The company was founded as Società anonima Carrozzeria Pinin Farina in 1930 by automobile
designer and builder Battista "Pinin" Farina. After World War 2, a number of automotive manufacturers were interested in working with Pininfarina, whose highly innovative Cisitalia 202
design had attracted wide attention. The subsequent cooperation with Nash Motors
resulted in high-volume production of Pininfarina designs and provided a major entree into the United States market.
It would become arguably the greatest styling studio the world has ever seen. It was the first design studio of its kind to convert, in the mid-Thirties, to monocoque construction. That was a period when Italian car manufacturers were abandoning the traditional ladder frame - a revolution which other coach-builders saw as the death blow to their craft. It was Pinin who conceived and applied the solutions which created a new era for the craft and enabled it to become a full-scale industry.
And it was Pinin who led the way in this industrial transformation. He continued to make one-off bodies for private clients, elegant show bodies, bodies for all types of racing cars. But it was in making big series of special bodies for the new platform chassis of big manufacturers that he concentrated the bulk of his energies. In order to be competitive with the manufacturers' own body-building departments he kept ploughing his profits back into the purchase of mammoth presses. He set up his own facility for making steel body dies. He invested in a forward-looking research and development department. Then he set up his own design consultation bureau at the service of the car industry.
By combining his exceptional talent as a designer with the modern, efficient, and economical production methods he created the richest and biggest design and production house of its kind in the world. Long years before his abdication in 1959 Pinin contemplated the magnitude of what he had built and realised that the great period of pioneering was finished. It had taken a personal autocrat - PininFarina - to forge this empire, but the the late 1950's he realised the time was fast approaching when only a highly skilled and modern management team could carry the work onward and upward.
He wanted a team with the most intense dedication and loyalty and he worked for over a decade to create and groom it himself. Pinin's wife, Rosa, had given him two handsome and gifted children, Sergio and Gianna. Sergio wanted to become a mechanical engineer but after only a year at the Turin Polytechnic, Pinin told him to drop out - he was needed at the plant. Sergio stood up to his iron-willed father and refused to be deprived of his professional education - and went on to earn his engineering degree. Later, Pinin thanked God that his was not the only stubborn head in the family.
Sergio was born in Turin in 1926. Ten years earlier to the day Renzo Carli was born in Pisa. He had a passion for flying and at 18 became a cadet in the Italian Air Force. Then he, too, obtained an ME degree at the Turin Polytechnic, doing a year of postgraduate work in aeronautical engineering. He was on the engineering staff of Italian Shell when he and Sergio met shortly after World War 2. The two men were very different. Sergio looked Anglo-Saxon, while Renzo was typically Latin. Sergio was quiet, intense, serious; Renzo was loose and relaxed, and seemed to get a lot of joy out of the mere process of being alive.
Opposites in many ways, they became fast friends and Renzo fell in love with Sergio's sister Gianna and married her. And Pinin and Rosa fell in love with this new son. While he was still in intermediate school Sergio made the firm decision to follow in his father's footsteps. He spent most of his time away from studies learning the business from the bottom up. Then, when he entered the university, Pinin put him to work part-time learning the ropes of the design department. He became a full-time member of the organisation on his graduation in 1950. Renzo had joined the staff in an engineering Pininfarina.
In 1952, Pininfarina visited the U.S. for the unveiling of his design for the Nash Ambassador and Statesman lines, which, although they did carry some details of Pininfarina's design, were largely designed by Nash's then-new in-house styling staff when the original Farina-designed model proved unsuited to American tastes. The Nash-Healey sports car body was, however, completely designed and assembled in limited numbers from 1952 to 1954 at Pininfarina's Turin facilities. Nash heavily advertised its link to the famous Italian designer, much as Studebaker promoted its longtime association with Raymond Loewy. As a result of Nash's marketing efforts, Pininfarina became well-known in the United States.
Soon the PF works covered an enormous area and had the capacity to build about 130 cars a day. Pinin watched the progress of the son and son-in-law with the eye of a hawk. He could see where the business was going. It was bursting with the need to grow, yet if it did - and it had to grow - he knew that it would be beyond his own old-fashioned ability to control. As he watched Sergio and Renzo mature, as he saw them meet and conquer one challenge after another, he had a bizarre idea, one so opposed to tradition that it made him feel guilty to think about it. Sergio was his heir apparent and obviously would make a splendid leader when control of the firm passed to him. But Sergio and Renzo together would a very competent and effective managerial Renzo's stake in the enterprise should be equal to that of the son. Thus, he should make Renzo his co-heir.
Pininfarina visited the U.S. for the unveiling of his design for the Nash Ambassador and Statesman lines in 1952, although the design was mainly courtesy of Nash's then-new in-house styling staff
Some may have condemned him for this heretical act, but that didn't matter. What did matter was how Sergio would take it, because the precious team would be worthless if its internal harmony were not perfect.
