Obituaries Tom Karen OBE 1926-2022

Obituaries Tom Karen OBE 1926-2022

It is hard to imagine that any designer can claim more touchpoints with British children of the 1970s and ’80s than the late, great Tom Karen. Whether it was the unstable bright orange three-wheeler for which he is most famed, the bicycle that bewitched a generation despite its genital-crushing tendencies, or a simple self-build marble game, this Austrian émigré bestrode those decades like a colossus. Born in Vienna, he came to the UK when his family fled Austria in 1939 and studied as an aeronautical engineer, then joining Ford and Ogle (he returned to assume the helm after David Ogle’s death in 1962 and stayed until it was sold in 1999) before Hotpoint and Philips. During his time/s at Ogle, he masterminded everything from the Ogle SX1000 to a tranche of Reliants, most famously the Scimitar, the Turkish Anadol A1, motorcycles, coaches, caravans and much more.

Always seeking to use science to further motoring and safety, some of Karen’s ingenious concepts included the Ogle Triplex glassbacks (Karen used to regale people with tales of Prince Philip borrowing the GTS and refusing to return it) and the Sotheby Special, all of which were bursting with cutting-edge advances both in design and construction. Appealing to broader culture were products such as the Bush TR130 radio, the Raleigh Chopper bicycle and the Marble Run game. And, of course, based on a Bond Bug, Luke Skywalker’s XP-34 Landspeeder.

Although his heyday may have passed, Karen never slowed down and never stopped working. Only a few months ago he was still communicating regularly with members of the Octane staff, excitedly making plans for interviews about projects such as the Ogle Triplex cars and also keen to promote his secret small-car project that he was touting as the successor to the Bond Bug.

Generous to a fault – except with the credit, as some of his former Ogle colleagues used to joke – Tom was a dichotomy of a man, as driven as he could be self-effacing, as confident as he was in need of reassurance, but he had a rare sense of the zeitgeist and how to tap into it.

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