Beauty & the Beast : Ferrari 246 GT 'Dino' & Koenig Specials F48 Driven [review]

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246 GT plays ‘Beauty’ to the F48’s ‘Beast’, and like the Disney cartoon, we all enjoy a happy ending after a good shakedown

Opening Location: National Museum of Singapore

 

SINGAPORE - We could excuse you for wondering what a bodykitted Toyota MR2 is doing in the company of one of Ferrari’s most beautiful bodies, even if the 246 GT didn’t start life as a Ferrari to begin with. Well, we did say we could ‘excuse’, but forgive? Never! Big Yellow here isn’t a MR2, nor some irreverent F40 clone, but a fire-spewing Koenig Specials F48, which is what you get when you cross a Ferrari 348ts with late 80s motorsports turbo-tuning madness.

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The tuning house responsible for the F48, Koenig Specials, was formed by racer Willy Koenig in the 1970s, and it specialised in transforming serious, staid models from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Ferrari into wild, flamboyant life-of-the-party cars with the accompanying firepower to match – love’em or not, there’s no denying the Koenig Specials models carve out a unique identity with all the style and substance you’d ever need.

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Koenig Specials F48

Against the achingly gorgeous and beautifully proportioned Dino 246 GT, the F48 is a brutish, outrageous counterpoint that is all angry, wedge-shaped, wide-bodied machismo, with a prominent F40-esque rear wing to go with the evocative theatrics. Don’t forget, this single-owner car is a relic of the late 80s (this car is a 1992 example), with all the accompanying flamboyant testaments to excess and fashion baggage the era brought with it. But we like it, because beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder...

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The F48 boasts huge presence, both while standstill and on the move, with flared front and rear fenders (and the wide footwear to match) that echo those on the Dino’s, albeit on a far more monstrous scale. The 348 upon which the F48 is based attracted a mixed following of both lovers and loathers, especially when compared to the 308/328 from before and the 355 after, so we think it’s great that König has carved out a clear identity for its F48, particularly with regards to its performance.

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Based on some respondents, it’s pretty clear the F48 is the sort of car that auto otakus go ape over (even though we felt like we were extras in a Miami Vice episode!), and we’re talking about the sort of petrolheads who appreciate it for what it represents, rather than regarding it as a ‘kit-car’ or replica.

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Generally, folks don’t seem to have an issue with tuners working over Japanese cars or even up to the mid-tier for Continental marques, so it’s funny they get huffy and offended when confronted with a brand that tunes exotics. Some seem to regard exotics as bordering on the divine, especially in stock form, but the truth is every ‘supermodel’ regardless of how sexy and perfect-ten it seems, is plagued by its designer’s or creator’s extra baggage.

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Koenig Specials may not be that prominent these days (even the homepage is firmly entrenched in the past), and us petrolheads are probably all the poorer-off for it; instead we’re blasted by a barrage of Novitec Rosso and Mansory tarted cars. Koenig Specials comes from a time when tuning was about uprating stock components and adopting a thoroughly Teutonic over-engineering approach that goes beyond gaudy body extensions; think of the Alpina and RUF cars of that same era and you’ll have an inkling of what we’re talking about. Suspension, engine, transmission, chassis, brakes and aerodynamics have been worked over to endow the F48 with dynamic ability, as opposed to just straight-line performance.

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We’re told the owner never took delivery of his spanking new 348ts when it arrived, but had it shipped straight to Koenig Specials in Germany for the conversion; apparently he wanted a F40 for road-use in Singapore but that was only available in LHD, so he did the next best thing – build his own! The car has been worked on by various workshops, but it’s most recent home has been Exquisite Marques, incidentally the same outfit that did the work for this Dino. At some point in the F48’s life, a turbo-timer and boot-controller were added, as was a hi-fi system.

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Visually, some things have been changed from the original F48, including the slatted perspex engine exhibition lid (apparently prone to deformation), wheels (tyre availability was becoming a problem) and projector-style headlights. Mechanically, a pair of huge intercooler fans has been hooked up to keep charge temperatures within a healthy range, especially given Singapore’s weather. The cabin is largely 348, with a Ferrari-signed gearknob instead of a matching ‘KS’ (for Koenig Specials) as the steering wheel. Naturally, all the original parts are in storage, because the value of ‘specials’ like the F48 involve the sum of its parts. You sit snug in carbonfibre reclining buckets, with an ‘Italian Ape’ driving position that happens to work well with our body-type...

