Great designers: Tom Tjaarda

Great designers: Tom Tjaarda

In 1958 he moved to Turin to work at Ghia, where he designed, among others, the beautiful Innocenti 950, leaving for Pininfarina when the famous company was still run by its founder, Battista Pininfarina. One of Tom's first projects for Grugliasco's company was the very elegant Ferrari 330 GT 2+2, although perhaps his most significant work was the 1963 Corvette Rondine concept car, a masterpiece that would inspire many later designs, including the beautiful Fiat 124 Spider...

In 1965 he was hired by OSI-Fergat, a company involved in the stamping and manufacture of wheels, but when Giorgio Giugiaro left Ghia in 1967, Tom returned to Ghia, this time as head of design. During this second period at Ghia, Tom Tjaarda was behind some of the Turin-based company's most significant designs, including the stunning De Tomaso Pantera, and the beautiful first generation Ford Fiesta, until in 1977 he was hired by Fiat as Director of Advanced Design, collaborating on the design of cars such as the FIAT Tipo and Croma, or the Lancia Thema and Y10.

The restless Tom went on to work for Rayton Fissore in 1980, where among other works, he designed the Rayton Fissore 4×4, a car that remained in production until the mid-90s, and that along with the first Range Rover, came to be the precursors of the current luxury SUV. In 1985 Tom Tjaarda founded his own company, a small studio located in the center of Turin, and has worked for Chrysler, Fiat, Aston Martin, Bugatti, Bitter, Zastava, Piaggio ... being specialized in projects that need a quick response, and without large investments.

His most significant designs

In 1960, just after arriving at Ghia, Tjaarda designed the beautiful Innocenti 950 S Ghia Spider, on Austin Healey Sprite mechanics. The car was a commercial success at the time, which inspired Fiat to launch the 850 Spider years later. Another interesting design of the same year was the VW Karmann Ghia (Typ 34), made in collaboration with Sergio Sartorelli. A beautiful design unjustly underrated, perhaps due to the fact that it had a little brother that became a myth, the Karmann Ghia Typ 14, designed by Luigi Segre.

Already working for Pininfarina, 1963 was a really fruitful year in Tom Tjaarda's career, in which he designed the very elegant Lancia Flaminia 2.8 Coupé Speciale, a car with a classic design, but beautiful and with impeccable proportions, and what is perhaps his masterpiece, the Corvette Rondine. The beautiful coupé was born as Pininfarina's proposal for what was to be the Corvette C2, as Battista Pininfarina wanted to win over GM as a client.

Although the final design of the Corvette C2 is fantastic, it's a pity that the Rondine remained a prototype, but although it was discarded, Tjaarda's design inspired many cars that came later... There are many interesting design details of this Rondine, and it is not a question of becoming heavy, but at least we should mention the rib that runs along the side and rises just before reaching the door handle, the shapes of the hood and rear wings, the interesting semi-hidden headlights, which were later seen in the Alfa Romeo Montreal, or in the Ferrari Daytona...

A year later, the Ferrari 330 GT 2+2, a prodigy of class and elegance, and the 230 SL Pininfarina saw the light of day. The Mercedes was born as a proposal by Pininfarina on the -in the end- famous Pagoda, which although today has become a myth, it aroused some controversy in its day. Tjaarda's design was very respectful of the Mercedes brand image, retaining part of the aesthetic language of the original 230 SL, although the soft curvature of the beltline, the fall of the roof, and other details give it an air -to put it somehow- more Italian.

Fiat was in love with the Rondine, and when GM discarded Pininfarina's design for its Corvette C2, the Italian giant asked Pininfarina to design a spider for them based on the Fiat 124 sedan, but keeping the Rondine design. The wheelbase of the 124 Spider was much shorter than that of the Corvette Rondine, and practical and economic needs led to design a very different front end for the 124 Spider, but the side view is almost identical, and even the rear is very similar. Tjaarda himself says that there is much more Rondine in the design of the 124 Spider than you might think... The Spider was launched in 1965 and was an immediate success, especially in the USA, where 75% of the almost 200,000 124 Spiders built during its 20-year life were sold.

Only twelve examples of this luxurious spider were made, in which perhaps the most remarkable thing was its rear part with such stylish shapes and clearly inspired by the Chevrolet Rondine.

Back at Ghia, Tjaarda designed this prototype to try to convince Count Giovanni Volpi (owner of Serenissima, a racing team of the time) to build a mid-engined sports car in small series, but Volpi did not dare with the mass production project, and finally only the prototype, which was fully functional, was built.

The proposal for a more compact De Tomaso coupé made sense when De Tomaso was owned by Ford, and I think it's a real shame that such a beautiful car didn't make it to production. Looking at its contemporaries, it was a very advanced design for its time, and the way Tjaarda played with the slightly curved edges and proportions made for an incredibly light, balanced and characterful design, while still allowing for a very reasonable amount of room. Perhaps one of my favourite Tjaarda designs, in which I think I see a source of inspiration for many cars of later years.

The result of Isuzu commissioning Ghia to design a mid-engined coupe, which was to take the 1600 engine from their popular Bellet saloon, Tjaarda decided that the coupe should visually express the position of the engine, achieving a design of great character. The car never got beyond the prototype stage, but it laid some of the design foundations for what would become another of Tjaarda's great successes, the Pantera.

