Thomas Josef Derrick Paul Karen OBE, Automotive and Industrial Designer, has died aged 96. Once described as the man who styled our childhoods, Tom passed away following a short illness.
Born in Vienna in 1926, and educated in Brno, Tom had been fascinated by design since childhood and, once he made it to the UK from (what was then) Czechoslovakia in 1942, he would be presented with the opportunity to become qualified and pursue what would become a glittering career.
He studied Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough College and, once qualified, he moved to Hunting Percival, makers of the Proctor and the Provost training aircraft. After a short period learning the ropes, Tom then went on to enrol at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, which would lead him to his dream job at the Ford Design Studio in 1955, working under the fearsome leadership of Sir Patrick Hennessy.
Moving to Ogle Design
Tom eventually went to the Letchworth-based Ogle Design company but, following the sudden and tragic death of its founder David Ogle in 1962, Tom was offered the position of Managing Director and Chief Stylist – positions which he was to enjoy for more than 35 years.
During his long and fruitful career, he was responsible for the design of some truly remarkable vehicles. As well as the Bond Bug, Reliant Scimitar GTE and Leyland T45 range of truck cabs, Tom penned designs as varied at Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder for the Star Wars films and the iconic Raleigh Chopper.
He told The Express in 2020, ‘I loved the Bond Bug because it was a little Ferrari for 16-year olds. Commercially, it was a failure but every owner loved their Bond Bug. For me that achievement was greater than the Chopper.’
More than just cars
He oversaw design of the Bush Radio TR130 radio, the Marble Run game (sold by Kiddicraft) and the Hotpoint top-loading washing machine. And as his design portfolio is so varied and interesting, Tom’s archive is held in storage by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
From an AROnline perspective, it’s a long list, and here are just some of the designs which rose up from his drawing pad:
- Raleigh Chopper
- Bond Bug
- Scimitar GTE
- Anadol FW5
- Plaxton Panorama and Paramount coach bodies
- Triplex 10-20 Concept Princess
- LDV Convoy and Pilot vans
- Seddon Atkinson 2/3/400 series commercials
If you’d like to see more of Tom’s work up close, an exhibition of the his greatest hits is currently being held at The Museum at One Garden City, on Broadway in Letchworth Garden City until Spring 2023. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 10.00am–5.00pm.
Tom and his late wife Nicole are survived by their four children – Nicolas, Josephine, Max and Eugenie – and their seven grandchildren. He always said that youngsters were a great source of inspiration and would keep his creative mind occupied.
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