Obituary : Tom Karen 1926-2022

Tom Karen

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.’

Raleigh 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.

Keith Adams


  1. Sad news,always overlooked that Tom designed the Reliant Rebel,Robin,Kitten,Regal 3/30 as well as the obvious Bug and GTE

  2. Sorry to here the news.

    Another project he worked on was the original Popemobile for John Paul II’s 1982 UK visit.

  3. Sad news – as an industrial designer myself (once upon a time!), I’ve always been a fan of Tom Karen – his work is up there with the titans of product design – he was a creator of some truly iconic objects – but above all, his work always maintained a great sense of fun – even something like the T45 truck cab has some fun elements to it, which set Tom’s work aside from a lot of his contemporaries. RIP

  4. He also designed the Bush TR130 transistor-radio which was the best-selling portable radio in the UK for several years.

    [Some models had a “208” button or “Bandspread” so you could more-easily tune in to Radio Luxembourg or the pirate-radio stations which we all listened to back then].

    I’ve repaired a number of Bush TR130 radios [they are prone to a particular metallurgical problem in their Mullard AF117 transistors] for people who want to revisit their youth. Properly set up, a TR130 sounds good!

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