Pininfarina: how he could have saved the British motor industry
How a great Italian car designer could have been the saviour of Great Britain's home car industry.
Sergio Pininfarina, who sadly died this week aged 85, is one of the most significant car designers ever.
His catalogue of classics is brilliant: focused on Ferrari, it includes icons such as the Ferrari Testarossa, Ferrari F40, Ferrari Enzo and Ferrari F430. To have designed just one of them would be enough for most. Pininfarina did these cars and many more – Ferrari 456, Ferrari F355, Ferrari Daytona, Maserati Quattroporte, Peugeot 406 Coupe (it’s a mainstream beauty), Peugeot 306 (ditto), Alfa Romeo 164… the list is endless.
He also has a history with the British car industry too, though, not least in designing the so very pretty Austin/Morris 1100/1300. A British best-seller of the 1960s, it was the Ford Focus of its day and much more besides: if any mainstream maker could sell as many family hatchbacks as the 1100 did in its heyday, they’d be cheering from the rooftops.
It was an uncommonly attractive car, all crisp lines, elegant proportions and a simple classlessness that endeared it to millions. It was the perfect blend of styling and engineering too, for beneath it was an Alec Issigonis-designed platform that was just as creative as what was on top.
The 1100 endured Austin and Morris thrived in the 1960s – but then came the tricky issue of replacing it. Pininfarina of course suggested a possible development, which was shown at the 1968 Turin Motor Show. However, it was, in an act of utter corporate lunacy, rejected. The Pininfarina relationship with what was then BMC was over.
Instead, we got the Allegro. Yes, really. The beautiful 1100 was replaced by the rightly ridiculed All-aggro. And with the end of the 1100 went the British motor industry’s leadership of the largest British car sector.
A few years later, what became BL was in such a state, it had to be nationalised. The decline accelerated through the 1970s and, after a brief fillip in the early 1990s (thanks to Honda-designed cars), the resultant MG Rover collapsed in 2005.
The causes are, of course, wide and varied. But giving away your leadership of the country’s largest and potentially most profitable market sector has to rank high amongst them – and as styling sells, the blame has to be firmly laid at the door of the Allegro’s severely compromised looks.
BMC should have let Pininfarina develop the replacement to the 1100/1300. His track record is such that it would have been a winner. That they eschewed such a successful relationship is tantamount to corporate stupidity.
It would be like Ford today replacing the Fiesta not with a car designed by someone who created the F40 and 458 Italia, but with something that looked like a poorly-proportioned jellymould. Wouldn’t happen. So why did it back then?
Pininfarina maybe could have saved the British motor industry if given a chance. What a pity that he wasn’t.
I thought the British Car Industry was one of the few UK export sucesses of the year ?
Land Rover and Aston Martin reporting record sales, export sales and profits.
What a laughable argument that Pininfarina could have saved the British Car Industry - try doing some research and you will find its doing very nicely thanks
MSN Cars' Steve Walker takes the UK's cheapest new car for a test drive to see if it's worth parting only £5,995 for.
Date 23/05/13, Duration 4:17, Views 906
Which of these endangered 1970s and 80s cars would you be saddest to see become extinct?
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- Austin Allegro
- Austin Maxi
- Austin Montego
- Austin Princess
- Hillman Avenger
- Morris Marina
- Morris Ital
- Vauxhall Viva