With two generations of legendary automotive design behind him, Paolo Pininfarina has a lot to live up to. Our visit to his Cambiano factory begins as he talks us through two rows of cars arranged down either side of a bright, open room. To the right, the work of his grandfather, Batista, who founded the firm in 1930, and went on to leave an indelible mark on the history of automotive design in the years that followed. To the left, that of Sergio, his late father, who penned some of the 20th century's most significant concepts and oversaw the company's expansion into the realms of industrial design.
He explains this legacy standing in front of his own, very significant, contribution: the Ferrari Sergio. Conceived as a tribute to his father following his death in 2012, the design is inspired by his first solo project, the Dino prototype. It's based on the chassis of a 458 Spider - though the new body is stiffer and weighs over 100kg less - and powered by the engine from a Speciale. When it was unveiled at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, the concept received so much interest that a limited production run of six cars was commissioned, selling for around £2.5 million apiece.
It's as a result of this continued relevance that the Pininfarina name remains a household one, yet few people have an appreciation for the true impact that the company has made over the years. Batista's 1947 Cisitalia 202 altered the trajectory of automotive design forever; with a horizontal grille and headlights integrated into the fenders; it presented one resolved aerodynamic package for the first time, its beauty even gaining it a place in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.
Sergio's 1965 Dino prototype, meanwhile, set the standard for all mid-engined Ferraris which followed, with its midship layout, swooping fenders, flying buttresses and side air intakes. While that history hangs heavy over the Italian company, it has never weighed it down. As Paolo puts it, "one generation is not enough" to execute such an overarching vision, and it is precisely the sort of revolution his forebears achieved that he is now looking to replicate.
He intends to do this in quite some fashion, by realising his grandfather's dream of seeing the Pininfarina name not just on the side of someone else's cars, but on the back of its own. To that end Automobili Pininfarina was recently founded as a distinct company to Pininfarina S.p.A. Based just over the Alps in Munich, it is very much seperate from the 88 year old coachbuilder, though, in somewhat confusing circumstances, Automobili has just announced an investment of €20m into S.p.A., funding a partnership which will see it design and develop its future models.
The first recruits of the new marque speak further volumes of its intent, with board members boasting experience ranging from Audi and SVR to Ferrari, McLaren and Bugatti and with former F1 racer Nick Heidfeld taking on the role of development driver. Backed by the wealth of the Mahindra Group, which purchased Pininfarina three years ago, Automobili is already working with the likes of Rimac - partner to Aston Martin on the Valkyrie and Koenigsegg on the Regera - on powertrain technology and, of course, S.p.A for its design expertise. By engaging the services of others in this way, it hopes to operate as a low-asset company, remaining flexible to new technologies and agile in the face of changing markets.
The debut product of this agile new manufacturer, codenamed the PF0 (that's 'zero', not 'oh') sets the scene for what's to follow. It will be the most powerful Italian supercar ever produced when it launches in 2020 following an official unveiling at next year's Geneva show. An all-electric rocketship, its 1,925hp and 1,700lb ft of torque will propel it from 0-60 in under two seconds and on to a top speed of over 220mph, while its carbon fibre monocoque and Formula E-influenced driving experience are billed as the future of the useable hypercar.
"Classical, beautiful and pure design is successful by definition," says Paolo, "the best Pininfarina design is one where you can see a high rate of innovation." That's certainly the case here, the vehicle revealed to the assembled press bearing all the hallmarks of a modern, driver-focussed machine, with generous helpings of of Pininfarina's new 'Pura' philosophy thrown in. As few intakes and vents as possible break the external lines of the car, dihedral doors sweep skyward and near-full width LED strips span the front and rear. It appears sleeker and less fussy than many modern designs, certainly, though still aggressive and self-assured enough to hold its own amongst them.
Set to be hand-built in Italy, no more than 150 examples will be made, and plenty of interest has already been expressed by prospective buyers - even at roughly £1.5 million a pop. With a new boutique supercar seemingly announced every day, it's easy to feel cynical about anything attached to such a lofty set of figures, especially when electrification is involved. It's important in Pininfarina's case, however, to bear in mind the decades of innovation which have led to this point, to remember that the company doesn't do things by halves and to note that this is only the beginning.
As with Paolo and Sergio, so the younger of the Pininfarina brands must now continue the legacy it has inherited into the future. For now it has the guidance and experience of S.p.A. to help navigate it through a crowded market, littered with challengers to its success. One day, though, it will have to become self-supporting so that when Paolo's successor stands in the same place he does now, they might gesture to a new row of beautifully sculpted creations; a line which represents not just his own contribution to automotive design, but the fulfilment of his grandfather's century-old dream.