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We take some time to get used to the wide-body in traffic, since the last thing we want is to damage the Kevlar-composite extensions. The F48’s steering, clutch-action and brake pedal are positively weighted to allow precise modulation and the stopping force from the AP Racing brakes is nothing short of ferocious – and this is the sort of prodigious stopping power you will appreciate on a car that boasts a 325km/h top speed.

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Although it’s no longer daily driven, we can see how it could still be, save for the occasions you need to venture into tight spots. Like properly track-fettled cars, the ride quality is firm but perfectly damped, and there’s a sense the whole car works together as one – this isn’t the case of just bolting on turbochargers for instant performance. True to form, the old-school turbos suffer from some lag, but this isn’t a big problem on large displacement cars because you surf the swell of the engine’s torque before you enter the turbo-zone, and a huge wave of boost propels car and occupants towards the vanishing point. It’s as loud and potent as it is brash, since there’s just one mode for the car: Mad! There aren’t the sort of fluffy feel-good driving modes so you can pretend to pussyfoot around town. The only choice you should concern yourself with is targa-top on or off…

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After all, the base car for the F48 is the 348ts, and there’s a slot for the targa roof behind the seats. We aren’t fans of the the wind-in-hair, sun-on-scalp driving experience that those who buy convertibles seem to enjoy, but in this case, we’ll make an exception due to the orchestral orgasm that erupts whenever you decide to turn the wheel in anger. The melodic notes of the 3.4-litre work with the turbos’ distinctive wheezes and whistles to huff, puff and really blow you away like a big bad wolf – the bellow that emits from the tailpipes could come from a leviathan, but the F48 is no barge to drive and serves up the most nuanced of responses to the demands of the driver. Don’t forget, the F48 adds almost 200bhp and 100+Nm over a regular 348’s output, and its 550bhp/500Nm figure isn’t far-off from the F40 at that time; even if the F48 is a little heavier, it’s still a potent force of nature to be reckoned with.

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Like the Dino, the distinctive open-gate of the F48’s five-speed manual adopts a ‘dog-leg’ first-gear configuration, with 2-3-4-5 in a ‘H’ formation for quick-shifts. There’s such a positive throw to the shifter that we found it more authoritative than the 430 Spider’s we tried not so long ago. Huge torque and an eerily direct steering means the car shrinks around the driver, and once you become accustomed to keeping the turbos in mid-boil, it’s easy to exploit gaps in traffic like nobody’s business, and the best part about such furious performance is the car is never spent after each session, but will keep going and going – or at very least until the gas runs out!

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Dino 246 GT

The Dino is only with its second home since it was first built in the 70s – the current owner’s family has had it since the early 80s. Almost 20 years separate this from the F48, and it’s a fine example of design evolution through the years, as well as testament to how much bigger cars have grown. The 246 GT is a veritable work of drool-worthy art, and looks beautifully proportioned from whichever angle you’re standing.

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One can only imagine the loving hands that caressed and coaxed its sheet metal into such automotive beauty as the artisan created its delectable curves – it’s not voluptuous in an overt way, but one is seduced by its proportions and hourglass figure subtly and sensually. This is an ‘E’ series example which is the last evolution of the 246 GT, with the first iteration, the ‘L’, closest in essence to the earlier 206 GT, centrelock wheel-nuts and all (there was a short run of ‘M’ series, but the ‘E’ includes all those revisions and adds a few more).

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Side-by-side with the F48, the 246 GT isn’t as incongruous as you might think, because the cues from the progenitor can be found in the more modern car. The bold flares that are so exaggerated on the F48 take on a delicate nature on the Dino, with the rear ‘windscreen’ following the same wonderfully sculpted curvature as it terminates in the flying buttresses.

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The 246 GT was sold under Ferrari’s ‘Dino’ sub-brand, which was named to honour Enzo Ferrari’s son, Alfredo, or ‘Alfredino’ – the first model to wear the ‘Dino’ badge was the Pininfarina-designed 206 GT, and the last, the 308 GT4, which was the brand’s first mid-mounted V8 sportscar.

