The online news portal of TV5
ROME/MILAN - The Italian godfather of car design, Sergio Pininfarina, renowned for crafting sleek Ferrari race cars and revolutionizing the common auto, died in Italy's motoring capital Turin on Tuesday aged 85.
Born in 1926 near Turin in the industrial north of the country, Pininfarina worked with top carmakers during his long career, designing the 1984 Ferrari Testarossa, the 1986 Fiat 124 Spider, the 2002 Ferrari Enzo, the 2003 Maserati Quattroporte, the 2004 Ferrari Scaglietti, Fiat Dino and Maserati GranTurismo, among others.
His death was mourned by many in the car and design industries.
"His genius brightened the history of the car," Fiat said on Twitter, while the head of Maserati, Harald Wester, said "Italy has lost one of its most prestigious world ambassadors, and Maserati has lost a great friend."
Pininfarina joined the family car design company after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from Turin's Polytechnic University, and quickly became involved in all aspects of the business, from designing the cars to engineering and manufacturing.
Determined to change the common perception of cars as merely functional, Sergio rose to stardom with beautifully sculptured and blood red Ferraris, from the 410 SA to the Dino Berlinetta Speciale, Ferrari F40 and Enzo Ferrari.
He also applied his talents to less exotic Peugeots, Volvos and Mitsubishis.
Pininfarina "led the Company with steady hand... following the tradition of elegance and style constantly renewed with the highest standards of innovation and harmonious beauty," his company said in a statement.
He had a passion for forward-looking technology, becoming an early supporter of reducing car emissions and increasing fuel economy. In 1972, he opened the first wind tunnel in Italy, one of the few in the world at the time.
Pininfarina was awarded dozens of honors throughout his illustrious career, including four university degrees in fine arts and industrial design.
In his half-a-century reign at the company, its automobile production rose from 524 units per year to more than 50,000.
He inherited his love of car design from his father, Gian Battista Farina, a onetime Turin carriage maker who founded the company in 1930 and built his reputation by sculpting eye-catching designs for many of the best known post-war sports cars.
The ground-breaking 1947 Cisalfa coupe, which his father designed after World War Two, now sits in New York's Museum of Modern Art. It was one of Sergio's favorite models.
Farina senior, who was the tenth of 11 children, named the company after his nickname "Pinin" -- which means "little one" in Piedmontese dialect.
The family's prestige in Italy was such that it was allowed to change its name to Pininfarina from the original Farina with a presidential decree in 1961.
He was famed for having met Henry Ford on a trip to the United States in 1920, where he turned down a job with the Ford Motor Company to return to Italy and create the Pininfarina empire.
He 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 1960, Farina senior appointed his son to the post of general manager. In 1961, Sergio became chief executive and in 1966 he took over chairmanship of the company after his father died.
Forty years later, Sergio in turn handed over management of the company to his son, Andrea, who died two years later when he was hit by a car.
By then, the company had already risen to prominence through a knack for making the latest aerodynamic design trends attractive to a broader public.
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.
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.
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 2011, the company announced it was stopping car production because it had seen its revenue plunge in a sector reeling from the financial crisis, but has continued to design and engineer, with a particular focus on electric cars.
Pininfarina was head of Italy's business association Confindustria from 1988 to 1992 and was named senator for life in 2005. He is survived by his wife Giorgio and two children Lorenza and Paolo.
"He was one of the greats of Italian industry, an example of 'Made in Italy' known around the world. This is a great loss," said Giorgio Squinzi, the current head of Confindustria.
The Cisl trade union also paid tribute to a man they said had been "a constructive and attentive interlocutor both as a businessman and as a head of Confindustria in difficult years in our history."
In May, Pininfarina said it expected to post its first profit this year since 2004.