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Browse Current IssueArt & Design Seeing Speed: How Pininfarina Changed the Way We Look at Cars.

Before the spec sheet of a sports car is read; before the 0-to-60 and top speed is known; before any of that; the only thing that matters is how the car visually strikes you. The thing that causes that first spark of attraction is not torque or displacement but rather the curve of a line that can seamlessly tie the hood to the trunk. It is not the power plant that first inspires lust in those that gaze upon it, but it is the shape  that drives the imagination to realms of fantasy. 

Among all the nations that produce automobiles, many would claim that it is the Italians who make the most beautiful — and easily the most celebrated of these Italian cars were designed by the firm Pininfarina.

(2) The Cisitalia 202 designed by Pininfarina.

Pininfarina was founded by Battista “Pinin” Farina in 1930 in Turin, Italy (Pinin was a nickname that meant small or young, given to Battista as the baby of the family). The Italian coachbuilder — a most-wonderful term left over from the horse and buggy days for those who build the body of the car — designed and built bodies for the likes of Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Fiat, helping to develop the unibody construction that was a new concept at the time. But it was not until after WWII that the company would make a splash on the world stage. Pinin and his son drove their Alfa Romeo 6C 2500S and Lancia Aprilia cabriolet from Turin to Paris and parked them outside the gates of the 1946 Paris Motor Show when Italy was banned from participating. 

In 1951 Pininfarina designed the body for the Cisitalia 202 which was featured in the exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art titled “Eight Automobiles,” the museum’s first exhibit presenting auto design. The Cisitalia marked a change in how cars were conceived by having all aspects of design from the grill and headlight to the hood and doors integrated in a single flowing idea. The car remains in the museum’s permanent collection. 

The moment that would put Pininfarina at the pinnacle of automotive design was in 1951 when they began designing and building bodies for Ferrari. From that point on, Pininfarina would design almost all of Ferrari’s road cars, helping to define the height of luxury for nearly 70 years. The two legendary companies only recently ended their partnership in 2017. 

Though Pininfarina is most closely associated with their work with Ferrari they remained an independent design firm producing cars for Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Nash Healey. 

The ’70s, ’80s and ’90s marked a period of expansion for Pininfarina, building production and research facilities and expanding their customer base to include Cadillac, Mitsubishi and Volvo. 

Pininfarina came under financial difficulty in 2008 and after many attempts to restructure debt the company was sold to Indian car manufacturer Mahindra in 2015 alongside Jawa and Peugeot Motorcycles.

For nearly 90 years Pininfarina pushed the boundaries of what the perception of what a high performance automobile looked like. The shapes they sculpted defined for the world what the physical manifestation of speed looked like. Today, Pininfarina remains a world-renowned design house working in the automotive industry as well as offering industrial, nautical, architectural, and furniture design.

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