Tom Tjaarda: A Fantasy Lived

Editor's Note: This is the seventh of eight automotive fantasies from our November 2013 print issue. We'll be publishing the fantasies over the next few weeks on automobilemag.com. Look for the issue on newsstands now or download our iPad issue to read them all.

You earn a degree in architecture from the University of Michigan. You're a Detroit native whose Dutch-born father -- once an engineer for aviation pioneer and manufacturer Tony Fokker -- designed the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr. At the suggestion of your architecture professor, you spend a summer working at Carrozzeria Ghia. In 1958, at the age of twenty-four and with degree in hand, you move to Turin with the notion of becoming a designer of Italian cars.

You work for Ghia and design such historic milestone cars as the Innocenti 950 Spider. After working with Battista "Pinin" Farina on Italia '61 -- the centenary celebration of the reunification of Italy -- you move to Carrozzeria Pininfarina. There you design some more historic milestone cars, including the Chevrolet Corvette Rondine, Ferrari 330GT 2+2, Fiat 124 Spider, and Ferrari 365 California.

You return to Ghia and design more significant cars, such as the Isuzu Bellett MX1600, the De Tomaso Pantera, and the De Tomaso Longchamp. After Ford buys Ghia in 1970, you create the first Fiesta.

You marry Paola, a beautiful Torinese school principal. You discover that, in the mid-1960s, both Enzo Ferrari and Pinin Farina drive, as their personal transport, cars for which you designed the bodies. At a time when other supercars trickle from factories, De Tomaso builds more than 7000 of your Panteras.

You establish your independent firm, Dimensione Design, to create cars for Aston Martin, Honda, Rayton-Fissore (Laforza), Saab, Spyker, and a host of others. You become a sought-after judge for prestigious concours d'elegance all over the world, including a special class dedicated to your designs at the forty-seventh Pebble Beach Concours.

You win prizes for your hobby of building and flying radio-controlled scale model airplanes, pursue lifelong sports activities, from running and basketball in high school to tennis as an adult. Fifty-five years after you began, it's the improbable but true story of the well-lived, utterly fantastic career of Stevens Thompson Tjaarda Van Sterkenberg, a man known to thousands of friends and fans simply as Tom Tjaarda, one of the world's most accomplished Italian car designers.

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