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Ferrari designer was a tailor at heart

THIS week, Mayberry lost its Sheriff: Andy Griffith passed away, aged 86. News sources were quick to laud Mr.

THIS week, Mayberry lost its Sheriff: Andy Griffith passed away, aged 86.

News sources were quick to laud Mr. Griffith for his lifetime's work; in particular for the way he fit into the tumultuous 1960s consciousness as the kind and steady ambassador of small town America.

Halfway around the world, another iconic man has also passed on, one of the last of the Italian automotive greats.

Where Griffith was deceptively simple and homespun, this man was dapper and elegant. Where Griffith represented Pleasantville, this man created objects that the cream of Monaco lusted after. Andy drove a Ford Galaxy police cruiser; Sergio Pininfarina designed Ferraris.

Born in Turin in the mid'20s, Sergio inherited a family tradition of coachbuilt excellence. "Pinin" means "little one" or "baby" in the Piedmontese dialect, and as Sergio's father was the second youngest of nearly a dozen children, this became his nickname. Farina Sr. adopted the name when he founded his coachbuilding business and eventually legally changed the family's last name.

Sergio returned from university with a degree in mechanical engineering and a fire in his belly. He was quickly involved in all aspects of his father's company, penning Peugots and Fiats and building the factories that would produce them.

Called in to consult with the British Motor Corp., Pininfarina would be responsible for designing some of the best-selling British cars such as the Austin A40 and the Morris 1100. Italy's tailors were already synonymous with style, their automotive designers were quickly becoming so.

But never mind all the prosaic Peugots and proletarian Austins; if there's one marque best associated with the Pininfarina name, it's Ferrari.

Sergio first made his mark with Ferrari, designing the flowing form of the iconic 250 GTO. Today, this machine is one of the most expensive cars in the world: an example recently changed hands for $35 million. Certainly the performance pedigree and racing heritage is part of the appeal, but no less important is the car's stunning form.

Buoyed by this success, Pininfarina would design a car that's arguably even more iconic, the Dino. Technically not a "Ferrari," the Dino is a mid-engined, V-6-powered car - an affordable Ferrari.

Well, affordable compared to the expensive and rare V-12 models that the company was selling to the super-rich. It is an exceptionally pretty car, perhaps even prettier than its big brothers.

Ferrari and Pininfarina: the two names are inextricably intertwined. He designed my favourite car of all time, the F40, and he was responsible for the car that adorned so many bedroom walls in the '80s, the Ferrari Testarossa. If you see a Ferrari on the street, walk around it carefully and you'll probably find a Pininfarina badge somewhere.

But clothing supercar royalty was not enough for Sergio. He was just as happy designing those Fiats - the Fiat 124 Spider is as handsome as any Ferrari, on a smaller scale - and also had his hand in countless other projects as a consultant.

Jaguar contracted Pininfarina when they needed to refresh the XJ. Cadillac collaborated with the firm to produce the Allante.

The Volvo C70 might have an interior that clamours of Swedish Design, but the curvaceous body flows from the pen of Pininfarina.

What's more - and unlike the work of his father - Sergio's designs are not merely flights of fancy. Pininfarina was the first company in Italy to have a wind tunnel, the first to embrace the importance of aerodynamics.

Even early on, Pininfarina was convinced of the importance of improving fuel economy and was using computer-aided design as early as 1967. Nissan and Mitsubishi may just have started selling electric cars now, but Pininfarina collaborated with Fiat on a small electric car in 1978.

Even though he was constantly looking to the future, the changes in the automotive realm were not kind to Pininfarina. Interviewed by the New York Times in 2000, he remarked, "We have gone from being tailors to selling to consumers."

In many ways, he was right: the age of the great designers seemed to be passing, with most cars designed for economy, not style, and the supercar market taking a beating from the uneven economy.

Personal tragedy would follow too, as Sergio's eldest son died in a motor collision in 2008. His younger son, Paolo, now heads the company.

Sergio Pininfarina lived in a time when the car was a means of escape, the only real way to travel. He lived long enough to see the fading of that era, as our social connections move to the electronic realm and cars become less and less important to young people.

But for all that, his legacy does not fade with his passing. His designs are studied and copied and interpreted by colleagues and students, and his best-known works are preserved and honoured. Whether or not your car bears his badge, it may likely have felt his touch in some way.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at mcaleeronwheels@gmail. com. Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.

Contributing Writer