The name Pininfarina is synonymous with expensive and elegant Italian sports cars such as the Maserati GranTurismo, Alfa Romeo Spyder and a log file of Ferraris such as the 365 GTB/4, Enzo, F40 and Testarossa. The global design legend does much more than style beautiful cars though, and ample testimony will appear at auction this week in the form of a little known 1960s concept car. With its four wheels arranged in a diamond shape, the tiny aerodynamic four-seater Pininfarina-X had a drag coefficient of 0.23, indicating that Pininfarina was a long way ahead of the rest of the world in exploring the critical area of aerodynamics, long before it was fashionable.
It should be noted before we get into this article, that the Pininfarina legend is not based on the work of just one man, but on Batista "Pinin" Farina's design philosophy and his ability to recognize and coordinate genuine talent. Apart from Pininfarina himself (he legally changed his surname to Pininfarina, incorporating his nickname into his surname in 1961 in one of the most successful branding exercises in history), many hyper talented designers worked in this curated garden of excellence to maintain a globally excellent level of work over six decades (and counting).
The fascinating and little known example of Pininfarina's extraordinary vision which goes to auction next week is the obscure and radical 1960 concept, the Pininfarina X (codename Pf-X). Like so many of his ideas which were decades ahead of their time, and this was indeed a highly personal project for the man whose name the company bears, the Pf-X didn't see production.
Pininfarina collaborated with aerodynamics expert Professor Alberto Morelli of the Politecnico di Torino (Polytechnic University of Turin), who had already developed the low-drag Morelli M1000 concept in 1956, then personally championed the design and construction of the small and aerodynamically efficient Pf-X.
Remarkably, to achieve the long, low and aerodynamic design, Morelli used a similar slippery shape to the M1000, but rearranged the automobile's traditional four wheels on each corner into a rhomboid (diamond) pattern to create the X.
The X is steered not by the traditional two front wheels, but by the single front wheel, with the single rear wheel being the driving wheel. A 1089cc Fiat engine is located at the rear of the vehicle at one side, allowing space for luggage, and although it is a standard Fiat motor, it achieved a 20 percent higher top speed than the equivalent production-bodied Fiat from which it was borrowed.
Batista "Pinin" Farina personally drove the X to various manufacturers to eulogize the benefits of the design and persuade them to mass-produce the car. Apart from ensuring the buyer that this car has been driven by one of automotive history's greatest names, it highlights just how much Pinin was obsessed with function and not just form.
The Pf-X was exhibited at the 1960 Turin Motor Show and the 1961 Brussels Automobile Show, after which it was returned to the factory where it remained in the Pininfarina museum until 2007 when it was acquired by well known collector and serial entrepreneur John Rosatti.
The car is almost certain to have also been driven at length by the famous Professor Alberto Morelli, who continued his research into aerodynamics in automobiles until late in the twentieth century, and his research was also instrumental in the furthering of the design of gliders.
The importance of the Pf-X in the growing understanding of aerodynamics at Pininfarina cannot be understated. It was developed further in 1961 to become the Pf-Y, reverting to a more traditional four-wheeled arrangement.
In 1967, Pininfarina's Leonardo Fioravanti produced a concept car for the British BMC which was presented at the Turin Motor Show and may well have changed the course of history had it been produced. Recognize it? Though Pininfarina did not have its own wind tunnel for several more years, the BMC 1800 Berlina-Aerodinamica had a profound effect on European automotive design, and predates the remarkably similar Citroen by several years. This was what BMC's frumpy 1800 could have looked like, and the British company's waning star just might have risen again with Italian style and aerodynamic efficiency.
In the seventies, Morelli collaborated with Pininfarina's Fioravanti and Antonello Cogotti again to develop the CNR-PF, a four-seat passenger car with a drag coefficient of 0.172. The CNR-PF eventually became a Pininfarina Concept car in 1990.
These days, automotive designers and aerodynamics are blessed with a vast array of tools in designing vehicles. In 1960, the Pf-X was a bold concept born from Pininfarina's desire to overcome the primary limitations of physics. Like the German efforts in pioneering wind tunnel research in the thirties, the Pf-X is an important milestone in automotive design. The one and only Pininfarina Pf-X will be sold with copies of the original factory title and files (Archivio Pininfarina: PF 815), making it an ideal addition to any automotive museum.
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