Car Design News celebrates the life of Paolo Pininfarina, who has sadly passed away aged 65

One of the most famous names in car design has lost a son. Paolo Pininfarina – chairman of the Pininfarina Group – has died after a long-term illness, aged 65, in Turin with his wife, five children and mother at his side.

As the son of Sergio and grandson of Battista “Pinin” Farina – who created the business and changed the Farina family name to Pininfarina in 1961 – a career in the automotive world was always on the cards. Interviewing Paolo some years back he remembered fondly visiting the Torino motorshow with his family, aged five or six, and even at that early age, expressing refreshing honesty.

Paolo Pininfarina - with the Sergio concept dedicated to his father Sergio Pininfarina

Paolo Pininfarina with the Sergio concept, dedicated to his father Sergio 

“We used to go to the Pininfarina stand and tour the show with my mother and other people from Pininfarina,” he recalled. ”My father stayed on the stand and at the end of the visit wanted to know our opinion of the best car of the show. My brother was more politically correct, always saying the Pininfarina car. But I remember in 1965 saying the best car was the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Coupe [by rival Bertone] – the second version – and my father said, ‘I don’t like very much that you talk about another car that is not a Pininfarina. But I agree with you it is a nice car!’”      

The Italian’s rise to the top of one of the best-known car design houses in the world was perhaps a little unusual though. He graduated in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Turin and his first job after joining the family business in 1982 was overseeing quality and reliability for the Cadillac Allanté. “My favourite area was mechanical engineering,” he said. “I was a little shy of design as it was so strategic, so central. Design was so tied with creativity and intuition that I was not feeling ready.”


Paolo (red tie to the right) with the BMW Pininfarina Gran Lusso

But the 1980s was a highly creative period for Pininfarina, in the era of Leonardo Fioravanti (Ferrari Dino, 288 GTO and F40) as design director, and Lorenzo Ramaciotti (Ferrari F430, Peugeot 406 Coupe) as his deputy.

Among such luminaries of design, Paolo learned much. In 1987 he became chairman and CEO of the new Pininfarina Extra company, which oversaw the industrial, furnishing, architectural and non-car transport sectors, and went on to develop hundreds of important projects including for Coca-Cola, Lavazza, Motorola and Aeronautica, Juventus FC’s stadium interior and even the ceremonial torch for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

People say my accent is like The Godfather, Robert de Niro

Paolo eventually rose to the position of overall Pininfarina Group chairman in 2008, albeit in tragic circumstances after then chairman, his brother Andrea, died in a scooter accident. He steered the wider business with courage – navigating a global recession, a takeover by Mahindra in 2015 and on into a new exciting era of self-branded, all-electric, hyper-luxury cars via a separate venture, Automobili Pininfarina.

The first vehicle from that brand was named after his grandfather Battista and meant a great deal to him, as he said at the time of the circa €2m hypercar’s launch at the 2019 Geneva Motorshow: “This is a dream come true. My grandfather always had the vision that one day there would be a stand-alone range of Pininfarina-branded cars.”

Automobili Pininfarina Battista - ext (plan)

Automobili Pininfarina Battista 

Family was clearly massively important to him, as he also named the 2013 Pininfarina Sergio concept car – a two-seater barchetta based on Ferrari mechanicals – in memory of his father. Indeed, he often referenced him and his other family members in conversation, including this amusing anecdote about how he perceived the various Pininfarina family leaders, in terms of their world view, by way of their command of the English Language.

“My father was a member of the Royal Society of Art and was very popular, he was very ‘British’, understated and spoke very good English. The first Pininfarina (Battista) had no English; the second Pininfarina Sergio (Oxford English), the third Pininfarina – my brother Andrea – ‘south of Michigan English’ and the fourth Pininfarina – me – international English. People say my accent is like The Godfather, Robert de Niro.”

We are a design house, not a museum

On the last occasion I had the opportunity to interview him at length, he was way less threatening than that fictional character, professing a love of skiing, playing golf and the drums, tinkering in the garden and enjoying wine in his spare time.

Paolo was always convivial, candid and forthright in our conversations and despite Pininfarina’s almost 100 years of history – which he respected deeply – he seemed more interested in the present and in preserving the business his grandfather, father and brother had helmed before him. As he said when asked if he preferred supercars or classics: “Classic cars are very nice but they represent the past. The past is important as a reference but we are working for the future. We are a design house, not a museum.”

At the time Automobili Pininfarina was getting up and running and other Pininfarina ventures were developing around the globe, he still understood that the job was not complete, and likened the development of an electric car to running a marathon. “When I was young I liked long-distance running. So the vision now is design engineering, sustainable mobility and the brand – automotive and non-automotive. Our skills are there, but the competition is strong, so we have to jump at the same level.”

That Pininfarina is still “jumping” and relevant in 2024, owes much to the calm confidence and business strategy of Paolo Pininfarina. He will be missed.

RIP Paolo Pininfarina (1958-2024)