Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

Prototype Pinin Farina by Ted Gushue

Ted Gushue loves cars. An independent digital media consultant and photographer living currently in London, Gushue was the Executive Editor of Petrolicious.com, a leading automotive lifestyle brand and founder of Supercompressor.com.

Everyone associates iconic Italian car designs with their manufacturers, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, even Fiat, but until recently you would have been quite incorrect in congratulating the manufacturer on these incredible designs. This is of course not to say that car companies deserve no credit – not in the slightest. The relationship between automotive manufacturers and design studios is something much more similar to the relationship between a tailor and the fabric suppliers – you can’t have one without the other.

Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, Pininfarina, Bertone, Ghia, Zagato, Boano, Frua, Vignale…the list goes on. Each of these names either stands for or has stood for an independent studio where dreams where made into realities. Where powertrains from the mind of geniuses like Enzo Ferrari were paired with automotive shapes that would inspire generations of car enthusiasts

Was it possible for brands to design their own cars? Sure, of course – but when they wanted to do something groundbreaking, something that would shift the conversation, they became patrons of these legendary carrozzerie.

Pinin Farina set out to create the most innovative team that included the most important names in the automotive design world – Pietro Frua, Mario Boano, and Alfredo Vignal.

Battista Farina was the youngest of 11 children in a family that could barely keep itself afloat. His older brother Giovanni at age 12 became an apprentice coach builder, where after a decade of learning the craft he struck out on his own to start a design and production firm, Stabilimenti Farina. His first order of business was to hire his baby brother, known affectionately as “Pinin”. Not long after this as the legend goes, the small shop was asked to design and build a radiator for Fiat, which Pinin did personally and polished by hand. It was the beginning of his reputation as a master coach builder. In 1930 Battista (Pinin) was asked by Henry Ford to come to the United States to design cars for the Ford Motor Company, an offer which he politely declined, instead choosing to strike out on his own  and open his own design house, Carrozzeria Pinin Farina

What followed the incorporation of Carrozzeria Pinin Farina was the systematic hiring of some of the most important names in the automotive design world, and the beginning of the tectonic shift away from the French language of automotive design which dominated the 1920s and 1930s, to the post-war era of Italian design. Within Pinin’s garage names like Pietro Frua, Mario Boano, and Alfredo Vignale were given their first shot at shaping metal and sculpting dreams. By the outbreak of World War II Pinin Farina employed roughly 500 people. 

In 1946 after the war, the Paris Motor Show had chosen to ban the presentation of products from formerly Axis nations. Farina and his son Sergio saw no issue with the regulation, and decided to drive two cars of their own design to Paris, where they arrived early and parked outside the pain entrance to the show. Legend has it that the automotive media and patrons of the show loved the designs so much that they overshadowed most of what was behind the gates. It was then that the Farina family became credited with resurrecting Italian Automotive design, which quickly outpaced the offerings from other nations around the world. 

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