MILAN (Reuters) - Sergio Pininfarina, whose family company designed almost every Ferrari since the 1950s and whose name is still synonymous with some of the world’s most glamorous cars, has died aged 85.
The company said on Tuesday he died overnight in his Turin home.
Pininfarina had been groomed by his father Gian Battista, a onetime Turin carriage maker who founded the influential car design house in the 1930s, to succeed him in the business since he was a child.
Born in 1926, he joined the family firm after graduating in mechanical engineering from Turin’s Polytechnic University, became chief executive in 1961 and then chairman when his father died in 1966.
By then, the company had already risen to prominence through a knack for making the latest aerodynamic design trends attractive to a broader public.
The family’s prestige in Italy was such that it was allowed to change its name to Pininfarina from the original Farina - Pinin, meaning “the little one” in Piedmont, was Gian Battista’s nickname - with a presidential decree in 1961.
The ground-breaking 1947 Cisalfa coupe, designed by Gian Battista “Pinin” Farina after World War Two, now sits in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It was one of Sergio’s favourite models.
Gian Battista also initiated the Ferrari connection in 1952, but Sergio ended up managing most of their common projects and turned the business from craftsman level into a world renowned name.
In his half-a-century reign at Pininfarina, the company’s automobile production rose from 524 units per year to more than 50,000.
Besides the historic partnership with Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Maserati (all owned by Fiat), Pininfarina also designed cars for Rolls-Royce and other non-Italian brands.
The 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Rondine, 1986 Cadillac Allante, the 1995 Bentley Azure and the 1996 Peugeot 406 Coupe (designed by Sergio) all wore the Pininfarina badge.
Sergio also designed the 1986 Fiat 124 Spider, the 1984 Ferrari Testarossa, the 2002 Ferrari Enzo, the 2003 Maserati Quattroporte and the 2004 Ferrari Scaglietti.
Pininfarina was listed on the Italian Stock Exchange in 1986.
Sergio Pininfarina stepped down to become honorary chairman in 2006, shortly before the financial crisis, which hit the car industry heavily.
Many small builders, like Germany’s Karmann and France’s Heuliez, did not survive. Other design firms downsized, while Italdesign - another leading Italian stylist - was acquired by Volkswagen AG.
Pininfarina was forced to raise capital in 2009, re-negotiate its debt and shrink its business.
It had to close its manufacturing operations and reinvent itself as a smaller niche design player, with the family’s 77 percent stake in the company used as collateral for loans with creditors it needs to pay back by 2018.
In May, Pininfarina said it expected to post its first profit this year since 2004.
Reporting by Silvia Aloisi and Jennifer Clark; Editing by Mark Potter