Pininfarina History by Peter Collins. Click top right to see PC's images
The late 19th century was not a great time to be bringing up a family of eleven children in rural Italy; the tenth was christened Battista and with these mouths to feed the Farina family upped sticks and headed away from their hometown area of Cortanze d’Asti to the city of Torino, for the simple practical reason that there might be more work there. Battista had been nicknamed Pinin, which in Piedmontese dialect meant the smallest or baby of the family. The name stuck.
Meanwhile, the search for work had led an elder brother, Giovanni, to be appointed to one of the hundreds of carrozzerie in Torino, Marcello Alessio. Pinin would often go and meet his brother after work and fell in love with cars in the process. In his spare time, he already had a job cleaning all the copper pots in his mother’s kitchen, Pinin would draw or sketch the cars he had seen at Alessio’s and sometimes he would fantasise about the possibilities of designing his own car and then sketch his thoughts.
By 1910, Giovanni had acquired considerable experience of horse and horseless vehicles at Alessio’s and that year he left to start up his own carrozzeria with brothers Carlo and Pinin. The latter was only seventeen and the new company, named Stabilimenti Farina, enabled him to meet and mix with all the top automotive and racing men in Torino: Lancia, Wagner, Nazzaro, Cagno and many others.
Pinin was put in charge of ‘publicity and design’ and it wasn’t long before Fiat themselves came knocking at the door asking for ideas re their important new ‘Zero’ model. After sifting through myriad proposals the choice came down to just two, one from Farina and the other from Pinin. Fiat boss, Agnelli approached Farina, for an opinion and naturally, he chose his own design. In commiseration and possibly with encouragement in mind Agnelli later presented Pinin with a torpedo-bodied version of the Zero.
After the conclusion of World War One the combination of experience (including a fact finding mission to America) and burning ambition led this outwardly modest and unassuming man to consider leaving Stabilimento Farina and strike out alone. The break finally came in 1930.
Carrozzeria Pinin Farina was set up in Turin, at Corso Trapani 107, after Vincenzo Lancia guaranteed him work and the family of his wife, Rosa offered sufficient financial backing. Within a year he was designing a special Lancia Di Lambda for the Queen of Romania and already Auto Italiana magazine were referring to him as ‘the insuperable master builder’.
The new company began with 90 employees and took on Franco Martinengo from Stabilimenti Farina as its first styling director. He is on record as saying that during those formative years the shape of any car was controlled by the height of the radiator. It was only when lower and wider radiator concepts were introduced that Pinin’s men could move on and create a more individual style.
Recognition within the industry secured a flow of orders to the factory and the early design influences of Americans: Cord, Studebaker and Buick began to give way to the more streamlined look associated with racing cars. In 1937 an aero-dynamic Lancia Aprilia appeared on the Mille Miglia. Hand drawn in house, its efficient shape later proved to be near perfect.
Crucially for the long haul after the end of hostilities, Pinin built up in-depth relationships with many of the mainstream manufacturers, to the point where he could arrange for them to provide him with specially modified chassis that would make construction of the shapes he envisaged so much easier. Eventually they would lower radiators, carburettors, seats and the steering-wheel for him in advance.
It cannot be stressed too highly how important and useful it was for his cars to win the many competitive pre- (and post) war Concours d’Elegances. Nowadays we have Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Het Loo and Villa d’Este but then there was a never-ending succession of Concours everywhere and in all seasons. Winning increased Pinin’s standing throughout the automotive industry and market place.
It was the establishment of Cisitalia in 1947 that gave Pinin Farina and the whole Italian carrozzeria industry, the necessary kick and impetus enabling them to show the world the pre-eminence of Italian car design, especially from Torino. The gorgeous little coupe that Pinin penned for them forged a place forever in history as the first ever GT car. Pinin Farina continued his definition of idea and shape through the 1948 Maserati A6 1500 and the forgotten 1949 Fiat 1100S and 1951 Rolls Royce Silver Dawn Due Porte, to the epochal Lancia Aurelia B20. The same year a Cisitalia 202 was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of an exhibition entitled Eight Automobiles and was described in the programme by Arthur Drexler as ‘rolling sculpture’.
