Upon receiving the call from Pininfarina's PR man, asking if Car Design News would like to head to Torino for a preview of its latest concept car (not a hard offer to accept), we had no other information than its name – Sergio – and an abstract teaser shot of a detail.
Driving through lovely, crumbly Turin, and out into the zona industriale towards Pininfaina's Cambiano base, the fear strikes: what if the car's a disappointment? What if it's simply some unremarkable supermini – maybe even an electric one? How would we hide our disappointment in front of the men behind its creation?
Deep in the catacombs of Pinin HQ, beneath the collection of glorious historic concepts that sit in the foyer of the most revered carrozzeria, we're led past the styling buck of the 1967 BMC 1800 Berlina Aerodinamica casually tucked under the stairs, to where the Sergio sits awaiting our photographer's lens. Immediately fear dissolves into child-like joy – it's a Ferrari.
Of course it makes perfect sense – the late, great Sergio was the man responsible for inexorably linking the prancing horse to the stylized, lowercase script that has adorned every Ferrari for the past five decades bar the 1973 Dino 308 GT4, Maranello's one-night stand with cross-town rival, Bertone. The man even sat on Ferrari's board of directors.
Yet the Sergio is clearly Pininfarina first and Ferrari second; it doesn't fit neatly into the brand's latest design strategy and iconography such as the circular tail lamps have been remixed. It's less aggressive, less techy than the 458 Italia on which it's based and less intimidating than a F12 Berlinetta.
There are shades of (whisper it) 1969 Bertone Autobianchi Runabout to its format – an extreme, screenless barchetta with a forward-thrusting roll hoop – although its form language is far more voluptuous than Gandini's little folded paper boat.
There are references to Pininfarina's last one-off Ferrari too, the SP12 EC commissioned by Eric Clapton (also on the 458 platform), thanks to the deep rosso and matte black colorway and the negative curve of the rear buttresses. Then there's the hammerhead nose that captures the essence of the 1967 Ferrari Dino 206 Competizione. Thankfully it tips its hat at all of these, and more, without being some sort of 'best of' retro megamix – it's very much its own car.
"So what do you think?" beams Vice President Design and Chief Creative Officer, Fabio Filippini. It's always a tricky question to answer after such a brief encounter, that is unless the subject is a wild, roofless Ferrari one-off built to commemorate the life of il Senatore Sergio Pininfarina. My answer is uncharacteristically brief and subjective: "wow".
So how do you start with a project as important as this? "The decision was made right after our summer holiday, almost two months after the passing of The Senator; we wanted just to calm down the emotional aspect of the situation" explains Filippini. "We didn't want to do something to commemorate the history just by looking in the past, but it was clear we had to do something in the spirit that was driven by him for more than 50 years."
The decision to design a barchetta was both emotional – what else could capture the imagination like an open sports car – and strategic, in order to distance the car from both existing Ferraris and the glut of extreme hypercars that have taken over Geneva this year.
The Sergio is, in many ways, a breath of fresh air. It's free from much of the baggage associated with many new cars and strips back design to its purest form. It may not be perfect – we're still not totally convinced by that nose-up side profile – but it encapulates the passion and artistry of a true dream car whilst remaining relevant and fresh.
This is a car that captures the very essence of Pininfarina at its best – simple, elegant, yet truly memorable and emotional. Sergio would surely have been proud.
Look out for a full design story on the Sergio in the coming weeks.