There are some drivers who believe that they will never be killed in a racing car, that they are protected by lucky charms or Virgin Marys. And sometimes it seems that they are right.
Giuseppe Farina worked in the vineyards near the village of Cortanze d’Asti, in the hills of Piedmont, to the east of Turin, where they grow Moscato Bianco grapes and produce a sparkling white wine. It was hard work and in the 1880s large numbers of Italian farm workers left; 50,000 a year moved to France, many others went to America. But Farina and his wife and their ever-growing family decided to try their luck in Turin. They opened a wine shop and things went well, although they started running out of names for their children. They already had Giovanni, born in 1884, but nine years later added a Giovanni Battista, their 10th of 11 children. Giovanni Battista looked so like his father that they called him Giuseppino – little Giuseppe. This was soon shortened to Pinin.
The older Giovanni left school and went to work at Marcello Alessio’s coachbuilding company, the early supplier of car bodies to Fiat. He married and soon, in the family tradition, they had two sons: Attilio and Giuseppe, the latter named after his grandfather. On the day Giuseppe was born, at the end of October 1906, Giovanni and another brother Carlo set up the Società Anonima Stabilimenti Industriali Giovanni Farina, to build car bodies for the new industry. When Pinin was 12, he joined the company and was soon designing prototypes. When the First World War started the state-owned Società Anonima Meccanica Lombarda copied the design of an Austrian biplane called the Aviatik and commissioned Farina to build the bodies. The company would return to automobiles in 1919 with small Temperino voiturettes, one of which was soon owned by Giovanni’s 13-year-old son Giuseppe, by then known as Nino. He would soon join his Uncle Pinin as a riding mechanic in local racing events. At 17 he did his first hillclimb at Aosta, driving a Chiribiri.
Although the family had money, he wanted to buy his own machinery and so used what money he had to speculate on the Milan stock exchange. He lost everything, but his father came to his rescue and bought him him a couple of Alfa Romeos, which they both used to go racing. Nino went to university and studied political science, gained a doctorate and then did his military service in the cavalry and with a tank regiment. By the time this was all done it was 1932, and he was 26. By then Uncle Pinin had left the family business and started his own Carrozzeria Pinin Farina. Nino’s racing career did not get off to a good start. He was fast, but his first season ended with a heavy crash, facial injuries and a broken shoulder. By 1936, however, he had made sufficient an impression to be taken on by Enzo Ferrari, as an Alfa Romeo factory driver. He soon showed that he was ruthless and uncompromising. At the Deauville Grand Prix that year he collided with Marcel Lehoux and the French driver was killed. Two years later in Tripoli, the same thing happened with Hungarian László Hartmann. His rivals called him dangerous, others reckoned he was just a nasty bastard. The Second World War interrupted his career. He served as a tank commander and then joined the family business, although he had no real interest and left the running of it to his brother Attilio.
As soon as the war ended, he was racing again in a private Maserati. He was 39. But the Alfa Romeo factory team wanted experienced drivers and so he was signed again. In 1948 he married the fashion designer Elsa Giaretto. She wanted him to stop racing, but he refused to do so and when Jean-Pierre Wimille was killed at the start of 1949, Farina became the Alfa Romeo team leader. It was good timing. The World Championship kicked off the following year. Farina won the first race and added victories at Bremgarten and Monza and became the very first F1 World Champion. He was overshadowed by Juan Manuel Fangio in 1951 and moved to Ferrari in 1952, but was outraced by Ferrari’s new star Alberto Ascari. At the start of 1953 there was tragedy when he swerved to avoid a spectator at the Argentine GP and went into the crowd, killing at least nine people. It had little effect on him. Later that year he won the German GP, the Spa 24 Hours and the Nürburgring 1000.
He moved to Lancia in 1954 as team leader but crashed on the Mille Miglia and broke his right arm. He returned six weeks later only to suffer severe burns to his legs when a mechanical failure set the car on fire during practice for a sports car race at Monza. He spent three weeks in hospital.
The 1955 season would be his last in F1 but the following year he went to Indianapolis and failed to qualify and then broke his collarbone in a sport car crash at Monza. He went back to Indy with a Kurtis-Offenhauser in 1957 but his back-up driver Keith Andrews lost control of the car while practising and was killed and the car destroyed. That was the end of his racing career. He remained reckless and in 1960 as lucky to escape from a road accident when he ran into a truck near the city of Biella. His passenger was killed.
A year later the Uncle Pinin, by then a legend in the automobile industry, legally changed his family name from Farina to Pininfarina. He would die five years later in April 1966, at the age of 73. Two months after that Nino set off from Turin to drive to Reims for the French GP. As he made his way through the mountains, towards Chambery, he skidded on some ice at Aiguebelle, slid into a telegraph pole and was killed instantly.
His luck had run out.