Pinin’s determination had shown through as early as 1946 when the Paris Motor Show of that year was not prepared to display Italian manufacturers’ wares, so Pinin simply set up his own show in the street outside the main gates. In 1952 he made another important visit to the USA and came back with contracts from Nash to build the Nash Healey Spider based on an English floorpan and American engine and later, several sedans for mass production. This US connection was to stand the Company in good stead for decades to come.
Perhaps the most enduring and profitable relationship Pinin was to be involved with also arose that year at the Paris show, in the form of a cabriolet. It was based on the 212 Inter chassis from Ferrari and this ‘partnership’ survives as strong as ever today with the 599 Fiorano, California and 458 Italia models. This relationship became more than one of company interaction. It is reported that whenever Enzo Ferrari departed meetings, Pinin would stand to attention and give a little bow.
Complete body designs to high-volume manufacturers started in 1953 with the stylish Peugeot 403 saloon and continued with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider of 1955, the British Austin A40 of 1958 and its later middleweight A60. It had become clear to Pinin that the only way forward for the Company, and to allow for expansion, was to embrace full industrialisation to allow increased production which led to a move out of Torino to a spacious, modern factory in Grugliasco in 1958. By then there were nearly 1,000 employees and by 1960 output exceeded 11,000 car bodies. In 1961 the family changed their name by deed poll to Pininfarina and the company was duly renamed Carrozzeria Pininfarina. The Alfa Romeo Duetto of 1966, as featured in the film ‘The Graduate’ with Dustin Hoffman, immortalises Pininfarina’s lines of the period.
Sergio, one of Pinin’s sons became the General Manager of the new factory in 1961. Upon Pinin’s death on 7 April 1966, Sergio became Chairman and Renzo Carli took up the post of Chief Executive. The connection with Lancia had endured and Pinin had used the prototype Lancia Florida (to materialise as the Flaminia) as his own road car right up to the time of his death.
Chief designer Aldo Brovarone was joined by Leonardo Fioravanti in 1967 and became responsible for many of the best-known Pininfarina projects. This led to him taking control of Pininfarina Studi and Ricerche in January 1982, at a new location in Cambiano 20km from Torino, after it was split off from Industrie Pininfarina. Fioravanti, along with Antonello Cogotti, had also been responsible for the establishment of an in-house wind-tunnel in 1972. In 1980 the fiftieth anniversary of the Company was celebrated by the construction of the Ferrari Pinin. This was a four-door saloon Ferrari powered by a flat-twelve as used in the 512. Although Enzo was sympathetic to the concept and was interested in the possibility of producing it, Gianni Agnelli said no, because he thought a saloon did not fit in with the Prancing Horse’s image.
A new factory was built in the 1980s to accommodate the courageous Cadillac Allante project where Pininfarina designed and built a lavish coupe and the shells were airlifted, 56 at a time, to Detroit for final finishing.
One could easily to fill a book with just the most important car concepts and projects that the Company produced over the years but as Pinin realised it was necessary to industrialise and expand frontiers to survive, Pininfarina has done just that. In 1987 it co-designed a new high-speed train for Italian railways and most recently was involved with refurbishing the Anglo-French Eurostars. Other projects have included the 2006 Winter Olympics Torch, shopping trollies for the USA and the Company also acted as design consultants for Coca Cola Freestyle.
Although the motor car industry is facing considerable difficulty many manufacturers employ their own designers, with hugely varying results. Luckily, the 3,000 people employed by various Pininfarina spin-off companies around the world allow most of us to be touched by the original character and aesthetic.
Whilst the motor car industry has faced considerable difficulty in recent years with many manufacturers employing their own designers, with hugely variable results, the 3,000 people employed by the various Pininfarina spin-off companies around the world cause most of us to be touched, in some way or another, by the Pininfarina aesthetic today. That’s not bad a legacy for a family from rural Northern Italy who has helped establish their country at the forefront of world design.