Battista Pininfarina

A designer dream-maker

Deirdre Pirro
March 11, 2010

Two men with difficult characters formed one of the most significant design teams in the history of the Italian automobile industry. Enzo Ferrari built the motors and chassis of his legendary cars, and Battista Pininfarina often styled their classy and revolutionary bodies.


Battista Farina was born in Cortanza d'Asti, near Turin, on November 2, 1893, the tenth of eleven children. This earned him the family nickname ‘Pinin,' which means ‘youngest brother' in the Piedmontese dialect. Many years later, Pinin would become part of his and his descendants' surname, thanks to special permission from the president of the Italian Republic.


Pinin's passion for cars and aerodynamics began early, when, at 12 years old, he started working at the Stabilimenti Industriali Farina, the coach building works owned by his brother Giovanni. After World War I, he went to the United States for the first time to study technological advances there. In Detroit, a city that would subsequently make him an honorary citizen, he met Henry Ford but turned down an offer to work for him. The same year, he married Rosa Copasso, with whom he had two children: Gianna, born in 1922 and Sergio, born in 1926.


Fulfilling a long-standing dream, Pinin opened his own body works, Carrozzeria Pinin Farina, in 1930. He employed 150 highly skilled workers and his enterprise quickly gained notoriety. Beginning by almost handcrafting one-off models, he slowly introduced new industrial tools and procedures to expand production. Although World War II momentarily halted normal production, after the war, his client list soon included the most important domestic and foreign car manufacturers in the world, ranging from Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Fiat to Bentley, Cadillac, Nash and many more. His winning design concept was that a vehicle's body should not simply be a wrapping, something merely to surround and protect passengers, the motor and other functional and structural parts, but that the automobile's mechanics and body should complement each other. 


Fiat's Gianni Agnelli once described how, as a young man in the 30s and 40s, he would every now and then pass by the carrozzeria to see what Pinin was working on because, he said, it was like visiting ‘the studio of a great sculptor and you went to see what he had invented, what he had imagined this time.' Just one example of this was the famous Cisitalia 202 GT, which he designed in 1946 and which is now exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Pinin's collaboration with Ferrari, which produced some of the most extraordinary and beautiful cars ever built, began in 1952. To Ferrari's initial surprise, Pinin placed his 25-year-old and relatively inexperienced son Sergio in charge of managing the account. But Pinin already relied heavily on his son, who would eventually take over the business when he retired in 1961. His son-in-law, Renzo Carli, whom he nicknamed ‘the Etruscan' because he was born in Tuscany, also contributed significantly to the company's industrial expansion and to the continuation of Pinin's concepts.


Pinin enjoyed many tributes during his lifetime, among them the French Légion d'Honneur, Cavaliere del Lavoro, honorary membership in the Royal Society of Arts of London, an honorary degree in architecture from the Turin Polytechnic Institute and the Compasso d'Oro, a prestigious national prize he was awarded for 50 years of excellence in design.


In retirement, Pinin traveled widely and became interested in filmmaking. He also took an active interest in the training of young workers and, in 1964, instigated the opening of a professional and recreational complex in Grugliasco, the town where the firm had recently located its new state-of-the-art factory. Only a month before he died in Lausanne, on April 3, 1966, he inaugurated the Pininfarina Studies and Research Center.


In the Pininfarina group's more recent history, Sergio Pininfarina stepped aside in 2001 to make way for his son Andrea, born in 1957, to become chairman. In 2004, Andrea was named by the US magazine Business Week as one of the ‘25 stars of Europe,' in the innovator category, and in 2005, Automotive News Europe named him a ‘Eurostar.' Tragically, however, his promising life was cut short. On his way to work on the morning of August 7, 2008, he was killed when he was knocked off his motorbike by a motorist who failed to yield the right of way. His brother, Paolo, born in 1958, has now taken over the reins of the family business, trustee of his grandfather's vision.


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