17th September 2019

The history of Pininfarina

A byword for timeless elegance and fluid design, Pininfarina is a true icon of the automotive industry. A creator of so many distinctive silhouettes, from supercar to happy shopper, for over nine decades Pininfarina has been the go-to name for brand-defining design. However, it’s also been a pioneer for new manufacturing techniques and principles.

Founded in 1930 by Battista Farina, Pininfarina was the result of a split from his sibling’s long-established coachbuilders, which had been around since the days when ‘horsepower’ was a direct reference to the nag hauling a cart. Battista was the youngest in his family, which in Italy results in the bestowment of the ‘Pinin’ epithet, hence the company’s name, which was originally Carrozzeria Pinin Farina.  

Battista had grand designs and soon began building bodies for vehicle manufacturers from Lancia to Cadillac and Rolls Royce. The company’s growth is a tale of innovation and business strategy as bold as its creations.

Still in the ’30s, Pininfarina was the first coachbuilder to use the new body on frame ‘unibody’ construction technique, for original monocoque pioneers Lancia, which did away with the tried-and-tested traditional separate chassis and body. WW2 then got in the way, with the company’s factory turning its attention to building ambulances and other vehicles to support the war effort before it was heavily bombed.

This did not deter Battista, however. Italian firms were banned from the 1946 Paris Motor Show, which boasted an attendance of double any seen before. Battista saw this as too good an opportunity to miss so he and son, Sergio, drove two of their latest and most beautiful creations, the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 and Lancia Aprilia cabriolet, through the night and parked them as close to the Show as they could: right outside the main entrance.

It worked, too. The vehicles were lauded, albeit through gritted teeth from certain corners of the world’s press who chastised Pininfarina for its audacity. It helped the company to expand, even building the Nash-Healey roadster for the US market in-house from its Turin facility for two years in the mid-’50s. This led to working more closely with Cadillac, building the incredible, fin-adorned Eldorado Brougham at a new facility just outside Turin in 1959-60. All this while establishing a fruitful partnership with Ferrari that, since the ’50s, has seen Pininfarina design nearly all its roadgoing cars and helped to run its race-team, Scuderia Ferrari, for almost 30 years.

The company continued to grow while still family-run, once Battista had passed on the baton in 1961, expanding production facilities and opening research centres. This included, in 1972, the first wind-tunnel with the ability to test full production-size vehicles in Italy, and one of the first in the world. This inspired a gradual evolution of Pininfarina’s scope of work, including partnerships with companies such as Mitsubishi for its Shogun Pinin.

At its peak, Pininfarina employed 185 designers in 2005, but was eventually sold to Mahindra Group in 2015 having been solely responsible for some of the most beautiful cars to have graced our roads. A year ago it proved that it’s still relevant today by unveiling an all-electric, 1900bhp hypercar from the Mahindra-formed Automobili Pininfarina called, of course, the Battista. Timeless.

Have a favourite Pininfarina design? We’d love to hear your reasons in the comments below.