In its 90th year, famed Italian design house Pininfarina helps lead the way to a new generation of over-the-top supercars…
As legendary Italian design house Pininfarina S.p.A. enters the third stage of its nearly century-long lifespan, a new brand, Automobili Pininfarina, has joined the family, aiming to produce the most elevated sustainable luxury cars the world has ever seen. Their first creation, the zero-emission Battista, flaunts celestial performance, with mind-boggling numbers like 1,900 horsepower, a 217-mph top speed, and a 0-62 mph time under two seconds. Yet Automobili Pininfarina aspires to even bigger goals than simply boasting one of the quickest vehicles on the planet: by 2025 they plan to debut an entirely new vehicle category dubbed the S-LUV (Sustainable Luxury Utility Vehicle), and aim to become the most sustainable luxury manufacturer in the world.
“This is the story of a company, and it is the story of a family,” Paolo Pininfarina, Chairman of Pininfarina S.p.A., beams proudly as he holds court in a sun-drenched gallery of his firm’s museum. “My grandfather had a vision to continue the company after his life: ‘My life is too short!’ he said, ‘I want the company to survive!’ And so he trained my father Sergio to become the second chairman of Pininfarina. And when I and my brother were born my grandfather was very happy, and he said ‘Now that we have these two new Pininfarinas I dream our company can be projected into the next century!’ And now here we are, in 2020.”
We’re standing in a gleaming glass atrium in Pininfarina headquarters in Cambiano, Italy, surrounded by some of the most coveted automobiles in human history: the Cisitalia 202, Ferrari P6 and Berlinetta Boxer, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider and 2uettottanta concept. Walking among these curvaceous steel masterpieces, it is blindingly clear that this is indeed the story of a family as much as a company. In the exalted pantheon of automotive design there are few names that carry more weight than that of Pininfarina. Sure other giants loom with surnames like Bertone, Giugiaro, Zagato, et al, but none quite hold the gravity and longevity of Turin’s most storied design house.
Created in 1930 by Battista Farina, a man born in the foothills of the Italian Alps in 1893, Carrozzeria Pininfarina quickly gained fame penning cars of exquisite balance and elegance. Tiny in stature, and born the tenth of 11 children, Battista’s nickname “Pinin” (littlest one in the the family) soon became inseparable from his myth.
The story of Pininfarina is really a trilogy, broken down into three distinct books: Book I, the genesis and foundational era under Battista; Book II, its evolution and more than half-century of collaboration with Ferrari under the leadership of Battista’s son Sergio; and finally today we gather in Turin to read the first chapters of Book III — probably best titled A Work In Progress.
This third stage really began in 2012, unquestionably a transformational timestamp for Pininfarina. The death of Sergio in July of that year ended what many consider the halcyon era for the house. A half-decade of rising debt also saw 2012 as the year of a painful corporate restructuring. Lastly — and perhaps most ominously — Ferrrari created Centro Stile, it’s in-house design centre. The F12berlinetta, which debuted in 2012, marked the last production Ferrari to ever use Pininfarina styling, ending a streak started in the ’70s, where nearly every Ferrari production vehicle was designed by Pininfarina (with the lone exception of Bertone’s 308 GT4).
Enter Indian conglomerate Mahindra Group, which purchased Pininfarina S.p.A. in 2015, saving it from seeming insolvency. It’s important to note the association with Ferrari immortalised Pininfarina, there’s no question. But the design house made its name years before the Prancing Horse even existed, so there’s reason to believe it will continue flourishing. For this reason Mahindra formed Automobili Pininfarina to envision, engineer, design and manufacture vehicles under the Pininfarina badges.
And it all starts with the Battista [see sidebar], an electric rocketship imagined to elevate Pininfarina into the minds (and garages) of the world’s most discriminating and deeply pocketed collectors. But the story doesn’t end there. After the tour of the museum they usher us downstairs to see the next vehicle in the Automobili Pininfarina stable: the PURA Vision, a design concept that looks to forecast an entirely new lineup of vehicles under the signature ‘PF’ badge. And while the Battista takes its powertrain from Croatian hypercar builder Rimac, these newer vehicles will be manufactured in Northern Italy, with newly-developed platforms and powertrains.
There’s not much we can divulge about this sneak preview, but we can say that the PURA Vision is a thing of spectacular beauty, pulling elements from some of Pininfarina’s most iconic vehicles. A chimera of sorts — half shooting brake, half SUV, all crossover — the S-LUV features a unique silhouette with the high fenders and low hood of the Dino. Very low in height with a narrow greenhouse, its linear simplicity echoes that of the Alfa 2uettottanta with the short overhangs and proportions of the Cisitalia. Pininfarina’s Chief Design Officer Luca Borgogno claims the PURA Vision’s all glass cabin hails from the very rare 1953 Alfa Romeo 6C Superflow IV.
Its sides are deeply scalloped but polished smooth, almost like the high cheekbones of a supermodel. “We want to give a kind of sensuality to the car,” explains Borgogno. “It’s like the hips of a woman that are, in my opinion, one of the sexiest parts.”
Beyond the zero emission all electric powertrain that will run across the fleet, serious sustainability efforts include a “circular economy” wherein scraps of aluminum and leather are upcycled into unique materials. Components like carpeting are made of discarded fishing nets, and some leather is tanned with an organic agent sourced from pruned leaves.
Given the PURA Vision’s narrow windows and low height, I ask if the glass roof was designed to mitigate the claustrophobia from such a small greenhouse. The amicable designer smiles and shakes his head. “The inspiration was to actually have the perception of the surrounding environment as much as possible,” Borgogno clarifies. “It’s linked with our sustainability aspect. So the glass greenhouse has to do with enjoying the environment as much as possible, being related to looking outside: the feeling, the colors and the beauty of nature.”
If the PURA Vision augurs what the Automobili team can bring into showrooms, then Pininfarina’s third book could very well become a bestseller. Who knows, it could even spark a second trilogy.
By NICOLAS STECHER