SAM JOHNSTON’S FIRST CAR – THE JWF MILANO – LOOKED LIKE NOTHING LESS THAN A SMALL FERRARI MONZA, MARANELLO’S CLASSIC 1950s RACER. EXCEPT, INSTEAD OF THE LAMPREDI 3.0-LITRE FOUR-CYLINDER ENGINE, JOHNSTON’S COPY OF THE PININFARINA BEAUTY SAT OVER THE CHASSI
After selling around 200 Milanos, JWF moved on to build-ityourself Holden-powered sports cars, before Johnston sold the by-then much-diversified business in 1979.
Sam Johnston, however, always had the idea of building a single-seat racing car. He’d considered building a Maserati 250F around a Maser Sebring engine, “but the 250F had a combined gearbox and differential and there was no way I was going to build that.”
At the time his garage contained a 246 Dino GT and a 308 Dino. Why not build a Grand Prix Dino, the 2.5-litre V6 from 1959/60? Not the stumpy 1958 Dino that took Mike Hawthorn to the world championship, but the later, more elegant, Formula Two model complete with disc brakes and wishbone independent suspension, one of the last front-engine Grand Prix cars. However, Johnston discovered that only one chassis was built and the car no longer existed.
The late Graham Howard’s Wheels story details how Johnston went about finding the basic dimensions by examining in detail any photographs of the car and eventually made scale drawings of the chassis. In 1980, on an overseas trip, he visited JCB Bamford in England, the firm having commissioned four replica Dinos that were built by Greypaul Motors. “I took a couple of rolls of photographs and measured the cars all over,” Johnston told Howard. “When I got home and compared all the JCB measurements against what I’d built, I was bugger-all out.”
With the help of dedicated and talented friends, Johnston recreated the Dino. He searched the world for an engine and gearbox before Maranello Concessionaires, then the Ferrari distributors for the UK and Australia, miraculously found a new Dino 246 V6, still in its box. This engine went into Sam’s 246 GT, the road car’s transverse mounted V6 then had to be modified to sit “more or less” longitudinally in the racing car. The body was fibreglass and not the original’s hand-beaten alloy, though visually you can’t pick the difference.
Johnston’s Dino first appeared in public at the 1982 Amaroo Park Historic race meeting where it created both disbelief and delight. During demonstration laps, it looked and sounded magnificent, even if the 135kw engine didn’t quite match the performance of the circa-215kw of the real GP car.
“JOHNSTON WENT ABOUT FINDING THE BASIC DIMENSIONS BY EXAMINING ANY PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE CAR AND EVENTUALLY MADE SCALE DRAWINGS OF THE CHASSIS”