1930 Pininfarina - Corso Trapani, Italy|Photo Credit: Pininfarina website

2020 is a landmark anniversary year for several classic Italian motoring brands. Following Alfa Romeo's 110th birthday, the design firm responsible for some of their most iconic automobiles and those of many other brands is celebrating its own 90th anniversary.

Pininfarina may not be a household name like many of the legendary vehicles they designed, but motoring history would be very different and a lot less stylish without the Turin-based studio's involvement.

From Ferrari, Peugeot and Maserati to luxury yachts and high-speed trains, join us in celebrating the past, present and future of a quintessentially Italian family firm.

1930s: Beginnings

Battista Farina was born in Turin, Italy in 1893, the tenth of eleven children which earned him the lifelong nickname 'Pinin' (youngest brother). Working with vehicles since the age of 12, the passionate designer and successful racer turned down an offer by Henry Ford and founded his own coachbuilding firm Carrozzeria Pinin Farina in 1930.

The company quickly made a name for itself in Italy, producing coaches and innovating car body design for notable brands of the time including Fiat, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Lancia and Alfa Romeo – the beginning of a long relationship that lasted almost 70 years. Word spread to manufacturers outside Italy with bodywork designs for the likes of Cadillac and Rolls Royce, before the outbreak of World War II at the end of the decade put things on hold.

Notable vehicles of this first decade included the Lancia Astura, one of the first vehicles to use a powered roof, the Fiat 518 Ardita, Hispano-Suiza Coupé and supercharged Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport. A custom V16 Cadillac produced on request for a wealthy Maharajah was the company's first dealing with General Motors and the United States.

1940s: Post-war rebirth

Following the war, Pininfarina didn't waste time getting back on the automotive map. Despite Italy being excluded from the Paris Motor Show for political reasons, Pinin and his son Sergio drove two of their designs to the event – an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 S and Lancia Aprilia cabriolet – and parked them outside. This got the attention they sought from organisers, the press and automakers.

Pinin got even more attention for his studio with the Cisitalia 202. His first design for the road rather than the race track, the sleek two-seater was awarded first prize at the Villa d'Este Concours d'Elegance in 1947 and was subsequently honoured by being the first car to go on permanent display at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

In response, several notable French, British and American marques contacted the Turin studio to see what Pinin could do for their ranges.


1950s: Global expansion

The most notable partnership of the 1950s was Pininfarina teaming up with Ferrari. Pinin and Sergio designed the bodies for all new Ferrari models, beginning with the Ferrari 212 in 1951 and followed by the popular 250 GT in 1954, available in coupé, cabriolet and a limited 1959 Short Wheel Base version that used steel and alloy bodies for improved race performance.

Pininfarina also started working with Peugeot in 1951, which resulted in the 1955 403 Saloon. In stark contrast to the designer's typical short production runs, more than 1.2 million units would be sold.

Another iconic design of the 50s was the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider. Designed for the American market, it was also incredibly popular in Europe, powered by a 1290cc twin-cam engine that was later upgraded to 1570cc in the Giulia.

Pinin's 1952 redesign of the American post-war sports car Nash Healey was less impressive, but significant for getting a foothold in the US market.


1960s: Large-scale production

The 1960s was a transitional period as Battista Farina handed the family business down to his son Sergio and son-in-law Renzo Carli before passing away in April 1966. The founder left the brand in capable hands, with expansion of bodywork manufacturing supported by research and development.

The decade began with one of the most outlandish concepts to come out of the studio. The Pininfarina X was a vehicle designed for maximum aerodynamics at a cost to aesthetics, with wheels in a diamond formation and an impressive drag coefficient of just 0.23 from a rear-mounted 1089cc engine.

The most successful design of the decade was the Fiat 124 Sport Spider. Unveiled at the 1966 Turin Motor Show, the vehicle sold more than 200,000 units, mainly in the US. The Alfa Romeo Spider was also successful stateside, thanks to a starring role in The Graduate alongside Dustin Hoffman. Nicknamed the Duetto, it remained in production until 1993.

1970s: Focus on aerodynamics

The 1970s was a turbulent time for the automotive industry. With oil prices increasing, Pininfarina invested time and money improving aerodynamics to produce more efficient vehicles.

