Up until yesterday, car makers used to be a bunch of greasy, oil-stained, mechanically minded individuals. Naff things like pencils were a bit of a poke, which in turn created a market for design geniuses and those with suspiciously thin-rimmed spectacles. Design work was, and is, still left to people like Sergio Pininfarina.
This arrangement worked so well for companies like Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, that they just kept the relationship going. In fact the very latest Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, which was revealed just a few weeks ago, is a Pininfarina design.
Sergio is being hailed as a national hero in Italy right now, and rightly so. But it was actually his dad, Battista, who started the company back in 1930, and there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he got off to a cracking start with the groundbreaking Alfa 8C of 1933. Those of you who can rattle off car names might recognise that name from a few years back, and indeed, the company styled the latest Alfa 8C, which is ball-achingly pretty.
There is almost no brand on our roads, or in our kitchens for that matter, that a Pininfarina’s pencil hasn’t touched. From the Chevrolet Corvette to the Volvo C70, pretty much every car you’ve ever drooled over was most likely styled by one of these Italians. Sergio actively ran the company until 2001, when his son Andrea took over.
The design house, which now employs 3 000 people on four continents, is responsible for just about every good-looking example of transport, including busses and trains. More recently, in a partnership with Lavazza, they’ve produced some of the best looking coffee machines on the market; cars and coffee obviously being quite close to any Italian’s heart.
In the age of Wikipedia, I can quite quickly calculate that Pininfarina, and Sergio in particular, has designed at least 108 different cars that made it into full production, and literally countless others which never made it out of the show grounds. Marques such as Rolls Royce, Peugeot, Fiat, Maserati, Citroen, Mitsubishi, and Ford all have at least one model in their history that bears that very stylish logo.
Whenever a manufacturer needed to wow a crowd with a concept, they’d give Sergio a ring. Or when a billionaire needed a bit more exclusivity, Sergio would be available to pen something magnificent. Two examples which I have to show you are the Maserati Birdcage and the Ferrari P4/P5, of which only one exists, paid for by US property zillionaire James Glickenhaus. Look at those pants.
These undeniable stars of the motoring world are nicely balanced by some more everyday icons such as the Alfa Romeo Spyder, made famous by Dustin Hoffman in that awful movie with a one song soundtrack. You know which one I mean. Something about his teacher yadda yadda. The new Ferrari 458? Pininfarina. Maserati Quattroporte? Yip. Lancia Stratos? Another motoring legend. Your sister’s Peugeot 306? He did Euroboxes with equal flair.
In fine Italian tradition, the name and legacy will certainly be carried forward by the family themselves, which hopefully means that cars won’t suddenly become hideous any time soon. Well, some will.
I like to think the highlight of Sergio’s career would have been penning the Enzo Ferrari, or F60 of 2002. This bonkers, all-or-nothing monster is the only car ever to be named after the founder of the company, and I reckon Enzo and Sergio are currently perched on a great leather sofa, in a VIP pitbox, quaffing grappa and flirting with the hostess at some great racetrack in the sky.
In memory of Sergio Pininfarina (1926 – 2012).
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