Most of the glorious coachbuilders we can remember have disappeared, but Pininfarina is of course still very much alive (sadly not literally, because big boss Battista Farina as well as his son Sergio aren’t there anymore)! We know Pininfarina for its magnificent classic designs and the Italian design house continues to come up with highly refined designs, like for instance the BMW Pininfarina Gran Lusso Coupé, also thanks to their expensive windtunnel and R&D that I briefly discussed in the intro.
Carrozzeria Pininfarina is an independent Italian car design house and coachbuilder in Cambiano, Italy. It was founded by Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina in 1930. A fun little fact about the name ‘Pinin’ is that it means ‘little one’, this because Battista – born in 1893 – was the youngest in a family of 11 kids! At the age of twelve, Battista started working for his brother’s company, where his passion for cars was born. Battista stayed at Giovanni’s Stabilimenti Industriali Farina for several decades, learning bodywork and beginning to design his own cars.
In 1928 it was time for a new adventure and so he left his brother’s coachbuilding company. With financial help from his wife’s family and Vincenzo Lancia he started his own company, named Pizzeria… joke…! Carrozzeria Pinin Farina. Within the first year the brand new company had already built 50 automobile bodies. On 22nd of May 1930 the company officially became the Società anonima Carrozzeria Pinin Farina, headquartered in Turin, Italy at 107 Corso Trapani. The concept of the company was to build custom made cars for individual customers and for the police, all in limited quantities. The company built-up a good reputation that attracted brands like Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Isotta-Fraschini, Hispano-Suiza, Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Fiat and also Peugeot. Since 1952 Pinin Farina has been in charge of all the designs of the Ferrari production sports cars, which is what the company is best known for, the famed ‘Pinin’ Ferrari’s! Much of this was managed by Battista’s son Sergio.Pinin Farina had a close relationship with Lancia, at that time the pioneer of the monocoque body in automobile design. The company became the first coachbuilder to build bodies for this new technique, also known as unibody construction (almost unicorn, as I mentioned in a tweet). This risky development, which Pinin Farina was prepared to take on, took place in the mid-1930s. Others saw the frameless construction as the end of the independent coachbuilder, but how wrong they were!
In 1939 WW2 shut down automobile production at a time when Pinin Farina built 150 car bodies a month and employed 400 workers. The war effort against the Allies brought-in new work, making ambulances and searchlight carriages. No wonder that the Pinin Farina factory was destroyed by Allied bombers, bringing the firm’s operations to a total standstill.
Some time in the early 1950s Stabilimenti Farina was absorbed into the by now much larger Carrozzeria Pinin Farina, not bad for a ‘Pinin’ of the family ; ).
In 1961 Battista handed-over his company to his son Sergio and son in law Renzo Carli. That same year Battista officially changed his last name from Farina to Pininfarina and the company name changed from “Pinin Farina” to “Pininfarina”.
Five years later the last design personally attributed to Battista Farina was the handsome Alfa Romeo Duetto. This was revealed to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1966. Battista died less than a month later, on April 3rd at the age of 73, in Lausanne.Pinin Farina is a name associated with many of the best-known postwar sports cars and during the 1960s the design house ruled the car-scene with their ‘trapezium style’, which was first revealed on the Peugeot 404 and Fiat 1800. Other brands followed with sharp lined designs, like – much later – the Ferrari 512S Modulo. We will talk about that futuristic creation soon!
In 1965 it was Sergio Pininfarina who personally persuaded Enzo Ferrari to adopt the mid-engined configuration for a new line of Ferrari road cars. The resulting Ferrari Dino Berlinette Speciale was presented at the Paris Motor Show in October of that year, but it would take another two years before the car officially came onto the market.
During the 1970s the company Pininfarina converted to the industrial group Pininfarina S.p.A. and R&D became more and more decisive. Pininfarina is still employed by a wide variety of automobile manufactures for their designs. These companies include long-established customers such as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Fiat, GM, Lancia, and Maserati.
Since the 1980s Pininfarina has also designed high-speed trains, buses, trams, rolling stocks, automated light rail cars, people movers, yachts, airplanes, and private jets. With the 1986 creation of Pininfarina Extra they have expanded into industrial design, interior design, architecture, and graphic design. Quite a versatile company I must say!
Just a fun little fact in between… His nephew, Nino Farina, was the first Formula One world champion.
Pininfarina was run by Sergio Pininfarina until 2001, when Battista’s grandson, Andrea Pininfarina, took over the company. Sadly, on August 7th 2008 Andrea, then chairman of the company, fatally crashed with his Vespa scooter when a car scooped him. After Andrea’s death his younger brother Paolo Pininfarina succeeded him and was appointed CEO.
There were rumors that Mahindra & Mahindra from India wanted to take over Pininfarina, but that didn’t happen, presumably because the company wasn’t in a very healthy financial position at the time.
On December 31, 2008 a framework agreement was concluded in order to save Pininfarina from bankruptcy. The debts had risen to 600 million EUR. The agreement stipulated that no new production contracts would be concluded and that the current contracts for the Alfa Romeo Brera and Spider and for the Ford Focus Coupé- Cabriolet would be continued until 2011. Beyond this Pininfarina would exclusively focus on the production of electric cars (B0 or B-zero). From this point onwards the company was owned by the banks and the share of the family reduced to 4.5 percent.