John Tjaarda’s most famous design, though, was the Briggs Dream Car, which evolved into the Lincoln-Zephyr.
The Fiat 124 is one of Tjaarda’s best-known designs © Daniel Cabart
John Tjaarda died on 20 March 1962, when he was just 65, but prior to that father and son had reconnected, and it was perhaps his stories that influenced Tom’s decision to consider a car design project for his graduation thesis at the University of Michigan, where he was studying architecture.
It was the successful completion of this innovative shooting brake that persuaded his professor, Aarre Lahti, to recommend him to Segre at Ghia, and that led to Tjaarda finding himself in Turin in August 1958.
On the very first day of his working life, Tjaarda had the extraordinary luck to land the project to style an all-new car, by himself, less than a month after his 24th birthday.
This Tjaarda design, called ‘Project Wolf’ became the Ford Fiesta
The design of the Innocenti Spider was a mature piece of work, a form and style that could very well have been from a seasoned professional such as Giovanni Michelotti or Pietro Frua.
It wasn’t groundbreaking, nor was it a masterpiece, but a finely detailed, carefully considered and very well-proportioned work of great elegance.
During his short stint of a little over two years at Ghia, Tjaarda designed several diverse projects, including a monorail, a go-kart and a pedal car for children.
In these his style ranged from the strange to the recent retro, but he was yet to establish a distinctive flair of his own.
The Serenissima Ghia GT is one of Tjaarda’s better-known designs
It was at Pininfarina where Tjaarda began to establish a form language and subtle surface treatment that was different from others, and which went on to influence several designs and styling trends.
His first automotive design for Pininfarina was the Corvair Coupé Speciale, an update of a concept from the Italian design house that had so far received a lukewarm response.
Tjaarda’s rework turned out to be far better proportioned, as well as controversial thanks to its ellipsoidal, slanting quad-headlamp treatment.