by Wallace Wyss
July 23, 1934 – June 1, 2017
We lost Tom Tjaarda last week. Tom, a member of the Concorso Italiano Hall of Fame, was revered by attendees, especially so by the owners of DeTomaso Panteras. He achieved the American car enthusiast’s dream of designing cars in Italy, and I always envied him. Tom chose the right era, the ‘60s, to go there and am thankful that we American enthusiasts had one of us in Italy, making the Italian designs practical enough to bring to these shores.
We know Tom best for his Pantera design, both the original and the L model. But, Tom also did a stint at Pininfarina where he designed two Ferraris that reached production—the 330GT and the 365 California Spyder, as well as the Fiat 124—a mass market sports car that even influences today’s Fiat 124.
When you look back at Tom’s career, it’s interesting that he earned a degree in architecture at the University of Michigan, but instead chose to work as a car designer. He spent almost his whole career—spanning five decades—in Italy. Tom chose the most exciting time to be there, the ‘60s and the ‘70s. Every time I met Tom at Monterey (after first interviewing him in 1970 at the Pantera rollout) I coaxed a little more of the story out of him about this car or that. Fortunately, Tom had begun writing for Britain’s OCTANE magazine, telling the “back story” of many a design, some of which only made it to the “prototipo” stage. I think his proudest moments were when some one-off design he had done was found, restored and made its re-debut at a concours, as if to say: “See– this one should have made it to production…..”