Sergio Pininfarina, who died last week aged 85, will be remembered for many things and overseeing the design of many of the finest automotive designs of the C20th, as well as his long-running associations with Ferrari and Peugeot. However, what he might not be remembered for is quite probably extending the life of the mainstream UK car industry by at least a decade.
The post-war Italian car industry was ahead of its UK rivals in many ways, but most of all in the way its employees were formally trained, rather than too often ‘picking things up’ as apprentices. Sergio Pininfarina trained as a mechanical engineer at Turin Polytechnic and then had to cover design, engineering and manufacturing, rather than disappearing for years to concentrate on a single discipline.
Around the same time he brokered the first deal with Peugeot in 1955 he was approached by Austin. According to the legend, the Duke of Edinburgh had been invited up to Austin and had been shown some of the company’s future designs. Unimpressed, the Duke suggested to Austin boss Leonard Lord that the company should get in touch with Farina (as it was until 1961).
The Duke, who became a significant promoter of modern design in the 1960s, was probably deeply unimpressed by the upcoming Austin A35 which looked liked it had been inspired by the teapot on the breakfast table of whoever was in charge of Austin’s design department.