A svelte mid-engined Italian and a brawny front-engined English GT, pitted against each other by equally contrasting TV playboys The Persuaders! Which one convinces you?
Pront or mid-engined – which handles better? It was a battle played out each week in the early Seventies in the TV show The Persuaders!, with this very Aston DBS and a Dino 246 just like the one we have to play with today. Ferrari and Aston Martin – two iconic brands in sports car history, each uniquely synonomous with their native country’s automotive culture. In the late Sixties, each embarked on very different approaches to sports car design.
The Dino was launched in 1967, and although never officially badged as a Ferrari, it was the company’s first mid-engined production model. It features a beautifully sculpted body and a trans versely mounted Fiat-built V6 engine, the latter being a radical departure for Enzo Ferrari, who viewed anything with less than 12 cylinders with disdain. The DBS, on the other hand, introduced in the same year, was more an evolution of a trusted, orthodox layout that served the Touring-styled DB series so successfully for a decade. Although the outgoing DB6’s chassis was fundamentally right, Aston Martin felt it needed a new look, a more technically advanced engine and revised rear suspension. With Touring out of the car design picture, it tasked William Towns with the styling. Aston’s engine genius Tadek Marek designed a new four-cam alloy V8, but development was delayed and the DBS took to the streets with the DB6’s straight-six. In short, Aston capitalised on its heritage, while Ferrari broke with tradition. It was a gamble that clearly paid off the Dino was hugely successful, selling more than 3800 cars in seven years. Aston, however, continued as a low-volume maker of expensive cars, enduring a tenuous existence until a buy-out by Ford in 1994.
When new, the two cars represented exciting and contrasting automotive experiences. Their cultural symbolism led to starring roles with equally contrasting characters in the Seventies television series The Persuaders! In the programme, two playboy heroes were blackmailed by a retired judge into bringing the elusive underworld to justice. The top-of-the-range Aston was fittingly the choice for Lord Brett Sinclair, a dashing young aristocrat, played by Roger Moore. The Dino was given to Sinclair’s unlikely partner Danny Wilde (played by Tony Curtis), a rags-to-riches working class Bronx boy.
The Bahama Yellow DBS featured here is the original car from the television series. Although badged a DBS V8, it’s actually a six-cylinder-car, with V8 wheels in place of the usual wires. Carl Seagar, the Aston Martin mechanic who maintained the car for the six months it was on location, says, ‘Aston had only just brought out the V8 and simply could not keep up with demand.’
The whereabouts of the original Dino from The Persuaders! are unknown, but this 1972 example is identical, apart from the lack of knock-off wheels. The sensuous shape was styled by Pininfarina and is widely regarded as the styling house’s finest work.
The first 150 Dinos were actually 206s, the smaller two-litre version with an all-aluminium body. The 246 GT (introduced in 1969) and targa-roofed GTS models (introduced in 1972) are 60mm longer, but the 206GT is more easily spotted by its exposed fuel filler cap.
When it comes to shape, the DBS is surely the curvaceous Dino’s antithesis. From the front, the Aston appears wide and brutish, but move your eyes along its flanks and its crisply-edged lines evolve into an elegant coupe with a tightly-drawn rear. The avantgarde design lasted for two decades, only ending with the introduction of the Virage in 1988. Actor Moore was impressed with its ability to attract the opposite sex, telling Car in 1971, ‘As a bird-catcher, It’s a riot.’
Styling considerations aside, these cars offer very different driving experiences, thanks to their layouts.
Suspension expert Rhoddy Harvey-Bailey explains, ‘On paper, the mid-engined layout looks the better of the two because the weight distribution is more even. You also get inherently good turn-in with little to no roll, thanks to the lower inertia of the lighter front.’ But Harvey-Bailey says that it can be very different in practice, ‘A lot will depend on how the car is set up. Although the suspension of a front-engined car has to work harder to cope with the change in inertia, it will typically have better traction at the rear.’ Once a mid-engined car is into a corner, the shift in weight bias to the rear can actually work against it, inducing oversteer, he adds.
The design of the suspension will also affect the experience, ‘With the DBS, its de Dion rear axle gives exceptionally good roadholding and it will take a really good independent suspension to improve on it.’ As will the weight and wheelbase dimensions. The Aston is more than 400kg heavier, while the petite Dino’s wheelbase is 321mm shorter.
