price (Porsche 911 territory, if I remember right). And as was often the case at the time, Bertone got the contract for the Coupe,

while Pininfarina was given the contract for Spider. Which explains why they look nothing alike. In a way, just explaining the existence and provenance of either of these cars is not totally simple, but then that can be the Italian way.

These cars, along with the legendary Dino 206 GT were intended to be part of a new “Dino” brand; below Ferrari and above Fiat. One of the reasons for the Fiat versions was to have a larger base of cars to install the 2.0 L V6 in order to homologate it for Formula 2. The branding plan died largely at the hands of American Ferrari dealers who didn’t want to sully the Ferrari brand equity and/or have “Fiats” sully their showrooms. So the Dino 206 GT was essentially sold as a Ferrari, but without the actual name on it (most have had it added), and the Coupe and Spider arrived as Fiats, although with the exact same genuine Ferrari-built engine and other components.

In fact, the later 2.4 liter version, of which this car is one of, were actually assembled in Maranello alongside genuine Ferraris, after the bodies were shipped there from Bertone and Pininfarina. Which helps explain why so many owners of these cars re-badged them as Ferraris. This coupe sported a full set of Ferrari badges and emblems, replacing all the Fiat markings. It is being re-branded as a Fiat, to prepare it for its sale, which happened shortly after I shot it. A rather pathetic bit of insecurity, but then Fiat’s brand name has been anything but associated with finer and more expensive cars in the US, unlike in Europe. This car is also missing its original bumpers.

I will grant that the Marlin was undoubtedly the roomier of the two. My efforts to slip behind the wheel and get comfortable were stymied by the steering wheel’s typical old-school Italian position very close to the dash, which with the seat slid way back, made it a very distant object, and one that also crimped my leg against the console.

Roy Abernathy would not have been pleased, never mind the much more cozy rear seats.

The DOHC alloy V6 that motivates these cars is a delectable piece of Italian alloy-ware, and its habits are easily discerned just by a glance at the tach: the red zone begins at 8,000 rpm. In today’s world, not that impressive; in 1966, that was quite likely the highest of any production car engine in the world.

It starts with the snarl of a cornered small mammal with teeth, and the obligatory blipping of the six Weber throttle plates brings all kinds of lovely nervous crescendos from the Abarth exhausts. A high strung creature indeed.

The Cromodora alloys are 14 x 6, tiny by today’s standards. Plenty of sidewall rubber showing, and to absorb the rough spots. And with the later 2.4 version’s independent rear suspension borrowed from the big Fiat 130, the Dino Coupe supposedly rides quite nicely, and makes a pleasant Grand Tourer.

This example was at Bob Marcherione’s Sports Car Shop getting its Ferrari badges replaced with Fiat ones, and being prepped for a sale on Ebay, where it fetched about $18k. Needless to say, I fell in love with it all over when I first saw it, and my enabler/life partner was almost encouraging me on.

But when Bob offered to drive it across the street for me for some curbside shots, all the blipping and smoking from the exhausts gave me the willies. No, I don’t have the time to learn how to keep three double-barrel Webers synchronized. Pass. But not without some minor pangs. And those were evaporated when I tried to get comfortable behind the wheel. Maybe a Marlin makes more sense after all, especially a six cylinder version with a one barrel carb.

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