Carrozzeria Pininfarina S.p.A. – more commonly known as Pininfarina – is part of an exclusive club of Italian design houses and coachbuilders which have dominated the automotive design and coachbuilding landscape for almost a century. These are design houses and coachbuilders that have – over the decades – led their own automotive renaissance; spurred on by the Italian influence in architectural design and fashion that captured the globe halfway through the twentieth century. This is a club which includes the likes of Gruppo Bertone, Carrozzeria Ghia S.p.A. and Carrozzeria Zagato to name a few. These names have been responsible for the creation of some of the most elegant, exotic, evocative, alluring and enchanting shapes the automotive industry has ever seen – shapes that continue to capture the hearts and minds of anyone with an interest in design, cars, style, sophistication and the finer things in life. Owing to the prolific insurgence of Italy in the motorsports arena during the twentieth century, several Italian automotive manufacturers have emerged that continue to be famed for the creation of their sportscars. These manufacturers include the likes of Alfa-Romeo, Maserati and most notably Ferrari – companies that have been associated with the creation of “the dream car.” It is these companies that have been responsible for the creation of the machines that bear the skill and craftsmanship of a club of design houses and coachbuilders that have influenced the most unprecedented eras in the evolution of the appeal of automotive aesthetics. The subtle, yet distinctive curves that characterize the charm of an Aston-Martin rebodied by Zagato or the radical nature of the sharp angles of the Lamborghini Countach – penned by Bertone – are just some examples of the capacity of the Italian automotive design and coachbuilding industry to whet the appetites of the eyes of those who hunger for the expression of finesse on wheels.
“Carrozzeria” is an Italian word which directly translates to the word “body” in English. This fact is of great significance as it outlines the manner in which Italian automotive designers and coachbuilders perceive their craft. To them, the act of clothing the chassis of a vehicle with body panels crafted to make the world dream is more than a profession that merely serves the purpose of placing food on the table. This sort of objective is far too menial for a set of professions that require such immense levels of expertise. The automotive design and coachbuilding professions are artforms that continue to be performed on a select few of the vehicles that have the capacity to turn the heads of every person from any walk of life. These are artforms that are not dissimilar in their processes to the development of a butterfly. It all begins with raw materials that are converted into a number of mechanical components – a process that parallels the laying of an egg in the butterfly life cycle; filled with the yolk that forms the organs of a caterpillar. The caterpillar then occupies itself with the business of consuming food to aid its development – a process that mirrors the development of a vehicle chassis – a structural element in the production of any car which consumes a large number of raw materials and components for its assembly. A metamorphosis phase occurs, characterized by the creation of the pupa which forms into a chrysalis – a stage in the butterfly life cycle which sees it develop organs such as wings and legs. This is a stage in the butterfly life cycle which is similar to the paint, interior assembly and mating process of the car – a process which sees the merger of a chassis with its engine, suspension and brake assembly – processes that are symbolic of the development of the internal organs of a butterfly. All this ultimately results in a creature that emerges from its chrysalis to grace the skies, which bears a great similarity to the manner in which Italian designers and coachbuilders turn a machine designed for the convenience of a human being into an object of desire resting on wheels designed to make the world yearn. Therefore, the elegance, allure and sophistication conjured up by automotive design houses and coachbuilders deserves the utmost respect by virtue of the attention that their designs command.
Italy is characterized by a business culture that is nested in the necessity to foster and cultivate close relationships drenched in loyalty, fondness and a deep sense of trust. A perfect example of this with regards to the Italian automotive design and coachbuilding industry relates to the partnership that was forged at a restaurant in 1951 between Battista “Pinin” Farina and Enzo Anselmo Giuseppe Maria Ferrari. This was a restaurant meeting which has gone on to see the Pininfarina name grace the fenders of some of the most exclusive vehicles in the world, ultimately distinguishing it as being the benchmark by which other design houses and coachbuilders are judged. This partnership has resulted in the mutual development of the reputations of both Ferrari and Pininfarina, leaving them to be widely considered by the rest of the world as masters in the fine art of producing beautiful cars. This is an association which has resulted in the creation of the quintessential clichés that outline Italy as being a country that can craft soul, passion or the essence of a human being into a car. These are clichés that continue to be fetishized in this modern age of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – where the only soul, passion or essence anyone bears witness to lies in the opening of a beer can, smoking a cigarette or opening the box to a pair of brand-new sneakers. However, the creation of close relationships among business associates is a practice which lends itself a profound amount of credence – it is what results in the understanding of what makes someone who they are at the most fundamental of levels. This is key when it comes to recognizing and anticipating certain behavioural patterns amongst potential business associates prior to the commitment of a business partnership being made. Being able to recognize the variety in behavioural patterns amongst business associates is what makes it possible to avoid the flaws that make some people more destructive than others. However, no destructive behavioural patterns characterize the partnership between Pininfarina and Ferrari – a fact that is signified by the profitability of both companies. History has therefore been successful in demonstrating that the partnership between Enzo Ferrari and Battista Farina has been a match made in heaven on Earth.