Designed and built at the express wish of Alejandro De Tomaso (then owner of Ghia), this one-off was intended to draw Lancia's attention to Ghia, which proposed to Lancia the construction of coupés in small series. The car is doubly exclusive, as it was built on the last chassis of the Flaminia series. The design is deliberately discreet, but elegant and beautiful, and at the same time, spacious inside, it is one of those cars that one never tires of looking at. Oh, and joking aside, its name is taken from that of a Roman nymph.

Designed on the chassis of the famous Fulvia Coupé, Ghia proposed to Lancia to build a very light car in small series, and destined for competition, although obviously the project did not go beyond the prototype. The Competizione was first presented with a "street" look, and later it was decorated with aerodynamic additions to give it a more racing look. Heavily influenced by the Mustela, the Fulvia Competizione features an interesting interpretation of the rear ribs of the standard Fulvia, but this time also at the front.

Although the Jaguar and Quattroporte inspiration can be seen in the Deauville, Tjaarda's design shows a rare balance between the then traditional Jaguar shapes and the more modern Maserati ones. The car, introduced in 1970 and fitted with the same 300bhp engine as the Pantera, was only produced in 244 units, and has a design that has stood the test of time incredibly well; it's still very attractive.

After Ferrari rejected Ford's offer to buy it, Alejandro de Tomaso showed the Americans the Pantera prototype, and Ford (who wanted a car on the market to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette) offered to buy a large stake in the car from de Tomaso, who accepted the deal. The agreement included the supply of engines (the V8 of the Mustang) by Ford, which would also be responsible for distributing to De Tomaso in the USA. The chassis, very advanced for its time, was inspired by the two-seater racing cars, and was developed by Dallara.

The Pantera is very popular in the USA and more than 7,000 units were sold, so its valuation in the classic market is relatively low when compared to similar sports cars, a temptation for those who can afford it...

As for its design, it is perhaps the most spectacular Tjaarda street car, and one of the most timeless design supercars, this allowed it to remain in production for 20 years, and its design is still fully valid today. I find its side view very interesting, with simple shapes but at the same time full of character, with a rear part that -as in the Isuzu Bellet MX 1600-, aims to visually emphasize the position of the engine. Its side air intake and in general its trapezoidal shapes, however, maintain a certain harmony, and seem to me to be simply unrepeatable.

The famous "Forito", which marked Ford's arrival through the big door in the subcompact segment also owes its beautiful design to Tom Tjaarda, who opted for simple shapes and sharp edges. It has never been easy to achieve a harmonious car with such straight lines, and perhaps the Fiesta is one of the few examples. Sober and balanced, its design lent itself to both the luxurious personalization of the Ghia versions, and the sporty style of the S, Super Sport and XR2 versions. In my opinion, perhaps the key to the beauty of the Fiesta lies in the curved lower line of the side glazing, which breaks with the rectilinear monotony, and connects with great grace the A and C pillars, which also, and seen from the side are elegantly symmetrical. A beautiful and at the same time simple car, a masterpiece.

It is practically a restyling of the De Tomaso Mustela (I), but it is interesting how Tjaarda adapts the front and rear to the new times, and all this, fitting perfectly with the rest of the car. I also find very interesting and innovative the air vents behind the new rear windows, which visually lighten the area and add rhythm and character.

Fiat commissioned designs for the successor to the Autobianchi A112 from Pininfarina and Giugiaro, but neither of them convinced, and finally, the car was designed in-house under the supervision of Tjaarda. I have to say that it is not very clear the contribution of the American designer to the design of the nice Y10, but I did not want to forget him in this article, because with its practical and simple style, and its shocking black tailgate, he set the style. Rarely has such a seemingly simple design with such unstylish proportions been so classy.

For the younger ones, it might be worth remembering that when Fiat ceded its SEAT shares to the Spanish state, SEAT restyled the Ritmo (which it manufactured under a Fiat license) with the double objective of updating it, and at the same time, stop paying royalties to the Italian brand... Tjaarda was in charge of the restyling that came to be called SEAT Ronda, updating the already outdated design of the Ritmo, although along the way it lost all its personality. In any case, it must be admitted that things weren't in the mood to take risks with a very daring design, and on the other hand, although somewhat nondescript, the Ronda was an attractive car, especially in its sporty Crono versions.

The original Barchetta designed by Andreas Zapatinas and Alessandro Cavazza always seemed to me a beautiful car, full of personality. Starting from the Fiat Punto platform, with its front transverse engine didn't make things easy when it came to designing a Spider, but the designers at Centro Stile Fiat did a great job. In general, there are very few -very few- restylings that I find not only beautiful, but simply correct, and the one Tjaarda designed for the Barquetta seems to me very successful, as it does not clash with the overall design of the car, providing the aggressiveness and modernity that the small Italian two-seater needed to keep its design up to date.

I hope the article has helped those of you who didn't know his work to know a little more about one of the great designers of the past decades, a designer with an impressive collection of designs; as much as the fact that at 82 years old he is still so active and passionate.

Thanks for your designs, Tom!

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