The 11 best Pininfarina concepts

21st January 2021
Henry Biggs

Like many of the car companies with which it is most strongly associated, Pininfarina was dominated by one personality in particular, its founder Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina. The youngest of 11, Farina’s nickname came from being the youngest and, as an adult, his short stature.

The cousin of Nino Farina, the first Formula 1 champion, Battista cut his teeth as an apprentice in his older brother Giovanni’s coachbuilding concern, Stabilimenti Farina, before striking out on his own. Carrozzeria Pininfarina would later take over his brother’s business.

Despite being the world’s first household name in car design, Battista was technically unskilled, treating cars as sculpture rather than engineering. His design process would begin with a simple sketch which a draughtsman would convert into a three-dimensional blueprint for a wooden buck. It was only once Battista had seen one of his creations on the road from another car that he would be satisfied and allegedly any prototypes which didn’t pass muster would be summarily dismantled with a hammer. Thankfully the concepts here passed muster.


Lancia Florida II – 1957

Where better to start than with Battista Pininfarina’s own daily driver? Back in the 1950s Lancia was still the driver’s choice of marque – Ferrari being a mere upstart – as well as leading the way in terms of engineering, technology and refinement. The Flaminia was the firm’s flagship and the Florida II Pininfarina’s take on a range-topping glamorous coupe.

Sitting on a longer wheelbase than the production coupe, Pininfarina made use of the extra length to create a supremely elegant form defined by the sweeping roof running into subtle tailfins and highlighted by the decorative chrome strip. It became the template for practically every three-box design that came after and Bob Lutz proclaimed it, “Quite simply spectacular, it truly marked a new era in terms of styling.” Battista used the concept as his personal car every day – rear suicide doors were grafted into the design to make it easier for his grandkids to climb in and out – and it remains in full working order in the Pininfarina museum.


Pininfarina X – 1960

Gagarin had yet to orbit the earth but Sputnik had been beeping away since 1957 and so space fever was everywhere, not least in its impact on car design. Which is one reason why the Pininfarina X (pr PF-X) looks much like a personal rocket pod. The other being aerodynamics with the PF-X the end result of a scientific research project spearheaded by Battista.

Looking much like a Citroën DS taken to extremes, the PF-X had its wheels arranged in a diamond pattern under the teardrop shaped bodywork in order to reduce the car’s frontal area and drag from the tyres themselves. The single rear wheel was driven by a 1.1-litre Fiat engine placed alongside it (with room for luggage on the other side) and thanks to the low drag, enabled a top speed 20 per cent higher than the donor car’s. Legend has it that Battista personally drove the car on a tour of various manufacturers in an effort to persuade them to put it into production.


Chevrolet Corvette Rondine Concept – 1963

It was Chevrolet itself which commissioned Pininfarina to create a concept based on the chassis of the then new C2 Corvette, aka the Sting Ray, itself an acknowledged design classic. The Rondine took a different approach, toning down the aggressiveness of Larry Shinoda’s Sting Ray and losing its bulges and vents in favour of slick smoothness.

Half shuttered headlights, smoother wings and flanks and a panoramic rear window give the Rondine Corvette a lightness while the split bumpers, chrome accent on the B-pillar and horizontal tail lights add eye-catching detail. Elements of the design would later reappear in elegant Fiats such as the Dino and 124 Spiders.


Ferrari Sigma Grand Prix monoposto F1 – 1969

There really aren’t many Formula 1 concept cars, the sport itself being a test bed for cutting edge design and engineering but in the late 1960s the sport could be said to be lagging in the area of safety. To try and focus engineering minds on this aspect of racing Le Revue Automobile and Pininfarina presented a F1 safety concept at the 1969 Geneva Motor Show with the backing of Mercedes, Fiat and Ferrari.

The latter provided the 3.0-litre V12 around which the car was built, separate from the cockpit which formed a driver survival cell for which the wing provided roll-over protection. Other innovations, many of which were eventually adopted included crumple structures front and rear, side reinforcement, puncture resistant multilayer fuel tanks, fire extinguisher system, safety belts and structures behind the rear wheels to prevent interlocking.


Peugeot Peugette – 1976

One of the early superminis, the Peugeot 104 was a huge success across Europe, staying in production for 16 years and selling in excess of 1.5 million examples. It was not necessarily over endowed with youth appeal however which Pininfarina attempted to address and interest Peugeot in producing. In doing so the firm may have inadvertently invented the ‘lifestyle’ vehicle.

Stripped to the bare essentials, the Peugette (meaning ‘little Peugeot’) was, unusually for a concept, designed with production and ownership in mind, regardless of the lack of roof. All the panels are interchangeable both front to back and side to side to reduce tooling and repair costs. So the front and rear wings, bonnet, boot and both doors could be interchanged with the same approach taken to housing the instruments in dash-mounted pods. Low weight and wide tyres apparently made the Peugette a blast to drive but not enough to offset its unrepentant impracticality. Still, wouldn’t you love one as a holiday car for a week in the South of France?


