The Sergio concept is a two-seat barchetta based on the Ferrari 458 Spider
So positive was its reception at the Geneva motor show in March that a small run of production cars is being considered
The car is significant not just because it pays tribute to Sergio Pininfarina...
...but also shows the continuing strength of the relationship between the Turin design house and Ferrari
The Prancing Horse’s chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, gave his full support to the project
A roofless barchetta body style was chosen for the Sergio, because it is the “most extreme and emotional”
The windscreen-less design is deliberately extreme
The Turin design house and Ferrari relationship is still going strong
Car is designed not to be confused with a 458 Spider
Already about 85 per cent of it is feasible for production
Occupants must wear helmets
The concept was always designed and engineered with one eye on a low-volume run
The car is only a static exhibit at present
Upwards-opening doors represent a significant design challenge
Parts that play an aerodynamic role are dark coloured
Intricate taillights look like air vents
The bonnet scoop is for aerodynamic, rather than cooling purposes
Even the Sergio's tailpipe is dramatically styled
When the emotion had cleared at Italian design house Pininfarina last summer following the death of its figurehead, former boss and one of the world’s greatest car designers, Sergio Pininfarina, it was evident that there was only going to be one fitting way to pay tribute to him: build a car. And not just any car.
To honour Sergio, a man famed for designing many of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time, the car would need to be a Ferrari, and it would need to be something head-turning enough to stop the traffic.
As current company chairman Paolo Pininfarina puts it: “The tribute to my father definitely had to be a Ferrari because he spent 60 years of his life working to develop this extraordinary relationship and designing about 100 Ferrari models.”
The Sergio concept, a two-seat barchetta based on the Ferrari 458 Spider, was born. And so positive was its reception at its global debut at the Geneva motor show in March that a small run of production cars is being considered.
The car is significant not just because it pays tribute to Sergio Pininfarina. It also shows the continuing strength of the relationship between the Turin design house and Ferrari. The Prancing Horse’s chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, gave his full support to the project, which also showcases Pininfarina’s desire to return to its roots as a builder of specialist coachbuilt cars as part of its core business. It also highlights the firm’s intention to build bespoke, customer-led individual models.
Fabio Filippini, Pininfarina’s chief designer, reveals that once it was clear that the tribute had to be a Ferrari, the specifics of the project quickly fell into place. “Sergio passed away in July, right at the time we had to decide what we had to do at the Geneva motor show the following March,” he says. “It was such an emotional time. We couldn’t decide how to pay tribute to him, so we stopped everything and went on holiday to decide how we could commemorate him.
It quickly became clear that the best way was with a tribute at the Geneva show, a concept car. And the proper way to do it would be with a Ferrari logo. We asked Ferrari before even drawing the car if we could do it and Luca di Montezemolo said we had all of his support. We decided it should be a mid-engined Ferrari because the first Sergio Ferrari was the Dino Berlinetta Speciale, the ancestor of all mid-engined Ferraris.”
A roofless barchetta body style was chosen for the Sergio, because it is the “most extreme and emotional” concept for a sports car, says Filippini. The 458 Spider was the logical donor car because Pininfarina had designed it.
By the end of September, Filippini’s team had a design proposal that was to become the Sergio concept. “The design is pure lightweight, aerodynamic, emotional and innovative – all aspects of Sergio’s input and development in the company over 50 years,” says Filippini.
The Sergio contains subtle styling references to many of the great Ferraris designed by Pininfarina. Filippini says: “We’ve tried to create the sensuality and feeling of Ferraris designed by Sergio in the 1960s and 1970s, without referencing a single car or having a retro look. It’s getting the flair, flavour and spirit of those cars in a concept – the bold wheel arches and soft, simple surfaces. Look closely and there’s hints of various Ferraris all over it: the Dino Berlinetta Speciale, Dino 246, 250 LM, Daytona, Mythos…” ◊
The windscreen-less design is deliberately extreme so that no one could mistake the Sergio for a 458 Spider. Occupants must wear helmets, although various trick aerodynamic devices – everything from spoilers to the rear-view mirror – work together to create a ‘virtual windscreen’ formed from the airflow.
The elements of the concept that play a key aerodynamic role are in dark colours, and all styled surfaces of the carbonfibre bodywork are deep red.
The car is only a static exhibit at present. But the concept was always designed and engineered with one eye on a low-volume run, and already about 85 per cent of it is feasible for production.
“The structure and architecture are strictly related with the 458 Spider. Therefore, we believe that the car could easily be produced in a limited edition,” says Pininfarina.
Filippini adds: “We know what to adapt and adjust to fit technology and homologation. We have a clear vision of how it could look in production. Now we start to look at it and see if we can make a limited series of five or six for exclusive customers.”
Small-series production of super-exclusive, highly customised bespoke models is where Pininfarina believes an essential part of its future business lies, as part of its move back to its roots as a coachbuilder.
“We’ve been doing it since the 1930s and have a great chance to keep doing it with the Sergio,” says Filippini. “We can recapture that kind of 1930s exclusivity with this car. Each Sergio could be tailored with bespoke colours and trims, given something unique and have its own sense of occasion. And we can keep doing it, making one-offs for customers based on Ferraris, making very special and unique cars.”
Making Ferraris, one-offs or otherwise, would appear to remain at the core of Pininfarina’s business, even if it was not involved in the styling of the new LaFerrari. Ferrari’s hybrid hypercar was designed in-house, unlike the rest of Ferrari’s range – the California, 458, F12 and FF – which were all Pininfarina’s work.
However, Pininfarina is also planning to offer other “prestigious brands” its services in building limited-series cars, with the real exclusivity of Pininfarina but based on their products. “These cars can enhance a manufacturer’s standing, or test new products in an exclusive market,” says Filippini. “We’re in talks with several manufacturers and think there’s a market for it.”
After selling its factory to De Tomaso, thereby ending its contract assembly business (which included building bodies for models such as the Ford Focus CC and Alfa Romeo Brera, Pininfarina is now undertaking design and engineering work for various established European and Japanese manufacturers, as well as looking to exploit emerging markets with projects in China and India.
The company is also trying to have an impact on electric mobility through its work with Italian electric car maker Bollore. Non-automotive design projects and brand development are part of the Pininfarina portfolio, too.
“Pininfarina is the only big design house left that’s completely independent,” says Filippini, pointing out that the company is able to spread its influence far and wide, unlike a design house such as ItalDesign Giugiaro, which is now under Volkswagen Group ownership.
Pininfarina has already shown with the Sergio concept that it can make an already special car like the 458 Spider into something even more exclusive. Imagine what it could do if it got its hands on, say, a humble BMW 3-series or Ford Focus. Sergio Pininfarina would surely have approved of the car that now bears his name.