The biggest success of the decade was the Ferrari 308, a sleek sports car available in GTB and GTS variants as well as a 2.0-litre turbocharged road edition, renamed 208. The 308 was given a new lease on life in the mid-80s when it was relaunched as the 328.

Pininfarina also worked its magic on British manufacturer Jaguar with the redesigned XJ Spider. Modelled after the classic E-Type, the 5343cc V12-powered sports car debuted at the Birmingham NEC Motor Show in 1978.

1980s: Wider scope

The economic success of the '80s saw more demand for the type of luxury designs Pininfarina excelled at, and the company surprised many by expanding beyond the auto industry to design trains, trams, yachts and even industrial design with the establishment of Pininfarina Extra in 1986.

Stunning car design would still be the design house's chief focus however, demonstrated with new releases such as the 1983 Peugeot 205. More than five million units of this stylish super mini would be produced until 1998. The long-nurtured relationship with Cadillac since the 1950s also resulted in the new Allanté being presented at the Paris Motor Show in 1986, with bodywork built in Italy and assembled in the US.

One innovative concept that sadly didn't enter production was the Ferrari Pinin. Created to mark Pininfarina's 50th anniversary in 1980, this concept based on the Ferrari 400 GT would have been the first four-door Ferrari produced, but it never went beyond the prototype.

1990s: Renewed range

The '90s saw Pininfarina's manufacturing operations continue to expand with the establishment of Pininfarina Deutschland GmbH serving the German auto market and a third industrial plant opening in Bairo, Turin.

The years 1992 to 1994 were prolific, with four new models entering production: the Bentley Azure, Ferrari 456 GT, Coupé Fiat and Peugeot 306 Cabriolet. These were followed in 1996 by the Lancia k Station Wagon and Peugeot 406.

The two-door 406 coupé outshone the saloon and estate variants (not to mention the less attractive 407 that followed). Recognised by Car Design Award 1997 among other awards, the French coupé remains collectable.

More extravagant was the 1995 Bentley Azure. Pininfarina's conversion of the Bentley Continental R into a convertible resulted in one of the more stylish luxury four-seaters of the 1990s, for those who could afford it.


2000s: Electric dreams

The opening of the Engineering Centre of Cambiano in 2002 saw Pininfarina expanding into offering engineering services for other car brands, contributing to the next generation of Volvo convertibles among others. The team also notably designed and manufactured the Olympic Torch for the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games.

After a 50-year break, Maserati came back to the fold for the multi-award-winning Quattroporte. Launched in 2003, the fifth generation of the classic luxury sports saloon had exterior and interior design by Pininfarina chief designer Ken Okuyama.

Even more significant was Pininfarina's partnership with Bolloré to develop Italy's first electric car. Inspired by 'liquid packaging,' the four-seater Sintesi concept was unveiled at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show and continues the company's long tradition of bold, forward-thinking design.

2010s: Brand enhancement

The last decade saw many old relationships reaffirmed with new Ferrari designs for the 458 Spider and Speciale, California T, F12berlinetta and FF, a unique take on BMW's Gran Lusso Coupé, and the Alfa Romeo 2uettottanta.

Created in tribute to the 100th anniversary of Alfa Romeo and 80th of Pininfarina, this 1750cc two-seater concept was a modern interpretation of the iconic Duetto Spider and received the Car Design of the Year Award at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show.

Pininfarina continued to explore electric vehicles across the decade with the Nido EV and Cambiano luxury sport sedan concept with electric traction. The company also designed Eurostar's new e320 train.

2020: Automobili Pininfarina

The new decade is already one for the history books with the launch of Pininfarina's own sustainable luxury car brand, Automobili Pininfarina. The new marque's first vehicle is the Battista Hypercar, named in honour of the founder, which will offer acceleration from 0 to 100km/h in under two seconds and a zero emission range up to 450km. Around 150 units will go on sale this year.

Under the guidance of Paolo Pininfarina, grandson of Pinin, the legendary Italian brand will continue to innovate new solutions and have a guiding hand in the iconic cars of tomorrow.


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