Pininfarina’s Revolutionary Florida: The Most Influential Automotive Design Since 1955

Lancia Florida-II 1957 _01

(updated; first posted in 2011)    The evolution of automotive design doesn’t really have that many clearly defined mileposts, especially those with the word “revolutionary” etched into them. It’s a river of constant evolution, borrowing, and incrementalism. But there are a few, and Battista “Pinin” Farina is credited with at least two of them, likely a record.

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The first is his 1946 Cisitalia 202GT coupe, which synthesized an organic “molded lump of clay” pontoon style that was profoundly influential. There was hardly a sports car or sport coupe built after it for at least a decade or more that didn’t pay the Cisitalia tribute, never mind mundane sedans the world over. The pontoon style dominated the postwar years, but who else but Pinin to take the next step; to create folds, creases and angles and forever break the “pontoon” school of design that the Cisitalia ushered in and so dominated the fifties. His Floridas are the progenitors of a whole new angular wave, and Pininfarina quickly spread its design language across a huge number of cars, including the Peugeot 404.

Pininfarina 1955 Lancia_Aurelia_Florida_2-door_02_1

The black coupe at the top is the Florida II (1957) and the prototype of the coach-built Lancia Flaminia Coupe built in small numbers. Before it, there were two antecedents. The first Florida (above) was also a coupe, built in 1955, and based on the Lancia Aurelia sedan chassis. It was the first step towards a new synthesis of linearity and a formal roof, without abandoning the curves that had dominated the post war years to date.

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The four-door hardtop Florida appeared later in 1955; it was both a refinement and evolution of the coupe. The front end design reflects Farina’s infatuation at the time with headlights mounted low in the grille, as was used by the “Pininfarina” Nashes and Ramblers, as well as the Nash-Healey.

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But at the rear, we see something new: the rear windscreen is now not mounted flush, but inset, with vestigial flying buttresses.

Ferrari 1954 375MM Bergman

This was first seen on Pininfarina’s superb 1954 Ferrari 375 “Bergman”, a one-off that was commissioned by Roberto Rossellini for his wife Ingrid Bergman. It was a theme that would reappear again, both on Ferraris as well as in Detroit.

The Florida coupes and sedan begot the production Lancia Flaminia Pininfarina Coupe, as it was officially called. There were some small changes made, but it’s remarkably faithful to the prototype. The very delicate but significant horizontal break line can be seen well in this picture, as it depends on the lighting. It’s one of the most important features of this car, a key step in moving on from the slab-sided pontoon look.

The distinctive rear window inset and the graceful extension of the C-pillar to the rear lights are almost perfectly replicated in the Peugeot 404 sedan.

To appreciate the significance of the Florida’s new roof line, inset rear window, and the very deliberate break of the upper body with the lower one, we’ll have to take a look at some examples of pre-Florida designs, starting with the influential Cisitalia, above.

The Peugeot 403 (1955) is a perfect example of the “pontoon” or “envelope” style that utterly predominated the late forties and early fifties, influenced by the Cisitalia. In the case of the 403, it was Pininfarina’s own design, one of the last before the Florida.

Countless American cars, starting with the new 1949 post-war models, also espoused this design direction, the 1949 Ford being a particularly good example.

Italian Lancia Flaminia Coupe

But with the Florida, the smooth mold was broken, and in Europe certainly, it set off a revolution. American designers were undoubtedly influenced too, if not in quite such a blatant fashion, and quite so quickly.

Well, the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Riviera certainly border on the edge of being blatant. Bill Mitchell’s dramatic shift away from Harley Earl’s rounded themes of the fifties to the sharp-edged look of the sixties owes a generous tip of his fedora to the Florida. Even the GP’s delicate but unmistakable mid-line body crease is taken straight off the Florida’s flanks. It’s so subtle that it hardly shows up in some of the Florida pictures, but it was a crucial element in breaking up that older slab-side look.

The 1966 GM Intermediate coupes, like this Chevelle Malibu, takes the Florida’s inset rear window even further.

Studebaker’s 1962 Gran Turismo Hawk would have a hard time denying it was not designed under the influence. And we can take this game even further back and speculate:

The 1958 Thunderbird was the first American car to sport Ford’s soon widely-adopted wide and flat C-pillar and deeply-inset rear window, both hallmarks of the 1955 Florida. You be the judge. (Update: the ’57 retractable hardtop Ford Skyliner had it first.)

We can argue about the Florida’s influence in the US; in Europe, there was no argument. After being a fairly small designer and coachbuilder, the Florida vaulted Farina into the big time, including having the Italian government decree a change in his last name to Pininfarina, incorporating his nickname with his family name. And large European manufacturers came knocking with money in hand, eager to sign design contracts. One of the biggest was with BMC, and their 1958 lineup of their mid-sized 1.5 liter sedans were the first of many to bear the Pininfarina stamp.

One year later, Pininfarina’s 1959 Fiat 1800 appeared, showing the Florida’s influence less diluted than in the rather fussy and finny BMC saloons, and predicting the Peugeot 404 quite accurately.

Especially so from the rear. One hopes Peugeot got a volume discount for their 404 contract.

A very influential car with its tailgate-hatchback was the 1958 Austin A40 Farina, named after its designer. Predicting quite successfully the VW Golf and its ilk, A40 was built on a more pedestrian RWD platform.

The Peugeot 404’s rear window and the way the C-pillar blends into the line ending with the rear fin was much more true to the Florida than any of the other Pininfarina production designs, and is its most distinctive feature.

BMC’s Austin and Morris 1100 models of 1962 took the original Mini’s space efficient FWD layout to a slightly larger level, and Pininfarina adapted the Florida design language to a whole new smaller and modern level. A very progressive and influential design, also built in MG and other BMC brand versions, it was sold here finally as the ill-fated Austin America.

Before we leave the pedestrian Florida-influenced Pininfarinas, let’s pay homage to the brilliant Ferraris that Pininfarina designed during the Florida era, such as this 250 GT from 1958. Its front end is dripping with the Florida I, even though the actual execution with the headlights is different.

The Ferrari’s superb hind quarters speak it just as much, although the rear window lacks the distinctive inset of the Florida’s.

Looking outside of Pininfarina’s own work, one can see the Florida’s influence in a raft of imitators, starting with the most modest (and smoky) two-stroke Trabant, from the former East Germany.

Or head across the globe, to Japan, to ponder the 1965 Nissan President. We could find a slew of cars from this era bearing the Florida’s wide-spread genes; but what about more recent designs?

The handsome Fiat 130 Coupe of 1971 was a Pininfarina design, but not by Pinin himself, whose last personal and lasting effort was the Florida. It updates many of the basic Florida elements fifteen years on.

Perhaps the most faithful Florida re-enactment came in 1975, with Pininfarina’s Rolls-Royce Camargue. It just goes to show how enduring a truly timeless design can be. Not bad for, for twenty years on.

The game of Florida-hunting could go on all night, but let’s put it to bed with another Nissan design, the more recent Infiniti Q45 (Y33). Call it a stretch if you like, but that timeless C-pillar originated somewhere…specifically, on the 1956 Florida.


Related: How the 1960 Corvair Started a Global Design Revolution