Puppies of a minor conflict: enjoying a frequently-driven Dino with the lady who owns a 54,000-mile example
Back in the day, I was a disco DJ in Newport, Rhode Island. I commuted to the Clarke Cooke House’s cocaine-crazed cavern in a Mazda RX-4. My rotary ride was slower than a Corolla and only slightly less goofy-looking than a duck-billed platypus. At the time I thought my RX was good medicine. One summer evening, the boss parked his car on the dock overlooking Newport harbor. A red Dino, aglow in the setting sun. Everything changed.
I suddenly knew what a car could be. Should be. It was as if Italian designers Leonardo Fioravanti and Aldo Brovarone had looked at American automobiles, at all automobiles, and said… We’re going to make something so perfectly proportioned, so sleek and sexy, so drop dead gorgeous that anyone who sees it will forget other cars exist, and feel the need to drive it for the rest of their life.
In the intervening fifty years, I fell hard for other cars: Ferraris, Porsches, Mercedes, Jaguars, McLarens and more. I never drove a Dino, nor encountered one in the flesh. When I learned that a fellow Texan Ferrariste had a Dino 246 GTS in her garage, however, I wangled an invite and worried. “Never meet your heroes,” common wisdom advises. Only the Dino wasn’t my hero. It was my first love. If you ever looked up your first lover on Facebook, well, you know. Things change.
The Dino belongs to Lisa Weinberger, widow of her hero, Chicagoland car dealer and gentleman racer John Weinberger. I met Lisa at her Austin home, a brutally modern structure in an otherwise quaint neighborhood. The building sits next to an equally angular Aladdin’s cave sheltering vintage European two-seaters and oddballs, including a 1958 Porsche Carrera “Outlaw” and 1952 Alfa Matta jeep.
Lisa’s Dino was parked next to her 2017 Acura NSX, one of the many modern mid-engined marvels that inherited the Dino’s radical-but-not-groundbreaking layout (cough Lamborghini Miura cough). In terms of style, the exquisitely detailed Dino makes a mockery of its soap bar-style Japanese descendant. From front haunches that curve to their conclusion via plexiglass headlight covers, to flying buttresses that arc gracefully over the rear wheel fenders, the Dino’s sculptural artistry is worthy of designer Leonardo’s namesake.
Aside, that is, from the chrome side mirrors; dinky, oval, chrome-plated addenda that betray the Dino’s commitment to aerodynamic excellence. That aside, Lisa’s whip brings to mind Salieri’s analysis of Mozart’s music in the film Amadeus. “Displace one note and there would be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fall.” While the “chairs and flares” Dino 246 GTS may not embody “the very voice of God,” the word classic doesn’t begin to cover it. Less pretentiously, Lisa’s Dino is as hot a babe as it was when it hit the streets in 1973.
The interior is less glamorous. A mouse fur dashboard and lollipop sliders speak of cost-cutting, in a car that was significantly more expensive than its Jaguar E-Type or Porsche 911 rivals. Who cares? The Dino’s elegant white-on-black Veglia gauges are the main attraction. The eight analog dials clustering in front of the driver make me long for the time before idiot lights winked binary blandishments. Of course, that was also before ABS brakes, airbags, crumple zones, traction control or cell phones.
Speaking of deadly: There’s a reason Enzo Ferrari’s mob shoved a six-cylinder engine into the Dino. Il Commendatore believed the “challenging” handling characteristics of a mid-engined sports car powered by a “proper” Ferrari V8 would kill his customers. Again, how times have changed. But not my desire to drive the Dino. There are plenty of beautiful women who aren’t good in the clutch, if you know what I mean.
During our initial interview in Lisa’s garage, she made it clear I wasn’t going to add the Dino’s scalp to my belt. An entirely understandable reluctance given that a Dino GTS recently sold for $630k. Lisa was happy to take me for a ride, a process that involved shoehorning my 5’11” frame into a space designed for Italian jockeys.
And quite the ride it was too. After a few “rolling stops,” Lisa aimed the Dino down Congress Street and let loose the dogs of war.
Make that the puppies of a minor conflict. A car generating 195hp@7600 rpm and 166 pound-feet@5500 rpm isn’t going to pin your head to the rest. Even a car that weighs just 2,426 pounds. The Dino 246 GTS sprints from zero to sixty in eight seconds. A Toyota Corolla is quicker.
In its defense, the Dino was no slouch during its day. If nothing else, the slick-shifting Italian five-speed topped out at a then-astounding 141mph. More than that, the diminutive Dino’s damn exciting – especially when driven by a woman who races vintage cars. Momentum is Lisa’s friend, and boy does she use it. Shod with Michelin XWX tires, the machine positively pivoted around corners. In the straights, as the 2.4 liter DOHC V6 ascended the rev range, the transverse mounted engine crouching behind my shoulder sounded like angels thrashing mechanical wings. The disc brakes worked well enough – though not using them is the key to rapid progress. Apparently.
I only wished Lisa had found the time and inclination to adjust my seat belt. She did, however, have time to talk to her accountant. To her credit, the philanthropist (eventually) pulled into a parking lot to complete the call. Lisa wasn’t bothered when she scraped the Dino’s front end at the entrance. Clearly, her 246 GTS is no pampered garage queen. How does 54k hard miles without a rebuild sound? Like the front coil springs need some attention and the Webers want a bit of adjustment. Never mind. The Dino looked, sounded and — from a passenger’s perspective — drove as gloriously as I thought it would all those years ago.
Someday I’ll be able to afford to buy a Dino. It will cost as much as automobiles that are infinitely safer, faster, more luxurious, more reliable and, perhaps, just as beautiful. But none will be as charming, or remind me of the moment a car fueled my ambition to be something more than what I was.
Lisa Weinberger’s automotive education program can be seen at driventocare.org.