Fabrizio Giugiaro, head of styling at Italdesign Giugiaro, said Sergio Pininfarina was a pioneer in the transformation of Italy's small, family-run small coachbuilders into fully-fledged contract manufacturers. "Sergio had an extraordinary taste in design," he added. "We have lost a long-time great friend."
Sergio joined his family's company in 1950 after earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the Turin Polytechnic.
During his time as head of the company, Pininfarina introduced its three most successful production models, the Fiat 124 Sport Spider, built from 1966 to 1985; the Alfa Romeo Spider, produced from 1966 to 1993 and the Peugeot 406 coupe, built from 1996 to 2004.
Sergio was particularly fond of the 1965 Dino Berlinetta Speciale, a concept car that deeply influenced the design of rear-engine Ferraris for 40 years.
He became CEO of Pininfarina in 1961, taking on the additional role of chairman in 1966 following the death of his father and company founder, Battista "Pinin" Farina.
The Pininfarina company was synonymous with beauty in automobiles, but Sergio believed that design should be as simple as possible. "Ever since I was a young boy, I remember my father yelling out to his staff: "Make it simpler!" he once said.
He relinquished the CEO position in 2001 to his son, Andrea, but remained chairman, progressively reducing his day-to-day involvement in the company.
Andrea died in a motorcycle accident in 2008 and was replaced as company chairman by his younger brother Paolo. In the same year, the company's creditor banks won control of the firm when they bailed out the company that had become heavily indebted after expanding its coachbuilding operations in a so-called "pay-for-production" scheme. The Pininfarina family was left with a symbolic 1.2 percent stake in the company.
Normally, an automaker that wants to contract production of a niche car invests upfront for the model. Under pay-for-production, the coachbuilder makes the upfront investments and is repaid as it builds cars. Pininfarina ran up high debts to finance production of the Alfa Romeo Brera and Spider, the Ford Focus CC, the Mitsubishi Colt CZC and the Volvo C70. The cars all sold fewer than forecast, leaving Pininfarina unable to pay its debts.