The Day of the Dino
Andrew Frankel relives the sights, smells, sounds and emotions of a car he remembers from his childhood. Written by: Andrew Frankel
I am often asked what first got me into cars, to which the honest and automatic reply is ‘my father’. This is a man who given the choice of becoming an accountant or lawyer chose the former for the sole reason he’d get to drive between audits.
I am often asked what first got me into cars, to which the honest and automatic reply is ‘my father’. This is a man who given the choice of becoming an accountant or lawyer chose the former for the sole reason he’d get to drive between audits. Pressed a little harder to name an actual event, and I’ll talk about the day he and I were passing the then Ferrari importer’s dealership in Egham in around 1974 and he was kind enough to stop and let me drool briefly over a Boxer with no fewer than six exhaust pipes.
Don’t ask me why, but one of his main aims in life was to buy a new Ferrari before his 40th birthday. I don’t think he even particularly wanted one, but instead saw it as more of a yardstick by which to measure his career progress, something at which to aim to tell him he was on track and able to provide for his family in a way that had never been possible for his father.
And he did it. Just. In March 1972, aged 39 and three-quarters, he walked into Henry Linton Cars Ltd, the Ferrari dealer on Jersey where we lived, and bought the Dino demonstrator, ‘almost’ a Ferrari as the factory literature described it at the time. It was red with black vinyl seats and no extras whatsoever apart from electric windows. And it was good enough for him. And me.
But while that took place as described, it wasn’t my first exposure to the wonders of Maranello, because by then he’d already owned a Ferrari. Briefly. Sort of.
Though I was just six at the time, my memories of that not-quite Ferrari are seared in my memory. I particularly recall him accidentally jamming the little finger of my left hand in its passenger door which, had this been a Porsche with Swabian panel gaps, I’d probably have lost. But more even than that, I remember sitting in both seats, waggling the wheel and stirring the stick in one when my father wasn’t looking, and being mesmerised by the sight of those front wings rising up before me in the other. And the noise. Oh that noise: a 2418cc 65-degree V6 with four chain-driven camshafts fed by a trio of downdraft Weber carburettors. It has stayed with me forever.
Which is more than can be said for the Dino, because later that year we lost everything save the house in the global financial crash. The car went straight back to Linton’s, and apart from torturing me every time we passed the forecourt and saw it sitting outside still unsold, that was that. He never saw it again.
But it did indeed light something in me, and I have had a thing about Dinos ever since. When I think of the road Ferraris I’d really, really like, I’d place it up there with a LaFerrari, F40 and 365 GTC/4. The difference is while I’d rarely use them, I’d find plenty of use in my life for the compact, agile, surprisingly practical little Dino.
Now spool forward almost 50 years to a date sometime last month. I am back at the wheel of not just a Dino, but the best of the six or seven I must by now have driven. It’s for sale at Girardo & Co, and as my route back from another job took me almost past the front door, it seemed rude not to. Max Girardo was there to explain that apart from a respray, the car was completely original. Despite being in the same ownership for 37 years and fastidious details of its every move being kept on file, there is no record of any kind of restoration having taken place. It appears to be a car that has been obsessively maintained for the 24,000 miles it has accrued in its life to date, but not once pulled apart.
And at once I am that starstruck little boy again, gawping at the sight of those wings, drinking in the sound of that engine. Every Dino I’ve driven has been different and this one is just better: it feels quick in a way no Dino ever has, its driveline gloriously precise and lacking in shunt, its gearchange beautifully easy but with no slack nor sign of synchro wear. It’s just one of the good ones, and you get them from time to time, particularly in cars from an era and a factory where no two were ever quite the same.
Something else is different too, and that would be me, because as I drive with Sales Manager Davide De Giorgi beside me, I find myself becoming slowly but inexorably overwhelmed by the experience, to the point that if I’m not careful and concentrate as hard on managing the emotions welling up within me as I am on driving this beautiful car, it’s going to get embarrassing. This is not normal for me, even in a Dino. But there is one small detail I have omitted from this story thus far, and the real reason I am driving it now. This is no ordinary Dino. This is my father’s Dino.
The very same car in which I jammed my finger, whose wheel I waggled and whose engine note left something within me that remains to this day. Those vinyl seats, those electric windows, even the 8-track cassette player he’d had fitted at Sound Engineering in St Helier.
All this I’d expected and prepared for. I also had the memory of another day about five years ago when I found his old Testarossa and borrowed that too. It was a fun day out but hardly left me in danger of dissolving in a pool of tears.
What I had not anticipated was that, paint aside, it would be the same car I last sat in 49 years ago.
I naturally presumed that over the course of time it would have become something of a Trigger’s broom as these cars often are, even when nicely restored. Or a patchwork quilt of part original, part new components. But it wasn’t. It is so original a decent forensics team would probably still be able to find traces of my dried blood inside that door.
Somehow I clung to my dignity. I probably spent an hour driving it for the photographs you see here, then returned it to Max and, as you do, I just sat there for a moment, listening to the car as it cooled.
As I did my hand idly strayed over to the glovebox and pressed the button that opened its lid. Inside was an off-white 8-track cassette tape. I didn’t even need to look at the label. I already knew. Within my brain a line of code I’d written in 1972 and long forgotten was even there, sparked back to life. Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, released in June 1972. It had been in that glovebox for nearly half a century.
I even know how it got there, and it had nothing to do with my father’s passion for American folk duos, of which he had precisely none. He would have bought it as a well-intended but hopelessly unsatisfactory compromise between the Mozart and Schubert he loved, and The Who and Stones and albums me and my older brothers would have wanted. Our house was littered with similar examples. I recall quite a lot of Bread. But Simon & Garfunkel was the one that happened to be in the car that sad day he drove
the Dino back to Linton’s, with 20 years of slog to get somewhere in life apparently (but thankfully not actually) for nothing. And there it remains to this day.
Me? On the way home I did maths like I’ve never done maths before, and when I got there, me and Mrs Frankel did it all over again. And the only comforting thing is that neither of us got even close to making the numbers add up. It would have been too cruel by far to have been nearly able to buy my father’s Ferrari.
So I sat down to write these words instead and as I did, I flicked onto Max’s website to have one last look at the car and noted that it is now under offer. By the time you read this, it will probably be sold and the chances of me seeing it again essentially gone. I just hope whoever has bought it realises what he or she has there. Not that it was my father’s car because to whom could that matter other than me and my brothers? But that it is one of the best examples of one of the best cars produced by the best creator of such cars the world has ever known.
Three days after finishing these words, a small parcel immaculately wrapped in Girardo’s monogrammed paper arrived. Inside was an off- white 8-track cassette tape and a note written on a stiff white compliment slip.
It read: “Andrew, we felt that this is part of Frankel family treasure and will mean more to you and your brothers than anyone else. Best wishes, Max”. So I lost the Dino but found the tape. All I need now is a machine on which to play it, and that at least, unlike my father’s first Ferrari, I should be able to afford.
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