Fiat Ponders Return of the Dino Sports Car to Broaden Portfolio

By Andy Bannister

09.28.2008

Not content with reviving the historic Abarth title for sporting versions of its mainstream line-up, Fiat is now considering dusting off the Dino name for an all-out sports car, according to British magazine Car.

The company is reportedly proposing a Fiat version of the next Lotus Elise roadster, mildly modified and developed at very low cost to give the company access to an area of the market it long ago abandoned.

Such a move is not without precedent. Until 2006 GM in Europe had its own version of the current Elise, built by Lotus and sold with a GM engine and different styling as the Vauxhall VX220 and Opel Speedster. It didn’t sell in huge numbers but attracted plenty of showroom attention before being superceded by a new Pontiac Solstice-derived model.

No-one could accuse Fiat of putting all its eggs in one basket. The company is the acknowledged master of partnerships these days, and is already working with BMW, Ford, Peugeot and Suzuki, among others. Another project is to build a new microcar in conjunction with Zastava of Yugoslavia.

Dino has a strange heritage, shared between Fiat and Ferrari. It was used initially as a model name by Fiat, and then as a kind of junior marque for Ferrari.

The title Dino comes from Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari, son of that company’s founder, who is credited with designing the V6 engine fitted in the cars which bore his name.

The Fiat Dino came first and allowed Ferrari to achieve the necessary production numbers to homologate Dino Ferrari’s V6 engine for Formula 2 racing. The Dino Spider was introduced at the Turin Motor Show in 1966 and the Coupé version one year later at Geneva.

Both cars were stylish and chic, featuring Pininfarina and Bertone bodies respectively. They were truly inspring GTs of the era, selling around 7,600 examples through until 1972. Beneath the glamorous bodies were underpinnings from the much humbler Fiat 124 Spider.

In 1968, with Fiat’s model already on sale, Ferrari confusingly launched its own Dino brand, on the classic mid-engined Dino 246GT and the smaller-engined 206GT. It was meant to be an affordable entry-level model for buyers who couldn’t quite stretch to a “proper” Ferrari. The Dino marque carried on to the later Dino 308 until being laid to rest in 1976.

In Fiat’s 1960s heyday the company sold everything from two-cylinder runabouts to executive cars. Sports versions with bespoke bodies produced by a range of Italian coachbuilders were taken for granted.

In more recent times that tailed off markedly and has now stopped altogether , with the recent demise of the company’s last open-topped spider, the Barchetta. One reason for the decline in interest in sports cars was the abandonment of the lucrative American market.

Another was the need to avoid stepping on the toes of sister division, Alfa Romeo, which has become Fiat’s sporting arm since it was acquired.

While hardly in the tradition of the great Italian spiders of yesteryear, any new sports model will add extra sparkle to the Fiat name. After a rocky few years and some decidedly duff designs it has rediscovered its flair and become fashionable again on the back of models like the 500 city car, and is now hungrily looking for a greater global presence.

The move is also good news for Lotus, which has a big agenda of its own as it seeks to begin sales of its larger Evora model. The extra volume offered by a Fiat deal would be a big boost for the small British-based company, which is owned by Proton of Malaysia.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Andy Bannister

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t know about bringing back the Dino name, but I would love to see Fiat put out a car like the Dino again. It would be great to have that kind of choice available in the Fiat product line.

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