Pinin's task, then, was to architect that harmony while depriving his son of half his patrimony. Renzo, whose father had died when he was only three, of course was overwhelmed by the confidence and generosity of this new father. Sergio recognised the wisdom of his father's plan and realised that, if it were followed faithfully and intelligently, the patrimony would grow and grow. And of course it helped that Renzo was his sister's husband and his bosom friend. No dramatic changes took place. Sergio and Renzo continued to train themselves for future roles of leadership, while Pinin continued to run his company with an iron hand, meting out authority to them in small doses.
Then one day in early 1957 Pinin called the two of them into his office and said "This old plant has reached the limits of its growth. If I were alone I'd leave it as it is. But I want you to decide which way to go - to stay as we are or to enlarge. Either way is fine with me. It's your decision to make and I don't even want to know what it is. I'm finished and it's your time to take over. The future is absolutely up to you.
" The new joint directors decided to move ahead. They bought a large tract of land a few miles outside of Turin and plunged into the design of an ultra-modern plant covering more than a million square feet. In spite of his professed indifference, they conferred with Pinin on an infinity of details. Then, when construction was properly under way, he made an even cleaner break. He left on an extended world tour, leaving strict orders that he wanted no disturbance of this first holiday of his life.
Between that time and his return the largest and most advanced plant of its kind in the world was completed. Later, presiding in the spacious office suite which they had built for him, Pinin would tell marvelling visitors: "All that" you see here is none of my doing. It is the work of my sons, and it makes me very glad.
" All of the anticipated growth took place, and more. In the early years of the new regime Sergio watched on as the factory grew better, not just financially, but in quality, excellence, soundness, and prestige. Renzo's ability was so great and he worked with such fervor that Pinin saw from the beginning that he had chosen a highly intelligent solution to the task of carrying the work forward. "I am impelled by moral goals, not financial ones, and so is Renzo. To allow any disturbance in the harmony which exists between us would be to betray my father's work and trust.
To do this Sergio and Renzo made theirs one of the few factories in the world in which they, the joint-general managers, maintained direct supervisory contact with every phase of the vast operation. They did it with a thoroughness that would be impossible for one man
alone. They looked after clients (car manufacturers), Sergio taking care of one and Renzo of the next, and each client was treated as though none other existed. In the division of labor between them there was a near-total separation of responsibility. For example, purchasing was chiefly Renzo's department, while public relations fell to Sergio, chiefly because his name was Pinin farina. The only area in which both men did
similar work was that of body design. The experimental department - which elsewhere might have been called the styling section - by 1975 covered some 8000 sq metres, employed about 180 people, and produced an average of about 25 prototypes per year.
Sergio and Renzo ruled here. They ovesaw what they conceived to be the Pininfarina look and to control every aspect of the heart and soul of the business - the design quality of every product. They were involved from product conception, through the drawing stage, then through the three-dimensional clay model, down to the last strip of trim. Even in production there was not one screw that could be modified without the authorisation of one of them and if the change was important, it was always a matter for their joint approval. The product was the real, if somewhat metaphysical, patrimony of the house, and Sergio and Renzo were its guardians. Even under their father's regime the words "stylist" and "styling" were not popular. "Styling" usually smacked of fashion, of decoration rather than design, of novelty for its own sake, of eye-catching gimmickry.
Balance of Form, of Mass and of Curvature
Pinin, while manifestly a great artist, also was a great artisan, in the best functional-structural sense. Pinin made every deliberate effort to steer his creature away from styling and down the path of industrial design of high aesthetic and technical quality. Sergio was quoted as saying that his father always stressed the basic importance of keeping design appropriate to the material, which in the case of Pininfarina was chiefly sheet metal. He used the example of the good sculptor, who knew that marble was strong in compression and very weak in tension and therefore worked to take advantage of these characteristics.
The main characteristics of metal were and remain its thinness and smoothness and in our basic treatments for car bodies Pininfarina strived as much as possible for smooth, flowing surfaces. If there was an edge it must not be too hard, suggesting brittleness. The material must be shaped to have that balance of form, of mass and of curvature to give a sense of fullness, not fatness; of sleekness, not bluntness.
Pininfarina favoured plain, solid colors and not multiple ones, as in a painting. What they worked with was shadows. Because they are constantly changing they gave life to the solid color. Masses and shadows had to be in the proper proportion to each other. If you forget the shadows on a car, it will be ugly. Of course, Renzo put in, many of these points which seemed to be aesthetic were also related to function. Contorted metal, in addition to being ugly, wasn't functional from the manufacturing standpoint.
They were so obsessed with the primary and eternal importance of function that many people had the idea that it was their whole creed. That sold the design concept a little short, reading interviews conducted with the brothers you will learn their thesis was that form followed function, something beautiful automatically and obediently resulted.
The company had always designed cars with the idea of making them durable and useful for the longest possible time. Humiliation would be to design a car one year, contradict it the next, and then return to it the year after. It would be an admission of error. Also, a product could be both functional and ugly. Or it could be functional and complicated, but Pininfarina were committed to approaching beauty through simplicity. They began with a declaration of faith in function - functionalism in terms of the purpose that the product serves. It had two aspects. If you made something which was entirely functional for the consumer but very expensive for the manufacturer to produce, it was not entirely functional.
