A man who can deservedly be labeled as “legendary,” car designer Sergio Pininfarina died today at the age of 85.
Over the course of his 40-year career running his namesake design studio, Pininfarina (shown above with Ferrari CEO Luca di Montezemolo) oversaw some of the most beautiful cars ever made. There’s the Cisitalia 202, the Lancia Flaminia, and a smattering of Ferraris: the 250 GT of Ferris Bueller fame; the wild Testarossa; the Dino; the Daytona. His concepts were a reflection of the times—the wedgy, submarine-like Ferrari Modulo could only have been a child of the straight-edged 1970s. The Ferrari Pinin concept could have been a more convincing exotic Italian sedan, if Sergio hadn’t later penned the Maserati Quattroporte himself. And it wasn’t all supercars, either: the Alfa Romeo GTV, the Fiat 124 Spider, and the Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider of “The Graduate” fame—a design that endured for the better part of 30 years and became a brand-wide icon.
Sergio once said in an interview, “I had tremendous respect for Mr. Ferrari and his attitude toward design. Mr. Ferrari could understand if a man was being sincere and he understood my enthusiasm was sincere and coming from the heart.”
Here, then, are the least we can do to pay tribute to a man that drove the company that most changed automotive design for the past century: The creator of poster cars, the visionary behind our dreams. It should be no surprise that most of this list will carry prancing horses on it. Pininfarina, after all, was Italian—both as vital to the nation’s foundation as Fellini and sugo all’arrabbiata. Choosing just five seems like an affront.
Pininfarina itself is in good hands; Sergio’s son, Paolo, will be in charge. He’s got a hell of a legacy to start with.
Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona
It’s hard to mention Ferrari without mentioning Lamborghini. When the Miura came out, all glorious 12 cylinders shoehorned sideways behind a monocoque chassis—the body would come later—the world jumped on this mid-engined craze (including Ferrari, as you’ll read later). If your nemesis introduces a better gun, shouldn’t you match it exactly? “Va’nculo,” Enzo himself must have said, “we’ll keep this front-engined thing going for as long as we can. Now get me Don Johnson!” Ferrari may not have matched the Miura in engine placement, but they got the cylinder count right—12, behind Weber carburetors—and boy, did they match the Miura in terms of styling brilliance.
Dino 246 GT
Leave it to Ferrari to introduce an entry-level car that manages to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Hard to imagine Ferrari without a road car whose engine lies somewhere behind the driver’s spleen and somewhere in front of its Larini exhaust tips, but the Dino was the progenitor. As if that wasn’t enough, its gorgeously rounded fenders and body lines seem, as the cliche goes, almost pornographic. Hey, it’s Italy we’re talking here, right?
Ferrari 512 S Modulo
The 1970s was a bold decade, one where cars had to look like they could fly to our vacation homes on Mare Serenitatis by 1980. Perhaps the Modulo, based on the chassis of a Ferrari 512 S racecar, was the most extreme. Ferrari built a bunch of the 512 for homoglation purposes, and just happened to have one left over—which it gave to Pininfarina, telling them, “you guys play with it or soemthing.” And oh, they did—the result is something that looks like a computer mouse or James Bond’s Lotus Esprit submarine on steroids. Fun fact: its 5.0-liter V-12 racing engine still functions, and if you drove the Modulo you would probably achieve some semblance of flight.
What’s a car more iconic than the Testarossa, that symbol of driving through a mountaintop of cocaine that you’ve conquered through insider trading deals on your novel-sized cell phone? Unsurprisingly, two cars from this list stem from the same television show. But both are symbolic of their respective eras: while the Daytona evokes imagery of whisking across the French Riviera with Grace Kelly in the passenger seat, the Testarossa whisks across South Beach just as easily, perhaps with Grace Jones. If there’s one item from the 1980s that captures the decade so easily, it’s the Motorola DynaTAC, wrapped in a pair of Brooks Brothers suspenders, and hanging from the rearview mirror of a Testarossa.
Alfa Romeo Spider
Blame Dustin Hoffman for this one, but the Alfa Romeo Spider enjoys just as envious a place in pop culture as the aforementioned Testarossa. Before it became inflated with gills and faux aero styling and godawful US regulation bumpers and the whiff of desperate Beverly Hills 80s Aqua-Netted housewives, the original round-ended “Duetto” was a delicate little thing with perfect proportions and a flat, simple tail you could use as a diving board. Here’s a fun fact: when the original “Duetto” came out, it was nicknamed the “Osso di Seppia”—which was Italian for “cuttlefish bone.” And just like swearing, it sounds far sexier in Italian.