The First-Ever V6 In Grand Prix Competition Was Under The Hood Of Ferrari’s 246 F1 ‘Dino’
Photography by Will Broadhead
There are some motor cars that are so jaw-dropping that they instantly fill you up with emotion and remind you why you fell in love with these machines in the first place. We all have a list that speak to us in this way, a rank-order of our favorite race and road cars, and for many of us I’m sure there is a Ferrari or two nestled in amongst whatever else revs us up.
I recently came across one such member from the Prancing Horse stable earlier this year at Silverstone that did exactly that, and this past weekend I happened to chance upon it again in the same place during the Silverstone Classic. The Ferrari 246 Dino BR01—the 1958 Formula 1 car bearing the Dino six-cylinder engine—is to my eye a thing of exquisite beauty and engineering. An assortment of metal that’s harnessed both the affections of my lens and my heart.
The little Dino first arrived in 1958, campaigned by the Scuderia with drivers Mike Hawthorn and the tragic Luigi Musso and Peter Collins, who were both killed in racing incidents during that season. It was designed, as most F1 cars were and continue to be, around the power plant that was built in response to rule changes which reduced engine capacities while simultaneously banning the use of alcohol fuels, switching instead to aviation fuel, or Avgas. The 2.4-liter V6 (here’s the connection to the later Dino road cars, the V6) produced 275bhp and was specifically designed around the use of the new fuel, where other teams had simply converted their existing engines. The rule change prompted protests at the first grand prix of the season, as teams felt it had come into force too late for them to react appropriately.
Upon closer inspection of the little monoposto Dino it’s clear that it comes from a time when the racing driver was often considered as expendable as a clutch, a mere component of the car to be championed when it worked correctly and replaced when it broke.
There are some telling signs of the dangers of driving this car. The side-mounted fuel tanks that sit as panniers next to the driver in prime position to be damaged by a side impact, there is obviously a total lack of seat belts, and the extremely exposed cockpit had no roll bar (the one you see in some of the photos has been added since). Designs like this were typical during this period of racing, as the cars were engineered to go fast as possible and that’s an inherently extremely dangerous business however much safety becomes a focus.
However, at the time of the Dino’s arrival, grand prix racing was just beginning to go through somewhat of a change in more broad terms than a different fuel mix as it moved into the ’60s. Safety improvements were on the horizon, as well as the end of front-engine cars. Indeed, despite the less-than-innovative mounting location of the 2.417-liter engine of the 246 F1, it was the first V6 engine to be used in the sport that would become Formula 1 when most other teams back then favored straight arrangements of either four or six cylinders. Ultimately the V8 would become the motor of choice for the next stretch of F1 history, first with the Coventry Climax motor and then the extremely successful Cosworth DFV, but the 246 left its mark before it was ushered out: the V6-engined Ferrari recorded the first grand prix win for a V6, as well as the last victory for a front-engine car.
The brutality of motor racing during the F1 Dino’s career could perhaps have detracted from the splendor of the its triumphs, but regardless of past history, you can’t fail to be transfixed by the shapes created by that beautiful body today. Plus there’s the added bonus of the driver not being nearly as likely to die in it.
But back to the shape, for it really is a gorgeous car. The six, slightly offset bell mouths that protrude from the long red nose, hinting at the power plant housed beneath; shark-like cooling fins; the simplistic cockpit, dominated by the large-diameter wooden steering wheel. It’s an exhilarating if stark view in the cockpit, one that is enhanced by that attention-grabbing and instantly recognizable red bodywork surrounding it.
As a racing car, it didn’t dominate the circuits of the 1958 season of grand prix racing, but it was far from a laggard seeing as it made Mike Hawthorn the World Champion and brought the silver home to Ferrari on the constructor’s side of things. It wasn’t the most powerful car, neither was it the best chassis, but crucially it was reliable, and it was this consistency that gave it the successes it had.
The 246 F1 wasn’t the most successful Ferrari, nor the most famous, but it is surely one of the most significant in their history of contending grands prix.
The first V6 in the sport and also the last front-engined to win (in 1960, at Monza), the car was both new and antiquated depending on how you looked at it, but however you do you can’t help but be taken by its form. It is slender, rather simplistic compared to what came after but still very pleasing to the eye. And it comes with a pretty great soundtrack to accompany the visuals; if you get a chance to see it compete in a historic race, I urge you to give it some attention.