Tom Tjaarda, an American who moved to Italy when he was just out of college and who designed some of the coolest and most iconic sports cars the world has ever known, died Friday, June 2 after a long illness, in his adopted home of Turin, Italy. He was 82.
Tjaarda’s most well-known designs are the original Fiat 124 Spider and the magnificent DeTomaso Pantera, and if he only did those two cars in his long and storied career his life would be complete. But he also penned such legendary shapes as the Lancia Flaminia 2.8 Coupe, Corvette Rondine concept car based on the C2 and the Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 and 365 California Spyder, among many others.
Tjaarda was born July 23, 1934 in Detroit to a Dutch immigrant father and American mother. His father, Joop Tjaarda, was a designer at Ford whose early drawings are credited with leading to what became the Lincoln Zephyr. Tom Tjaarda went to the University of Michigan and studied architecture. For a senior project, instead of doing a building he designed a car, which irked his architecture professor but led to an internship at Ghia and a lifetime of designing cars instead of buildings.
Tjaarda moved to Turin in 1958 and his first project was the Innocenti 950. From there he went to Pininfarina — imagine doing that two years out of college — where he fired off the Corvette Rondine, Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 and the Fiat 124. All of those are classics — a Rondine sat in the Autoweek booth at SEMA one year, a particularly good year for us. He also did the 365 GT California Spyder while at Pininfarina, along with the DeTomaso Longchamps.