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‘Dino’ models were intended to offer buyers an alternative of a ‘lower-cost’ sportscar to tackle Porsche’s 911, with these mid-engined, rear-drive models powered by V6 engines (and later V8, but that would be sold under the ‘Ferrari’ name mid-way through its life), as opposed to the V12s typically found in Ferraris at that time. Calling the 246 GT a ‘Dino’ is like referring to a Corolla Altis as a Toyota, meaningless unless your audience knows which of the Dino models you’re referring to.

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This particular example is only one of two normal-plate 246 GTs in Singapore and has only just returned into the owner’s garage after nearly three years in the workshop. Most importantly, the Dino has been resprayed back to the model’s characteristic Rosso Dino. Its restoration has been a labour of love for the owner, who sees it as a preservation of his father’s legacy – the car’s ‘SL’ plate is a reference to his mother’s initials. The current owner doesn’t see it as belonging to just one person, but as something for the whole family to enjoy and to remember the patriarch by.

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It starts up with a rorty rumble, with gentle pressure on the accelerator pedal creating a fruity melody from the Webers behind the cabin. Both driver and passenger sit low in the car, but there’s great visibility out. The instruments peek out from behind glass lenses, and like even the F48, there aren’t complicated driving modes or settings to configure before moving off. Seat in place? Check. Car started? Check. Ready to roll…

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It takes awhile for the fluids to warm up, so we try to keep it easy in second and third gears during foreplay for the most part until the synchros get slick and limber. There’s no power steering but the 246 GT is barely 1.1-tonnes, so manoeuvring it around is not quite a workout, but not a cinch either – without driving gloves, the wooden thin-rimmed steering wheel can get too slippery, especially in Singapore’s hot weather and the car’s air-con busted. As working the shifts gets easier, we come to a nice straight and give the car some beans… and we experience immediate rapture. Keep your synthesised soundtracks and electronically-generated engine notes, this is automotive engineering at its finest.

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“I think, therefore I am” holds especially true for older cars, because this is before a time where politically-correct alarmists and tree-huggers pretty much emasculated and desensitised sportscars for the enthusiasts. Like the F48, the 246 GT has none of the electronic aids, engine start-stop, cylinder shut-offs and what-not that plague modern sportscars. With the 246 GT, you have to think about everything you and the car are doing, through your senses of sight, sound and touch – for instance, a slight difficulty in engaging a gear might require the driver to rev match to smoothen the process, but that’s not always the case.

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Every motoring experience, even in this same car that proves to be such unadulterated food for the petrolhead soul, can be very different – to us, therein lies the wonder and whimsy of such classics. Like the F48, people point and gawk at the 246 GT, but clearly for very different reasons. Even though the 246 GT and F48 represent such opposing design philosophies, it’s hard to dispute the beauty in the simple honesty of the two respective cars.

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There’s no coitus interruptus as the revs of the 2.4-litre climb towards a thunderous, natural climax with the Webers erupting in glorious unison… and then you upshift and the whole cycle begins again before culminating in yet another euphoric climax. In fact, during the course of the day when we alternated between the 246 GT and the F48 in the quest of our happy ending, it only served to reinforce the fact that true petrolheads would never want anything that could go ‘effortlessly fast’ – a virtue that modern cars like to extol; as transport sure, but as a real future-classic slice of automotive memorabilia, well, let’s just say the jury is still out... PHOTOS: ZOTIQ VISUALS

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Dino 246 GT (1972)
Engine: 2419cc, V6
Power/rpm: 195bhp/7600rpm
Torque/rpm: 225Nm/5500rpm
Transmission: 5spd manual
Top speed: 235km/h
0-100km/h: est. 8secs
LxBxH: 4235x1700x1135mm
Wheelbase: 2340mm
Kerbweight: 1080kg

Koenig Specials F48 (1992)
Engine: 3405cc, V8, twin-turbo
Power/rpm: 550bhp/7200rpm
Torque/rpm: 500Nm/xx00rpm
Transmission: 5spd manual
0-100km/h: est. 4secs
Top speed: est. 325km/h
LxBxH: 4230x1980x1130mm
Wheelbase: 2450mm
Kerbweight: est. 1265kg

This feature first appeared in TopGear Singapore #44 (Nov'15)

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.

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