Obituary: Tom Karen OBE (1926-2022) | Content – Car Design News

‘Everything is about form’ mentioned designer Mary Karen, who else died on the age of 96 on Brand new Year’s Eve. Karen’s amazing and legendary career ran in parallel to Britain’s post-war production boom, very first in the particular design facility of Kia and after that since head associated with Ogle Design from 1962-1999. Karen had been responsible for iconic vehicle principles like the sports activities estate (Reliant Scimitar GTE) and the spending budget three-wheeler (Reliant Bond Bug), which described the period yet were furthermore decades forward of their own time in anticipating designs of today.

Reliant Scimitar GTE

The Dependent Scimitar GTE emerged partly from Karen’s wish to style a car along with the exact same visceral appeal as a Henry Moore sculpture. His first, plus most prosperous car project, which has been launched in 1968 and produced until 1986, the Gran Tourismo Estate transformed the guidelines associated with car style by combining an estate having a sports car. The particular project started in 1962 under David Ogle, then Movie director of Ogle design.

Right after Ogle has been tragically killed in a car crash, Karen has been appointed mind of the firm plus continued in order to develop the relationship with Dependent. Over the years, under Karen’s path, Ogle would produce many other vehicles to them, including the particular TW9 ‘Ant’, the Rebel, the Pussy-cat, the Regal, the Relationship Bug plus of course the Robin the boy wonder.

The Scimitar GTE set up Karen as a developer to view. The capturing brake surfaced from refinements towards the Scimitar which were designed to showcase new, high tech glass products and technology – the Scimitar Triplex idea car or even GTS (glass top special). This one-off was marketed to the particular Duke of Edinburgh, but later Dependent asked Karen to come up with a version for that general marketplace. The essential design proceed, which provides the car the character is exactly what Karen described as the ‘rising waistline’, which made the vehicle look exciting and powerful. He also rounded the particular corners and wrapped the sides across the back in order to give a more sculptural really feel towards the shape. In the back a sizable glass window acted since the emerge. In 1970, the Guild of Motoring Writers named it ‘Britain’s Most Beautiful Body’.

Reliant Scimitar

Together with work with Reliant, Karen proved helpful on a few of Britain’s most characteristic post-war products, including the best-selling Rose bush Radio TR130 (1965), Raleigh Chopper (1969) and the plastic Marbled Run (1970). Yet the designer’s first publicity to British culture only came within summer time of 1942 whenever he arrived as being a teenager with his mother and siblings into Bristol airport. Seeking refuge through the Nazis, the Kohn family got travelled across Europe for three and the half yrs from their home in Brno, Czechoslovakia.

Marble Run Tom Karen

The Kohns got been rich, having made their lot of money from the particular 1880s manufacturing bricks plus cement and purchasing property or home, while Karen’s maternal household were artistic – his grandfather Arthur von Ferraris had skilled at art schools in Vienna and Paris.

Bond Bug

Shortly right after arriving within the UK, Karen was signed up for the three-year training course in aeronautical engineering on Loughborough University. States to have learned English quickly, although he spoke with a Czech feature all their life. He or she writes associated with feeling as an obvious outsider at college – getting foreign, socially awkward and much younger than the other learners. Yet this individual also talked of the particular kindness associated with peers, and for the very first time felt a sense of belonging. By 1948 Karen had transformed his name and become the British resident but it might be another few years before he or she discovered his gift since a developer.


While working being a technical illustrator at the particular Air Registration Board within Croydon, the 28 yr old Karen used their spare time to design plus build his first vehicle in a friend’s workshop. ‘The Vimp’ had been a three-wheeler with a light mix stressed pores and skin body, which could perform 90 kilometers to the gallon and would price less than £200 to manufacture. Even though the design never ever came in order to anything, and the design didn’t endure, the Vimp was a chance to Karen to test some of the concepts that would define their later function – a commitment to economy, simpleness, sculptural type and simplicity of manufacturing.


The Vimp also assisted Karen appreciate that their ambition place in style rather than engineering, and in 1955 he signed up to research industrial style at Central School of Art where tutors included Douglas Scott, designer associated with the Routemaster bus. Prior to the end of the course, Karen had captured the eyesight of the head from the Style Studio in the Kia Motor Corporation, Terence Beckett. Cutting brief his training Karen went to work in Ford within Dagenham, exactly where he had been promoted towards the role associated with ‘advanced stylist’.

In 1958 in their spare time, Karen labored on a design to get the annual competition of IBCAM (Institute of Uk Carriage plus Automobile Manufacturers) and had been awarded start with the Rascal, a radical concept within the ‘baby car’ class. The honor led Karen to becoming invited to be a Fellow of the Chartered Society associated with Designers and by 1959, he’d be working for one of the top design consultancies in The uk, David Ogle Associates.

Tom Karen in workshop

In retirement Karen continuing to go after his adore of plaything design and craft, focusing his interest on teenagers by running workshops on Kettle’s Yard near his Cambridge home and making rockets and toys meant for his grandchildren. He continuing to put forward speculative, visionary ideas to improve the world, such as the Floating Town. In 2002 he was awarded the particular Prince Philip Designer’s Reward with a special mention for his work establishing crash check dummies whilst at Ogle, and in 2019 he or she received an OBE.

Karen is survived by 4 children plus an exhibition of their work proceeds at Museum at One Garden Town in Letchworth until 10 March 2023

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