Born in 1926 in Turin, he inherited the family business from his father Battista Farina, who was universally known in Turin by his nickname in the local Piedmontese dialect of Pinin -- so that the Turinese, when seeing one of his cars, would say it was a Pinin Farina. That stuck so much that the family's name was legally changed to Pininfarina in 1961, the same year that Sergio became managing director, turning the family business from a low-output craftsman shop into a modern industrial enterprise.
A mechanical engineer by training, by then he also had begun the cooperation with Ferrari that would yield a long line of fast, gorgeous cars, from the GTOs of the 1950s to today's F12 Berlinetta.
He had also begun an ascent to the top of Italy's society that eventually led him in 2005 to be appointed senator for life by the president -- one of just a handful of Italians who are recognized with the honorary title for, as the country's constitution says, "the highest achievements in society, the sciences, arts and letters."
The Pininfarina name isn't, in fact, associated only with cars. Recognizing the brand as a powerful signifier of Italian style, companies commissioned designs from the Pininfarina shop ranging from espresso makers to high-speed trains.
Buoyed by this growth in business, Pininfarina took the company public in the 1980s, but in a move typical of Italian capitalism, the family retained control with a 77 percent stake. Hit hard in the 2000s by the recession and the precipitous shrinking of the Italian and European car markets, the company expects to make its first profit this year since 2004.
Also in a typical Italian twist, Sergio Pininfarina left the company in the hands of his children, with Paolo holding the reins as chairman and CEO and Lorenza as vice chairman. Another son, the designated heir Andrea, was killed in a 2008 accident while riding a Vespa (another iconic Italian vehicle -- but one that was not a Pininfarina design.)
Here are some of the most famous designs to come out of Pininfarina.
1967 Ferrari 275
The Alfa Romeo Duetto convertible, made famous by the movie The Graduate, in which Dustin Hoffman drove one.
1984 Ferrari Testarossa
Ferrari 550 Maranello
Maserati GT V8
Ferrari P4/5, a one-off model designed in 2006 for Wall Street magnate James Glickenhaus
The latest design for Ferrari, the F12 Berlinetta
Pininfarina designed trains too. This is an ETR500 for the Italian Railways, built by Fiat Ferroviaria and capable of 185 mph in commercial service between Milan and Naples.