We celebrate Ferrari in this issue [Click here to see Ferrari Special Issue], but how much is Ferrari’s success due to Pininfarina? In the early days of the marque, Enzo Ferrari ran an open competition among Italian carrozzeria and many essayed designs, but customers preferred those styled by Pininfarina. With the exception of the Dino 308 GT4 by Bertone, Pininfarina has styled every Ferrari that can be considered a production model. The prices asked for the GT4 today tell their own story. It is a handsome car, but Pininfarina’s designs are sexy.
Under the skin, Ferraris were often crude. In Elaine May’s 1970 movie, “A New Leaf,” Walter Matthau’s character, an ageing playboy, drives a Ferrari that gives him an image, but which also coughs and splutters in traffic. The joke only worked because people believed that was what Ferraris did. For Matthau’s character, however, the important thing was not how his car went (he wore a crash helmet when driving) but how it looked. As I have said before, the essence of a sports car is that it is a mating call.
Even in the late 1980s, Formula One engineers were telling me how poorly engineered were road-going Ferraris. When John Barnard was appointed Technical Director of Scuderia Ferrari, he received a Mondial as a company car. He made the mistake of giving a straight answer to a journalist who asked him what he thought of it. There followed press releases that included the phrases “remarks taken out of context,” which is always an admission of guilt.
When John Surtees was Ferrari’s team leader in the early 1960s, he was once offered two 250 GTOs at $2,000 (U.S.) apiece (yes, two thousand bucks, I have not misplaced a zero or two). John, who had some experience with the 250 GTO, declined the offer.
It is Pininfarina that has been largely responsible for making Ferrari the desired marque it is. You may argue that Ferrari’s competition successes played a part, and that is true if we emphasize “part.” Jaguar, Aston Martin, OSCA and Lotus also had a few successes but were never lusted after as Ferraris have been. The Lamborghini Countach is desired by many, but mainly because of its Bertone body, Lamborghini has no competition history to speak of.
Another factor for Ferrari’s growth was the collapse of the French quality car industry when the French government imposed an employment tax of 49 percent on a worker wage. This was to finance social programs, but devastated labor intensive industries. Alfa Romeo went down-market and Maserati only became serious about production cars in 1957.
Ferrari and Pininfarina both grew from uniquely Italian traditions, which have their origin in the Renaissance. A master did the main work on a painting, but Luigi added the clouds and Giovanni did the trees. Luigi and Giovanni were both apprentices and could spend their entire working lives doing clouds and trees. If they showed exceptional talent, they could submit a complete work that would allow them to become a maestro and such a work would be their “masterpiece”—it was the equivalent of a PhD thesis.
Not everyone who became a maestro was a Raphael or Botticelli any more than most people who write plays are Ibsens or Shakespeares. The principle of the studio, however, was established and this carried into the 20th Century. Tiny Italian companies could run up whole engines at a reasonable cost and Italian coach builders could do the same.
Italian coach builders bashed out bodies over a tree stump and finished the product with filler. Christ Lawrence, the man behind the Monica GT, once wondered why one of the prototypes was so slow until he discovered that Carrozzeria Frua had used up to half an inch of lead to smooth out the dents.
Early Lotuses were bodied by Charlie Williams and Len Pritchard, both of whom had been apprenticed to London coachbuilders whose main client was Rolls Royce. I once visited Len Pritchard in his lock up. The machinery in his workshop included a welding torch, a guillotine and a wheel—that’s all. Templates for bodies were cut from cardboard boxes and were hung on a butcher’s hook.
The key was the wheel on which metal was rolled and shaped. Before me was the body for a Lotus Eleven; it was perfect. Some drivers had their Elevens varnished rather than painted, and when one such Eleven turned up in Italy, some Italian coachbuilders could not believe it.
Pininfarina could believe it because, in 1953, it established a production line. Unitary construction was becoming ever more popular with the mainstream motor industry and so the two-seat versions of the Lancia Aurelia B24, which had unitary construction, were made in their entirety by Pininfarina.
In the 1960s, fewer and fewer cars had separate chassis and that killed the likes of Touring in Italy and James Young in England. The one off-styling exercises from small outfits, which were available to buy, gave way to concept cars from major manufacturers.
Pininfarina grew from the Italian tradition of the artist’s studio, embraced modern methods of construction, yet never lost sight of artistry. The founder is long dead, yet the spirit lives, and the remarkable thing is that you can trace the DNA of the Ferrari Enzo back to Gianbattista “Pinin” Farina. When a Renaissance maestro retired, the studio went with him, but in the case of Pininfarina it is as though the work of a Leonardo or Michelangelo has continued, while adapting constantly.
If this seems to be a fanciful analogy, remember that the Pininfarina styled Cisitalia 202 Grand Sport was bought, and exhibited by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Pininfarina has rarely put a foot wrong. There were, of course, some hideous American parodies it did for Nash in the early 1950s, but who knows how the negotiations went? “I was young, I needed the money.”
No matter who is in charge, the Pininfarina studio is both steeped in history, yet also has a vision for the future.
To mention Ferrari without Pininfarina is to talk of Stan Laurel while ignoring Oliver Hardy.