Tom Tjaarda, 1934-2017

Tom Tjaarda, one of the ‘Three Kings’ of Ital­ian car de­sign and Clas­sic Cars colum­nist, has died aged 82

Classic Cars (UK) - - Month In Cars -

Born Stevens Thompson Tjaarda van Starken­burg in Detroit, the son of Lin­coln Ze­phyr de­signer Joop Tjaarda van Starken­burg, Tom trun­cated his Dutch name to the faintly Ital­ianate Tjaarda on em­i­grat­ing to Italy in 1958 to work for Ghia. Straight out of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Col­lege of Ar­chi­tec­ture he was de­sign­ing the In­no­centi 950 Spi­der. Af­ter com­plet­ing his for­ma­tive train­ing at Ghia, he quickly moved to Pin­in­fa­rina where his dis­tinc­tive style re­sulted in such iconic de­signs as the Fer­rari 330 GT and Fiat 124 Spi­der. De­spite his rel­a­tive youth, he was given a fairly free hand at Pin­in­fa­rina, es­pe­cially in the case of the Fer­rari 365 GT Cal­i­for­nia Spi­der, where his brief was, as he later re­called, ‘sim­ply to de­sign an in­ter­est­ing cabri­o­let’.

Tjaarda’s prow­ess at Pin­in­fa­rina brought him to the at­ten­tion of Alejandro de To­maso, who had bought Ghia in 1967 and had typ­i­cally am­bi­tious plans for the

car­rozze­ria. Look­ing for Ital­ian styling and en­gi­neer­ing cred­i­bil­ity fol­low­ing Enzo Fer­rari’s in­fa­mous snub­bing of Henry Ford II’S buyout of­fer, Ford bought into Ghia three years later with the aim of cre­at­ing a range of Ital­ianstyled Fords and de To­ma­sos to sell in Amer­ica.

Tjaarda was ap­pointed de­sign di­rec­tor – a move he al­ways found amus­ing, not­ing years later that ‘Ford wanted their cars de­signed by an Ital­ian styling house, and ended up with an Ar­gen­tinian-owned stu­dio and a Dutch de­signer born in Michi­gan!’ The ever-diplo­matic Tjaarda was one of the few peo­ple in Turin or Detroit who could man­age the volatile Alejandro de To­maso and en­sure projects were com­pleted suc­cess­fully.

Re­gard­less of his her­itage, Tjaarda em­braced Ital­ian life and cit­i­zen­ship, al­ways speak­ing fondly of ‘Torino’ and at­tract­ing con­sis­tent com­par­i­son with Gior­getto Gi­u­giaro and Mar­cello Gan­dini, yet tak­ing many of his Sev­en­ties commissions from Ford. In this sense his best-known de­sign, the De To­maso Pan­tera, per­haps most em­bod­ies his di­verse back­ground. Res­o­lutely Ital­ian in ex­e­cu­tion, yet with an en­gine straight from Cleve­land, Ohio, the Pan­tera’s de­sign ac­knowl­edged both Ital­ian and Amer­i­can de­sign id­ioms with its Lam­borgh­ini-style wedge-nose run­ning into a dra­matic mus­cle-car style mid­point waist­line kick, ‘to draw at­ten­tion to where the power is’, he would ex­plain. His ten­ure with Ford and Ghia wasn’t all about su­per­cars though – the 1973 oil cri­sis led to his small space-ef­fi­cient hatch­back ‘Project Wolf’, which be­came the first Fi­esta.

Af­ter a brief pe­riod in charge of Fiat’s ad­vanced-de­sign stu­dios in the early Eight­ies, Tjaarda set up his own styling house, Di­men­sione De­sign. This later work largely in­volved low-vol­ume lux­ury off-road­ers, re­designed in­te­ri­ors and con­cept cars, but the likes of Saab, Lam­borgh­ini and As­ton Martin all en­listed his ser­vices. One of his last pieces of com­mer­cial de­sign in­volved guid­ing the styling of the Fiat Barchetta, the spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor of his own 124 Spi­der.

Al­ways po­lite and gen­tle­manly, yet sub­tly out­spo­ken and with a wry sense of hu­mour, Tjaarda was an ap­proach­able pres­ence on the in­ter­na­tional clas­sic con­cours and show cir­cuit. He also wrote pro­lif­i­cally and Tom’s fam­ily says one of his last wishes was for

Clas­sic Cars to pub­lish his re­main­ing un­used col­umns – some­thing we will con­tinue to do in forth­com­ing is­sues to hon­our him and his legacy. A great author­ity, col­league and friend, he will be sadly missed.

Tom’s Fer­rari 365 Cal­i­for­nia, 330 GT and In­no­centi Spi­der Ghia Coins con­cept penned for Ford – named af­ter a Frank Si­na­tra song Tom played in the de­sign stu­dio Tom and Ghia plas­ter work­shop man­ager Pi­etro Brovarone per­fect the lines of a con­cept car in 1973

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