Today, technological and organisational progress allow automobile manufacturers to produce niche models at low volumes on a single line or in the same plant. Yet, until recently, car brands had to call on partner coach-builders to produce limited runs of coupes, convertibles or recreational vehicles. Karmann in Germany, Heuliez in France or in Italy, Bertone, and Pininfarina, who were the first to propose an industrial production solution to their clients in addition to the ‘haute couture’ services that they were already providing. Here are four cars produced, partly or wholly, in the factories of Pininfarina, which marked its cars with an F, for Farina.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider
Since 1946, the bodyworks of Stabilimenti Farina produced in very small numbers special series of cars on behalf of prestigious manufacturers like Maserati, Cisitalia, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and of course Ferrari, in its workshops in Turin, 107 corso Trapani. From 1956, Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina fought fiercely against Bertone for the manufacture of the Giulietta models. It is the latter who would win the competition for the design and production of the Sprint Coupe, while Pinin Farina won the job of producing the Spider.
Credit for this small convertible, with its little 1.3 litre, 4-cylindre engine, developing 80 horses (then a Veloce version with 90 hp), goes to the renowned American importer Max Hoffman, to whom we also owe the Mercedes 300 SL “Gullwing ». Obtaining the contract to import Alfa Romeo automobiles to the US, he suggested the creation of a small cabriolet on the basis of the Giulietta. Thus, the Spider clearly targeted initially the US market but was also very successful in Europe, filling the niche as a credible competitor to the English roadsters.
Between 1956 and 1958, 5,493 Giulietta Spider will come out of these small workshops in Turin. Expansion was thus required and Pinin Farina (which would officially become Pininfarina in 1961) would invest in the construction of a new factory in Grugliasco, not far from its competitor Bertone. In this modern, state of the art facility, Pinin Farina had incorporated a wind tunnel, proof of the interest of the coach-builder for aerodynamics.
A total of 17,096 units would be largely built at Pininfarina (the mechanical parts were integrated in Milan). The Giulia Spider took over from the Giulietta, which in turn gave way to the famous Spider Duetto on the Grugliasco production line. Today, a Giulietta Spider is trading for between 80,000 euros and 120,000, for the Veloce version.
The Peugeot 504 ‘CC’
Peugeot began its collaboration with Pinin Farina for the development of the 403 in 1955. But the French family, for its cabriolet version, retained production in Sochaux, all the while maintaining its relationship with Pinin Farina. For the development of its coupé and cabriolet versions of its new 404 model (also read : Peugeot 404), the Sochaux firm decided, in the face of low production volumes, to entrust most of the assembly to its Italian partner in 1961.
Of course, it was Pininfarina that was later entrusted with the production of the 504 Coupé and Cabriolet (‘CC’), magnificent works of art by this Italian designer. Between 1969 and 1983 a total of 31,166 units of these 504 ‘CC’ were produced, equipped with either a 4-cylinder (1.8 litre engine with 97 hp then 2 litre version with 104 hp) or the PRV V6 (at first with carburettors and 136 hp, then with fuel injection and 144 hp).
The longevity of this pair of 504 models would lead to a long collaboration and mutual respect on the part of the French and Italian teams and, despite the end of the 504 production run in 1983, PSA would not abandon Pininfarina, entrusting the Italian firm with the production of the Talbot Samba Cabriolet and then the 205 CJ / CTI and the 306 Cabriolet.
Until then, however, Peugeot had employed the old fashion method of assembly: bodies, undercarriages, and running gear were manufactured in Grugliasco, while the mechanical part was done in Sochaux. However, in 1996 Peugeot went for the first time to entrust the entire assembly of the production of the 406 Coupé to Pininfarina.
The FIAT 124 Sport Spider
In 1966, Pininfarina took over the manufacturing contract of the FIAT 124 Sport Spider even though it was producing on the same lines the car’s main competitor, the Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider. Less sporty at first than its compatriot (despite its name), it was particularly aimed at the American market, whose clientele was more attached to the line of the car than to a raging European style engine.
