Journal: The Designer's Story: Sergio Pininfarina

The Designer’s Story: Sergio Pininfarina

By Johni Parker
June 2, 2014

Today, we follow up our designers story from our recent article on Battista Pininfarina, now focusing on his son, Sergio, who was at the heart of Pininfarina for many years and the key element in the incredibly successful relationship with Ferrari.

The mantra goes – Ferrari made them fast, Pininfarina made them beautiful; much like fitting a bespoke suit on a world-class athlete.

Mr. Sergio Pininfarina was born ‘Sergio Farina’ on 8th September 1926 in Turin, Italy (until 1961, when the Italian President granted the change of the family surname to Pininfarina). He attended Turin Polytechnic, where he studied mechanical engineering, afterwards joining his father at Carrozzeria Pininfarina, where he fast became integral to the company. In 1951, newly married and at just age 25, his father approached Mr. Enzo Ferrari for his business. Ferrari told Battista (Pinin) that the deal was his, provided Sergio would be the main contact between the companies.

The relationship clicked, and the two men became, and perhaps most importantly, remained close. As a result, a vast number of road-going Ferraris since have been styled by Pininfarina. Sergio’s ace was that he was incredibly easy to be around, full of wit and charm; He could get along with, work with, and positively influence just about anyone he encountered.

Lamborghini was creating a stir in the market in the mid-sixties with its mid-engined Miura, but Mr. Enzo Ferrari felt that a mid-engined Ferrari would be unsafe in the hands of his customers. It was Sergio who eventually convinced Ferrari to adopt the mid-engined configuration for a new line of road cars, allowing Pininfarina to build a mid-engined concept for the 1965 Paris Motor Show. But Enzo demanded that it be badged not as a Ferrari rather as a Dino. A much more refined Dino 206S, which was closer to the actual production version was shown at the 1966 Torino show. Response to the radically styled car was positive, so Enzo allowed it to go into production, rationalizing that the more conservatively-powered V6 engine would keep his customers out of trouble.

After his father’s death in 1966, Sergio became chairman of the company, following in his father’s footsteps, and under his superb leadership, continued to develop some of the worlds leading designs and innovations. During his five decades of leadership, automobile production increased dramatically, from just over 500 units per year to more than 50,000.

The technical innovations employed by Pininfarina made sure the company stayed well at the forefront of the industry, exampled in 1972, when he opened the first full-scale wind tunnel in Italy and one of only a few in the world.

Sergio was also a conscientious fellow, advocating for car safety seriously, not only for road cars but racecars as well. As early as 1963, Pininfarina created the Sigma prototypes, which featured both active and passive safety features, decades before many others. Similarly, Sergio was keenly aware of the environmental concerns caused by automobiles around the world. With increasing vehicle production in North America, Europe and Asia, he also believed in reducing emissions and increasing fuel economy.

In the mid-Seventies, as a means to transfer his knowledge beyond the company and to future generations, Sergio Pininfarina served as professor of car body design at his former college, the Polytechnic of Torino. He was also often invited to speak to engineering and design groups in the United States. On one visit in 1981, an interlocutor asked, “What makes a good design?” He replied with a long list of criteria, including “good harmony, classic style, proportion, grace—and honesty,” adding with a small smile, “Then, if you have good taste, the battle is won.”

Outside of his company and the auto business, Sergio’s list of accomplishments is as long as it is impressive. Much like his father, he received the Italian title Cavaliere del Lavoro in 1976, the French Legion of Honor in 1979, and the British Honorary Royal Designer for Industry title in 1983.

Sergio held his position at the company up until 2001, when his son, Andrea, succeeded him in the chief executive position until 2008, when an accident whilst riding a Vespa lead to his tragic and untimely death. Sergio’s other son, Paulo was appointed successor, taking his brother’s place, and remains CEO at Pininfarina to this day.

Sergio Pininfarina died in Turin on 3rd July 2012 aged 85.

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5 years ago

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Matthew Bailey
Matthew Bailey
7 years ago

I worked briefly for Sergio and Andrea in the mid-90s and they were both true gentlemen with plenty of time for their employees. It’s a great shame to see the company as it is today – I doubt it will ever get back to where it once was, in its heyday.

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