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The Mid-Engine Bloodline

Sixty years ago, Ferrari revealed its first mid-engine sports car. The 246 SP was a racing success and inspired a series of brilliant mid-engined road cars, from the Dino 206 GT to today’s SF90 Stradale, Ferrari’s flagship
Words – Gavin Green
The 156 ‘Sharknose’ Formula 1 car would dominant that year’s world championship. The 246 SP sports racer would record a memorable win in that year’s Targa Florio in Sicily, the world’s toughest sports car race.
Far more significant, they both featured engines placed behind the driver and ahead of the rear wheels. This mid-engined layout would feature on every subsequent Formula 1 Ferrari. Perhaps even more significant and unexpected, nearly all Ferrari sports cars (as opposed to GTs) would subsequently use mid-engined layouts, just like the 246 SP.

It would be a monumental shift in engineering direction for Ferrari. A company famous for its beautiful and successful front-engined berlinettas would soon become synonymous with its equally eye-catching and successful mid-engined berlinetta sports cars.

Pictured during a photoshoot outside the Gatto Verde restaurant near Maranello, this is a prototype of the Dino 206 GT. The final production model was presented at the Turin Motor Show in November 1967

The change did not happen overnight. Great front-engined Ferrari sports cars followed, among them the 250 GTO (1962), nowadays the most valuable Ferrari model of all and a highly successful sports racer in its day. The 365 GTB/4 – better known now as the Daytona – was Ferrari’s high-performance flagship when revealed in 1968. There were clearly still traditionalists in Maranello championing the benefits of Ferrari’s time-honoured front-engined V12 formula (a mechanical layout that continues successfully today on Gran Turismo models such as the 812 Superfast and newly revealed 812 Competizione).

Yet for track cars and for road-going sports cars, the advantages of a mid-engined layout were becoming evident. The weight is concentrated in the middle, allowing the car to change direction more easily and rapidly. Handling balance is improved. Moving weight from the front to the rear can also boost rear-end traction and improve the car’s ability to put down its power.
The 246 SP was followed by a series of successful mid-engined Ferrari sports racers, including the Le Mans-winning V12-powered 250 P, 275 P and 250 LM, and the 330 P4 that spearheaded a Ferrari 1-2-3 at the 1967 Daytona 24-hour endurance race.

Ferrari’s first road-going mid-engined production sports car was also imminent, although initially it did not carry a Ferrari badge. The Dino 206 GT, launched in 1967, used a V6 engine and carried the name of Enzo Ferrari’s son Alfredo (nicknamed Alfredino, or Dino). A talented engineer, Alfredo died in 1956 aged 24 while working on Ferrari’s V6 racing engine. Subsequent V6-powered Ferrari single-seater, sports racing and road cars were named after him.

The 365 GT4 BB used a 4.4-litre flat-12 (or ‘boxer’ engine) derived from Ferrari’s F1 car; its 186mph top speed made it the fastest road Ferrari to date

The 206 GT, and the more powerful 246 GT that followed in 1969, were less expensive and made in bigger volumes than any previous Ferrari. With compact and powerful V6 engines, they drove delightfully, handled sweetly, made all the right noises and are now rightfully celebrated as among Ferrari’s most important – and beautiful – cars.

The first 12-cylinder mid-engine berlinetta was not long in coming. The 365 GT4 BB (for Berlinetta Boxer) was launched in 1971, with production beginning two years later. It was a seminal moment in Ferrari’s mid-engine journey: the first time Ferrari’s top performance road model was powered by an engine sited behind the driver. There would be no turning back.

The lineage of the F8 Tributo stretches back six decades, past the V8-powered 308 GTB and V6-engined Dino 206 GT, to the first mid-engined Ferrari sports car and F1 car

Even more significant was the 308 GTB launched in 1975, successor to the iconic Dino 246 GT. It began an uninterrupted bloodline of V8-powered mid-engined sports cars that continues today with the F8 Tributo and the SF90 Stradale, flagship of the Ferrari range.