In Depth

Paolo Pininfarina on his family’s motoring design dynasty

The latest generation of the dynasty to run its styling house, Paolo Pininfarina describes how his forebears’ work informs his thinking

I’d been thinking a lot about my family’s heritage in the run-up to unveiling the Pininfarina concept car, the Sergio, named after my father. I really wanted us to do our best to achieve the level of excellence it deserves. Usually, when we’re designing a car, it’s a manifesto of Pininfarina today, but for this project, it was as if I had my father at my shoulder, saying, ‘I like this… I don’t like this…’ The Sergio is a summary of his life, with echoes of the cars he designed. It was a fine way to say goodbye.

We presented it at the Geneva Motor Show alongside the first car he designed on his own, the Ferrari Dino. My grandfather, Battista, the founder of Pininfarina, called that his grandchild, because it was his son’s first offspring, in design terms. It’s one of my favourite cars because I know how hard my father had to work to convince Mr Ferrari to manufacture it – Ferrari was more cautious than British manufacturers such as Lotus in making the change to mid-engined cars.

Our relationship with other companies has always been strong – we’re like a family. My grandfather met the first boss of Fiat, Giovanni Agnelli, in 1909, when he came to Battista’s brother’s body shop with designs for a new radiator. My father was 16 and he slipped in his own design. Mr Agnelli said, ‘I approve of you!’ A century on, Pininfarina designed the Juventus stadium, owned by the Agnellis. We’re Juve fans, so we were able to put our hearts into that project. When the coach said the stadium was the 12th player in winning the championship, it was absolutely fantastic.

We’ve worked hard to maintain those partnerships and foster new ones. With Chivas, for example, our design director, Paolo Trevisan, went to Scotland and discovered just how much expression is in a single drop of whisky. That inspired the thought of drops of water on a car, of aerodynamics, so the case and glasses have the drop shape and the case is made from oak, like whisky barrels, and metal, like a car’s body. Then we created a sculpture-like display unit based on the mascherone, the wooden framework traditionally used to build prototypes.

The mascherone is very special to me. Sometimes, at the weekend, my father took me and my brother to the factory and the ‘experience department’, which is what they called the styling centre. I can still remember the smell of the wood, the metal, the oil and the dyes.

When we were growing up, various Formula 1 drivers would visit, but it was most exciting when Jean-Claude Killy, winner of three Olympic gold medals for ski racing, stopped in – he was the most famous sportsman in the world in 1968. And then there were the automobile shows… At Geneva, there was a hall dedicated to Italian coachbuilders. I remember my father asking which was our favourite car. My brother diplomatically named a Pininfarina, but I said I liked the Bertone Giulietta Spider for Alfa Romeo. It took a few years, but my father later said, ‘You were right. It was a very good design.’

There are three of the next generation of Pininfarinas gaining experience out in the field at other companies, including two young women. Perhaps one of them will run the company in the future.

Paolo Pininfarina studied mechanical engineering before gaining experience at Honda and General Motors, where he was a programme manager for their MPVs. In 1987, he joined the family business, managing non-automotive design, before taking the chairmanship in 2008.

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