Curbside Classic: 1975 Dino 208GT4 – Genuine Gem Or Faux-rrari?

When is a Ferrari not a Ferrari? When it’s an ASA, or an Auto Avio Costruzioni, or a NART… or, most of all, a Dino. Famously, Enzo Ferrari said that cars bearing his name necessarily had 12-cyl. Famously, Dino was the nickname bestowed upon Enzo’s only (legitimate) son Alfredo, who died in 1956 aged 24, having contributed to the design of a V6 engine for Formula 1 use. Famously, the Dino name was used in civilian cars when Ferrari and Fiat teamed up to launch a range of V6-powered models in 1967: the front-engined Fiat Dino coupé and spider, and the mid-engined Dino 206GT.

And famously, the wedge-shaped V8-powered Dino 308GT4 that succeeded the V6 Dino in 1973 ended up with a Ferrari badge. The Dino GT4 remains an obscure car to the casual observer (but not to CC readers, I’m sure). Which is strange, given that it was created by one of the most storied carmakers in the world, clad by a renowned stylist working for a great carrozzeria and made in well over a dozen units. But the unfamiliar Dino badge messes with the mind of nearly all passersby. They probably think this should be wearing a black prancing horse or a charging bull, but just plain “Dino”?

And whoever heard of the 208GT4? Virtually nobody, that’s who. Especially outside of Italy, as this was the IDM-only 2-litre version of the Dino GT4, so few made it outside of their home market. But if there’s one country in the world where they really appreciate a small-engined sports car, it’s Japan. Some wealthy Tokyoite bought this one in Italy (fairly recently, too, according to that front license plate) and shipped the GT4 over to the land of MR2s and RX-7s. Alphanumerics of the world, unite!

The Dino GT4 was launched at the Paris Motor Show of October 1973. It was the first Ferrari-made car to feature a transverse V8 mounted amidships, which would soon become the layout for the majority of Maranello’s wares. However, as stated before, the fact that it did not have a 12-cyl. meant that it was denied the Ferrari name, at least at the start of its career. The first model to be produced was the 308GT4, which had an all-alloy 2.9 litre DOHC engine churning out 255hp.

The launch of the new Dino meant that the V6-powered two-seater 246GT was going to leave the stage soon – the two Dinos coexisted for all of 1974, but no further. Given how turbulent the times were, what with the Oil Shock hitting the luxury / sports car market where it drank, Ferrari might have regretted their decision to go for a bigger Dino. Certainly, the Italian market was proving difficult, as the government enacted pretty hefty tax hikes on cars over 2000cc in displacement, in order to incentivize the buying public towards more frugality.

Thus the Dino 208GT4 was introduced at the 1974 Turin Motor Show. It was identical to the 308 in nearly all respects, except the V8 was de-bored to reach a displacement of 1991cc, essentially re-creating the original Dino 206GT, albeit with eight, rather than six, cylinders. Thanks to a higher compression ratio though, the Dino’s tiny V8 (claimed to be the smallest ever in a production car) still had 170hp @ 7700rpm to offer. Given that it only had two-thirds of the standard V8’s displacement, that was pretty impressive, enabling the Dino 208GT4 to reach a 220kph (136mph) top speed.

Under the skin, the 308 and 208 were the same, engine excepted. The transaxle was a 5-speed manual, because that’s all you need, really. Independent suspension and ventilated disc brakes all around, naturally. Most of the car was steel, except the doors and hood (aluminium) and the front valance (fiberglass).

External differences between the 208 and the 308 are few. The 308’s hood and engine cover grilles are black, the 208’s are bare aluminium. The 308 has a four tailpipes, the 208 makes do with just the one. Also, the 208 is not supposed to have fog lamps below the front bumper, but our feature car has them anyway.

The interior is just as stunning as the outside. A touch of coulour might have been welcome too, but the mid-‘70s were a dark time indeed. I did not manage a shot of the rear seats, unfortunately, but the consensus is that calling this car a 2+2 is somewhat abusive. Rear passengers with legs need not apply.

Apparently, the absolute waste of space that were the rear seats were so evident to Ferrari themselves that one could delete them in favour of additional luggage space. The very idea of a mid-engined four-seater is somewhat counter-intuitive, but Ferrari listened to the unanimous complaints and designed the Mondial with more generous hind quarters, perhaps to the detriment of the car’s overall shape.

There were plenty of people who winced at the GT4 when it was new. Never understood it myself. Sure, you can prefer the ‘60s swoopy Pininfarina-styled Dino 206/246GT over the ‘70s origami style, but the Dino GT4 is still a stunning automobile to behold, especially in yellow on a sunny day. For once, Ferrari went to Bertone for the design, which was penned by Marcello Gandini in his prime.

There are many sweet details on this Dino, including the taut, unbroken and ever-so-slightly curved beltline, the innovative circular-in-a-rectangle taillight clusters, the discretion of the bumpers (certainly compared to the US-spec versions)… Even the door handles look pretty special, and oh-so-‘70s.

Gandini outdid himself with that C-pillar, of course. That air intake buried inside that chevron-shaped crease it gives the whole design a lot of character. Without it, the GT4 would be difficult to pick out of a lineup of contemporary Italian-styled sports cars – the wedge school of design was pretty normative, though there were a few exceptions (e.g. the Countach).

It’s interesting to see this Bertone clay to see how that particular design trait was slated to be a grille, rather than the deep gash that ended up in the final design. The front vent was also pretty different – as far as I’m concerned, I kind of prefer the clay over the metal version.

All this almost makes one miss out on the alloy wheels, which is a shame, because they are also rather wonderful. Very discreet, yet elegant and Dino-studded. I’m not 100% sure when those were replaced by the Ferrari cavallino rampante on the wheels, but the badge on the front end was changed in late 1975 (MY 1976), when Enzo finally gave in and accepted the “small” Dinos into the Ferrari range proper.

The 208GT4 production ramped up in 1975 and continued on till the end of 1980. Aside from the badges, the car remained pretty much as was throughout its production life, which concluded on unit # 840. That’s not a lot on the one hand, but it was strictly a home market model, so the numbers would have been modest anyway. The 308GT4, for its part, managed 2826 units. It may not be completely coincidental that if you add the numbers of both flavours of GT4 together, you get a total that is pretty similar to that of the Dino 206/246GT.

So is this a Ferrari, with that teeny V8, horseless badging and Bertone body? Yes it is, in the same way that an Acura is really a Honda. Or rather, given that Dino was supposed to be the junior marque, playing Dacia to its Renault. But coming from the same country – from the same factory, in fact. The reason for Dino’s existence as a separate marque was so thin that the concept didn’t even last a decade.

Still, it gave Enzo Ferrari license to broaden the range successfully (unlike the rather half-arsed – yet beautiful – ASA) and take baby steps towards a slightly less exclusive kind of supercar. And ultimately, it allowed yours truly to photograph a jaw-droppingly gorgeous yellow wedge in the streets of 2022 Tokyo, so it was all worth it in the end. Wait, is this the end? So it is. Ciao, bellissima!


Related posts:


Road & Track Vintage Review: Dino 308 GT4 – One of the Most Controversial Ferraris Ever, by PN

Vintage Review: Ferrari Dino 308 GT4, by Yohai71