Sergio Pininfarina (8th September 1926 – 3rd July 2012)

Sergio Pininfarina (8th September 1926 – 3rd July 2012)

Sergio Pininfarina was born Sergio Farina, son of the coachbuilder Battista “Pinin” Farina, on the 8th of September 1926 in Turin, the centre of the Italian automobile industry. It was here that his father founded his company “Carrozzeria Pinin Farina” four years after his birth. This was also where automobile companies such as Fiat (in 1899) and Lancia (in 1906) founded their companies at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The innovative design of the first on-road automobile for the sports car manufacturer, Cisitalia, the 202 Gran Sport, was a milestone for Pinin Farina. The car’s body was praised for its smoothly flowing but powerful design. It has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1951.

Italian automobile design with style

In 1950, Sergio Pininfarina joined the company after graduating as a mechanical engineer. From 1957 itself, he was acting as the Managing Director. He continued to do so in 1961, when Italy’s former President, Giovanni Gronchi, recognised the nickname “Pinin” and permitted the change of name to Pininfarina per decree. That name is today one of the best-known family and company names. Up until his retirement from that position in 2006, he made the company a symbol for Italian style and a manufacturer of some of the most elegant automobiles in the world. What is of particular importance is the cooperation with Ferrari that has existed from 1951 and which has produced more than 80 models. The collaboration brought forth exceptional products such as the Ferrari Dino 246 (1969) and the Ferrari Testarossa (1984). In addition to that, he was also responsible for making the company name well known and is an ideal example for successful co-branding of the manufacturer and the designer. This is borne out by the fact that, even today, every Ferrari designed by Pininfarina has the logo of the design company affixed on it. At that time itself, it did not matter if the master craftsman had himself, lent a hand to the design. The reason for this was that, right from the beginning, both father and son had seldom executed a design by themselves; they always employed several young designers. They defined the lines and the ideas and subsequently, only controlled the creative process.

Aside from Ferrari, many projects were implemented with other automobile manufacturers, as well. This was because “it was not only sinfully expensive sports cars that Pininfarina helped manufacture. They also helped produce mass production cars for Peugeot and Mitsubishi which had their own individual character”, said Michael Kröger for Spiegel Online. The Peugeot 403, 404 and 504 are examples of these.

Absolutely top class in design through research and innovation

Automobile design is considered one of the top disciplines of industrial design. This is because the combination of technology and aesthetics exerts a special fascination. Pininfarina takes both to a level that sets standards. He discovered, at an early stage, the relevance of aerodynamics for stylistic bodywork silhouettes and built the first wind tunnel in Italy in 1972. The “Ethos” concept (1992) reflected his thoughts with regard to city driving and environmentally-friendly automobiles. Through the Metrocube of 1999, the Italian brought forth a concept for a city car with a hybrid drive. At that time, he was far ahead of the times.

A great influence on pop culture

In spite of profitable orders for railway vehicles and for mass products such as coffee machines for Lavazza, furniture for Poltrona or entire kitchens, the Pininfarina name is a symbol for Italian automobile design that is not only well-known to drivers and to automobile lovers, but one that is recognisable to everybody. The popularity of some models in pop culture has contributed to that. It all began with the Alfa Romeo Spider, which Dustin Hoffman drove in the 1967 film “The Graduate”, one of the most popular films of its time. Everyone also remembers the white Ferrari Testarossa from the cult TV series “Miami Vice” or the Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California from the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” from 1986.

Intelligent automobile design that wows experts

The fascination for these models lies in the unique interplay of “elegance, restraint, intelligence, supported and inspired by technology but formed by artistic sensibilities” as Wolfgang Peters put it in the newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Thomas Fromm emphasises in der Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Not only high HP and loud, but also beautiful”. He sees this beauty in the flowing transitions, the discreet suggestion of muscles and in the elegance of these automobiles. Exceptional design that has also been paid homage to, in the “Red Dot Design Award”. In 2004, the Pininfarina design team was awarded the honorary title “Red Dot: Design Team of the Year”.

Pininfarina as an expression of an era

Even to this day, the company is contributing to innovation in engineering and to the design in automobiles. However, the obituaries at the death of Sergio Pininfarina on the 3rd of July 2012 sounded like a swan song for an entire era. This was because the design language shaped by him is bound to the time in which automobiles exuded a romantic aura that was far distant from market analyses and criticism of combustion engines. This attitude is epitomised by the persona of the designer himself who always appeared everywhere in a suit and tie – whether in his company or later as a member of the European Parliament (1979 – 1988) and as President of Confindustria, the largest federation of employers in Italy. “He was a stylist, designer, businessman, Italian and a man”, summarised Wolfgang Peters accurately in the newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Posted on 03.07.2017

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