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PININFARINA: 90 years of history but is the best yet to come?

7th August 2020

This year marks the 90th anniversary of Pininfarina so, yes, there’s nine decades of Pininfarina history and innovation to talk about  – but there’s the present and the future to contemplate too. And that’s looking really exciting. 

So before we delve into how the young Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina started a company that would become Ferrari’s coachbuilder of choice, creator of wild concept cars and makers of much-loved convertibles and coupés, let’s talk about the current all-electric Battista and beyond.

The carbon fibre Battista is one of the most important models in that 90-year history. It’s Pininfarina’s first all-electric hypercar, its first model built using Pininfarina as a brand name, the most powerful roadgoing car to ever come out of Italy (think about that for a moment – from Italy, home of the supercar). 

How powerful? Think 1900bhp and 2300Nm of torque, with an electric motor at each wheel for torque-vectored four-wheel drive, and the batteries located mostly in the central tunnel rather than under the floor, so as not to compromise the height of the car. A 0-60mph time of under two seconds, 0-300km/h (0-186mph) in under 12 seconds, a top speed of over 200mph, and a 310-mile range are promised, while the dynamics are being honed by none other than former F1 and current Formula-E driver Nick Heidfeld.

This is just the start though. The Battista costs over €2m and no more than 150 of them are being built. The special edition Battista Anniversario is priced from €2.6m, with just five made, each with unique colour schemes, enhanced aero and lighter wheels that make for a higher top speed, of 217mph, and even better high-speed handling. Three new films explain the concept in more depth.

Automobili Pininfarina’s special edition Battista Anniversario

But what follows will be more attainable, a range of top-level all-electric vehicles that aim to offer the height of luxury, rather than hypercars. There have already been hints of how these will look, under the ‘PURA’ design philosophy tag, which we had a sneak preview of during the 2019 Monterey Car Week. Think hyper-luxury vehicles, the experience heightened by the smooth, quiet instant torque of the all-electric propulsion.

What would Battista the man have thought of this? His grandson, Paolo Pininfarina, has been clear all along – he’d have been delighted. He’s been present from the start of this latest chapter in Pininfarina history, and at the first press launch in April 2018 was grinning from ear to ear.

“He would be happy, it’s a new adventure,” Paolo said at the Rome launch. “He was an inventor, he invented the style and the brand, an exclusive brand. He’d say it’s ok!” And with that Paolo grinned and gave a double thumbs up. Since then, he’s continued to explain how it was always his grandfather’s dream for Pininfarina to become a brand in its own right.

Paolo Pininfarina, grandson of company founder Battista

Pininfarina’s history started when Battista broke away from his company’s coachbuilding company Stablimenti Farina, and founded the new company in 1928, though it wasn’t officially formed into a corporation until 1930 – hence the 90th anniversary in 2020.

Pinin Farina, as it was back then, became the first coachbuilder to build monocoque bodies, working with Lancia, and found wide acclaim after the war with its design of the Cisitalia 202, honoured in a 1951 exhibit in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Around the same time, a lunch meeting between Battista and Enzo Ferrari – who until then had made use of a wide range of Italian coachbuilders – resulted in a design collaboration that lasted until the 2014 California T, after which Ferrari took its design in-house. Almost every Ferrari, including (wait for it…) 250 GT, 275 GTB, 308 GTB, 288 GTO, F40, 456, F355, F50 and 360, were Pininfarina designs.

In 1961, Battista Farina, then aged 68, handed over the running of the company to son Sergio. In the same year the family name was officially changed to Pininfarina, a change authorised by the president of Italy. Battista died just five years later, in 1966.

By this point, many traditional coachbuilders were in trouble. Their design services weren’t required; and since the early 1950s and the widescale adoption of monocoque bodies, there had been little need, or even possibility, of low-volume special bodywork from artisan Italians.

Those coachbuilders with the funds to expand were instead able to adapt to manufacturers’ changing needs, building the models – coupés, convertibles etc – that the main production lines weren’t able to cope with during the 1960s and ‘70s in particular. Pininfarina was typical, producing such greats as the Alfa Giulia ‘Duetto’ Spider, the Fiat 130 Coupé, the Lancia 037 and more.

And as was expected from leading Italian coachbuilders, Pininfarian didn’t disappoint with show cars either, producing concepts that are now legendary: think of the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Rondine Coupe, the 1965 three-seater (decades before the McLaren F1) Ferrari 365P 3-Posti, the 1969 Sigma Grand Prix monoposto F1 and, of course, the 1970 Ferrari Modulo.

Pininfarina’s 1970 Ferrari Modulo concept

Sergio saw the company through continued expansion into volume manufacturing, bringing in state of the art production facilities and a wind tunnel. His son Andrea took over in 2001 but by then the manufacturing business was in decline, with most major manufacturers having taken assembly in-house years before.

Pininfarina had continued to adapt though, becoming a design house involved not just in automotive but across trains, yachts, private jets and more. But as the company was continuing to transition, Andrea Pininfarina died when a car pulled out on him while riding his Vespa close to the company HQ in Cambiano, Turin, in 2008. Younger brother Paolo took over and kept the company going – and oversaw the 2015 deal in which Indian automotive giants Mahindra bought Pininfarina.

“We acquired Pininfarina because we have humility,” Anand Mahindra told us at the time. “We’re investing in something with heritage. If I went to my board proposing a new brand called ‘Maharajah’ they’d think I was crazy. We would be committing suicide if we made this anything other than a Pininfarina.

“The story is about Paulo’s grandfather Battista,” he continued, “who built the most beautiful cars in the world but always wanted a car named Pininfarina. We want to help finish that story.”

With the revitalised Pininfarina SpA continuing as a design house, a new company – Automobili Pininfarina – was formed to create the Battista and beyond. CEO Per Svantesson has publicly stated that his aim is for Automobili Pininfarina to become the most admired luxury car brand in the world.

The Battista and the new PURA designs are all overseen by design director Luca Borgogno, who is working closely  with the design departments at Pininfarina SpA: “Our design brief to Pininfarina SpA is simple: to take their renowned design and engineering skill, which has produced many of the world’s most elegant and desirable cars, and combine it with our desire to develop and deliver the world’s most beautiful range of luxury cars.

“There is a purity in our ambition, the styling of our cars and our engineering focus on emissions-free sustainable performance. We have termed this ‘PURA’, and it will define everything we do in the coming years.”

Design director Luca Borgogno (right) explains PURA Vision concept

Ask Luca about classic Pininfarina designs, and he goes misty eyed before launching into an animated run-down of his favourites, his inspirations, and the cars that have influenced his work. It’s a long list, but we can tell you that the Alfa Romeo Superflow in its various iterations features highly, particularly as an inspiration for the PURA designs. If only Luca and Battista could have met…

1960 Alfa Romeo Superflow IV Pininfarina coupe

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