A shorter wheelbase gives an increased polar moment of inertia, says Harvey-Bailey. That’s essentially a measure of a car’s ability to change direction, although a car with a high polar movement will have a greater tendency to spin if the move is too sharp.
You only have to look at Overture, the first episode of The Persuaders!, to get a feel for what he’s talking about. In the opening scene, Sinclair and Wilde dice along the Grand Corniche, on their way to a mystery rendezvous at Monte Carlo’s Hotel de Paris. Pulling away from the lights, the Dino surges ahead, but the Aston, hunched down under full acceleration, ultimately outruns it.
Today, in a world where many modern cars handle with similar predictability, the differences between these two are even more startling. Even with power steering and a large, thin wood-rimmed wheel, the DBS feels far heavier, but more surefooted than the Dino.
The floor-mounted pedals amplify the effect, requiring a firm shove, and you need a strong, deft hand for the heavy ZF five-speed gearbox. The Dino is the opposite, with light, precise pedals and a deliciousto-use gated gearlever, with characteristic dog-leg first gear. Where it really surprises is how the driving experience evolves. At low speed, the steering is heavy and almost vague. But floor the throttle and things immediately tighten up. As the tachometer spins around, the engine makes a scintillating growl and the steering feels instantly precise and light. It takes only a twitch of the wheel to enter a corner and the car feels totally balanced the whole way through. But with just I95bhp, you sense it doesn’t really have the power to highlight the mid-engined layout’s shortcomings.
Under acceleration, the Aston lacks the Dino’s sudden sharpness and there’s a brief lag in turn-in at speed, but once into the corner, the car’s wide stance and tyres keep things feeling controlled. Accelerate out and you feel the tractive advantage of the front-engined layout as the rear wheels power it through.
The Dino, to quote Harvey-Bailey, feels ‘the more pointable of the two’, but a well-sorted DBS ultimately gives you the confidence to prove your point when persuading your mates down the pub.
Buying and owning an Aston Martin DBS
Lifelong The Persuaders! fan Mike Sanders bought this original film car in 1994, following enquiries through the programme’s appreciation society. Says Sanders, ‘After 25 years of wear and tear, it needed cosmetic attention.’ That turned into a complete restoration by Aston Martin’s Works Service department. The DBS was reunited with Roger Moore and its original registration which, thanks to a continuity glitch, can be glimpsed at the end of the The Gold Napoleon episode.
Prices for DBSs vary, ranging from £32,500 for an automatic in need of body and mechanical attention to £140,000 for a manual Vantage in top condition. Running costs can be reasonable, but these cars can be extremely expensive to restore, especially given their increasing desirability.
Sanders concurs, admitting with a rueful grin, ‘Buying the car turned out to be just the deposit!’
Buying and owning a Ferrari Dino
Body condition is critical, says specialist Roger Collingwood, ‘Corrosion is any Sixities Ferrari’s biggest enemy, but new Dinos actually started to rust while they were sitting in the showrooms.’
The curvaceous nature of its panels – and the cost of replacements – makes body restoration expensive and engines typically last no more than 50,000- 60,000 miles between rebuilds, although some parts are shared with the Fiat Dino.
Prices have positively exploded in the last ten years or so. Back in 2006, you could have bagged a 246 GT for less than £80,000, but prices today range from £275,000 for a top condition 246 GT to £475,000 for a concours 206 GT.
1972 Ferrari Ditto 246 GT
Engine 2418cc V6, dohc per bank, triple Weber 40DCN carburettors
Power and torque 195bhp @ 7600rpm; 1651b ft @ 5500rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual transaxle, rear-wheel drive Steering Rack-and-pinion
Suspension Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bars
Brakes Vented discs front and rear
Weight 1183kg (26031b)
Performance Top speed: 148mph: 0-60mph: 71 sec
Cost new £5485
Values now £180,000-275,000
1970 Aston Martin DBS
Engine 3995cc, in-line six-cylinder, dohc, triple SU carburettors
Power and torque 282bhp @ 5500rpm, 2901b ft (5) 4500rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rackand-pinion, power-assisted
Suspension Front: independent,double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers. Rear: de Dion axle,radius arms, Watt linkage, coil springs, adjustable lever-arm dampers
Brakes Vented discs front and rear
Performance Top speed: 142mph; 0-60mph: 8.6sec
Cost new £5800
Values now £75,000-110,000