Today, Brad Howard still calls the 1974 Ferrari Dino 246 GTS his daily. It’s not just the excellent handling that does it for him; this is a car that Howard bought after it was found buried in a garden, brought back to life, and has long decided that he will never sell it. It’s not just a classic still in perfect running condition, but a classic with the most gripping, unlikely story to tell.
This Dino (serial number 07862) started life just like any other. It was bought in October 1974 by a plumber named Rosendo Cruz from Alhambra, California, as a present to the wife. The wife would not get to enjoy it that much, just for some 500 miles (805 km) because, in December of that same year, while she and her loving husband were having dinner, it was stolen.
There was nothing strange about the story of how the Dino went missing. The two Cruzes went out for dinner on their anniversary, and Rosendo, noticing a suspicious gleam in the valet’s eye, decided to park it some distance from the restaurant. He and the missus went to dinner and, at the end of it, received the much unwelcome surprise of finding the car... gone.
The discovery came just as Sandra West’s case had caused a national frenzy one year before. The socialite died at her Los Angeles home after a drug overdose but made sure to have her body and her beloved car, a powder blue 1964 Ferrari 330 America, transported to Texas, where both were buried. She was dressed in a lace negligee and plopped comfortably in the driver seat, and the Ferrari was encased in concrete and lowered into the ground.
In short, everyone assumed that you could find buried Ferraris wherever you were willing to look.
In what is perhaps the most hilarious part of this strange tale is that the thieves forgot where they had buried the Dino. The fact that they bothered to wrap it up so nicely seems to indicate that their loss was theirs only because they clearly had no intention of taking it apart, but were planning to keep it or sell it off.
Reports vary on the state of the Dino at the moment of discovery. An AutoWeek piece in the print issue of March 3, 1986, claimed that it was in terrible condition despite the thieves’ efforts—or maybe because of their efforts, since they forgot to roll the windows all the way up. All 21 layers of paint were eaten through by rust, erosion had “wasted” the wheels, the interior was ruined, and to boot, the engine had been crushed when the car was extracted from the ground.
To this day, the Dino still has the original windows, trim and chrome, and two of the original Campagnolo wheels and proudly wears the plate that reads “DUG UP.” It’s not the most subtle vanity plate, but it’s on point. The metallic green paint was applied during the restoration in late ‘70s and is the same as the original. “For a car that got painted over 40 years ago, it’s still holding up pretty good,” Howard says with false modesty.
He knows he has a classic on his hands, whether a “real” Ferrari or not. Over the years, because of the wild backstory attached to it, he’s received countless offers to buy it but he says his Dino is not—and will not be—for sale.