A Concept for Sunday: 1978 Pininfarina Ecos

In 1978, Fiat and Pininfarina displayed both their environmental credentials alongside the Ecos styling study. Twenty years later, were its themes reprised for of all things, an SUV?

Pininfarina / Fiat Ecos. Image credit: classic car catalogue

As we’re fond of pointing out round here, the storied Italian design houses were not exactly above rehashing and repurposing design concepts for rival clients should the need arise (And it frequently did). After all, there are only so many ideas out there at a given time and if the intended client isn’t biting, why not recycle it for someone potentially more receptive?

Today’s subject doesn’t quite fall into this category, being more a case of a carrozzeria returning to its back catalogue for a theme which hadn’t particularly resonated at the time of its original showing.

At the 1978 Turin motor show, Pininfarina displayed amongst that year’s fare, the Ecos, a compact electric city car co-developed with Fiat’s research studio. Small and angular, with a tall, glassy canopy, the Ecos was no frivolous flight of stylistic fancy, rather a serious-minded exploration of a production-feasable (well, sort of) electrically driven urban runabout.

A non-runner, Ecos was intended to be powered by a 26kw electric motor driving the front wheels, in series with twelve six volt batteries. Range, one imagines, not to mention packaging, may have left something to be desired.

Unsurprisingly, the Ecos was lost amidst Pininfarina’s other 1978 offerings, most notably the major talking point at Turin – the soft-formed and radically shaped CNR-PF aerodynamic study. By this time, the angular shapes of the early ’70s were fast becoming passe in the wake of production cars like Porsche’s 928, not to mention the XJ Spider Pininfarina would debut later that year. With no real commercial appetite for electric cars and motor show duties out of the way, the little Ecos was quietly consigned to history.

But not so fast. Fast forward twenty years and Pininfarina was faced with a styling brief from Mitsubishi motors for a compact SUV. Consciously or not, the styling of the resultant vehicle, launched in 1999 as the Pinin Pajero could be said to closely resemble the Ecos in form and spirit.

1999 Mitsubishi Pajero Pinin. Image credit: RAC

Most notable is the canopy, which in the three-door version in particular echoes that of the 1978 concept in silhouette and daylight openings. Yes, the forms are tougher and more robust looking as befits an SUV type vehicle, but it would be relatively easy to transpose them onto the Ecos and emerge with a similar result. Mind you, in symbolic terms the transformation from electric city car to 4×4 mud-plugger was to put it mildly, incongruous.

Certainly, Mitsubishi didn’t appear to mind, if indeed they were even mildly cognizant of the Ecos when they signed an agreement with the Italian coachbuilder to produce the car in 1997. The junior Pajero was introduced into the European market in 1999, with body production taking place at Grugliasco and final assembly at a new Pininfarina facility at Bairo Canavese.

Also built and marketed in Japan from 1998 to 2007, and in Brazil from 2002 to as recently as 2014, the European production run was the shortest of all, ending in 2004. Perhaps a more grown-up Suzuki Jimny than a Rav4 rival, the Pajero (Shogun in the UK) Pinin, which was offered with a petrol 1.8 litre Gdi Mitsubishi engine, was regarded as being tough, durable and capable off-road. However, it was criticised for being cramped and somewhat impractical for on-road use.

Image credit: RAC

There was talk of further Pininfarina / Mitsubishi collaborative ventures, but as both entities entered respective periods of decline, nothing came of their words of mutual appreciation.

So what have we learned today, apart from recalling a long-forgotten concept? Little apart from the notion that when it comes to matters of creativity, nothing is ever truly wasted.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

5 thoughts on “A Concept for Sunday: 1978 Pininfarina Ecos”

  1. Although it has cleaner lines, the profile and rear 3/4 view remind me of the Peugeot BB1 concept. Maybe because they both seem to have that tilted forward look ?

  2. It actually made me think of the first Nissan Prairie. Short bonnet and large angular glasshouse. Perhaps not the prettiest car ever but fairly distinctive.

  3. I always liked the Pinin – it seems amazing that it was dropped from the UK model line up just as smaller SUVs became the thing. The Ecos itself has strong thematic overtones of the Panda, but also in different and lesser ways the little Innocenti and Issigonis’s 9x.

  4. The Eco’s graphics put not just most of the show cars unveiled at Geneva to shame, but also the ‘we need a grille of some sort to lend our cars character’ argument.

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