Partnerships among people tend to be created on the basis of something that exceeds reputations and accolades alone. Simply put, a number of partnerships are borne out of a fondness and a sense of familiarity that exists among the people who make the commitment to partner. In most cases, the connections created among business partners exist by virtue of the similarities of their lineages, upbringings, localities, educational backgrounds, languages and races. These are connections that can grow to become either fruitful or poisonous – connections that can be celebrated for their virtue or criticized for their notoriety. Take for instance the Western Cape province of South Africa – a region that is world famous for its wine farms – wherein lies a small town called Stellenbosch; a grape on the finest economic vineyard South African real estate has to offer. This is a town which houses some of the wealthiest people in South Africa. It is a town that is widely regarded as being the South African stronghold for the founders and owners of banks, major media houses and publications along with other major retail franchises – thereby signifying this area as being part of the most affluent side of the South African monopoly board. Think of it really as the modern reincarnation of the nobility – a safe haven for the elitist Eurocentrism that continues to pervade the upper echelons of the South African social hierarchy. This is a part of South Africa where networks are fostered along the lines of lineage, upbringing, locale, education, language and race – factors that have characterized the creation of terms such as “Stellenbosch Mafia” and “white monopoly capital.” These are terms that have been circulated in the contemporary discourse of South African politics to express the relationships between the capitalist interests of the South African super rich with a club of monopolies colluding with each other to meet their own economic ends. These terms are often regarded with a degree of disdain as they symbolize the inequality that exists in South Africa, with the concentration of wealth being divided along racial lines. These terms highlight some of the exclusionary practices that exist when connections between people are not made on the basis of reputations and accolades alone, which in its own demented way represents the loyalty that exists among the people who partner on the basis of fondness and familiarity. This is a sense of loyalty, fondness and a familiarity that arguably characterizes the economic success of the Italian automotive design and coachbuilding empire that is Pininfarina.
Alfa-Romeo is one company that can claim the privilege of associating itself with the likes of Pininfarina. An example of their association exists in the form of the Alfa-Romeo GTV. On the one hand, its exterior design was the brainchild of Enrico Fumia – a Pininfarina designer, and yet Walter de Silva – a designer working at the Alfa-Romeo Style Center or “Centro Stile” in Italian – oversaw the work of its detailing and interiors. This was a car that was developed to replace the Alfa-Romeo GTV6 – a car that, whilst imperfect, continues to be loved by people who consume the history of Alfa-Romeo faster than it can be created. In the case of the GTV, the imperfections that characterized its predecessor were almost completely eradicated from its own development as it was created to rival the likes of BMW, Audi and the now defunct SAAB. This was a car that was designed for individuals who had a keen interest in the dynamic feel and handling of a car. This is a fact that is outlined by the development of its initial prototypes which were benchmarked against the Lotus Elan – a car from a company with a formidable racing pedigree steeped in the skill of developing vehicles that have been celebrated for their handling since time immemorial. The result of this is the creation of an Italian car which imbues the clichés of automotive soul and passion. These are clichés that find their reinforcement in the form of the signature Alfa-Romeo grille which stands proud like a triangular badge of honour accentuated by the circular headlamps of the vehicle. The sleek silhouette of the car, which holds the front end of the vehicle lower to the ground than the lining of its rear boot-lid is a design feature that aided the aerodynamic efficiency of the GTV. However, no other aesthetic feature on the Alfa-Romeo GTV underlines the power of association better than the Pininfarina nameplate that rests comfortably on the rear fender of the car. This nameplate is a symbol which shows the world the mastery of that exclusive club of Italian design houses and coachbuilders. It is a demonstration of the power that can be yielded from the creation of a relationship.
There is no denying that the crevice which has separated the affluent and influential from the rest of the world has turned into an indomitable gulley that requires more than a civil engineer to bridge it. Attempts made to reverse the negative effects of the concentration of wealth and power by those with resources and a sense of justice must be applauded. However, I often wonder to myself if the connections created among an elite and exclusive few also deserve their own deranged form of respect. Consider for a moment that had the restaurant meeting between Battista Farina and Enzo Ferrari ended poorly, their reputations, influence and ultimate success would have potentially been diminished. Had it not been for the hands of designers employed by Pininfarina, would the ears of people prick up when hearing the mention of the Ferrari name? Would Ferrari even be a recognizable Italian brand name or would it have also been cast to the cobwebs of automotive history just like a number of other aspirant Italian sportscar companies that are currently defunct, companies that include the likes of Bizzarrini S.p.A. and Iso Autoveicoli S.p.A.? Had it not been for the associations that Pininfarina made with car manufacturers, would it still be a historical fact that in 1995, the Alfa-Romeo GTV won an award for the “Engineer of the Year” for chief Alfa-Romeo engineer Bruno Cena? Would it also be a historical fact that the Alfa-Romeo GTV won “The World’s most Beautiful Automobile” award in 1995? Sometimes, when you have no concept of the sort of future that you want, there can be no denying the degree of strength that can be drawn from people who know what future they seek to envisage. When you lack commitment, you associate yourself with people who are committed to something, thereby giving you some semblance of what to commit your future to. The Alfa-Romeo GTV is a representation of such a future protected by the Italian “old guard” of aesthetics watching over the automotive design and coachbuilding industry from their Ivory Towers in Turin.