Less sporty and less extravagant than the Alfa, the small 124 Sport Spider, which was a perfect duo with the Dino Spider at the top of the range, was not completely lacking under the hood: its modern 4-cylindre engine, designed by Lampredi, developed 90 hp for 1,438 cc. Over the years, the 124 would continue to gain in horsepower and in displacement, culminating with its swift, 135 hp, Volumex version, at the end of production.
As early as 1974, the 124 Sport Spider was retired from the European market, to concentrate only on the USA. In the early 80s, FIAT decided to stop production, as sales lost momentum. Pininfarina, for its part, found that there was potential for a modernised version, just like what was happening for the Alfa Romeo Spider (whose production had been repatriated to Alfa and that had continued its life at the whims of market demand).
After reaching an agreement with FIAT, Pininfarina took control of all rights to the 124 Sport Spider and renamed it, after a total revamp, the Pininfarina Europa (for the European market) and Azzurra (for the US market), becoming the first car ever produced under this brand. A grand total of 198,120 copies of the small FIAT cabriolet were built in Grugliasco, of which 7,950 under the Pininfarina brand.
In the 80s, Cadillac wanted to launch a real competitor to the Mercedes SL R107. In the eyes of GM’s top management, to compete head-on, it was necessary to offer a certain Europe flavour mixed with good ol’ American feel: a perfect mix of both worlds. To help reach its objective, mighty General Motors formed a complex partnership with Pininfarina to launch their European project: the Cadillac Allanté.
To satisfy this new important client, Pininfarina would develop a sober, understated design. Its lines were attractive and the car rather beautiful, but perhaps almost too perfect: it lacked that extra bit of soul that the Mercedes, and even the Jaguar XJS for example, possessed. With European appearance on the outside, the Allanté (with its tinted « Italian » name) was American inside, both in the very comfortable cockpit, as well as under the hood.
There, we found a V8 that would evolve, thankfully, with time. At the launch, and despite its all of its 4.1 litre displacement, it developed only 170 hp, a very modest amount to move a beast of 1,630 kg. It would then increase to 200 hp for 4.4 litre version. But it wasn’t until 1992 and the appearance of the Northstar 4.9 litre version with 295 hp, that a satisfactory level of power was finally supplied under the hood.
To produce the Allanté, GM and Pininfarina devised a manufacturing method that went against all of the rules of good management: the chassis frames were first manufactured in the USA, then sent to San Giorgio Canavese, the brand new Pininfarina factory, where upon they received their bodies and interiors. The cars were then air-carried by 747 special delivery back to the USA to receive their running gear and engines. A text book case on how to explode costs and manufacturing time. The end result in Europe was a price tag for an Allanté that was more expensive than a Ferrari Mondial, for example.
Obviously, the car was a complete failure, and even if GM maintained it in the Cadillac catalog from 1986 through 1993, only 21,430 units were sold. This fabulously expensive car for its time, at approximately FF 600,000, can be acquired today for a pittance.
Over its long history and since its early days of producing the famous Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider, Pininfarina has built on behalf of its customers a great number of automobiles. At the end of the 90s, its factories were producing at the same time the Peugeot 306 Cabriolet and 406 Coupé, the FIAT Coupé and its « sisters » the Alfa Romeo GTV and Spider, the Bentley Azure, the Lancia Kappa SW and the aptly named Mitsubishi Pajero Pinin. Unfortunately, the 2000s were not as good, while Pininfarina still had three production sites. After producing the Streetka and Focus convertible for Ford, the small convertible Mitsubishi Colt CZC and the Alfa Romeo Brera / Spider duo, all commercial failures, the source ran dry.
Pininfarina’s manufacturer customers meanwhile had learnt to produce by themselves small limited production runs. In 2008, Pininfarina unloaded its oldest plant, Grugliasco, bought by the Piedmont region for a hypothetical relaunch of the De Tomaso brand. San Giorgio closed at the end of 2010 with the end of the Alfa Romeo contract. Bairo Cavanes, opened in 1997, produced until 2013 the Bolloré Bluecar, known to Parisians as the Autolib. Pininfarina would never recover from this downfall (like Heuliez in France) and would eventually go bankrupt. The prestigious company then fell into the grasp of the Indian group, Mahindra and Mahindra, in 2015. Anecdotally, the brand was present at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show to present the Battista, the second car to be called Pininfarina, after the Europa / Azzura, and intended to be produced.
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