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Influential British designer Tom Karen passed away on 31 December 2022, aged 96.
He played a key role in creating a variety of iconic 1960s and ’70s designs, including the Raleigh Chopper, the Bond Bug and Reliant Scimitar GTE.
Born in Vienna in 1926, Karen moved to England during the Second World War. He studied aeronautical design at Loughborough College before working for Hunting Percival Aircraft in Luton, followed by five years at Ford.
He began a short stint at David Ogle’s design studio in Letchworth in 1959 before moving to Hotpoint and Philips, but returned to the Hertfordshire-based consultancy (renamed Ogle Design) in 1962 as managing director and chief designer after the death of company founder David Ogle.
It’s there where Karen penned many of his most imaginative designs.
During the ’60s, Karen and his team set about turning the slow-selling Reliant Scimitar GT into the trend-setting GTE.
Its success influenced a whole genre of shooting brake-style sports wagons including the Gilbern Invader Estate, Volvo 1800ES and Lancia Beta HPE.
It also received the Royal seal of approval: Princess Anne has owned a string of eight Scimitar GTEs since 1970.
Some of the prolific Karen’s other designs include the Marble Run toy – of which he remained most proud – and Leyland truck cabs.
Jeff Platten, a former employee at Ogle Design recalls his time working with Karen: “The diversity of projects was amazing.
“They’d be working on an Aston Martin clay model in one corner, and behind a screen would be a full-scale aircraft nose section being shaped. Tom was the best boss I had and he changed my career.”
Karen retired from Ogle Design in 1999 but never lost his creative flair, most recently making bird sculptures out of folded paper. He was appointed OBE in the 2019 New Year Honours.
A special exhibition celebrating Karen’s work is open at One Garden City in Letchworth until 10 March 2023.
Set up by the local Heritage Foundation and curated by Josh Tidy and Brent Smith, it features a variety of Karen’s designs, including Marble Runs and a tangerine Bond Bug.
A book of condolence is open at the exhibition for visitors to pay their respects.
Images: Autocar/Tony Baker/Classic & Sports Car
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