The Designer’s Story: Battista Pininfarina
Pininfarina is probably the best known of all the Italian styling houses, penning some of the world’s most coveted car designs. Most of our readers will know of Mr. Sergio Farina, CEO of Pininfarina up until his recent death in 2012, but it was his father, Battista, who actually founded Carozzeria Pininfarina.
Born in Torino on November 2, 1893 as Battista Farina, he would be better known throughout his life and career by his given nickname ‘Pinin’, meaning youngest/smallest (brother) in Piedmontese (later legally changing his surname to Pininfarina in 1961). Pinin’s relationship with cars began young and by age twelve he was already working at his brother Gionvanni’s body shop, Stabilimenti Industriali Farina, learning many of the foundation skills for bodywork and design.
Just five years later, Pinin was given the opportunity to submit a design for the new Fiat Zero. Asked whether he preferred his own design or Fiat’s proposal, he boldly told Fiat founder Mr. Giovanni Agnelli, “I prefer this one because I designed it,” subsequently winning the commission.
By 1920, the auto industry in America was growing at an incredible rate, both in production and technology. His curiosity took him Stateside where he met Henry Ford who offered him a job on the spot, but Farina declined, choosing to return to Italy, but with the dream and enthusiasm for starting his own business.
Pinin was married soon after his return; having two children, Gianna, born in 1922, and his son Sergio, born in 1926. He also took up racing, driving his own car to victory in the Aosta-Gran San Bernardo race in 1921, and in the process beating prepared race cars and setting a course record that stood for eleven years! It was during his racing days that he met a number of influential contacts, among the most important, Mr. Vincenzo Lancia.
In 1930, after spending a decade developing new technologies and designs tested through racing, with the support of Lancia and a wealthy aunt, he left his brother’s firm and founded Pinin Farina, opening his shop on Corso Trapani in Torino. His plan was to construct custom bodies to order, as well as to produce small runs of special models that would be sold directly to the public. The earliest work from the company was on based on Italian chassis, most from those of his friend Lancia, as well as Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Isotta Fraschini. Pinin’s earliest designs were well-proportioned, conservative efforts in the Italian style, with a strong emphasis on unbroken horizontal lines.
After WWII, the Paris Auto Show barred him from participating as a citizen of a former Axis power. Audaciously, Pinin and his son, Sergio, drove two new cars, an Alfa Romeo Sport 2500 and a Lancia Aprilia cabriolet to Paris, parking the cars outside the entrance to the motor show. The French press disapproved, but the crowds loved the cars.
It was also around this time that he produced what many consider to be his masterwork, the 1947 Cisitalia 202 coupe. Being involved in the chassis design from the beginning, he was able to do everything as he saw fit, including the horizontal radiator and seamless integration of the fenders with the body sides. The Museum of Modern Art in New York were so impressed with the car, that in 1951, they named the Cisitalia one of the ten great automotive designs of all time, putting the car on display.
The company grew and prospered through the 1950s and was now able to design and build in quantity for major manufacturers. Pinin created models based on the Lancia Aurelia, Alfa Romeo 1900 and 6C2500, Fiat 1100, and the Maserati A6. More non-Italian work started to come the company’s way including the ’Ambassador’ for Nash, alongside the Nash-Healey sports car, and designs for BMC (British Motor Corporation) and Peugeot. To keep up with ever-growing demand, the company relocated to a larger site at Grugliasco, outside Torino in 1958.
Around the same time Alfa Romeo accepted Pininfarina’s design over Bertone’s for the new Giulietta Spider and it became the first vehicle that Pininfarina produced in large numbers, with Alfa Romeo’s choice backed up by the confidence that they could produce twenty cars a day for a run of one thousand bodies. The Spider was a huge success for Alfa Romeo and Pininfarina, with U.S. importer Max Hoffman stating that he could sell as many as they could make. 1956, the first year of production they produced 1025 units which then expanded to over 4,000 in 1959 the first full year of the new Grugliasco factory.
Of course, Ferrari is the marque most closely associated with Pininfarina, but the first talk of a potential partnership didn’t actually take place until 1951. It started with a meeting at a restaurant in Tortona, a small town halfway between Torino and Modena, being neutral territory because both men were too stubborn to visit the other’s headquarters. The general consensus of the motoring press in the fifties thought the Ferrari/Pinin partnership wouldn’t last, but since the two giants collaborated, their combined marques defined some of the most beautiful cars ever built in a constantly evolving relationship that has now lasted over sixty years with around two-hundred Ferraris designed by Pininfarina to-date.
In 1961, after fifty years of activity, Pinin turned over the direction of the firm to his son, Sergio, and his son-in-law, Renzo Carli. Even though Pinin was no longer running things, he still continued to make a number of important contributions to the business.
Pinin devoted his later years to travel, filmmaking, and cultural and charitable works. Among his many honors, he received the key to the city of Detroit. The last design personally attributed to Battista Farina was the iconic 1600 Duetto for Alfa Romeo. This was first seen by the public at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1966. Battista died less than a month later, on 3 April 1966.