Therefore the bones had to be as functional as the skin and this was the easiest of their problems; it was straightforward engineering. The next problem was that of creating a nice appearance and it was the most challenging. Its was, and remains, the most difficult aspect is getting a good, new aesthetic concept when you start drawing. During interviews, Renzo explained that they would criticise the concept - every part, at every moment, making sure that what they designed was both functional and nice. Nice was indefinable, but it was tremendously real. Nice for Pininfarina was of course their father's simplicity and harmony of proportion.
Serving many clients, the studio had the challenge of preserving or creating the family appearance of a client's line and, preserving the Pininfarina image. There was no Pininfarina configuration as such. The bodies they designed for a luxurious limousine, a fast grand tourer, or for a GP car would be suited to their spirit and function and could be worlds apart. But in every design the studio expected simplicity and harmony to be there. Preserving the Pininfarina look was as spontaneous as a good painter's style. It was the blending of new concepts with the design traditions and commitments of the house that presented many of their most difficult challenges.
Both the Fiat 124 Spider and the Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider were built as finished products, although the mechanicals were supplied by Fiat and Alfa. The PF Modulo
was a bold forward look that Pininfarina thought a Grand Touring car of the 1990s would look like after extensive tests in the wind tunnel. But even with such futuristic designs, they had to ensure the car was not too heavy, not too expensive, not too fancy, and technologically in the closest possible harmony with the big mass-production industry. The most crucial key of all was striking the ideal balance between volume of production, the demand for it, and the prestige of the product.
Pinin had told his sons that the risk of getting too big was Pininfarina's greatest danger. If it ever got too big it would become just another stamping mill and all that Pininfarina stood for would be dead. When Pinin died on April 3, 1966, he was content with and infinitely proud of the giant industry which his sons had built on the foundations which he had laid. For the next two decades there had been growth, but it had been undertaken with great caution. Back in the middle 60's the firm had about 1700 employees, and they produced about 80 cars a day. 10 years later, and its payroll had grown only to about 1800 employees, but ever more sophisticated production facilities gave the plant a capacity of about 130 cars daily. Most of this expansion was in areas whose development was foreseen and willed by Pinin. Years before his death he spoke of his dreams for a technological centre which would be second to none of its kind in the world.
Renzo Carli (left) and Sergio Pininfarina
In 1972, Sergio and Renzo made their next great investment in pure and applied research - the design and construction of an automotive aerodynamic
research centre which was unique in the world and was more or less rivalled by only a handful of others, anywhere. Again, this superbly-conceived facility also bordered on the science-fictional. It accounted for another large increment of the expanded plant and, like the technical centre, represented investment in leadership and product quality, rather than increased productive capacity. One of the first fruits of the new aerodynamic
laboratory was the now famous PF Modulo
, a bold and lucid statement of the direction of Pininfarina's orientation toward vehicle design of the future. From the standpoint of wind penetration the shape possessed an ultimate correctness. From this automatically followed optimal performance with minimal consumption of energy.
In the late 1980s Pininfarina designed (and partially assembled) the Cadillac Allanté for General Motors. The car's bodies were assembled and painted in Italy before being flown to Detroit for final vehicle assembly. Pininfarina Sverige AB in Uddevalla, Sweden, was established in 2003 as a joint venture between Volvo Cars and Pininfarina. The JV is owned 60% by Pininfarina and 40% by Volvo. The C70 model - the first car built by the joint venture - was launched on 13 April 2006, sharing the Volvo P1 platform used in the S40. This vehicle, designed by John Kinsey, is a coupé convertible featuring a three piece retractable metal hardtop that can raise or lower in less than 30 seconds. The new C70 replaces both the current cabriolet/convertible and the coupé absent from Volvo's lineup since 2003. For the first time, the C70 will be offered with a normally-aspirated gasoline engine, as well as diesel engines with variable geometry turbocharger
and common-rail direct injection.
The company would continue to produce prototypes - such as the Ferrari Mythos - most of which have served solely as concept cars, although several have become production models, including the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and Ferrari F50. A recent privately-commissioned custom example was the Ferrari P4/5 of 2006, a one-car rebody (changing the exterior design) of the Enzo Ferrari according to the client's specifications. Its design began in September 2005 with sketches by Jason Castriota moving through computer aided sculpture and stringent wind tunnel testing. More than 200 components were designed especially for the car though the engine, drivetrain and many other components are simply modified from the original Enzo Ferrari. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) was unchanged from the Enzo it was derived from. The P4/5 was publicly revealed on August 18, 2006 at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and shown again at the Paris Motor Show in late September. Another recent prototype
is the Pininfarina Nido, a two seater sub-compact that could possibly make airbags obsolete.
The Pininfarina B0 solar-electric concept, designed with Bolloré was shown at the 2008 Paris Motor Show featuring a range between charges of more than 150 miles (241 km) with an electronically limited 88-mile-per-hour (142 km/h) top speed, and an estimated acceleration to 37 miles per hour (60 km/h) in 6.3 seconds. The car has solar panels on the roof and on the nose, while its battery
pack is said to last up to 125,000 miles (201,168 km).
Also see: Pininfarina History - The Story of Battista Farina (USA Edition)