Life wasn’t always sexy for the man who would make his mark on the automotive world by helping to design some of the sexiest cars ever made.
Battista Farina was born in 1893 in Cortanze, a small town in northwest Italy, the 10th of 11 children.
While still a boy, his parents gave him the nickname “Pinin” meaning baby in Piedmontese, a romance language spoken in Italy’s Piedmont region. Though he would grow to be just five feet tall, Pinin’s impact was large.
Near the turn of the century, Pinin’s older brother Giovanni became an apprentice for a coachbuilder in Turin. Coachbuilding is the practice of crafting the body of a mode of transportation whether it take on a more primitive form as the body of a carriage or wagon, or in its modern iteration as custom bodies for bespoke motor vehicles.
Henry Ford with his Model T. Ford tried to hire Farina but was not successful.
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In 1920, Battista Farina met auto industry icon Henry Ford. By the time they were acquainted, Ford was already successful having launched then left a company that would be renamed Cadillac in his absence and starting the Ford Motor Company with help from the Dodge brothers (yes, those Dodge brothers), eventually mass producing the Model T.
Family legend has it that Ford asked Farina, 30 years his junior, to come work for him. What words were said between them have gone the way of the wind, but it resulted in Farina heading back to Italy and forever changing the look of automotive muscle.
Ten years later, Farina founded his own artisan coachbuilding and design company, Carrozzeria Pinin Farina. The incorporation papers list its founding address as 107 Corso Trapani, Turin, Italy.
Today, at that address stands a rather nondescript building across the street from a popular family-owned pizza restaurant east of downtown.
The coachbuilding company was the first to build a vehicle body using what is now known as unibody construction.
World War II took its toll on Italy and nearly brought Italian vehicle construction to a standstill. The Pinin Farina factory pivoted to constructing the bodies of ambulances and searchlight carriages that were needed to support the war effort.
Turin was one of the most-bombed cities in Northern Italy during the Second World War with air raids lasting from 1940 to 1945. Fiat, Lacia, and Michelin factories were struck.
Grand Palais on Winston Churchill Avenue in Paris. The site is famous for being where Farina’s post-World War II vehicle display crashed the 1946 Paris Motor Show.
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Following the war, cars from German, Italian, and Japanese companies were banned from attending the 1946 Paris Motor Show. That did not deter Farina. He had two cars that he wanted to show off, a Lancia Aprilia Cabriolet and an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Speciale.
Pinin and his 20-year old son Sergio got behind the wheel of the cars and drove them to Paris, by way of Geneva, Lausanne, and Monte Carlo, parking them on Avenue Winston Churchill, directly in front of the entrance to the Grand Palais where the show was being held. Attendees had to walk by them to get in.
The crowd went wild and the cars became the stars of the show that year, despite not being allowed to actually be there.
The Alfa had been commissioned by perfume designer Giuliana Tortoli di Cuccioli who agreed to sell the car to Farina following the show. Farina had the car as his daily driver until 1948 when he sold it to Leonard Lord, the chairman of Austin.
A Cisitalia 202 Nuvolari Spyder displayed at the Salon Prive luxury car event at Blenheim Palace on September 3, 2015 in Woodstock, England.
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Six years younger than Farina, Italian race car driver Piero Dusio was the founder of Cisitalia, an Italian sports and racing car brand. Dusio’s company teamed up with Pinin Farina to create the famed Cisitalia 202. It all started with a chassis the company provided to Farina to handcraft an aluminum body onto. The coupe model established Farina’s reputation as a master of the industry and his company as one of the finest in the world. Just 107 Cisitalia 202s were sold.
In 1951, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City displayed the Cisitalia 202 as part of its exhibit “Eight Automobiles” declaring it one of best ever designed.
The firm forged working relationships some of the world’s greatest automakers over the last century – Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Nash, Peugeot, and Rolls-Royce – but it was its relationship with Ferrari that would most stand the test of time.
Farina’s first foray with Ferrari was in 1952. It would become a historic partnership for both entities resulting in some of the most beautiful cars ever crafted with over 200 Ferraris designed by the bespoke coach builder over the ensuing decades.
Italian race car driver and businessman Enzo Ferrari (1898 – 1988, right) meets automobile designer Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina (1893 – 1966, centre) in Maranello, northern Italy, circa 1958. They are there to hold an informal discussion on a new approach to the automobile industry.
Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Farina’s artisan company was growing by leaps and bounds as it found success with Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, and Maserati models throughout the ’50s. The company moved its headquarters to Grugliasco, Italy in 1958.
Pinin Farina’s design for the Giulietta Spider was accepted by Alfa Romeo and because the first vehicle large scale production vehicle the humble Italian company ever produced, with over 4,000 made in 1959.
Farina officially changed his name to “Battista Pininfarina” in 1961 and relinquished control of his company to Sergio and his son-in-law, Renzo Carli.
Pinifarina continued to take an active role in the operations of the company. His last design was the Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto, which came to market as the Alfa Romeo Spider 1600.
Pinifarina died in 1966, shortly after the Duetto was unveiled.
The company that bears his name recently paid homage to their founder with the debut of the Pininfarina Batista 1,900-horsepower all-electric super luxury sports car. To celebrate the company’s 90th anniversary, this year they revealed a €2.6 million version of the model called the Pininfarina Battista Anniversario.