Last year the world lost one of the most prolific car designers, Tom Tjaarda.
Tjaarda was born in Detroit in 1934 – his father worked in the Lincoln division of Ford and his claim to fame was that he worked on the Lincoln-Zephyr cars from the late 1930s. He had designed a vehicle that Ford used as a basis for their Zephyr. The Tjaarda surname came from a Dutch background with Tjaarda senior born in the Netherlands and working on several aircraft and car designs before moving to the US.
Tom was raised in Detroit and was schooled there and at high school he won a General Motors Craftsmans Guild competition to design a model car. He then went to university, although he studied architecture design rather than automotive! However, instead of showcasing a building for his finals, he handed over a car design!! Interestingly, that earned him an internship at Carrozzeria Ghia in Italy. One of his tutors had visited Italy, meeting the head of Ghia and during that meeting suggested they talk to Tjaarda!
Tjaarda moved to Turin and stayed with Ghia for two years before moving to a furniture company! His time at Ghia was spent working on cars from Innocenti and Ghia specials from Renault and VW Karmann. His work for Gabetti and Isola was focused on exhibition furniture and he was there for one year.
His next jump was back into car design – this time it was another major design house: Pininfarina. Here he worked on many design concepts and limited edition cars for Ferrari, Chevrolet, FIAT and Lancia amongst others. He also took time out to work in the US for Elliott Noyes designing more exhibition stands.
Tjaarda returned to Italy to complete some work for Pininfarina before joining Fergat to design wheels and more exhibition equipment! He then did a short stint at Ital Styling, now ItalDesign, and working for another great designer: Giugiaro. It was now that his career settled down a bit by heading back to Ghia as the chief designer. However, Ghia was in financial trouble and was going through several owners, culminating in Ford buying the company from De Tomaso. The running joke was that Ford had bought an Italian design house headed by a man born in Detroit!
With the De Tomaso ownership, Tjaarda helped design several of their cars including the Deauville, Longchamp, Pantera and even their F1 car developed with Frank Williams. He didn’t just design supercars and luxury cars, for Ford he designed their Fiesta compact saloon and the Maverick SUV. His next move was to FIAT where he helped design cars across that group including Lancia and FIAT models in collaboration with ItalDesign before moving on to Rayton-Fissore to design their Magnum and LaForza SUVs. By the early 1980s, it was time to set up his own design studio and he continued to provide specific design work for many manufacturers.
His work has been estimated to be up to 82 cars in all and every car enthusiast would recognise many of his production designs. It is clear that he could not only design a vehicle but also the marketing exhibition space for it as well! Most of his work though was the improvement or re-envisioned design work using an existing vehicle as the base.