Jaguar XJ Spider – 1978

If you have been aware of the furore that greeted Land Rover’s temerity in replacing the Defender, well that pales into comparison with the reception the E-type’s replacement, the XJ-S received. Three years on from its introduction and the complaints were not subsiding so Jaguar provided Pininfarina with an XJ-S development chassis to clothe. There the trio of Sergio Pininfarina, Leonardo Fioravanti and Renzo Carli revisited the E-type for inspiration, shamelessly adapting its oval intake and sweeping wings in place of the XJ-S’s stately square lines. They also gave it an absolutely massive boot in case you were wondering why it looks a bit like a Corvette in profile.

Shorter, wider and lower and with a convertible roof which the XJ-S then lacked, it was wildly received at the 1978 British Motor Show, well enough in fact that Jaguar began developing prototypes. As both coupe and convertible these would have borne the F-type name and sat in the Jaguar range below the XJ-S. Still in development a decade later when Ford took control of Jaguar it was rightly axed, although apparently some of its engineering found its way into then stablemate Aston Martin’s new DB7.

Make sure you read our list of the nine best Jaguar concept cars.


Honda HP-X – 1984

This is exactly what a concept car should look like, a full sized Hot Wheels car with zero practicality. As such, the HP-X (Honda Pininfarina eXperimental) lacked doors, entry being by means of raising the one-piece plexiglass canopy and hopping over the sides. The shaping of the canopy to create one smooth frontal area before the dramatic cut off at the rear was intended to optimise aerodynamics. This was matched by the underside of the car which was shaped to take advantage of ground effects to increase downforce.

Dramatic as it was, the HP-X served a practical purpose, acting as a test-bed for mid-mounting Honda’s new V2 Formula 2 engine. This was the project which went on to give rise to the first generation NSX. We have to admit we wouldn’t have minded if it had kept the concept’s styling.


Lancia HIT – 1988

Another research vehicle, the Lancia HIT (High Italian Technology) was a Pininfarina test bed for new construction methods and design directions. Based on the mechanicals of the Lancia Integrale, it was constructed from glued carbon-fibre and kevlar panels which shaved over 200kg from the donor car, dropping it below the tonne. With a slippery shape and low weight, it would have been a riot to drive.


Honda SSM – 1995

The Honda S2000 is one of those cars which seems almost to define the category in which they sit. The car, sold between 1999 and 2009, is practically the epitome of the two-seat convertible with its long nose, compact cabin and truncated rear propelled by a high-revving engine turning the back wheels. Well it’s hard to say it but maybe Honda should have built Pininfarina’s design instead.

The Honda SSM (Sport Study Model) was revealed a few years before the S2000 at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show but as you can see, strongly previewed the eventual production car styling. Pure roadster, with no provision for a hood, the SSM separated the driver and passenger seats with kevlar dividing panels. The driver got a wraparound dashboard with digital instrument panel and high-mounted gear lever. Thankfully the automatic gearbox this was attached to was replaced in the production car by a superb six-speed manual. The concept’s straight-five would perhaps have been even more exciting than the screaming four which powered the S2000 however.

Why not have a read of another list: the 11 best Honda concept cars.


Citroën Osée – 2001

Hoping to drum up some business from Citroën, Pininfarina took the opportunity of the launch of its C5 executive saloon to do something very different with the car’s 3.0-litre V6 engine. This was transversely mid-mounted behind a three-seater cockpit with McLaren F1 style central driving position. Access was provided by a forward-hinged canopy comprising the roof and side windows.

The styling was unmistakable Citroën with chevrons and triangles abounding and references to models of old. The lack of a rear view was accounted for by cameras which displayed on an LCD screen in front of the driver. The only time Pininfarina has created a Citroën badged concept, the Osée won ‘Best in Show’ at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show.


Maserati Birdcage 75 – 2005

Pininfarina celebrated its 90th birthday in 2020 but we thought we would finish up with the car it created to mark its diamond anniversary. A collaboration between it, Maserati and Motorola, the Birdcage 75 was completed in an incredible two months using 3D renderings. Based on the Maserati MC12 GT1 car the Birdcage 75 shares its carbon-fibre chassis and 6.0-litre 700PS (522Kw) V12 engine.

Like the original Birdcage cars of the 1960s the anniversary model was designed with bodywork (now in carbon-fibre) which gave glimpses of the structure and mechanicals underneath. Due to this, and the incredibly low seating position, the windscreen continues almost the whole length of the car, lifting like a canopy to provide access and running back into the clear engine cover. Motorola’s input included two head-up displays in the cockpit and a mobile phone-like controller in the centre of the steering wheel. Truly ahead of its time, the car included several cameras so occupants could share their driving experience via mobile phone. Five years too early, it would have been the dream car for the Instagram generation.

  • List

  • Pininfarina

  • Maserati

  • Lancia

  • Citroen

  • Chevrolet

  • Corvette

  • Ferrari

  • Peugeot

  • Jaguar

  • Honda

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