The end of an era
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
No one represented the world of Italian design better than Sergio Pininfarina, who died last week at age 85 after a long illness.
The design and coachbuilding company he led for decades was inherited from his father, Battista "Pinin" Farina. But it was the young Sergio who cemented Pininfarina S.p.A.'s legendary partnership with Ferrari.
In 1951, Battista went to solicit Ferrari's design business. Enzo Ferrari told him that he would agree on the condition that 25-year-old Sergio serve as the only contact between the two companies. It was a regal Italian alliance that continues to this day and has produced some of the most beautiful automobiles in the world.
Indeed, Sergio Pininfarina and Enzo Ferrari always had a splendid relationship. Once during a visit to Italy for the Turin motor show, I planned to visit Ferrari's factory in Maranello. Sergio offered to write a letter of introduction for me to Enzo Ferrari. After reading the letter, Ferrari welcomed me warmly, and I spent a great deal of time with him. I never knew what the letter said, but the results were remarkable.
Pininfarina S.p.A. was an independent design and production company, the kind of specialty firm this country never had after World War II and Americans never really understood. There was no U.S. rival for Pininfarina.
Pininfarina designed the vehicle and, if the client wanted, would manufacture it as well. The clients that have relied on Pininfarina over the years are too many to list here but include just about every famous manufacturer in the world.
Today, fast-growing companies in countries such as China still rely on Pininfarina to create designs that will allow them to compete in the world.
Sergio Pininfarina was a special man who was revered by every designer in the world. The late Bill Mitchell introduced me to Sergio. Bill was head of GM design at the time, and it was immediately obvious that Sergio was a man he considered his equal or more. Yet except for the occasional one-off design or show car, Detroit's Big 3 never took advantage of the capability of the Pininfarina company.
Sadly, Sergio lost his son Andrea in a motorcycle accident a few years ago, and his younger son, Paolo, now runs the firm. Pininfarina production has fallen dramatically over the years as it has become more difficult to maintain volume from other companies.
But the reputation of Pininfarina S.p.A. is as strong as ever, thanks to Sergio. Anyone who was lucky enough to know him could appreciate the manner and style of a great executive with a great company.
He was a very special person.
You can reach Keith Crain at firstname.lastname@example.org.