What does the original Ford Fiesta have in common with the 1966 Ferrari 365 GT California? If you answered Tom Tjaarda, you really do know your American Dutchmen.

When you’re the son of Lincoln Zephyr (the proper, V12 ones) designer John Tjaarda, a life of ordinariness doesn’t await you. And little Tommy, born in Detroit, found himself in the perfect environment for a life of cars.

After graduating from the University of Michigan Tjaarda Jr packed his bags and went off to sort of naturalise himself in Italy, beginning his career fresh off the plane in the best way possible, at Carrozzeria Ghia, later stepping up the game and moving to Pininfarina.

Tjaarda, who died a year ago aged 82, left behind a life full of automotive wonder — the little Innocenti Spider based on the ageing Austin-Healey Sprite that put his name up in the lights in 1960; the stunning Corvette Rondine once he got cosy at Pininfarina in 1963; several Ferraris and Lancias; the 1970 De Tomaso Pantera; and more recently even lower-volume stuff like the 2000 Qvale Mangusta and the concept that later became the Dutch-built Spyker C8.

Anyway, not all the cars Tjaarda designed turned out spiffy — in the Eighties, SUV wasn’t an acronym yet and Range Rover had that playing field to itself. Tjaarda had the foresight however to see where this utility vehicle was headed, up mainstream, and in 1985 designed a forward-looking (completely colour-coded, semi-integrated bumpers, modern body) exterior for a vehicle developed for military use and built in Italy. The resultant luxury 4x4 came powered by a V8 in ultimate form, packed with leather and wood, and somehow carried on until 2003 without ever so much as flickering on Range Rover’s radar.

Even if it wasn’t the biggest success, that makes the Laforza rare enough to be interesting today — though it’s far from Tjaarda’s finest work the designer’s cachet is still there.


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