Last week on June 1, died at the age of 82, the legendary car designer Tom Tjaarda. Legendary? Tjaarda? Not the only car designer from Dutch born origin: there are more famous Dutch car designers nowadays.
In full his name was Steven Thompson Tjaarda van Starkenburg and although he was born in automobile-city Detroit, he was the son of the Dutch Jan Tjaarda van Starkenburg, who once emigrated to the US as John Tjaarda also became well-known as a car designer. About his design studies, known as the "Sterkenberg Series", it is said that these influenced Ferdinand Porsche's Hitler car design and the Volkswagen beetle design. Father John earned finally word-wide fame for the at that time very futuristic looking Lincoln Zephyr (1936).
Tom was a student in architecture at the Michigan University, scouted by the Ghia Design Studios where he was trained on the job in Italy as from 1958. After two years he moved to competitor Pininfarina. In his career he switched several times between these two design houses, via Fiat and Ford finally ending in his own design studio. His remarkable consistent career brought him the unofficial title "last of the gentlemen-designers", not only because he was extremely modest and friendly, a characteristic that all his students would confirm. All his designs were sophisticated and noble, because of their extreme understatement.
In his eighty-two years on earth, he created some of the most memorable designs, from basic transportation vehicles to dream machines. He took a C2 Corvette, made a new body from steel, gave it enough Italian flair to be something different, and called it the Corvette Rondine. He designed the original Ford Fiesta around the same time he was whipping up the DeTomaso Pantera, two cars that couldn’t possibly be more different if they tried.
There was the Fiat 124 Spider, the original one, and the Shelby Series 1, two roadsters with two very different personalities. There was the DeTomaso Longchamp, a three-box coupe that looked muscular and traditional, easy to pull off in 1972 but still looked good ten and fifteen years later. He worked with Ferrari and designed two Ferrari's of the non-noisy type, the 365 California (1966) and the super-sophisticated 330 GT 2+2 (1964), Innocenti, Chrysler, Ford, Ghia, Aston Martin, Spyker, LaForza, and others.
And he got worldwide fame by his two amazing elegant sports cars: the almost forgotten Innocenti 950 Spider (1960) and the Fiat 124 Spider (1966) - the latter being such a historic, successful design, that last year a retro-version was launched. Many styling cues recall the original 124 Spider like the muscular front and rear fender, the sharp horizontal rear lamps to the power domes on the hood. Characteristic design details deliberately derived from the original design from Tom Tjaarda.
I MET TOM TJAARDA AT SEVERAL OCCASIONS PERSONALLY IN ITALY AND IN THE NETHERLANDS, ESPECIALLY ( BUT NOT ONLY) TALKING ABOUT HIS FIAT 124 SPIDER DESIGN, WHICH UNIQUE GENESIS HE WROTE EXCLUSIVELY AND FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE FOR ME.
AND INDEED, THROUGH THE DIRECT CONTACTS I HAD WITH TOM, I CAN SAY THAT HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST MODEST, AMIABLE, SOPHISTICATED AND TALENTED PERSONS I EVER MET.
I AM GRATEFUL FOR HIS FRIENDSHIP.
HE AND HIS WORK WILL BE GREATLY MISSED.